Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Albanian Summer

I've been working more on keeping a consistent journal rather than working on blog entries, hence the long amount of time between posts. When I finally sat down to write a blog entry, I couldn't think of how to sum up the past month so I've decided to include pieces of my journal entries. This blog shows more of my cycle of cultural adjustment since July was a tough month for me while August has been much better. Enjoy some of my slightly censored thoughts from the past month.

July 15th, 2007

So the first couple entries start on a low when I was easily bothered by the little things...

Today I got to be the shtepiaka (housewife) since my host sisters from Kukes and Tirana were visiting. We had a full house of visitors and naturally had to prepare tons of fried potatoes, salad, qofte, meat, and gjelle. My host mother works hard to prepare everything, but she just kind left all the serving and cleaning for me to do without ever asking. I did the dishes, served up the food, made sure everything was in order, and essentially was the housewife for a little while. I like serving people, but I was frustrated for some reason and it was kind of humbling. Throughout the meal all the women were up either getting things for the men, taking care of the kids, or dealing with morning sickness. My host grandmother told me bravo to let me know she approved of me acting like an Albanian woman (serving all the men instead of sitting down to eat a meal). Women were also given commands to get things for the men or were told by the men how to clean up things. My host father told me to put the raki away in the cabinet while I was clearing away the dishes. He repeated it probably because of the dirty look I gave him (sometimes I just want to say 'do it for yourself'), so I told him that I understood the first time he told me. Then he got on my case for not eating two pieces of cake and told me that I shouldn't worry about getting fat or something along those lines. My host brother shook his head in embarrasement at what his father was saying and then I said something about being comfortable with my body which probably just made people uncomfortable.

June 18, 2007

Today I got really irritated and frustrated with my classes. Once again I kicked people out of the first class so that I actually managed to get in a half an hour of teaching. My other class, the better behaved and more interested of the two, didn't go well because I didn't plan well. The third year class just flat out pissed me off and sat the whole time talking. I bowed in defeat and only managed to teach one student the lesson while letting the rest of them talk amongst themselves. Needless to say I left depressed and dejected and ready to give up.

Thankfully I went out to coffee with my host father and we managed to have a good conversation. He is definately the best one to debate with or have lengthy conversations about cultural differences and life. Today we talked about what it meant to be a 'civilized' and 'advanced' culture (words I hate using to talk about culture and words he tossed around freely). He is on the liberal side of Albanians and shared some of the same frustrations about the role of women in society (thought he isn't washing the dishes yet). I shared about being sad and going through a difficult time adjusting to the culture since I never have meaningful conversations and don't have any friends. I tell him these things not as if I expect him to change them, but just to share my frustrations out loud and have someone understand.

June 19th, 2007

Frustrations continue as I adjust to the Albanian summer work schedule, which is sparce an unpredictable.

So when exactly is the post office open? I wrote a couple letters to send out to Gaby and Alina and everytime I walk past the post office with every intention of mailing them, the office is closed. I went at 8:30 and 10:00 today and it was locked both times. When are office hours again?

My host mother's sister is visiting for a couple weeks from Canada. She is one of the few Albanians I've met who actually looks younger than she actually is. It seems to me that life in different countries, one being exponentially more developed, has changed these sisters drastically and now they are quite different in looks and manner. While the sister in Canada doesn't speak English fluently by any means, she has been exposed to a different culture and lifestyle and now looks upon her Albanian homeland through different eyes. She understands my struggles and difficulties in adjusting to the culture here even though I don't express them. She looks at me knowingly when I get frustrated, like we share a secret of a different world, but yet her eyes hold a great love for her family here and a saddness for their problems and struggles.

July 22, 2007

Sometimes I have really good conversations with people and am reminded of why I came here.

As soon as I got back to my house I sat down for coffee with my host sister and had a long chat with her and my host mother. Sometimes its hard for me to remember what we actually talk about but just that it was quality time and fulfilling conversation with Albanians and in their language. At one point when we were talking about books and how much my host mother enjoys reading, she started to tear up and couldn't say what she was trying to say. Even though I couldn't understand everything she said I tried to convey that I was listening and valued her thoughts and opinions. I believe she was saying how she wanted her daughters to follow all of their dreams even though they knew that they weren't all possible, like her dream of going to college.

