Would you like a head massage? Because your hair is unhealthy!

I am starting to network in my community!! And it feels awesome!!

On Friday I asked my counterparts to take me back to the Culture Center of Kavaje because I want to work on projects with youth in the community.  I have a passion for hula-hoop dancing and want to bring the trend to Albania.  On a side note, I have actually seen someone in an Albanian music video hoop dancing, along with another girl doing fire-poi, which was super surprising.  The last time I visited the Culture Center was during my initial site-visit, so I was excited to go again to see if I can begin helping out.  I spoke with the director who is very supportive of me working with the children and running my own activities and I also spoke with another guy who works at the center.  He is very nice and actually speaks some English! I am hoping that we can be friends in the future because he is close to my age and it would be nice to hang out with some shqiptars in the community.  I am supposed to go observe a soccer activity through the center sometime this week, along with a traditional dance class.  I hope that everything works out because I am extremely interested in youth programming!

This morning I briefly talked with neighbors who live in the building across from me while I was taking down my laundry that was hanging out overnight. I couldn’t quite understand the whole conversation, but I picked up something about a head massage (which confused me A LOT haha), something about her daughter coming over after I got off work, and something about practicing English and Shqip together.  I assumed that the daughter would come over after I got off work to practice language, while her mom was working at the hair salon.  When the daughter, Erida, came over to my house she immediately took me over to her mom’s work – she is a local hairdresser.  I was confused, but that seems to happen a lot (I am very used to not knowing what is going on). It turns out that my neighbor, Shqipe, wanted to give me a hair treatment as a gift.  I am pretty sure she kept telling me that my hair was unhealthy and she wanted to give it this treatment so that it would be healthy like hers.  She also mentioned something about how “Miss Globe – Albania” also uses this hair product or comes to her to get the treatment (again, not sure).  Overall, the experience was really fun, although a little confusing at times, but soon I will know the language better!  It is nice to begin making friends in the community because it helps me feel more integrated and safer.

I always seem to have interesting experiences with Albanian hairdressers.  I want to give you an example of something hilarious that happened in my old training site – Pajove.  One day I went into the hair dresser to try and buy tweezers and she was trying to recommend one pair of tweezers of the other pair.  Instead of using her persuasive speaking skills, she decided to take out each pair of tweezers and start tweezing my eyebrows without my permission! It was definitely strange, but really funny at the same time.  Personal space in Albania isn’t quite the same as in the states.

I have also begun to build relationships with the different fruit and vegetable dealers on the street near my house.  Now, some of the venders call me over everyday and want me to buy their vegetables instead of the other vendors – competition, ahhhhhh! I have narrowed my preferences down to two different ladies who have been very kind to me from the beginning, but I still have a favorite ;). Tomorrow, one of the ladies wants me to buy some random looking fruit that looks kind of like a watermelon, but I have NO IDEA what it is hahaha. She insists that I must try it for lunch and for dinner. We’ll see…

I just can’t wait until the school season starts and I am able to implement more health lessons in the classroom, along with hopefully started a youth group with my site-mate.

Advertisements

Election day has finally arrived

Since arriving in Shiperi, we have been hearing lots of rumors regarding the upcoming election. Who will win? Will votes be compromised? Will there be uprising or political unrest once the votes are finally counted? Will Peace Corps volunteers be at risk? It is going to be a close race and it is quite possible that there will be disputes regarding the validity of the votes.  During the last election there will several protests within the capital city of Tirana and several were killed during the disputes.  It is possible that riots could begin in Tirana and other areas of the country as well after the election.

For those of you who don’t know much about Albania (or who have never ever heard of Albania – can’t deny that I hadn’t heard of Albania before my nomination) here is some information regarding the beautiful little country that I reside in. Albania is a small mountanious Balkan country that borders the Adriatic sea to the east and Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece to the west.  Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe and has had a hard time rebuilding their economy after the fall of communism.  Albania has yet to join the EU and are continually working towards membership.

