Last week was one of my favorite weeks of Peace Corps thus far and there really is no particular reason why it was better than the others. I think that I am finally starting to get to the Peace Corps stage of Adjustment. During our training, Peace Corps was nice enough to provide us with materials, including this lovely chart of vulnerability and adjustment. Oh the roller coaster of emotions volunteers face all around the world.
We even have nice charts to explain volunteer’s bi-polar behavior.
I began the week on Monday giving HIV/AIDS lessons with my counterparts at the high school. Instead of working with my regular counterparts, I shadowed another lady at the D.Sh.P who does promotion only at the schools (rather than the whole community like my official counterpart). She gave some lectures to the students regarding HIV/AIDS information and I took some photos for the Ministry of Public Health. Once we returned to the office, I suggested that we add some activities, posters, etc. to our lessons for the rest of the week in order to help keep the students more engaged. She was very receptive to my ideas, so I offered to make some posters for our lessons on Tuesday based off of the Peace Corps Health Lessons manual. I was so excited to have my ideas heard. Often times, I feel like my ideas are not necessarily taken into consideration for one reason or another, so it felt nice to have positive feedback regarding changes. After our morning lessons, I had my English course in the afternoon at the Cultural Center. I developed a Powerpoint presentation surrounding the American holiday Thanksgiving. It was nice to have a successful, fun lesson that also brought in some American culture.
HIV lessons at the high school
Asking the students what they know about HIV.
On Tuesday, I went to the technical school with this other lady at the D.Sh.P to implement our new and improved lesson. At first, she gave her normal lecture, but after she was done I was able to interact with the students a little and give my portion of the presentation. This was the first time that I was able to interact with the students during the lesson and that meant a lot to me. I hope to continue this practice throughout my second year volunteering in Albania. Things are continuing to look up! Once we finished our lesson, we went to the local community church so that my counterpart could give respect to some of her loved one through traditional candle lighting. It was very moving that she allowed me to come with her and partake in this tradition. She even gave me some candles to light on my own. After we lit the candles we went into the church and my counterpart proceeded to kiss every painting inside of the church. I really enjoyed seeing another side to Albanian culture. Even though I live in a primarily Muslim community, some of my counterparts/students attend the church near my house. One of these Sundays I plan on attending a service. They even have a kindergarten held there and I am pretty sure children go to day school there during the summer (it could be another possible avenue of work for me during those slow summer days)! Once we finished at the church, I helped her pick up fruits and vegetables from all the village workers so that she could prepare a nice lunch and dinner for her family. I ended my day making Christmas ornaments and crafting for the holidays. Luckily, I was able to find a cute little Christmas tree and some ornaments at a small shop near my apartment. There are not as many decorations in my town though because most of the citizens practice Islam.
The posters were a nice addition to our lesson.
Lighting candles for our loved ones.
Inside the church.
My counterpart kissing the portraits.
The church is not even a block away from my house.
On Wednesday, we received a new director at the D.Sh.P. I have yet to meet him, but I hope to converse with him soon to talk about ways that we can work together to improve health promotion in my city. We decided not to give lessons on Wednesday because many of the ladies at the D.Sh.P wanted to wait around in case the director wanted to meet them. Of course, that did not actually happen – ska problem (not a problem though). Sometimes you just got to roll with the punches, and not doing much at work doesn’t necessarily bother me anymore. I want to do work, but I understand the restrictions and the culture better now than I did when I first began volunteering in this country. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. I continue to remind myself things, along with the turkisk mantra “avash, avash” (slowly slowly). If there is not a lot going on at the Health Center for the day, I manage to keep myself busy with committee work, writing my blog, etc. I also began running today. I have never run outside before – ever! Back in America I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma and the then thin Colorado air was less than ideal for a nice run. Since I now live in a more humid climate I decided pse jo (why not)?! Plus, I honestly have the time to begin working on myself and doing extra things just for me. Usually I am done with work anytime between 11am and 4pm, so often times I have the afternoons off to do whatever my heart desires. It was nice to begin running, although right now I still am nothing to brag home about. I will run for a couple blocks and then walk a bit, then run, then walk. Hopefully I can work up to running the 2014 Istanbul marathon next fall. We shall see. The cutest thing happened on my first run as well. As I was nearing the end of the first block I heard an older women cry out, “oooo goca” (oh girl) and I turned around to see an older woman about literally half my size limping with a cane struggling to get her fresh vegetables home. I asked her, “mund te me ndhimoj” (can I help you) and then quickly ran back to help before she could even answer. I took her bags and she immediately started spewing out a bunch of shqip that I could barely understand. I told her I was from America, which shocked her a bit because you don’t meet many Americans wandering the streets of my city. After we made it to her point of destination, she thanked me and I was off. It was really humbling to actually legit help an old lady across the street with her groceries. Usually that is only something that you hear about it stories.