July 29, 2007

And summer in Albania anywhere near the coast is all about going to the beach!

So I've spent the last three days at the beach with my host family and students. Pishporo is a beach about 30 minutes away from Levan but there aren't any furgons that go there so you have to have a personal car or talk someone into giving you a ride and then picking you back up. The trip is half on paved roads and then a bit of off roading through rocky roads or dirt roads. After passing through a pine forest and making a left at the bunkers, there is a sandy stretch of beach on the Adriatic coast that is know by the locals as Pishporo. The sand on the beach is nice and there is plenty of it compared to other beaches I've been to such as the ones in Vlore. You can walk up and down a long ways and there is enough space on the beach for everyone to have there own little area without getting in each others way. The water is warm and is sometimes calm, othertimes wavy. People from Levan and other surrounding towns go and set up there umbrellas and make tents out of sheets, bamboo sticks, and clothespins. Usually its a picnic event with watermelon or honeydew melon, bread, peppers, tomatoes, whatever typical Albanian fare the women pack. The beach is also dotted with cement block and bamboo structures that serve as lokals for beach bums.

On Friday I went to such a lokal with one of my students and ate fish and eels caught from the sea or river. While both were quite tasty I had to be careful not to put bones in my mouth since they don't fillet fish here. The beach at Pishporo would be quite idyllic if it weren't for one huge problem that incidentally plagues the rest of Albania, the trash. When we first arrived at the beach we had to pick a spot based on where there was the least trash. Some people leave their trash in piles every so often on the beach, others just throw it wherever they choose. Even if a cleanup was arranged, I'm not sure how much it would help since the sea is also filled with trash. While the water is refreshing and good to swim in, its not exactly clean. I had to avert my path several times in order to avoid a floating bag of chips or plastic bottle.

At the beach I do things that the boys do mainly since most girls don't know how to swim very well. I swim far out into the sea until my host father waves frantically at me to turn around and swim back. I get 'yelled' at later for going out too far or swimming further away from the pack. Out of the water I play soccer with some boys, also not something any of the girls really do.

July 30, 2007

...and the hight of culture shock occurs when one writes journal entries soley about food. In this particular rant I am longing for some good Mexican food.

What I would give for something spicy with flavor right now. I could even just eat some refried beans with cheese and tortillas and be in heaven. I could really eat some tortillas about now. Chicken mole with the crumbly white cheese, queso ranchero, tamales of any kind... sweet, with cheese and green salsa. Chimichangas, quesadillas, taquitos, I would even love chicharrones with some homemade guacamole. And then some fresh mango and papaya, mmmmmmm

August 1, 2007

My attitude changes a bit with a new month...

Another month already, time is marching along! In my course today my students seemed pretty excited about starting up some activities for the month of August and I'm excited about a change of pace because the incessant talking during my lessons is driving me insane. I like all of my students but the talking is hard to deal with. I think one of my students was hitting on me today during class to which made me a bit embarrased and flush... he said red suited me well and I just kept going on with class by saying thank you like it was nothing. After the lesson with my high schoolers I went to visit the Roma kids. Their activities are just about as chaotic with the kids screaming, shouting, and hitting each other sometimes. I think its easier to get them quiet and to capture their attention since they are younger, and I can already see my attempts at positive reinforcement working in one particular boy who in the beginning was very violent and hostile. I've been making sure to smile at him and give him eye contact and attention and I think it is helping. The kids catch on well to certain signals I have developed to get them to be quiet, such as my conductors symbol for stop and the clapping game to 'make rain'.

August 12, 2007

I go on a trip to the mountainous north part of Albania to visit some other volunteers...