Here is an article describing Albania in more detail.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17679574

Here are several article regarding today’s current election and the government in Albania.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22942607

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23018090

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2013-06/22/c_124894333.htm

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/albanias-politicians-and-voters-getting-ready-for-sundays-crucial-national-polls/2013/06/22/e931c4da-db26-11e2-b418-9dfa095e125d_story.html

Albania has yet to join the EU. Here is an article explaining Albania’s push into the EU.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11283616

Albanian parliamentary election, 2013
Albania


2009 ← 23 June 2013 → Next

All 140 seats to the Assembly of the Republic of Albania
71 seats needed for a majority
Msc 2006-Saturday, 16.00 - 18.00-Berisha.jpg Edi Rama.jpg Ilir Meta Press Conf.jpg
Leader Sali Berisha Edi Rama Ilir Meta
Party PD PS LSI
Last election 68 seats, 40.18% 65 seats, 40.85% 4 seats, 4.85%
Current seats 68 65 4

Mediu - Rumsfeld 060926-F-5586B-311.jpg
Leader Fatmir Mediu Shpëtim Idrizi Vangjel Dule
Party PR PDIU PBDNJ
Last election 1 seats, 2.11% 2 1
Current seats 1 1 1

The Peace Corps staff in Albania does not predict that Americans will be at risk during this election, but we have been ordered on a “stand fast,” which basically means that all of the volunteers in country are not allowed to travel outside of site for at least the next few days until election results are announced.  Today marks the beginning of this process.  Albanian men and women from all over the country will head out to schools and other community buildings to vote in their future government.  Votes will then be taken to Tirana to be counted and a winner announced.  Hopefully, our stand fast does not last long and nothing bad happens.  If there is a security breech, the staff and volunteers have an emergency action plan to get volunteers out of the country safely in need be.

In Kavaje, there seems to be an equal amount of support for each of the following parties.  It is a very politically active city and there have been daily rallies for each of the different parties on the days before the election and the first anti-communism demonstrations in Albania actually started in the city of Kavaje. It will be interesting to see if Kavaje is a fore-runner in political demonstrations after the election this year.

May the best man win.

UPDATE (4:30pm Albanian time/8:30am Denver time):

Check out another Albanian PCV blog for live updates regarding the election. Thus far there are already several issues and violence has occured. http://dudewheresmygomar.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/albania-2013-election-updates/

 

Here is an article explaining the violence up north in the town of Lac.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/23/us-albania-election-idUSBRE95L0GA20130623

 

And here is a video about the election thus far.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/06/201362391518185222.html

Durrës!!!

One of the nice perks of being a Peace Corps volunteer is traveling. Traveling is not only allowed, but encouraged (within moderation of course). Visiting other volunteers is a nice way to see the country and also a nice way to communicate with locals. You never know what kind of crazy adventures you will have traveling around the country, but I can already tell you I have many and I have barely been here 4 months – I can only imagine all the funny furgon memories I will have after my service is over.

This Friday, several of us volunteers who live in the center of Albania decided to get together for a group dinner in Durres. Durres is one of the larger sites in the middle of the country, and it is also a nice place to meet considering it is right on the Adriatic sea. Plus it is only a $1 furgon ride and 30 minutes away from Kavaje!! My site-mate and I traveled to Durres together and had an interesting experience on the way to Durres. Several Albanian boys around our age were STARING at us in the furgon. Now this is common here in Albania, being a foreigner is almost like being a celebrity at times. People notice you and people like to stare. The reason why I bring this incident up (believe me, it happens daily) is because it was extremely hilarious. Kate noticed the çun (word used to describe Albanian boys/men) in the front of the furgon staring at me and then I turned around only to find another çun right in the middle of our headrests staring at us as well. And most of you know me and can imagine my laugh when these sort of funny situations arise. My laugh sometimes makes these situations more awkward, but ska problem. Being a female, especially an “exotic” female, does often warrant a significant amount of male attention, but it is all harmless. Mostly just a lot of staring, not only from çunit, but everyone.

