Northern Dinner in Vau Dejes

I like to use my weekends to travel the country, visit other volunteers, and hang out with my friends to de-stress.  This has been a very integral part of my service because hanging out with other volunteers gives me an avenue to vent my feelings to people that truly understand what this experience entails.  I am frustrated everyday, but I also experience a lot of highs and successes.  It really is “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

In mid-October I traveled up the farthest north that I have been in country thus far to visit one of my good friends in Vau Dejes.  She lives in a small town in northern Albania near Shkoder.  I have been very interested to visit her town because it seems very different from the city that I live in.  Northern and Southern Albania are often seen as very different cultures from an Albanian viewpoint, as well as a volunteer viewpoint.  Many Albanians have told me that the North is a lot more conservative that Southern cities and many volunteers who serve in the North also agree with this statement.  I have personally found that villages seem to be more conservation than cities whether they are in the northern or southern region of the country.  Volunteers in the North face different challenges than some of the other volunteers in the country because sometimes their towns are more conservative and it is often more difficult to travel because of lack of transportation.  Many volunteers in the north use hitch-hiking as their preferred method of travel because furgons and other modes of transportation are unreliable.  While volunteers in the north face different challenges, they also have some aspects of service on their side.  Living in a smaller site, like many sites in the north are, allows volunteers to integrate into their community in a different way because most people in their town know who they are.  I have found integration to be a challenge in the city that I live in.

Vau Dejes is such a beautiful town! Traveling up north reminded me A LOT of beautiful Colorado.  I guess I really am always going to be a mountain girl.  Near my city we do not have many mountains, we do have the beach, but the water can often be less than sanitary.  Over the summer I remember swimming next to plastic bags. Vau Dejes not only has mountains, but a beautiful lake! I love lakes and mountains so I felt right at home immediately.  It was great getting to catch up with some of the volunteers in the north who I hadn’t seen since training or fourth of July.  There were even some volunteers in the group ahead of mine who I met for the first time.  We ended up taking a little xhiro (walk) up to the lake, drinking a little raki, and then heading back to Erin’s house for the dinner.  Everyone brought great dishes; my personal favorite was a cheesecake brought by Erin’s Italian friend who lives in Shkoder.  Overall, I had a great time up north!

Coming into Shkoder

Coming into Shkoder

The mosque in the center of Shkoder

The mosque in the center of Shkoder

Dan acting aloft at coffee

Dan acting aloft at coffee

We found a small selection of halloween supplies, too bad we could never find the owner to actually buy anything.

We found a small selection of halloween supplies, too bad we could never find the owner to actually buy anything.

Erin did my hair up for the occasion. Lookin flyyyyyyyy.

Erin did my hair up for the occasion. Lookin flyyyyyyyy.

My friends are funny.

My friends are funny.

The catholic church in the center of Vau Dejes

The catholic church in the center of Vau Dejes

Garbage pig

Garbage pig

View of Vau Dejes on our xhiro.

View of Vau Dejes on our xhiro.

The beautiful lake

The beautiful lake

I like puppies.

I like puppies.

Mark with his usual following of kids.

Mark with his usual following of kids.

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

Industrial meets nature.

Industrial meets nature.

Checkin out some weird bugs.

Checkin out some weird bugs.

Pretty clouds.

Pretty clouds.

Erin ran into some of her neighbors on the walk back to her house. Her is a cheek kiss mark to prove it.

Erin ran into some of her neighbors on the walk back to her house. Her is a cheek kiss mark to prove it.