The past week has been pretty busy with traveling around the north. We spent about 5 hours for four days on the roads so I got to see a lot of Albania though only from the car. The trip started in Tirana on Wednesday and I started north with some PC staff in a nice, white embassy Land Rover. We stopped for fresh figs and banana bread along the road that curves along a blue and green river between two mountians before stopping in Burrel to visit a TEFL volunteer. From Burrel we went to Peshkopi and enjoyed a nice ride along the mountains in that part of the region. We drove through one particularly desolate soviet town and skirted really close to the Macedonian border. After catching up with my friend and former sitemate Kenji, seeing his charming town with what I would consider a 'downtown' area, and meeting his host family we hit the road again in the morning, this time to take the back road up to Kukes. This road was a twisty turny gravel road that turned my stomach but was sooo beautiful with rocky and green mountains and some of the smallest and isolated villages I've seen in Albania yet. In Kukes I observed some classes and drove to the Kosovo border (thought I didn't cross). The last leg of the trip was from Kukes to Puke then Tirana. Kukes to Puka was stomach churning once again but also very beautiful with dark green pines and mountain streams. While it was a whirlwind of a trip, I got to see how many different landscapes can exist in a small country.

After returning from a long trip, I had another dasem (see previous post for more details) to attend with my host family. The venue was a castle like two story lokal made out of stone and set atop a hill with views of the surrounding hills, Fier, and the sea in the distance. The wedding took quite awhile to start up but once it did I was served a lot of meat once again. I danced in a circle until I got some brutal blisters on the bottom of my feet. I rocked that dance floor though and have the folk dance down now. Once the party started to die down around 3 o'clock I was incredibly tired of listening to the music and sitting under bright lights. I went to check out the roof of the lokal to escape for a bit and sat down to watch the stars, tried to pick out constellations, looked at bats and satellites and occasionally spotted shooting stars. (I was tolld later that there was a meteorite shower that night). We stayed entirely too long at the wedding and I was getting quite tired as I saw the sun begin to rise over the hills.

August 14, 2007

Somedays I am constantly reminded that I am American...

Today I caught a furgon and was escorted to the very center of Fier where furgons don't normally go for free once they found out I was American. I was walking down the street in the morning and got my first true 'hey american' yell from a guy up the road. He introduced himself as from London and said that some other person on the street told him I was the American in town. Talk about being pegged by people whom I've never even met.

August 15, 2007

Sandra (another pcv close by) came to Levan to visit today for the first time and observe some activities. My first class was a bit of an embarassment and was a lot like pulling teeth since only about 8 students came and didn't talk at all. It was quite painful since it was supposed to be a discussion class. After the course we went together to the Roma summer camp to help with some activities. They were playing some sort of game with a blidfold when we got there and them moved on to coloring in coloring books. There were four kids who didn't get coloring books and were left there to entertain themselves without so much as a piece of paper. When I asked why we couldn't give them some paper to color on, at the very least, they said that it wasn't on the program for the day. I naturally thought that was quite ridiculous and wasn't about to let a whole group of kids sit there with nothing to do. We colored the numbers from one to ten and then I wrote the words in shqip and in english for class after the activities. Today there was one four year old boy who was particularly interested in Sandra and I. He couldn't speak and other kids kept on telling us not to bother with him since he didn't speak. Just because he has a speech problem he will most likely grow up with the world around him thinking he is stupid and nobody will help him learn. There is a lack of education for children with special needs. I sat and worked with him some on just coloring on a piece of paper. We drew circles and mimicked the shapes with our mouths. I made sure to say 'o' every time we drew a circle and made a face. I was also amazed at how well he held a pencil and mimicked my drawings and even clapped for another student who wrote his name. It was a particularly encouraging day at the Roma summer camp especially when I taught them the song 'if youre happy and you know it'. We had a good time clapping, stomping, and dancing silly dances in a circle before we sat down to write the numbers.

My afternoon group of students were also quite encouraging today as continued planning some school projects. I called the director today and hopefully I can meet up with him sometime soon to set up a date to meet with the students about painting the school. (The are preparing a project proposal and presentation). We already set a date to cleap up trash and pick weeds at the school so thats a big start. A huge setback was when we walked back inside the school and I saw 'matura 2004-2008' written on the walls with my crayons and markers (clearly written by one of the students in the past half hour). I didn't even flip out on them like I normally would but was really sad and I hope they saw my disappointment. We washed the wall with a sponge and water, but it all seemed so useless and futile. Why bother to write on the wall if you have to wash it off? Why bother organizing a project to clean up the school if you are going to contribute to its destruction?