Once we got to Durres we met up with the other volunteers and ventured out to several lokalles for drinks.  Albanians LOVE lokalles (posh coffee shops) and they are located everywhere in the country. Small villages will often even have lokalles – coffee time is big here in Albania. And I’ve got to admit that I really love going for 1-2 hour coffees with people and enjoying my 50 cent espressos. We also saw the ancient amphitheater that is located in Durres. It is one of the largest ancient amphitheaters in the Balkans. We xhiro-ed on the boardwalk around the sea. Parts of Albania often remind me of the states, especially in the bigger cities, and Durres was no exception. Along the boardwalk there were carnival rides, beautiful views, popcorn, restaurants, items for sale, and children playing. Even though Albania sometimes reminds me of the states I will be quickly reminded that I am not back home when I see the half-finished abandoned buildings, trash all over the street, and homeless children begging for money. After the xhiro we had dinner at a great spaghetti restaurant and then stayed the night in a fellow volunteers home. And boy, did they have a nice apartment – even nicer than mine! It was almost American-like with a microwave, stainless-steal appliances, a Jacuzzi tub (which to there credit they are not allowed to use), and a nice view of the city. I am very lucky to have friends in nice places 😉 The next morning they feed us mounds of homemade food including curried vegetables (yummmmm) and homemade Albanian dishes from their neighbors, among many other dishes. It was absolutely amazing! Thanks Paul and Susan!! After breakfast, us girls decided to do some shopping around Durres and found some cute summer clothes. I don’t know if I have mentioned how hot it is here, but it is REALLY HOT and humid – bleh. Breathable, light, and fashionable (can’t forget we are in Alabania and fashion is KEY – seriously) clothing is a must. We went out for another coffee; we love our coffee, and then traveled back to our respective sites.

Tomorrow is the Albanian election and all of us volunteers are on stand fast. We will not be allowed to travel outside of site for several days for security reasons. Peace Corps wants to make sure volunteers are close to home in case there is any civil unrest. I will keep you updated, but as of now they do not expect foreigners to be a target if any issues arise with the election.

20130622-220950.jpg

The ancient amphitheater in Durres

20130622-221002.jpg

Gotta capture another selfie – at the amphitheater

20130622-221031.jpg

A beautiful view of the Adriatic sea – along with some construction work.

20130622-221048.jpg

Part of the Durres boardwalk

20130622-221059.jpg

Our group 🙂

20130622-221111.jpg

Petulla – deep fried donuts covered in chocolate syrup and powered sugar

20130622-221127.jpg

The sea at sunset – so beautiful. I’m so lucky.

20130622-221137.jpg

A kindergarten building. I wouldn’t mind going to kopsh there.

20130622-221148.jpg

Some of us girls in front of the Kindergarten

20130622-221156.jpg

One of the giant markets in Durres where people can buy fresh produce

Keepin my head up

Even though I was a little discouraged yesterday after my tutoring set-up didn’t work out, I didn’t want to let that get me down!  Instead of going home and being upset about it, I harnessed that energy into being productive.  I did my laundry, went grocery shopping, started reading a new book – Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific West Trail, practiced pilates AND yoga (it is really important for me to get back into shape), studied shqip, skyped with my family, and made a healthy dinner. So far a pretty successful day in my opinion.

Today I work I talked with my coworkers about my disappointments with the tutoring and language in general.  They were very supportive and told me not to worry.  Several ladies in my office are asking around to see if they can find someone who is interested in being my tutor.  And my counterparts have also agreed to help me with my pronunciation and any questions while I am at work too!

