My Peace Corps service and time in Albania is full of so many hilarious, crazy, sad, happy, exciting, and wonderful memories. My time spent here would not have been the same without some of the wonderful Albanians and Americans that I met along the way and I am thankful that we were able to create these memories together here. These people were my students, coworkers, neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. Some people were strangers who took me under their care without asking for anything in return. They helped me when I was down, worked with me to volunteer in the community, and supported me throughout this journey. Every day in Albania was an adventure and I honestly never knew where each day would take me (and that is part of what made everything so exciting and interesting). I cannot begin to explain all of the wonderful memories from this country, but these are a few of my favorite memories from my past two years as a Peace Corps volunteer:
Finding the right eyebrow tweezers.
During my first few months in Albania while I was living in the village of Pajove during pre-service training I went on a hunt for some eyebrow tweezers. I forgot to bring a pair from America, so I decided to check out some beauty shops to find some new ones. I came across a small beauty shop in Pajove while searching, but I still had broken Shqip skills, so playing charades was common. As I was miming what I wanted to buy, the lady realized what I wanted. She took out the best pair in the shop and started tweezing my eyebrows herself to prove that they were indeed high-quality tweezers. So, I bought them.
Hiking Valbona to Thethi.
I’m a Colorado girl at heart, so I love my mountains. It was really quite a special experience to hike this mountain with some of my favorite Peace Corps volunteers. Even though it was foggy when we reached the summit, trekking down into Thethi was magical. Thethi is like something out of a magazine.
Surprise visit from my neighbor.
While my mom was in Albania I truly realized the extent of Albanian hospitality. Everyone wanted to meet my mom and take us out to show their respect for her and for me and my service. My neighbor Luci was very excited to meet my mom and one day invited us over for coffee… or so I thought. Instead Luci invited herself over to my house for coffee and I didn’t even realize it. I was so embarrassed because my house was a disaster and I did not have any caramels or drinks to offer her. Luci was really sweet and helped me be a good hostess by giving me some homemade juice that I could serve her and my mom.
My first surprise birthday party ever.
If you haven’t realized already, I worked with the most amazing group of students. They were all hard-working, creative, and smart individuals. I was extremely lucky to have so many awesome students (and friends). For my 25th birthday they coordinated a small party for me and our youth group students at a restaurant. There was dancing, food, and a delicious cake. I was so touched and happy because I had never been thrown a surprise birthday party before. That will be something that I never forget.
I created bonds with many of the vegetable vendors in my neighborhood. I was fortunate enough to literally live a minute away from the market road which had at least twenty different vendors selling produce daily, sometimes more on Sundays when all the villagers came into town to sell their goods. The olive man was always very sweet to me; he would always tell me that I’m a vajza e mire (good girl). He would ask me about my family and about my brother Steven. Sometimes he would even throw a few extra olives in with my purchases or give them to me completely for free. There was another woman who was always very sweet with me and would always give me the best deals on her goods. Whenever she saw me she’d call out to me oooohh Amerikane” (oh American)! She would tell everyone else around her sweet and beautiful I am and she’d refer to me as a little kukulla (doll). She always got a kick out of me bringing my own plastic bags from home to reuse instead of taking new fresh bags.
Holding a baby goat for the first time.
There are so many cute farm animals roaming around in Albania and I always wanted to hold one. When I was on a bike ride to the beach with some of my students we happened to come across a shepherd with his flock. He was kind enough to let us all hold one of his baby goats and have a mini-photo shoot.
Meeting my host family for the first time.
I think one of the most awkward moments of my entire time was when I was dropped off at my host family’s house to meet them for the first time. I still barely spoke a word of Shqip and no one except my host-sister Merushe spoke any English (and Merushe did not speak a lot of English). When I arrived my family took me into the kitchen area and made me a Turkish coffee. I sat on one couch and they sat on the other trying to ask me questions about whatever I could understand. There was a lot of uncomfortable laughing during the encounter. We sat there for a few hours trying to communicate the best we could before I finally conjured up enough Shqip to ask if I could go unpack my room. Later on that evening after dinner I tried to plug in my Eurosurge and took out the electricity to the entire home. I didn’t know how to explain myself and felt very bad, so I stayed hidden in my room until the next morning.
Having the electricity come back just in time for the OA Go Green Show.
The morning of our Outdoor Ambassadors Go Green show was supposed to be time for our final rehearsals before the show. The students had not fully gone through the entire show rehearsal prior, so they were going to run through the entire thing last minute the day of the show. Sadly those plans were quickly ruined when the electricity went out to the auditorium. After waiting several hours, the lights came back on just in time to let in the hundreds of screaming students waiting outside to see the show. The students ended up doing a great job and raising a lot of money for OA, despite the mishap beforehand.
Having to “prove myself” planting grape trees.
When I first arrived here I never really had any idea what I was getting myself into. One afternoon I thought I was going to coffee in the village with my host-sister Merushe, but it turned out we were going to plant grape trees in the hills behind our house. Of course I was not dressed appropriately, did not bring any water, and was not expecting to spend my one day off from training working in the fields. The sun was beating down on us and I was already pretty tired from climbing up the hills, but Merushe handed me a shovel and told me to “prove myself.” Quickly, they realized that I would not be too much help in the fields because I did not use the shovel the correct way and because I was far to slow. Either way, it was funny.
