School finally started last Monday – thank goodness! I honestly am not sure how much more summer pushim I could handle. It’s funny because I have been telling people back home for quite some time that I wish I could just have a “break” where I didn’t have to work or do anything. During college I worked my butt off, sometimes holding two jobs for 30+ hours a week while taking 15-18 credits and I never took the summer or winter breaks off to relax. This constant work was exhausting and left me in serious need of a looooooong vacation. Of course the grass is always greener on the other side, and it turns out that having no work drives me crazy. I always feel a sense of accomplishment and happiness from the work that I strive to do because I enjoy helping others and I enjoy being busy. Now that I finally got what I wanted, a vacation, it is time to get back to work and begin building more meaningful relationships in my community.
The school psychologist at the High School contacted me (someone actually wants to work with me?! – YAY, those are the people you have to leach onto during your service) and wants to work together during the school year. I am so excited to have another place to go besides the D.Sh.P. I am also extremely thrilled for this opportunity because it allows me to get into the schools to work with youth focusing in the mental heath field. Double score. I am looking forward to this new partnership, but still am not sure what my role entails within the school. We have a working plan for the entire year than includes holding therapy groups, educating teachers and students about different health topics focusing primarily on mental health, and also consulting students one-on-one in a “therapeutic” and confidential environmental. For now, I am mostly just observing and helping in anyway that I can. I practice using my Shqip with some of the students and have a desire to learn to communicate with them. I really look-up to some of my group 15 friends that have been able to integrate into their community with great language skills and I hope to someday to do the same, but avash avash!
I went to the first day of school with my site-mate Kate and, boy oh boy, it was a cluster. A lot of schools in Albania are somewhat confusing for the first week or two because some classes may not have teachers, the director could be changing, students are getting back into the swing of things, and no one knows where to go. The school-year starts with all the students meeting and greeting out front of school in the courtyard with pop-music blasting from some large speakers. Albanians LOVE their loud music. After that goes on for a while the students are all herded into the gym for several speeches from staff, the director, and students. Then each home-room teacher read aloud their rooster to the kids and they began moving towards their classes. A lot of people did not know where to go because it was difficult to hear the microphone over the 1000 students that were catching up about their summer romances and such. The psychologist (aka my new counterpart) had a detailed plan from previous years and he asked me to help with typing it up and making it pretty. I was very happy to help, especially since it is excruciatingly painful to watch Albanians type. Many schools hear do not even have computers, so it is no surprise that technology class and learning to type fast isn’t one of the highest priorities. Many Albanians that I have watched type, literally type key-by-key searching out the next letter with intense anticipation. Whenever people see how fast that I type they are utterly amazed. But reminder to myself, typing in Shqip is not quite the same as typing in English…. What would have taken me a few minutes to type up in English ended up taking me a few hours. OBOBO, at least I have a bunch of free time now that I do not have internet in my house.
As far as my work goes at the D.Sh.P, it is still relatively the same. We have begun giving some health presentations to the 9-year schools (the school before high school that includes elementary and middle school). My role during these presentations is to stand there, look pretty, and take photos of my counterparts giving health lessons. I am still trying to have a positive attitude about it and I value the relationships that I have built with some of the women there, however, one of my counterparts recently told me that they “have no need for a volunteer because they are already well-qualified.” While this was somewhat saddening to hear, it came as no surprise and was actually kind of a relief because now I can put my efforts into other projects that I am more interested in at different agencies in town. Often times, volunteers original counterparts do not work out for one reason or another, so volunteers have to make their own counterparts in the community. I think for only being here six months that the progress I have made thus far (even though it isn’t very much in American standards) is actually relatively successful. I plan to cultivate and grow in my relationships with everyone in the community, including the D.Sh.P. I am probably going to step-up my time at the high school and hopefully next week I can make a visit to the school for people with disabilities and begin spending some time there as well.