I spoke with my counterpart today more about projects and activities that we can do during the summer.  As I mentioned before things do not get done in the same manner during the summer because it is soooo hot outside.  Back home in Colorado it would get hot during the summer, but the heat here is very different because it is humid and there is no escaping the heat (central air conditioning is unheard of here, but swamp coolers are becoming more popular, but still not widely installed in homes).  Luckily my apartment is on the 4th floor of my building, so it is not very hot.  My last apartment in Fort Collins was actually hotter than my apartment here, and I find that mildly amusing.  But anyways, back to work.  I have an interest in working with the Roma (gypsy) population here in Albania. To read more about the Roma population here check out these links:

http://www.osce.org/albania/21232 or http://europeandcis.undp.org/uploads/public/File/rbec_web/vgr/Albanian_Roma_Report_english_reduced.pdf

I suggested to my counterparts that we consider giving a lesson on proper hygiene and dental care.  She had concerns on having an appropriate space to give the lesson, along with concerns about the conditions of the Roma living environment.  She has expressed fright of working with this population because of sanitation issues.  The previous health volunteer who was working in Kavaje before me gave a lesson to the Roma population with my counterpart.  My counterpart felt as though it wasn’t effective because they were giving the lesson on the street and after the lesson, the people told her about their problems.  She felt bad because she does not have the resources to help the Roma people get what they need, such as shampoo, health supplies, etc.  After we began discussing these issues, they decided that we can try to go and find where the Roma people are living now (they are a nomatic population and often move from place to place).  I discussed the possibility of writing a future grant to help the Roma people with some of these basic needs.  For now, this is just an idea, but it could definitely be a project in the future.

My office also went to a political rally today because our director asked us to attend.  The elections for the next Albanian prime minister are going to held this Sunday June 23rd and it should be a tight race.  I will update you more on these issues as the election comes closer.  Our director wanted us to attend the rally today because he works for Sali Barisha (our current Prime Minister) and it is important for Barisha to win in order for our director to keep his job.  I went to the rally with all the ladies who work in the D.Sh.P and we traveled by furgon to a neighboring village of Kavaje across the highway.  It was funny to be with all of them because they are a bunch of ball-busters and I love it!  They are loud and proud, some of my coworkers were arguing with the driver about the price and they ended up winning.  The whole situation was hilarious.  The rally was full of youth who are excited to get involved with politics.  Seeing people so happy and interested was nice for me because Albanians have not had it very easy in the past when it comes to the government and control of their country.  Things are not perfect now, as no government is perfect, but things are getting better and they are slowly changing.  At the rally there was singing and, of course, circle dancing.  The rally was fun, but it is important for Peace Corps volunteers to not directly support any of the candidates in the race.  We do not have a political affiliation with the Albanian government.

A famous Albanian pop-star performing at the rally.

A famous Albanian pop-star performing at the rally.

Another one of the many rallies that is taking place for the upcoming election. Here is a rally for the Democratic party of Albania.

Another one of the many rallies that is taking place for the upcoming election. Here is a rally for the Democratic party of Albania.

Language frustrations

Once PST is over, our organized language training is over.  At site it is our responsibility to find a tutor to help us improve our language skills, but it isn’t a requirement to do so.  Learning shqip and successfully communicating with the people in the community is important to me, so within the second week I found a tutor at the local high school.  Today was supposed to be my first day with the tutor, but when I showed up for our meeting she informed me that she wouldn’t be able to work with me because she has other students at the high school that she will need to help over the summer.  Can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed, but interactions like this are the norm in Albania.  I am beginning to lose my confidence and motivation in my language skills.  My wonderful site-mate is amazing at the language and when we are out together many Albanians will often compare our language skills, which in turn makes me feel less confident.  In Peace Corps it is important to not compare yourself to other volunteers, but it is hard when Albanians will compare us straight to our faces and assume that I do not understand because I still cannot speak very well.  Oh well, that is just how the Albanian culture is.  It is normal for people to be compared and Albanians are very honest.  They will tell you if you are fat, pretty, good at the language, not good at the language, among many other things that would not be appropriate in the United States.  I just need to find someone in the community soon who is willing to help me improve my language, but this is probably another aspect of my time here that will move slowly. So, avash avash.