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

Advertisements

Unexpected turns

The last two weeks have been…. interesting, to say the least.  Kate and I split our English classes and that seemed to work better after our initial meeting.  I took the group with little to no English speaking skills, while she took the higher functioning language group.  The second week I spent more time going over basic greetings, introductions, personal pronouns, and the verb “to be.”  I want to continue to go over these basics until the kids have them down.  These are the basic foundations that are important for communicating.  It is necessary that the students are able to greet and introduce themselves appropriately.  I was initially worried that my class size would decrease after our initial lesson because we were not originally prepared, but it actually increased!  And it increased even more the third week as well – every seat in the classroom was filled.  Some of the students who were very shy during the first week started raising their hands and seemed excited to learn!! This has been the most fulfilling activity of my service thus far.  I love seeing the students faces as they begin to understand concepts and feel more comfortable with the language.  It really is special.  As I mentioned before, there are several Egyptian students in my class as well and working with them has been extremely satisfying.  They did not have any previous knowledge of English, but it is apparent to me that they want to learn and they are practicing outside of class.  The youngest girl raised her hand and she knew the correct answer.  I commended her, “bravo” and the smile on her face was priceless.  These are the moments that I strive for as a Peace Corps volunteers.  Sometimes these moments are few and far between, but they are so worth it.  They are worth the days that I sit around my apartment merzit with my service.

Then, on Tuesday my blog BLEW UP! It was absolutely ridiculous how unexpectedly and quickly everything happened.  My mom originally posted a link to my blog on a Saturday Night Live HBO Girls Parody that included an Albanian character that wasn’t very realistic.  My mom mentioned in her comment that Tina Fey should have check out my blog “50 Unique Observations about Albania” before performing that skit.  That is when it all started.  Someone saw it, liked it, and posted it on their facebook.  Then someone else liked it and posted it on their facebook.  And someone else liked it (or possibly disliked it) and posted it on their facebook.  This pattern continued until over 50,000 people read my blog. Whoa, I went from complaining about how I only had 5 people at home reading my blog, to over 50,000 views in least than a week. One word can explain the whole experience: overwhelming.  At first, I was so excited about the attention my blog was receiving, but then it started getting out of hand.  I began receiving some negative commentary and that honestly really hurt.  It’s hard enough living in a foreign country on my own and feeling out of place, but then some of the comments I received made me feel even more isolated and confused.  Even though most of the comments were very positive, the negative ones still affected me and I ended up turning off the commentary portion because it became too much for me to handle.  To help combat some of the negativity I wrote a response blog and began a separate facebook account (Xhill Xhastin – the xh letter in Shqip sounds like an English j) for all my new friends/readers.  It was hard dealing with all the attention, but this goes to show that you need to be ready for anything that you put out on the internet to go viral.  Even though the blog was an emotional experience for me, it has really opened up a new door to begin developing Peace Corps goal #2 – to show Albanians more about America and American culture.  My new facebook, my blog, and other social media accounts now give Albanians a look into my life, into Americans, and our culture.  The blog provided an initial conversation regarding some of the aspects of life here that people might not like and I urge them to continue to strive to make things better.  Also, I have begun talking to more Albanians on facebook from around the world and they have been giving me another insight into their culture.  Overall, even though it was overwhelming I still consider it one of the highlights of my service thus far.

My second dance class did not go over quite as well as planned.  A lot of the girls were not content with the time of their group, or who was in their group, etc etc.   The older girls, who were the best dancers, now can not take classes at all because of the time constraints – too bad.  More parents continued to pile into the cultural center to try and sign their kids up for the class, even though I have mentioned several times that I do not have enough materials to accommodate more girls.  Not to mention that the cultural center does not have enough space to accommodate more girls with hula-hoops, but whatever – they are in the course.  So now what?  This “dance” class has begun to be another stress in my life, when it was supposed to just be for fun.  The reason why I put quotation marks around the word dance is because this class has taken on a mind of it’s own.  At first, I originally wanted to teach a class to young teenage girls (ages 12-15) how to hula hoop and different tricks, but sometimes things get lost in translation and the cultural center has been under the impression that I was some sort of dance instructor back in the states…. Whoops.  I keep trying to explain to them that I am not a dance instructor and that I have no desire to teach any sort of dance besides hula-hooping, mostly because I seriously don’t know any of types of dancing.  Now the cultural center wants a plan regarding my dance class and to top it off – they want the plan in Shqip.  Not quite sure how that will work out, but we’ll see.  They also want me to plan a choreographed dance for their next performance. Ahhhhhhhhhh!  I have begun watching random Youtube videos for ideas and I think I may just begin teaching one of the routines from Youtube because what I want to do is obviously not on the same page as the center. :/ Oh well, I will do what I can.

