Back to work and a somewhat productive life

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.

One of my counterparts at the D.Sh.P giving a lesson about proper dental hygiene.

One of my counterparts at the D.Sh.P giving a lesson about proper dental hygiene.

We even got a cute, little helper to come and demonstrate.

We even got a cute, little helper to come and demonstrate.

A random guy came into the D.Sh.P trying to sell this bad boy for $70... OBOBO. Soooo funny!

A random guy came into the D.Sh.P trying to sell this bad boy for $70… OBOBO. Soooo funny!

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.

Such a cutie! Wish I could have saved it.

Such a cutie! Wish I could have saved it.

It fit in the palm of my hand.

It fit in the palm of my hand.

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).

Riding in style, my sexyyyyy bike!

Riding in style, my sexyyyyy bike!

Some of the fresh meat that I see around town...

Some of the fresh meat that I see around town…

Bike ride views. I'm obsessed with the Kavajë nail factory smoke stacks.

Bike ride views. I’m obsessed with the nail factory smoke stacks.

More smoke stacks. Evening bike rides are the best.

More smoke stacks. Evening bike rides are the best.

There is something about beautiful mosques next to run-down buildings that is extremely intriguing and beautiful.

There is something about pristine mosques next to run-down buildings that is extremely intriguing and beautiful.

Inspirational graffiti in Kavaje. LOVE IT!

Inspirational graffiti. LOVE IT! “You can touch the sky with just a smile if you never give up.”

View of the whole city at dusk. The picture doesn't even begin to do it justice.

View of the whole city at dusk. The picture doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

Sunset over Kavajë.

Sunset over my city.

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.

For those of you who like a good laugh I will leave you with this. I dropped my panties onto my neighbor's clothes line. One pair has been holding on strong for several days now. Life never ceases to be embarrassing and awkward at times here, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

For those of you who like a good laugh I will leave you with this. I dropped my panties onto my neighbor’s clothes line. One pair has been holding on strong for several days now. Life never ceases to be embarrassing and awkward at times here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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BORSH SUMMER CAMP

Hands down the best thing that I participated in with the Outdoor Ambassadors summer camp in Borsh, a southern beach city of Albania.  There were originally some problems with the venue, the funding, and the dates of camp, but even with all the roadblocks we were able to pull off an amazing camp for the teenagers.  This is Albania and often times things are very last minute and confusing, and this camp was no exception.  We were unsure if the funding was even going to come through until several days before the camp was actually supposed to start.  It was frustrating, but all the negative feelings that came along with the uncertainty quickly melted away as the camp finally started coming together.  This whole camp would not have been possible without the amazing volunteer who coordinated all the efforts.  It was a lot of work and it all ended up panning out in the end.

Another volunteer, Masha, and I decided to travel together the weekend before camp.  We spent one night together in my city and I got to show her around time and go out for pizza.  My city has some pretty good pizza if I do say so myself.  After that we traveled down to Berat to visit a winery and hang out with a few other volunteers in the area.  We also met some pretty fun Australians who were staying at the local hostel, so that was enjoyable as well.  Following our night in Berat, Masha and I made our way down to Vlore to stay with another volunteer for the night and meet up with Heather who was also going to be working at camp.  Traveling in Albania can be difficult, so it was nice to spread apart our traveling over a couple days.  Once in Vlore we had a hard time finding a furgon that was heading towards Borsh, but after waiting for over 30 minutes on the side of the main road in Vlore a car that looked like a furgon finally pulled over and offered to give us a ride.  At first we were a bit hesitant to take the ride, but decided we were tired of waiting on the side of the road.  This furgon ride seemed like any other until we got arrived at a gas station and the driver wanted us to pay half of the costs up front.  We all thought this to be a little strange, but we handed him 1000 leke (around ten dollars).  He was confused as well and kept asking for more, saying he wanted half and we told him that we gave him more than over half.  It turns out this guy wanted us each to pay fifty dollars for a trip that is normally four dollars.  What a rip-off! We refused to pay that much money, so he left us on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere a little bit outside of Vlore. Now what, you may wonder? Well we decided to do what any poor Peace Corps volunteers would do – hitch a ride.  We waited on the side of the dead heat of day for about thirty more minutes before a couple older guys agreed to give us a ride to Orikum, which is another town along the way.  It wasn’t exactly were we needed to get, but it was one step closer to our destination so we agreed.  Both guys were very friendly and the driver even spoke a little bit of English because he lives outside the country, but just comes back during the summer to visit.  Then we waited for a bit again and met some cool Polish tourists who were hitching their way across the Balkans – you never know who you will meet in a day in Shipëria.  We ended up hitching another ride with a nice younger couple from Vlore who were on their way to vacation in Saranda.  The man driving was going a bit fast for the small curvy one-way road, but we made it to our next destination, the city of Himare, in one piece.  In Himare, we stopped for and met up with one of the volunteers there for lunch.  Had some delicious seafood pasta – yummmmmmmmy.  We didn’t have too much time to stop and chat, so we quickly went on our way.  Luckily in Himare, Masha was able to get us a ride immediately with a nice younger guy who spoke great English and used to live in America.  He told us all about his life and randomly took us to his house.  We didn’t originally anticipate the detour, but he wanted us to see his place because he is trying to turn it into a bed and breakfast type joint.  We met his grandmother and mother and then hit the road again for our final stretch.  The fun (and somewhat dangerous) aspect of hitching is that you never really know who your driver will be, but so far it is has always been a fun adventure and it isn’t something that I would ever do alone.