August 18, 2007

I get some free time to do my own thing...

I've been quite productive. I made a chocolate cake that tasted delicious (I bake a lot now), finished a book that I will probably read again, and painted and charcoaled some pictures to work my creative side a bit. I listened to jazz and let my paintbrush go a little crazy on the paper. It might not be the prettiest painting but I had the most fun when wasn't concentrating on making it look like reality but just put in my interpretations and emotions into it.

August 19, 2007

So today after my long nap and down time I went out with my host mother to visit some relative to congradulate his son on his engagement. His son lives in Italy and came home for the summer for the specific purpose of finding a nusja (it means bride, wife, or house elf in the Harry Potter sense). He found one indeed and I tend to be quite synical. To celebrate the engagement we sat around a table eating cake, chocolate, and drinking bailys like liquour while the boy's mom talked about what a big help the nusja is, how she is good at cleaning, taking care of kids, and preparing food, and what a good house wife she is. I try not to be too judgemental as they tell the girl to pick up things off the table, go and get napkins, and serve the guests. I suppose they look happy in their fast found love and engagement.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dasem Mania

An Albanian Wedding Story

This past weekend I was invited to return to my training site outside of Elbasan to attend a wedding as a guest of the bride. The bride Regjina, a woman I had only met once before, was the sister of my sixteen year old babysitter, Roven, while I lived in Shirgjan. Rovena helped my family take care of the kids, clean the house, cook meals, and on one occasion stayed the night in the house specifically to keep me company while the rest of the family left town for the night. I had grown close to Rovena, who's father wouldn't let her go to school anymore, and accepted the invitation to go to her sister's dasma. The following is an account of my experience, which I believe to be typical, of an Albanian wedding.

First of all, let me say that while Albanians claim there is no work in their country, the wedding industry is alive and kickin'. The two main businesses in the villages I used to work in were hair stylist/beauty shops and bar/restaurant lokals. While both make money of a day to day basis from $1 hair cuts or $.50 coffee and rice respectively, they rely totally on weddings during the weekends to make a profit. So essentially, weddings are big business in small villages and a constant conversation topic for people. My old host mother was a hair stylist and owned a shop filled with wedding dresses. On the weekends she was often up at 5:00 a.m. to get the next bride dolled up for a wedding. Single girls watch out, small towns love dasems.

My Host Mother's wedding dress shop

As one might imagine, Albanian weddings differ greatly from a wedding in the states. The first notable difference is that a couple has two separate weddings on Saturday and Sunday, one for the bride's family and one for the groom's family. I attended the first party for the bride and her family and friends. The day started with paying a visit to the bride's home to drink raki (if you are a man) or a coffee liquore for women and be served a chocolate or small dessert. After shaking hands, kissing cheeks, saying gezuars, and wondering where the bride was, I left the bride's home for the party venue down the street, the town lokal where men normally congregate to drink beer, raki, or coffee. The tables was rearranged in the lokal to make room for dancing later and the band was setting up for the afternoon. While still waiting for the wedding party, the waiter began passing out beers, baskets of bread, and dishes of food. The first dish was filled with four different kinds of grilled meat, fried potatoes, a tomato and cucumber salad, olives, sauteed peppers, and a wedge of cheese. Even though the married couple had not arrived yet, we began eating. Shortly after the bride arrived with her family and took her place at the head table with her sisters. She was wearing a white and gold dress, her hair was sprayed in place ontop of her head and her makeup used a large variety of colors. Where was the groom?