On Thursday I had a normal day at the Health Center. We didn’t really work on anything of significant important, but it was still a nice day with my counterparts. E went to the treg and they tried to help me find Christmas lights for my tree. Sadly we didn’t find any, but my main counterpart bought me an early Christmas gift. She gave me a cute, turquoise headband from the treg. I was very happy that she gave me this gift because sometimes I feel like my counterparts do not like me very much. I think that this is mostly just differences between our cultures and getting used to each other’s different working styles. I went on another run and felt an improvement from the first day… maybe the marathon is a possibility after all!
On Friday I went to the capital city of Tirana to get our mandatory annual flu-shot. Normally I do not get flu-shots, but as a government employee in a developing country we are required the get such things. I left my site early in hopes to make a 9:30am morning yoga class at a studio that I found out about via Facebook. I was extremely excited to attend a yoga class because I haven’t been to an actual studio to practice since leaving the states and I REALLY MISS my evening hot yoga classes. Sadly, traveling in Albania is not always reliable and it ended up taking a bit longer than normal to arrive in the capital. Even though I missed my yoga class, I was not upset. This was a nice moment for me because, in America, if I missed a yoga class I would get stressed and upset, but I have really cultivated a new understanding of patience and acceptance for the daily challenges that life presents. Instead of getting disappointed by the fact that I missed yoga, I looked at the situation as an opportunity to explore Tirana for the day. I ended up getting my shot, finding disco-ball Christmas ornaments, lights for my tree, and craft supplies to make cards for friends and family back home. It was nice to have a day off to myself to explore and do whatever I wanted without having to worry about anyone else. Tirana is very festive for the season and it was awesome to see all the holiday decorations – definitely put my in the holiday spirit! And after exploring Tirana, I went back to site to hang out with my site-mate Kate and some of her Model UN students for a little celebration at her house.
Culture note: In Albania, Christmas trees are often thought of as New Years trees. Many Muslim families will buy trees for their home to celebrate the New Year. On New Years many Albanians celebrate by having a big dinner at home with family and then after the younger generations will go out clubbing until all hours of the evening. While explaining the tradition of the NYE kiss to one of my Albanian friends I asked her if there were any specific traditions that Albanians partake in during the New Year and she mentioned that sometimes females will buy all new underwear to celebrate the New Year.
Even random fast food joints are getting in the holiday spirit
There was a nice road to buy gifts near the center of the city.
The big holiday tree in the center.
Ran into some men putting down rugs so that people could pray during the call to prayer.
The Model UN get-together.
There was even the infamous Albanian circle dance aka valle.
During the weekend I stayed at site and worked on unfinished business around my apartment. I finally finished setting up my Christmas tree and started decorating my house. On Sunday, I grabbed coffee with some friends in Durres too! I am going to have my first holiday party this Saturday, so I am pretty excited about hosting other volunteers from across the country in my site. The theme is “ugly sweater,” which is perfect for Albania because you can find plenty of ugly sweaters in the second-hand portions of the local markets. I can’t wait to show off my ugly sweater – I found a pretty good one while shopping with my counterparts. My main counterpart felt it was so ugly that she asked me to never wear it to work! So funny!! Even though I am miles away from home, I am still finding ways to be happy during the holidays. I miss everyone a lot, but life is jolly. And Santa baby, I’ve definitely been a good girl this year. 😉
Coffee with Entela in Durres.
And sometimes I am lucky and run into these two cuties outside my apartment.