Enjoying some wine with some nice Australians at the Berat Winery.

Enjoying some wine with some nice Australians at the Berat Winery.

HOLY MOLY! A girl is actually playing pool in Albania... who'd thunk it.

HOLY MOLY! A girl is actually playing pool in Albania… who’d thunk it.

The last bit of our journey to camp. Heather, Masha, and I even made up a nice rap, "Vazhdo...!"

The last bit of our journey to camp. Heather, Masha, and I even made up a nice rap, “Vazhdo…!”

We arrived at camp about an hour before the bus full of the campers and other volunteers arrived.  This allowed us some down time to pick our bunk in the tent and relax before all the hard work began. The first night we played team-building and name games.  The kids were all assigned “teams” for the week – our camp theme was Survivor, so it was each team against the others.  Geena, the camp coordinator, went over camp rules and then the kids hit the tents for bed.

Our first picture with all the students!

Our first picture with all the students!

The camp cat. It took everything for me not to take it home with me. Sometimes it even slept with some of us at night... it was nice to have something to cuddle up with.

The camp cat. It took everything for me not to take it home with me. Sometimes it even slept with some of us at night… it was nice to have something to cuddle up with.

All of the counselors dressed up to raise team spirits the first night.

All of the counselors dressed up to raise team spirits the first night.

Every morning I led the optional 7am morning yoga class.  This was a real treat for me and definitely was extremely rewarding.  I care about yoga and really feel that a regular yoga practice offers so many benefits to different aspects of life.  I know that my practice has allowed me to practice patience and acceptance, especially with my situation here.  After yoga and breakfast on the second day, I helped Masha lead lessons about first-aid and hiking nutrition.  The third day, another volunteer Maria and I, took groups on hikes around town.  We were lucky enough to come across a beautiful waterfall, which was amazing! The kids LOVED it and it was a nice cool break from the heat.  We totally planned that. J Every night there were activities, games, and survivor council events before bedtime.  The third day was devoted to a beach cleanup and lessons regarding recycling and other important environmental issues.  The teens had the opportunity to use their artistic talents and transform a trash-can for local businesses along the beach.  In the afternoon, the kids presented their hard work to the businesses and gave brief presentations about Outdoor Ambassadors and how businesses can help with the environmental issues that Albania faces.  We had a final bonfire on the beach with the musical styling’s of several volunteers, Brendan and Joyce.  It is always nice to have some talented musicians around. We sang, played guitar flute and the banjo, and had a blast.  Can’t deny that I had to smile a little when the Albanians and Americans came together and sang together the song, “Blow my Whistle.”  Classic TIA (this is Albania).  After several days of little sleep, shumë pune (lots of work), and many new friends, it was finally time to head back to site. Luckily on the way home I didn’t have to hitch a ride and was able to ride back all the way to Kavajë with the bus of kids.

Leading morning yoga - what an amazing experience.

Leading morning yoga – what an amazing experience.

There were cows that randomly roamed around the campsite...

There were cows that randomly roamed around the campsite…

A group of us on the hike. We made it all the way to the main road before magically finding the waterfall.

A group of us on the hike. We made it all the way to the main road before magically finding the waterfall.