The beginnings of my secondary projects

Now that it is October I am going to try to get back on track with eating clean and staying fit.  I am putting this goal in writing so that you all can help me remain accountable.  In October, I plan to work out at least 4-5x a week with the Blogilates Abtoberfest calendar and yoga podcasts!  I no longer have the excuse that it is too hot to work out because the temperatures have actually been relatively nice.  Sometimes it will rain heavily and then the sun will be out a few minutes late, the bi-polar changes of the weather remind me of back home.  Oh how I miss beautiful Colorado, especially in the fall – my favorite time of the year.

This whole not sleeping thing is really starting to get to me! I have no idea what is up with my sleep schedule, but it is definitely annoying.  I just begin thinking of all the work I have now and it is exciting, but overwhelming after the amount of work that I had during the summer.  Many volunteers warned me that I need to guard my time because having some down time is a necessary component to my 24/7 job here.  Even if I am not technically “working,” my life here is constantly about networking with members of the community, speaking in a foreign language, promoting my Peace Corps experience to others back home and around the world through social media, and just maintaining a positive image in the community.  I became a volunteer because I am passionate about helping people, so when people want help it is hard for me to say no sometimes. As of now, I still have free-time in my schedule, but I could quickly see that time filling up with my ambitious after-school activities and committee commitments.  OBOBO. One day at a time.

On Monday September 30th, Kate and I started our English class at the Cultural Center.  Overall our class was not bad, but it was definitely not what we were expecting. TIA though, don’t have expectations. When I went to the different 9-year schools we had promoted the class to the 8th and 9th grade students, but there was some sort of disconnect when it came to the registration of the class because we had students from 8 to 15 with varying degrees of English.  Most students did not know any words in English, and if they did they were too shy to speak up while some students could introduce themselves and hold a simple conversation in English.  This was unexpected because Kate and I originally thought our class would be for students with a higher comprehension of the language, so we had planned for our first class to entail basic speaking with introductions about themselves.  Instead, we taught the students some greetings on the fly.  It was a very frustrating experience at first because we did not have an appropriate lesson plan.  I have no problem teaching speakers with no prior English knowledge (it will probably even help me with my Shqip), but I just prefer to know ahead of time what kind of situation I am going into.  For the next time Kate and I are going to split the class into two groups: Kate will take the group of higher speakers and I will teach the basic class.  I am excited to begin working with this kids and I hope that I can at least teach them some basics if anything.  Next time I will have a better lesson plan!! Now I just have to learn how to properly teach the ABCs.  I never realized it before but the English ABCs and somewhat difficult to learn because each letter has a different sound than the name.  In Albanian, the letter names are the actual sounds of the letters – way more logical.  I am also really excited because there are some Egyptian/Roma kids who came to our class and I have been extremely interested in working with these groups of people here.  I am expecting for the class numbers to fluctuate, but hopefully I will at least have five kids who are ready and willing to make an effort to learn.