I think things are finally starting to come together in the youth development area in Kavajë too! My site-mate and I are starting an English group/class for teenagers age 14-15 who are currently studying at the 9-year schools. This will be a good age-group to target because many Peace Corps volunteers in Albania are placed in the high schools with request from the Ministry of Education. We will be holding the group once a week on Monday afternoons at the Cultural Center for Children. I am really excited to help students learn English in a fun and engaging manner and I am also really excited to begin working on projects with my wonderful site-mate. She is a great volunteer so I think we will make a great team for youth projects! I also have a “dance class” starting up at the Cultural Center for girls that will meet on Thursdays. I am kind of nervous about beginning this class because I don’t necessarily have a “groove.” I can barely even do the basic circle dance. When I first moved to site I had mentioned an interest in developing a hoop “dance” class just for fun and overtime it has morphed into an American dance class. I hope that the girls are not disappointed when they figure out what the class actually entails. I worry because hooping can be very frustrating and requires a lot of patience and practice. Oh well, it never hurts to try, and try I will! And if it is a complete failure, I can learn from that and move-on. Within the next two weeks I am going to talk with the school director at the high school about starting an American Culture Watch club, a club where students watch movies in English to learn about American culture along with helping improve their English and then write brief papers regarding different aspects of the film. The other club I want to begin is the Outdoor Ambassadors club, this club will focus on environmental issues, along with leadership development. I am looking forward to beginning these new projects and meeting more youth in the community. It will also be nice to begin meeting some new Albanian friends because right now I am kind of lacking in the department. I have several Shqiptare friends, but sadly none of them live in Kavajë. It would just be nice to have a few people, even if they are students, to hang out with occasionally. I have met some people at the office and I have my neighbors, but it would still be refreshing to hang out with the younger generation because they really are the future of this little country. AND if I happen to have some extra time on my hands I am planning on starting a beginners all-ages yoga class in the late afternoons, but first I have to get these groups started.
On a random note – I think I have some new pets in my home! But they are not necessarily the kind of pets that one would want… I think there is anywhere from one lizard-thing to a colony of lizard-things that have built a home inside the wall behind the giant wardrobe/dresser in my room. I honestly don’t mind at all. I think lizards are better to deal with than mice. Mice actually scare me; lizard-things intrigue me. They are not very large creatures, in fact, they are really quite small – probably half the size of a small mouse. I also recently found another pet on the road. A baby cat that could fit inside my palm crying on the street all alone. For how small this kitty was it certainly had a LOUD voice box. That thing could meow and wake up everyone in the neighborhood, I swear. Me: being the crazy cat lady that I am, couldn’t resist the poor baby and took it in for the night, tried to feed it, and give it a warm place to sleep. At first, I left the cat outside my apartment, but it continued to meow incessantly and then some neighborhood boys started pouring water and dirt on it. I couldn’t let that happen! Even though this baby macë was incredibly cute, I knew that at this point in my life I would be unable to provide it with the proper home and I honestly don’t even know how to take care of a cat that should still be breastfeeding from mommy with limited resources. Plus Peace Corps Albania doesn’t allow volunteers to have cats, blah blah blah. So I had to make the hard decision and take the cat back to where I found it. I doubt that it could survive on the streets, but I hope that maybe it’s mom came back and found it.
I am not sure if I mentioned before that over the summer I bought a bike! I live towards the end of my city and it was taking me 20-30 minutes to walk anywhere worthwhile, so I decided to take some of that hard-earned cash that I made in America and invest in a junky old cruiser bike to ride around town. I bought the bike for 7500 leke (around 75 American dollars). I honestly think that price was a bit steep for the quality of the bike, but whatever I wanted a bike and now I have one! Having a bike has been nice for getting around town, even though sometimes it can be a little dangerous. People drive like mad-men around here. Sometimes it can be a bit awkward when I walk around town alone because people stare at me a lot – it is because I am sooooooo beautiful and exotic (bej shaka). Now that I have the bike it is less strange for me to be out on my own, and if people stare at me it is for a smaller allotted time because I am zipping by on my extremely fast and furious cruiser that makes an annoying noise every time I pedal. This bike has allowed me the opportunity to go out and explore my city in new, fun ways. I have been making it a priority to go on more bike rides. I even biked over 15 miles to Durres one day, just for fun, and also to prove to my D.Sh.P counterparts that it is possible. They often tell me that I cannot do things, but I continue to keep proving them wrong. They think I am crazy, but maybe someday they will see the wisdom and strength behind the risks that I choose to take here. I also rode my bike up the hill near the farms outside of the city. It was a very beautiful to see a panoramic view of my whole city right at dusk. There is something about all the mosques in Kavajë that is extremely pleasing to the eye. I also received a coffee and xhiro offer from several of the village men – no bike ride to the village is complete without a coffee offer from some random guy on a motorcycle that continues to ride up and down the road I am biking up (ever so effortlessly I may add 😉 HA).
I also received a care-package from my grandmother and aunt! It was such a great surprise and an amazing package. Thanks so much! I really appreciate all the time, effort, and money that goes into sending me these goodies from America and they sincerely do make my day anytime I receive one. Even mail, letters, postcards, ANYTHING (hint hint to all my friends out there that have yet to send me anything, which is all of you lol). And like any normal PCV I have already ate half the bag of dove chocolate and a delicious package of cheese and broccoli rice – yummmmyyyyyy. At first I told myself, just one piece of Dove chocolate a day and half a bag later I am blogging at 3am through some random internet connection that I receive ONLY in the middle of the night.
TIA is a phrase we common use – aka this is Albania. This is life here, just one crazy day at a time.