Wow, time has just been flying by here in Albania! I am sorry that I haven’t wrote an entry in a while, but I have been extremely busy for the past couple weeks.  On Friday the 19th I found out where I will be living and volunteering for the next two years! I will be working at the small city at the Directory of Public Health.  The day that we found out site placements was extremely stressful, but also exciting.  I was very worried that I was going to be sent to an isolated village in northern Albania, so when I found out that I would be living in central Albania near the sea I was very excited! I have a great location to travel around the country and visit other volunteers, so for that I am extremely grateful.  I was also placed in my city with another volunteer in my group, so I will have a site-mate.  I was nervous about being placed in a community all by myself.  I think Peace Corps did a great job really taking my opinions regarding site placement into consideration.

The district of my city is one of 36 districts in Albania and I will be working in the capital of the district that has a population of 36,379 people.  It was the first city in Albania to start the anti-Communist revolution.  The city lies at 8 m about sea level and has a coastline.  It is located on the West coast of Albania between Durres, Lushnje, Peqin, and Tirana (the capital).  It is one of the antique cities of Albania.  My counterpart at the Directory of Public Health (D.Sh.P for short) will be a female doctor and a female psychologist who work there.   Some of my colleagues do speak English, so that will be nice during the beginning stages of our working relationship. Even though I have an English speaking counterpart, language development is extremely important to me and I plan to get a tutor at site so that I can continue to improve my Shqip. I would like to be fluent by the end of my service.  Some of the main issues in my region include dental hygiene, AIDS-STIs, breast cancer, diabetes, drugs and alcohol, and anti-violence. I will be coordinating community projects with the Albanian red cross, the high school psychologist, 9 grade school psychologist, and the children’s cultural center. In two weeks I will get to go and visit my site, so I am extremely excited for that opportunity.

Language is still a struggle for me and things just keep getting more and more confusing.  Albanian is truly a hard language to learn.  There are so many different verb rules and of course many exceptions to each rule.  Nouns change form based on how they are used within a sentence. And many other random things happen. I still am not even sure how to understand if a noun is male or female, but I guess it will all just come in time. Avash avash.  Sometimes I do feel really stupid because I can’t communicate my thoughts or feelings with people in my community and making those connections is extremely important to me.  We received mid-term feedback last week and my teachers feel that I am improving and definitely trying to learn the language, but my pronunciation is still off.  I understand a lot more than I can speak at the moment, but sometimes my brain just goes on Shqip overload.  I have learned to block things out and just ignore what is going on around me because it can be extremely exhausting to try and translate everything that is going on.  Even though things are difficult I am working hard and have a lot of confidence that I will be able to speak Shqip in time.  I gotta just keep reminding myself that I have only been learning the language for a little over a month now.  And I really do have pretty good skills for only being in Albania for such a short period of time.

I am now starting week 6 of PST, which means only 4 more weeks to go!! We are already halfway done with intensive training! I am very happy for this because I have heard from many previous  volunteers that PST is the most stressful time of service because our schedule is planned to the tee. I love being around all the other volunteers and I will be sad when we are no longer nearby, but that will be the beauty of traveling around the country! I will get to go visit people that I want to see! Right now things are a little dramatic between all the volunteers because of the stressful environment that we all live in on a day to day basis, so I think it will be good once our hormones are spread across the country.

These past two weeks we have had practicum on top of language classes, so things have been a little bit more stressful than usual.  During practicum, we work with other volunteers in our village to implement several lessons in the local school, along with holding a community health fair. Last week we held two classes – one in the kindergarten classroom and one in a 10th grade life skills class.  In the kindergarten class we performed the “heads, shoulders, knees, and toes” song in Shqip and then had several interactive activities regarding proper hand washing skills and proper sanitation.  We taught the children that it is important to throw trash away in the trashcans, instead of in the river or on the street.  We taught the older students about STIs and proper birth control methods.  Both of our lessons went well, but there were definitely frustrations along the way.  It was a very good learning experience, but I am really happy to eventually be able to go implement my own projects at site because there were “too many cooks in the kitchen” during our practicum.  Tomorrow we will be holding our community health fair.  I am very interested to see how that will go.  I will keep you updated, but for now I gotta head to class!! Mirupafshim!


Meeting the neighbors and all

Today was a really great day here in Albania! I went to language lessons in the morning and then studied with another friend in my class during the afternoon.  I love days when I feel productive! I was also able to wash my clothes today (laj rroba), so that was very nice. And this time I didn’t turn have of my clothes blue, so that was a plus as well. I was invited over to my neighbor’s house this evening for a surprise and they had baked me a cake! It was very sweet of them. They had decorated the table with flowers from her wedding and it was super nice.  I played with the two kids who live in the house – I love being around kids! I really hope that I will be able to work with kids in my future site. My neighbors also gave me a very beautiful hand knitted dole with rainbow flowers – it is shume bukur (or very beautiful). It is nice to be making connections with my family, but also with other members of the community. Albanians really are some of the nicest people that I have ever met, and they are great hosts!