My friend Sara recently completed another project in Kavaje on Tuesday that I was able to attend.  The NGO that Sara volunteers at held a concert for the people who live at the elderly center in my town.  Now if you remember before, I met the director and some of the staff at the elderly center over the summer.  My program manager wants me to make connections with many different agencies around town.  I am interested in volunteering my time there and possibly writing a grant in the future, but right now I am focusing on youth activities and once those are all smoothed out I can begin adding in other projects.  The concert for the elderly was a really fun and different experience.  It was nice seeing the kids, community members, major, schools, and even one of the local news cameramen come out for the event.  The students from Durres performed dances, songs, theater, and poems.  They were great! We even got to witness a group of older girls perform to the American rap hit “Get Low.”  I am not quite sure if it was necessarily appropriate for the audience, but it was amusing and fun none-the-less.  A class from the local 9-year school also collected goodies to give out to the elderly.  Each person got a bag full of different kinds of foods and gifts.  At the end all of the students gave the elderly hugs and told them how much they are all loved.  It was truly moving because the elderly are often a group of people that are neglected, but they deserve love just like anyone else.  Seeing the toothless smiles on some of their faces really brightened my day.  We ended the event with circle dancing – of course.  I had a blast trying (and failing miserably) to circle dance with the kids, staff and nurses, and even some of the elderly.  Right when I was about to leave, a staff member at the nursing home pulled me into an official meeting with the director, nursing home staff, partners at the NGO, the major, and other important community members.  I ended up coming into the meeting about thirty minutes after it started and had absolutely no idea what was going on.  Sometimes it is extremely difficult to follow conversations in Shqip, especially when several people are talking at once or when someone talks for more than a couple minutes.  Even after the meeting was over I still didn’t really have any idea what happened – at times things seemed a little heated, but sometimes Albanians are just very expressive/loud when they speak.  I did get some peanuts and an energy drink, and possibly some more contacts in the community though, so overall a mire, worthwhile experience.

Giving some of the elderly hugs. So precious.

Giving some of the elderly hugs. So precious.

Watching the talent show.

Watching the talent show.

Dance party and tons of valle aka circle dancing!

Dance party and tons of valle aka circle dancing!

I had my first hoop dance class on Thursday.  Overall, I had a blast.  Since so many girls showed up I basically just let them have a free for all with the hoops.  I showed them some of the basics, such as hooping around the waist and hooping around the hand.  It is difficult to move past that stage and begin to teach them tricks because they need to have those basics down before moving on to anything more complicated.  About 30 girls ages 6 – 16 came out for the class of all different dance levels and experience.  There was a group of older girls that were obviously very interested in dance and they began coordinating their own dance during the class.  I didn’t want to exclude any of the girls that showed up, so I ended up making three different groups.  Instead of having one, one-hour class on Thursday I am now having 3, 45-minute classes.  I am expected that there will be some complaining about class times and not being in classes with friends, etc, but we’ll just hafta wait until next week to see.

Trying out hooping.

Trying out hooping.

Playing around.

Playing around.

One of my students. She is also in my English class.

One of my students. She is also in my English class.

Some of my favorites.

Some of my favorites.

The whole group!

The whole group!

 

This weekend I went to go visit another volunteer in Librazhd.  It was nice to get out of site and hang out on the eastern side of the country.  I often forget just how much I miss the beautiful mountains back home, but being in Librazhd reminded me a little bit of home.  That’s one of the nice things about Albania – you can travel just a few hours and see beaches and mountains.  It was his birthday, so we celebrated and went out to coffee and dinner – some of the few things that you can do in these smaller cities/villages for fun.  The next day we went on a hike up the mountains to an open field with his Outdoor Ambassadors (OA) group.  It was fun to get out with the kids and see some of the students that I had met at the camp in Borsch over the summer.  We grilled qofta (an Albanian sausage-like meat) with cheese and bread, sang corny pop songs with the guitar, played soccer, and relaxed in the hammock.  Seeing a successful OA group is a definite push for me to get one started in my own community.  Too bad we don’t have a bunch of beautiful mountains to climb, but I am sure we could find something to do.  I still want to find this mysterious lake (reservoir as my counter-parts put it) in my community.  Watching my friend in his community gave me something to look forward to.  Sometimes I have a really hard time here, but seeing the way he interacted with his students, shop owners, etc gave me something to strive for.  He continues to say, “it’s all about year two.”  I think that year one requires a lot of relationship building, language learning, and cultural integration.  People are not just going to want to immediately work with you, so avash avash.

Heading up for the picnic.

Heading up for the picnic.

