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!