Co-facilitating a GLOW session at Kampi Pa Emer.
Last summer I had the opportunity to work at a wonderful camp in Librazhd coordinated by a former Peace Corps volunteer Joey and his Albanian wife Alba. The purpose of the camp is to bridge the gap between Roma and Albanian youth. Alba and I decided to co-facilitate a GLOW: Girls Leading Our World session about self-esteem. During the lesson we did an activity where one girl would sit in the front of the room and the other girls would tell her things that they liked about the participant. It was really powerful because the girls were genuinely caring about each other despite their difference in age, economic status, and background. Everyone had the chance to give and receive compliments from the other girls in the room. Then they made self-esteem flowers and presented them to the group. Each petal of the flower represented one thing that each girl liked about herself.
Traveling to Tirana for the first time with Mary.
Peace Corps always paired Mary and I up together. We were in the same village and they sent us to visit the same volunteer during volunteer visit. We were set to go up to Rreshen for our first time traveling around outside of our host village by ourselves. My host dad Buyar helped us get on this random furgon heading towards Durres and we were dropped off in the middle of the road near a market. Neither of us had any idea where we were going, but there was a random guy on the bus (who knew Buyar) who was going to help us a bit along the way. Then out of nowhere a random Tirana bus picked us up on the side of the road. Our random guardian got off the bus in Durres and then we were truly on our own. We ended up jumping off the bus in the middle of the street in Tirana because we had no idea where we were and when we should get off. We eventually found a city bus and just kept a look-out for the “pyramid” because that is where the volunteer told us to meet her. We kept our eyes peeled for this mysterious pyramid, but luckily the random city bus we got on dropped us off right in front. It was quite the adventure for our first time out by ourselves.
Finding an abandoned building full of street art and mountain tea.
While my dad and Nancy were in Albania we went on a tour of southern Albania. During our travels we found an abandoned building full of intricate street art and çaj mali (mountain tea). There isn’t much of a street art culture here, so we were surprised to find this random building in the middle of nowhere full of designs of bees and monsters. Also, it was strange to find a building full of tea. That was the most tea I have ever seen.
When my blog went viral.
During my first summer at site I had no idea what my blog would eventually turn into. It started out as a way to just let my family and friends back home know what I was up to. It ended up becoming so much more when Albanians from across the country and people across the world read my 50 Unique Observations About Albania post. Having my blog go viral really allowed me the opportunity to express myself to a big audience, which has helped me grow professionally and personally through this experience.
Drinking beers on the beach with Chuck.
Chuck was a pretty amazing sitemate and we were able to complete several projects together for the community of Kavaja. During our free time we’d go on bike rides together to the beach. Chuck had a “regular” beach that he’d visit every afternoon and sometimes I’d even come along for the ride. It was nice to beat the summer heat on the beach with a cold beer and a good friend.
Getting a ride into Tirana with Kate.
My sitemate Kate and I were trying to catch a bus to Tirana for our mid-service conference one afternoon, but we were not having much luck. It was annoying too because that day it was pouring rain. After waiting around for a while, a nice couple stopped and motioned for us to get in. Normally I don’t advocate for hitch hiking, but we were together and it was an older married couple so we felt like it’d be safe. The couple ended up being Albanians who live in Kosovo and they were in town visiting family and friends. They spoke some English and we were able to have an interesting cultural exchange on the hour and a half drive into the capital. They dropped us off right in front of our hotel so we wouldn’t have to walk in the rain anymore. It was really kind.
Attending my host sister’s engagement party.
My host-sister Merushe got engaged while I was living with the family. It was a surprise to me because she wasn’t even dating anyone as far as I knew, but a week after the announcement there was a giant party with half of the village in attendance. We spent the afternoon dancing valle, eating plates upon plates of meat, and drinking the endless supply of beers available. Every time my beer was finished it would be immediately replaced with a new cold beer. I have always wanted to go to an Albanian wedding (but sadly I did not have the opportunity), so I consider this party the next best thing.
Making dinner with Quinn.
Almost every weekend I was able to see my boyfriend Quinn, another volunteer who lives in a different city. We’d spend our weekends having coffee, working on youth center projects, and creating new dinners with our limited resources. We’ve had some really good meals during the past year from tacos, to sushi, to Asian chickpeas. We would often use the coveted ingredients sent to me from my family in the states. Quinn is a better cook than I am, so it was always nice to actually eat a good meal for a change.
Seeing the fountain complete in the center of Kavaje.
A year ago the city of Kavaje tore out our entire main street and bulldozed numerous buildings across the city in order to refurbish the town center. I was a bit skeptical at first because it seemed like there wasn’t much of a method to all the madness. They tore out streets and sidewalks leaving no place for people to walk except through all the rumble and the construction. I was told that the center would be finished after a year and at first I just laughed because I didn’t believe it would actually happen. But dealing with all the annoying construction eventually paid off because the center was basically finished by the time I left Kavaje. They redid the entire center and put in a beautiful boardwalk for people to xhiro in at night and a lovely fountain to sit next to. I was very impressed.