Trash can still be an issue in some of the most beautiful parts of this country.

Trash can still be an issue in some of the most beautiful parts of this country.

Parts of Albania really do remind me of home sweet Colorado.

Parts of Albania really do remind me of home sweet Colorado.

Picnic time!

Picnic time!

Brendan singing Taylor Swift "I Knew You Were Trouble" with one of his students.

Brendan singing Taylor Swift “I Knew You Were Trouble” with one of his students.

Hanging around :)

Hanging around 🙂

The group for the hike. Such awesome teenagers!

The group for the hike. Such awesome teenagers!

My response to “50 Observations about Albania” commentary

Wow, first of all, let me just say WOW! Never in a million years would I have imagined my blog to go viral in the way that it has!  In the past three days, my blog has received over 25,000 views and counting!  Thank you for taking time out of your day to read, comment, and share my “50 Unique Observations about Albania” blog.  Your shares on Facebook and other media outlets helped get my post out, so thanks!  Maybe I should have added a point in my original blog about how much Albanians love social media 😉 (I know that I sure do too)! I really hope that my wonderful, new readers/friends can spread the word about this response blog as well. Please share this with your facebook friends.

People from ALL OVER the world have read my blog now!

People from ALL OVER the world have read my blog now! People from 109 countries have taken the time to read my observations – WOW!

My blog stats.

My blog stats.

My "50 Unique Observations about Albania" post has received over 20,000 views!

My “50 Unique Observations about Albania” post has received over 20,000 views!

Before I delve into some of the feedback that I received, I would like to reiterate why I am in Albania and what my role is as a Peace Corps volunteer. I chose to come to Albania and live here for two years.  I want to help people, work together, and learn from the people here.

The Peace Corps is an American organization that works in countries all across the world.  Volunteers work in Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, the Middle East, Pacific Islands, Caribbean, and Eastern Europe.  Volunteers work with schools, local agencies, health centers, and governments to address needs in many different areas.

In Albania, we have three primary sectors – community and organizational development, teaching English as a foreign language, and health education.  I am a heath education volunteer. Most health volunteers in Albania work with health promotion units at the local Department of Health.  Many community and organizational development volunteers work with Bashkias, and some work with local NGOs.  And most of the teaching English volunteers are placed in the high schools, with a few serving in the 9- year schools as well.

The Peace Corps mission has three goals:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understand of other people on the part of Americans.

These three primary goals bring me to the reason why I started my blog.  My blog was originally to help promote goal #3.  I wrote the “50 Unique Observations about Albania” post to share with my friends and family back home parts of my experience here.  The stories and things depicted in my blog reflect my own experiences in Albania and are not necessarily reflective of the country as a whole.  I am not writing this blog to help promote tourism or as a tourist.  I am writing to share my successes, triumphs, observations, and struggles as a volunteer in Albania.  I live in Albania and will continue to live here until May 2015.

Now, I feel it is important and necessary for me to respond to some of the feedback that I have received in the comment portion of my blog.  I read each and every one of your comments and I really enjoyed the different perspectives and advice how to make my blog post more applicable to the country in its entirety.  To anyone that I offended or hurt in my writing – I truly am sorry, it was never my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I appreciated all the feedback that I received, even some of the negative criticisms.  Most of the feedback I received was very positive and THANK YOU so much for that.  I am very glad that many Albanian-Americans were able to share this post with some of their American friends/spouses as well.  It was nice that many people found parts of my blog entertaining and realistic.  It really meant a lot to me to read some of the encouraging things that people had to write, and it definitely helped to have the positive reactions when some of the other rude commentary made me want to cry.

If anything, I feel that my blog has provided a place where Albanians can engage in a dialogue about some of the realities of this country.  In the end we all want the same thing – a better Albania.  Now the real question is, what can we do to change these things that aren’t working?  No country is perfect, but it’s important to sometimes take a step back and look at things from another viewpoint.  Believe me, I know there are MANY things that are not going well in America and I would be the first to admit our faults.  Admitting those faults, helps us grow and learn how to make things better.