ZE WATERFALL!

ZE WATERFALL!

Taking a break from leading Masha's nutrition and first aid classes.

Taking a break from leading Masha’s nutrition and first aid classes.

NAMASTE <3

NAMASTE ❤

Yummy, we had my favorite petulla (fried dough) for snack one of the days.

Yummy, we had my favorite petulla (fried dough) for snack one of the days.

Outdoor Ambassadors camp was the highlight of my service thus far.  I enjoy working with youth; working in the schools and with kids/teenagers is my passion.  Now that school has finally started I will create a successful Outdoor Ambassadors youth group in my community and hopefully next summer I will have students of my own at camp!  As of now, I already have some plans in the making!

Some of the teens with their newly made trash-can.

Some of the teens with their newly made trash-can.

Presenting on the environment to local cafe owner.

Presenting on the environment to local cafe owner.

The camp owner had a child with disabilities and I really enjoyed spending some extra one-on-one time with him. Such a cutie.

The camp owner had a child with disabilities and I really enjoyed spending some extra one-on-one time with him. Such a cutie.

Outdoor Ambassadors Albania!

Outdoor Ambassadors Albania!

And if you are interested in checking out a wonderful video put together by another volunteer watch THIS. I swear it is worth it.

Nothing says summer like lakes and beer

So I randomly woke up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep, damn irregular sleep schedule.  My annoyance, however, will supply all of you with the good happenings of the rest of my summer.  Like I mentioned in my last post I have been doing quite a bit of traveling this summer because it has been vacation for ALL Albanians and my main counterpart was working at a health clinic near the beach for the past two months.

I traveled over to the east of Albania to visit some friends in Pogradec in early August.  Pogradec is known for the beautiful lake that borders the city and Macedonia.  It was seriously one of the most gorgeous areas of Albania, but maybe I am a little biased being a born-and-raised Colorado girl – gotta love my lakes and mountains.

I traveled to Pogradec with one of my best friends Sara in Peace Corps who lives in a neighboring city of Durrës thirty minutes away from my city (or closer to sixty depending how many times the furgon wants to stop).  Sara and I were supposed to catch the early direct bus from Durrës to Pogradec at 6:30am, but both of us managed to set our alarms incorrectly.  We woke up at 6:40 – whoops, time for plan B.  Since we missed our original bus, we caught a different bus going towards Librazhd, another eastern city near Pogradec.  Sara and I were both tired on our bus ride and slept for part of the way, until the bus attendant woke us up outside Elbasan and directed us to get off the bus on the side of the road outside of Elbasan to catch a different furgon to our final destination.  Half awake we follow his directions and get off the bus in the dead of heat only to find ourselves outside the city near an empty furgon on the side of the road without a driver that is supposedly going to haul us off to the east.  After a few awkward minutes of waiting on the side of the road in the blistering sun the driver comes out of an unmarked building, where he is most likely having coffee, to put our bags inside the car.  We continued to wait at this unmarked furgon in a random location for more people to join the party so we could get on the road.  The whole time I was thinking, “WTF? How is this furgon ever going to fill up in the middle of nowhere.”  But eventually we were able to continue on.  Albania, and definitely traveling in Albania, has taught me a lot of patience because you really have no control over when and where you’re going when you are not the driver.  There are always estimated times and distances, but you never truly know when or where you might get dropped.  It’s all part of the adventure!!

Once we made it to Pogradec we grabbed a coffee with Alex and Mark (I hope you’re starting to get the gist of how often we have coffee here in Albania) and then hit the lake for a swim.  Several of us volunteers rented a paddle-boat and paddled towards the center of the lake for a dip.  Jumping into that lake was one of the most reinvigorating experiences I have had in Albania thus far.  The cool, crisp water enveloped my body immediately and literally took my breath away as I came up for air.  I love living near the sea, but fresh water is really superior in my opinion.  That clear refreshing water was exactly what I needed.  Later that evening we met up with several of the Pogradec volunteer’s Albanian friends and went out for a xhiro (big fashionable city jaunt on the main road most evenings), dinner, and drinks.  It was a great time!   We left Pogradec to come back to my city because there was a SPA Grant Inaguration event.

Sara and Mark on the paddle boat.

Sara and Mark on the paddle boat.

Alex and Sara enjoying the beautiful lake.

Alex and Sara enjoying the beautiful lake.