Visitors at site!

Instead of traveling out of site this weekend, Kate and I had some friends come and visit us in Kavaje.  On Friday, Kate and I went out for our first beer in the evening at site and we were pleasantly surprised!  We went to a café that is close to my house around 8:30 at night and there were women still out!! And some were even at the café!! Now, you can only imagine how excited I was to see other women out at night.  It definitely made me more comfortable to be out in the evening at site.  In other sites, some other female volunteers are urged to not go out at night because it is not safe or accepted.  When I first received my acceptance packet to Albania, I was extremely worried that I would not be able to be out a night.  In America, I was a night-owl and enjoyed going out in the evenings with my friends.  Luckily, that is not something that I will have to give up at site.  It was definitely reassuring for me and Kate and now that we know it is acceptable we will probably go out together more at night on the weekends, especially during these hot summer nights.  On Saturday, several volunteers came to visit!  We all had coffee and went to the beach.  The beach is only about a 10 minute furgon ride for 50 cents – totally worth it.  While some of the beaches do have trash on them, it was still a treat to be out in the sun having fun with my friends.  And the water wasn’t bad either!! Sadly, I did get a little sunburn, but soon that will turn into a tan!  I definitely am planning on going to the beach every week during the summer.  I feel blessed to be so close to the sea because I have never been able to experience this before living in land-locked Colorado.

After the beach we all ate a wonderful meal at a nice seafood restaurant in Kavaje.

After the beach we all ate a wonderful meal at a nice seafood restaurant in Kavaje.

BERAT!!

After my first week at site I really needed to get out and talk with a friend.  I was getting stir-crazy from all the free time that I acquired, so I went to go visit my good friend Dan in Berat.  Dan was another volunteer who lived in my village during training and we became really good friends during that experience.  He likes electronic music and geocaching (just like me), so we immediately bounded over that!

Berat is a bigger city in the center of Albania and it is about 2 hours south of Kavaje via furgon (2.5 hours via bus).  It is a hot spot for tourists because an Albanian university is located there, along with a castle.  Albania has a lot of ancient ruins and castles… and the nice thing about visiting castles (or museums in general) is that you climb and touch everything.  There are no boundaries and you are free to explore as much as you like.  Berat is also known as the city of windows because it is full of many beautiful buildings and the windows light up at night.  It is quite beautiful.

Dan and I had a great time over the weekend.  We made dinner at his house. Just for the record Dan has an extreme “posh corps” apartment – 3 bedrooms, a full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, etc.  We also explored the castle, found some cool street art, tried to find our first Albanian geocache (but sadly failed), and drank raki.  It was definitely a good time away from site and made me really excited to travel and visit other friends around Albania.  I was also excited to visit Dan because previous volunteers at his site have implemented an “American Culture Watch” club for youth in their community.  Basically the club allows for teens to come and watch American movies in English and evaluate the movie in English.  Each week they watch a different movie and then evaluate the movie next week for homework.  I would like to start a club like this in Kavaje, but I think most youth groups that I am interested in beginning won’t start until after school starts up again in the fall.

Image

This is the view from Dan’s balcony – absolutely gorgeous.

Here is Dan working with the Berat American Culture Watch club.

Here is Dan working with the Berat American Culture Watch club.

At the castle.

At the castle.

Some Albanians live inside the castle. Here is some clothes hanging out to dry at one of the homes.

Some Albanians live inside the castle. Here is some clothes hanging out to dry at one of the homes.

Here is Dan being funny at the castle.

Here is Dan being funny at the castle.

On the Berat bridge

On the Berat bridge

The beautiful city of windows at night.

The beautiful city of windows at night.

Image

Some of the cool street art I found in Berat – could it be Banksy?! And of course, some trash. There is trash everywhere in Albania.

Dan's neighbors had the cutest kittens. I want one!!

Dan’s neighbors had the cutest kittens. I want one!!