Here are some criticisms and my responses.

This blog does not reflect Albania.  It is mostly referring to “village  life” or life in smaller cities.

  •  Yes, you’re right.  My blog is not describing how life is in Tirana.  Peace Corps volunteers are often placed in smaller cities and villages.  And although life in Tirana is different, I think it is important to remember that many Albanians are still living outside of the bigger cities.

The blog post includes a lot of generalizations, stereotypes, and not enough explanation.

  •  The blog does include some generalizations and stereotypes and I realize that not every Albanian or every city fits into the descriptions I provided.  Each city and every person in Albania has their own fun, unique characteristics.  This is the same for when it comes to generalizations about America.  Not every American is a fat, wealthy, stingy, workaholic that eats McDonalds daily.  While generalizations can sometimes be hurtful, there is often a bit of truth behind them.  To those that were upset that I didn’t go into more detail regarding certain points it was mostly because my blog was already fairly long to begin with and I wanted to dive deeper into certain points in later blog posts.

You need to travel more around Albania and visit Tirana.

  •  I agree, I would love to travel around Albania more! As of now, I have been to close to twenty different cities around Albania including: Pajove, Elbasan, Rreshen, Lezhe, Librazhd, Durres, Tirana, Kavaje, Berat, Ksamil, Saranda, Lushnje, Vlore, Korce, Pogradec, Borsh, and Himare.  I hope to continue my travels around this beautiful country as my service continues. I can’t wait to visit more cities/villages and meet more amazing Albanians.  You have all taught me so much about life.

Turkish toilets are not common in Albania.

  •  I have a Turkish toilet in my apartment, which is why I chose to include a point about the toilets.  Many toilets in Albania, especially in the bigger cities, are not Turkish anymore.

What about futbol and Albanian music?!

  •  You’re right! I definitely should have added something about futbol and Albanian music! I will include that in one of my future posts! Did I mention that I LOVE Albanian music – especially Alban Skenderaj. 🙂

Here are some of the comments/responses to think about:

Arber says:

  • “People here don’t like being criticized. As you may have noticed we are experts in a lot of fields, we are always right, and have no defects as a country( at least that’s what we think) . As lots of people have pointed out here, this ( your list) is not true for all parts of Albania ( as a whole), but all are true for Albania. As the saying goes, denial is the first symptom, acceptance is the first step of healing.”

Jona says:

  • “And yet we criticize ourselves more than any other country ever could. Face it, most of us don’t like others to do the criticizing. It’s an inferiority complex rising from the hatred that we’ve faced from our neighbors ever since we opened our borders. But it’s facing yourself with honesty the starting point to becoming better.”

M&M says:

  • “Although I agree that many of what is written refers to the small villages, I would like to remember to all Albanians here that the bigger part of Albania is made by small villages. You people should have a walk 10 km from your houses with modern toilets, to see what is going on cuz it seems you are all living in Mars. If you live in Tirana and you think that Albania is Blloku, try going in Babrru, Kamza and Paskuqan, which are so close to the capital. I would also like to remember those who commented that this is offensive, that not far in time, but in 1995 in big cities we used to have most of these habits. And that was only 15 years ago. Cheer up Albanians, and stop pretending we are this big modern and civilized country. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we will be able to improve ourself and our dear country.”

Alex says:

  • “Jill, this is a good post. I find the comments especially interesting as only Albanians that are literate in English can understand the article and reply. Not surprisingly, most of them come from big cities and find some of your observations don’t apply to them.”

Tina says:

  • “Everything she wrote was about her observations and not in a “murica” point of view.  I myself am Albanian and was born there and live in the U.S. She managed to sum up most of what goes on in Albania. I am sure the whole point of learning about Albania as a whole, is to first start off in the rural areas rather than going directly to the city, such as Tirana, where it is pretty advanced compared to other places. Anyone can do that, but to live in a place where it’s still not as technical, is def. a much more learning experience and kudos to you Jill. Anyone can live in Tirana and have a great time, but to live in a village and experience the “village life” first hand and still find it fascinating is amazing.”