Observing the Roma Population

I still have these moments were I think to myself, “is this real life? I am in actually in Albania.” My whole life has completely changed, but for the better. I finally took this opportunity to travel, meet new people, and step outside my comfort zone.  It has been a lot to get used to in such a quick period of time, but I still really love my life. I may not have as much freedom as I did in the states, but this will change once PST is over. Soooooo, since my life is so different I want to give you a guys a little narration of my daily routine.

            In the morning I wake up around 6:30 and get dressed/do my makeup.  After I am finished getting ready I go out to the kitchen where my host mom has breakfast set out on the table for me.  My breakfast every morning consists of a huge chunk of bread, homemade jam, and a hardboiled egg.  Sometimes my host mom will switch it up and fry me up a couple pieces of bread instead.  The diet here is very different from what I used to eat in the states, so I will most likely gain quite a bit of weight during PST, but whatever.  My host mom will also make me a Turkish kafe in the morning as well.  After I eat I either catch a furgon to Elbasan (twice a week) with the other volunteers for HUB or walk across the street to the local high school for English classes/cross cultural classes (four times a week).  I have two Albanian English teachers and they are both AWESOME! Their names are Besa and Ornella.  When we have language classes in Pajove, we usually work for a couple hours then take a kafe break, then more language lessons, then lunch break, and then more lanuange lessons. After language lessons I have now go to individual tutoring with my teachers and we work on improving my pronunciation and conversation skills.  Everyday I am getting better and I definitely understand a lot better than I can speak at the moment. Avash avash. Once school is over for the day in Pajove I usually hang out and study with other volunteers or explore around the village.  I don’t really have that much free time though because I spend time with my host family and all the neighbor children. I am starting to get very close with two young kids who live next door! Around 8pm I eat dinner with my host family. Most of our dinners consist of tomatoes, cucumbers, fries, a fried egg, and then some other dish on the side. I love the food, but I do wish I could get a little more variety. I can’t wait to begin cooking on my own once I move to site. I think I am going to try to take up cooking as one of my hobbies in Albania. After dinner I spend more time with my family and then go to my room to study and relax. During each day I am lucky to have around an hour or two of alone time, but I don’t mind.  I figure I might as well spend as much time trying to integrate into my surroundings as possible because soon enough I may be extremely isolated away from all these comforts that I am taking advantage of now.  I wish that I had more time to blog, journal, and practice yoga, but for now I am focusing more on developing those friendships and relationships with other volunteers and my community because those ties will help me during rougher periods of my service. 

Volunteer Visit

This past weekend all of the group 16 trainees went to visit current volunteers in their sites across the country.  Another trainee and I visited Rreshen, which is a smaller town in the northern part of Albania. We went to go and see the life of April, who is serving as a health volunteer up there.  It was so nice to get away from the pressures of PST and just relax with someone who has been there. April was super chill and it was nice to hear her perspective on Peace Corps, Albania, and just life in general. Rreshen is a gorgeous town, probably the cleanest place that I have seen in Albania thus far.  There are five parks in town and the scenery is extremely picturesque (much like the mountains in Colorado).  We went on a short hike the first day to a spot that overlooked the entire town of Rreshen and that was just gorgeous and after our hike we explored town a little and then made dinner at home.  It was nice to have a good home-cooked American meal! The next day was extremely rainy and windy, so we relaxed, ordered a pizza and watched movies. Our schedule during PST is so hectic is it imperative to just take some time to hang out and do nothing.  The last day of our volunteer visit we went to visit Lezhe, another northern city, which is near the coast.  We explored a lovely castle with views of the mountains and coastline all around.  To travel back to Pajove it took around 5 to 6 hours of road travel, plus time to stop in Tirana, the capital of Albania, to meet up with other volunteers to travel back to satellite sites together. Twelve of us trainees met in Tirana and took a road back through the mountain on a furgon together. I had such an awesome time and I am really looking forward to getting my own place.  I love my host family, but I also love my independence and I am looking forward to starting projects in my future site. It does feel nice to be back in Pajove though because I want to continue to practice my language skills and I missed other trainees in my site and Bisqem. I am just starting to go a little crazy because I want to know where I will be living for the next two years, but we won’t know until the end of week 4 – only 10 more days!

Sick of the rain

It has been a while since I wrote an entry and I can see how it would be easy to get distracted. I have been overwhelmed with all the different factors of PST.  We are constantly learning more and more language at such an extreme pace.  I am still having a hard time keeping up, but I am going to try to get tutoring everyday after class. I think that having more conversations with my host family will help as well.

Here in Pajove it has been pretty rainy for the past week. I am getting really tired of the weather and I just want the sunshine! Being stuck in the rain has definitely made me reconsider moving to Oregon after I am done with the Peace Corps.  Soon enough the weather will be more pleasant though, at least the rainy weather gives me a good reason to stay inside and study! I have actually been SUPER productive today, which is a nice feeling. I studied for a couple hours with another volunteer, so I am starting to feel more comfortable with the basics. Now I just need to start memorizing all these different verb conjugations and tenses – ahhhh! Just gotta keep my head up – avash avash.  I promise that I will post pictures soon enough! I just want to have some more pictures of the beautiful weather, rather than the rain.