Sara and me hanging out near a bunker at the lake.

Sara and me hanging out near a bunker at the lake.

Furgon, bunker, and beauty: perfect representation of Albania.

Furgon, bunker, and beauty: perfect representation of Albania.

Soakin up some of that beautiful sunnnn. Can you see my tan?!

Soakin up some of that beautiful sunnnn. Can you see my tan?!

Sara is a Community Development volunteer and she works for a local NGO in Durrës.  I feel so grateful to have such an amazing, strong, and successful volunteer as my friend and mentor here.  Sara writes many grants with her counterpart here and they recently completed a project for a soccer field makeover and supplies for a younger boys team in my city.  It was really nice to see all of their hard-work in action.  The field was leveled-out and painted, the boys were given uniforms, and then team was given the necessary supplies to play.  I witnessed the inauguration of field from our Peace Corps country director, as well as several local counterparts who developed the project.  This soccer field has been developed within an Egyptian community compound and the team has included several Egyptian boys on the team as well.  It is really inspiring that Albanians are beginning to slowly include these at-risk populations in their education and activities.  I hope to eventually find some work within that community, but I need to find someone who would be interested in developing a project for me.  Even something simple like taking some hula-hoops or Frisbees to play with the kids on nice days would be rewarding.

Some of the boys checking out pictures of the grant progress.

Some of the boys checking out pictures of the grant progress.

All the new equipment!

All the new equipment!

Our country director cutting the ribbon.

Our country director cutting the ribbon.

Handing out the new uniforms.

Handing out the new uniforms.

Some of the fathers were helping their sons put on their new uniforms.

Some of the fathers were helping their sons put on their new uniforms.

Let the games begin!

Let the games begin!

In August, an annual Beer Festival is held in the eastern city of Korca.  Now for those of you who know me pretty well, you know I can’t pass on a festival, especially a festival that includes beer and music.  And even better, the beer was 50 leke (50 cents) a cup – what a deal! Luckily the volunteer in Korca, One of my group 15 friends, was a great hostess and allowed all the volunteers to crash at her place for the event.  Having 10-20 volunteers sleeping in one’s home can be somewhat overwhelming, so shumë faleminderit!  The first night of beer fest was lots of fun.  We brought cards, jenga, and other games to keep ourselves occupied with enjoying a few cheap beers from different Albanian beer companies.  We even played a couple rounds of jenga with some of the local Roma children who were asking for money around the festival.  Using Roma/Egyptian children is a common way that families get an income here.  Peace Corps does not want volunteers to give the children money because it is a revolving door and volunteers are often targets for extra harassment.  Sometimes I give the kids 10 leke (10 cents), but I am hoping that later on in my service I can do something more sustainable or at least get to know some of these kids and let them know that they are special, not just a source of illegitimate income.  On the last night, we were lucky enough to witness the “guitar of Guns and Roses” (all the advertising materials marketed the guitar instead of the guitarist – whoops, always good to spell check that stuff before it hits the print).  The Community Development volunteer in Korca is looking to hype up the festival next year for tourism purposes to bring more outside revenue into the area.  I hope that her project works out!  I also witnessed something else very special that melted my heart that last night of the festival.  As the festival was beginning to die down the Roma families began taking the leftover beers from the tables and pouring the remains into plastic water bottles to take home.  Even though the situation itself is somewhat sad, it was nice to see the family working together and they seemed so happy for all the free beer and leftover food.  The amazing part of this situation is that some Albanians in the VIP area began to help the family and got them fresh beer on tap from one of the kegs in the VIP area.  They also gave them leftover food and shared cigarettes.  And in the end they all took a picture together!  This scene left me with hope because the Roma/Egyptian people are a highly discriminated against group in Albania, so to see other Albanians help them out was very moving, even if the situation itself was somewhat heartbreaking.

We decided to hit some amusement park rides on the boardwalk in Durres before traveling to beer fest.

We decided to hit some amusement park rides on the boardwalk in Durres before traveling to beer fest.

UP UP & AWAY. We are the blur up top!

UP UP & AWAY. We are the blur up top!

Stopping at the lake in Pogradec for coffee on the way down to beer fest.

Stopping at the lake in Pogradec for coffee on the way down to Korca.

Some of the volunteers at my first day of beer fest - so much fun!

Some of the volunteers at my first day of beer fest – so much fun!