Ani says:

  • “I read this article and I absolutely loved it! I love your sense of humor and the way that you have a positive outlook even though there are a myriad of things that should be improved in Albania. It is really astonishing that in such a time that you have lived in Albania, you have grasped almost every traditional aspect in regards to living there and I really applaud you on that. I loved every single observation but the 50th was the one that made my day, because even though Albania may have its downsides, like any other country you still managed to look past that and referred to it as a gorgeous gem in the Balkans, which is what it is. I was reading some of the previous comments and found it really upsetting that many people said that these observations do not pertain to Albania at all when I found a part of my culture mirrored in each and every one of your observations. We need to learn to accept our country for what it is and to accept that change is necessary and is on its way. We need to love and embrace it with its perfections and imperfections, like you have done! In my belief, what distinguishes Albania from other cultures is mostly life apart from that of the urban one where authentic traditions are not faded away by time and other factors, because urban life in Albania does not really have a unique or original aspect in it so to say. I really applaud you Jill for your work, your open-mindedness and your respect for a culture that is very different from your own. As an Albanian would say: Te lumte!”

Oli says:

  • “I don’t understand why we get so defensive while we all know/ understand that this is the reality in Albania. This blog gave me a good laugh as I could connect to the truth and I don’t believe she was trying to descriminate us, on contrary she simply said that Albania is no better or worse than America, just different. being Albanian myself, I was not ashamed a bit to share this blog on my FB as all her observations listed are what make us “unique”. She loves Albania and it is obvious she enjoys very much being there. Just because we don’t like to be criticized it doesn’t mean that she is stupid or is not aware of America’s life style. Great article!”

Ilir Shkurti says:

  • “Thank you for your service to my home country. From my freshman through junior year of high-school (95-97) I was taught by two remarkable U.S. Peace Corp volunteers, to whom I am eternally grateful not only for the English language I was able to speak before I arrived to the States, but for a larger window into the world, as I had until then been living in a small northern town in Albania with little exposure to much else. You make many accurate observations which can be hard to take for us proud Albanians, but which should serve as lessons (such as cleanliness of the outside, etc). I would suggest that your impressions will be more complete of the country as a whole once you have visited some of the larger cities, but for the most part, your experience is spot on (regardless of what some suggest, life in the larger city of Tirana is not necessarily representative of the country as a whole, as much as we would like it to be.) I see several co-patriots here take offense at some revelations that may appear embarrassing. I can only assume their tone of reply is more a reflection of a frustration they have with some shortcomings of our country rather than your observations. Above all, I hope you have gotten to know first hand what is the most remarkable aspect of our country: its people. I hope you find us as we know we are: intelligent, open and thirsty for continuous improvement. I applaud your service.”

Now the real question is – where do we go from here? I hope that blog can provide a stepping point for future conversations with friends, family, coworkers, and other people within your communities about how we can continue to better Albania.  I am turning off the comment portion of this blog because I feel that this is a conversation you should have within your communities.

If you’re interested in hearing more about my service in Albania please follow my blog, add me on Facebook at Xhilli Xhastin, follow me on instagram at @jilljustineeeee, and follow me on twitter at @jilljustine.

Here are some other volunteers blogs (with their permission) that you can check out as well. These volunteers are doing AMAZING work in their cities! You should check out some of the great projects that they have implemented with their awesome Albanian counterparts.  None of the work that volunteers do here would be possible without the great work of Albanians!

Kate – English volunteer

Joyce – English volunteer

Mary – Health volunteer

Jenny – Health volunteer

Danielle – English volunteer

Kat – Health volunteer

Heather – Community and Organizational Development volunteer

 

“See the positive side, the potential, and make an effort.” -Dalai Lama

Te gjitha te mirat!