Hanging out, drinking beer, and playing Jenga with some local kids at beer fest.

Hanging out, drinking beer, and playing Jenga with some local kids.

They got really into the games. It was adorable.

They got really into the games. It was adorable.

Pure joy.

Pure joy.

Even though work has been slow over the summer, I continued to go to tutoring and work with Alma.  She has actually become a good friend over time and I feel grateful to have her as a connection to the community, language, and the local high school.  We work together two to three times a week for an hour each lesson.  When we first started working together it was difficult being we were not used to each other’s teaching/learning styles, but every time it keeps getting better and I have been picking up new things about the language every week.  One day during lesson, Alma told me that something I had mentioned to her previously really stuck with her.  We were talking about my happiness and she questions how I could ever be happy in my city without friends and family.  She also feels the mindset here is different than other Albanian cities, so it baffles her that I could possibly be happy here.  I told her that I am happy here because I choose to be happy here.  Happiness is a choice for me and the one person that my happiness really affects is me in the end.  I live here and it is important to do what I can, with where I am, and what I have.  She said that my outlook on life has helped her to have a more positive attitude about her circumstances here.  Small successes and conversations like this really remind me of what I want to get out of my experience here.  I am not looking to change Albania and all the people here, I just want to impact people with kindness, inspiration, hope to better their lives and circumstances.  I am not going to change Albania, but I can try to help push people in the right direction and help connect them to resources to move forward.

Sometimes service isn’t easy

So it has been a long time since I have wrote an update and I am very sorry to my avid readers (that is, the five or ten of my parents friends and family who are actually interested in what I am doing here).  To be honest, I haven’t really had much to update everyone about in the working department.  Pretty much for the entire month of July and August absolutely nothing happened at work– seriously NOTHING.  I have personally been working on patience and having a good attitude, but I started to get seriously merzit, which means many things in Shqip like annoyed, bored, sad, angry, whatever.  My counterparts at the D.Sh.P were on vacation for most of this time and if they were in the office there wasn’t much actual work to be done.  And even if they were in the office there are not even any health activities on the Health Education calendar for the entire month of August.  I started to get so frustrated that I needed a break. I couldn’t go into work and stare at walls everyday, so I took some time to just “work on me” and by that I mean focus on meditation, yoga, and traveling to visit friends.  The time that I used as a break helped give me some clarity and is pushing me towards finding other people in my community who are interested in working with me.  The summer is vacation for everyone, so now that school is starting next week I am hoping that things will begin to pick up.

 

I am sure some of you have seen my updates on Facebook and it looks like I am having so much fun.  To be honest, sometimes I am having a lot of fun, but the reality of life here isn’t just a big party with beautiful beaches and the occasional alcoholic beverage. Just please remember that even though my life looks amazing, it is still nice when you check in and ask how things are because I sometimes am really merzit here.  Just because I am in Albania (and I have internet, electricity, and water) does not mean that my life is “easier” than those who are in “a mud hut in Africa.”  I cannot tell you how obnoxious it is to hear that from people back home who can’t even comprehend how difficult this experience can be at times.  The hardest part about this experience for me has been leaving my life back home and starting over, completely starting over. When you’re here you also have A LOT of time to think about things and this extra time can be nice, but overwhelming.  Especially when most of my support system is an eight hour time difference away. I have found solace in knowing that other volunteers in all the different countries are going through the same things and I always get a nice little chuckle from this blog.

 

Peace Corps even has a nice acronym for volunteers, referring to volunteers being “out on a LIMB.”

 

L – lonely

I – isolated

M –  miserable

B – bored/angry

 

This summer has certainly taught me a lot about how much I can handle and myself.  These hardships have been thrown at me and I know that I am strong enough to move past this and have fulfilling projects in the future.   I need to focus more on relationship building and getting people in the community to trust me.  Once I gain that trust I will be able to hopefully find joy in my work here.

 

On a brighter note, I was appointed as the Grant and Research Lead on the Anti-Trafficking in Persons committee.  And the Outdoor Ambassadors summer camp that I was going to be involved with earlier in the summer actually happened!  But that camp deserves a blog of it’s own, so keep a look out.

 

As President Kennedy said when describing the Peace Corps, “If the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying.” I am serving my country. I am taking two years of my life to help people in Albania develop and sustain projects and activities for the well-being of the entire community. Life is not easy, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Check out this article about serving the country.