the meat platters

The music started as the band kicked into gear playing the clarinet and keyboard mainly. While waiting for the groom the wait staff brought out more food, this time with sals cosi, a cheesy cucumber dish, and with a traditional liver and cheese dish. After wondering for a while if the bride was being stood up, the groom arrived with several of his family members to 'take' the bride away from her family. Regjina, the bride, did not smile and looked indifferent during most of the ceremony. Albanian brides are supposed to be sad and cry on their wedding days at being taken away from their families. After some words from the father of the bride, the dancing began. Albanian dances do not differ for the occasion and the party guest assumed the familiar cicle, hand holding formation to start what I call 'the circle dance', two left steps and one right, repeat it, you can dance in Albania. While the bride danced beside the groom the guests stepped up to put money in their hands. Eventually the money ended up on the floor and in small piles. Every wedding also has a video guy filming the entire even so it can be relived later. (I have seen many a dasem video). He makes sure to film the dance from every angle and get all the guests in the video. I was eventually pulled into the dancing circle and wowed the guests by my amazing ability to pick up their moves. It might be a repetitive dance, but its fun when you go fast. After sitting back down, the wait staff brought out more food, this time some meat on a stick, a thin grilled steak, and more fried potatoes. It's quite stunning to be served seven different kind of meats in one meal. While the guests worked on filling their tummies, the bride left with my host mother for a 'costume change' and came back twenty minutes later wearing a different dress and sporting a different hair style. Part of the fun for the bride is playing dress up.

here I am with the bride, her sisters, and the groom

The party winded down after more eating, drinking beer, and circle dancing. The groom and his family left first while the bride stayed with her guests. The next day the ceremony was most likely repeated in a similar fashion in the grooms village a couple of miles away. Before the evening was over for the couple, they had to get their pictures taken in town. The bride went for her third costume change, this time a green dress with a sheer red overlay (she would wear a total of four different dresses over the weekend). After the pictures were taken, Regjina returned to the hair stylist shop to dye her hair blond for the next day's wedding with the grooms family. The next hairdo would be curly and the dress would be white again.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Albanian Hospitality

High on the list of Albanian cultural values is their sense of hospitality and keeping homes open to friends and visitors. While this sense of mik pritus has traditionally always been one of the highest held values, it seems even more so today for an american peace corps volunteer. Not only do Albanians always invite guests and visitors into their homes ordinarily, but Albanians love Americans so needless to say I've gotten a bit of the special treatment in my new community.

My first visit to my community was a bit shocking because it was the longest I have gone without seeing or talking to another American (it was only one week). However, my new neighbors made sure that I felt at home. In my first week, I received many small gifts from extended host family members and other neighbors. Some gifts received include bars of soap, three pairs of panty hose (from three different people), chocolate, and a big necklace.

Since Albanians some Albanians can't afford to go out that often and since women don't frequent the cafes as often as men do, most entertaining is done in homes in the afternoons. Practically every afternoon since I have been in my site I have gone to a collegue, neighbor, or family members home for a visit. In Albanian tradition, the guests are served in the homes and as previously stated, Americans get the special treatment. First, the hostess brings out a tray of some sort of fruit juice (normally peach) and a dish of chocolates. The guest takes a glass off the tray, selects a piece of chocolate, and then starts the gezuars or cheers for everyone in the room. I normally just say 'gezuar', but normally people add on many other cheers such as 'to your health', 'to you mother, father, sister, brother, past, present, and future family', or 'success in work'. Depending on how long the visit lasts, the hostess will bring out fresh fruits, cake, ice cream, or cookies. In one visit I was given a bowl of melons, bananas, and apples cut up followed by a very large serving of ice cream (and I can eat a lot of ice cream). After I filled up on fruit and ice cream, the hostess brought out large pieces of cake made of mostly sugary icing. I like sweets as much as the next kid, but I might have to claim to be on a diet soon so as not to overdose on sugar.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some photos from the past couple months:

Most of my times is spent with my training group and Shqip teacher in the village. It's been great getting to know each of them through our projects, being silly in class, and taking long walks in the hills and fields.

....speaking of long walks, fields of poppies like this one are common sights while walking in the springtime.

I've spend lots of time these past three months at this school in the village.
The oldest and youngest pictured here are my two host sisters. They look like sweethearts in this picture all dressed up for a school party.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

May 10, 2007

First a note on Albanian classes...

I've spent the past two weeks teaching English classes in the middle and high schools as part of my training practicum. Albanian classes are very different from any other class I have ever been in. The classrooms in my village are small, don't have electricity, and are packed full of 40 to 50 students. Some students share chairs or others sit on completely busted ones. As you might imagine, a class of 50 students is hard to manage. Many high school students talk the entire lesson and teachers have to talk over them or knock on the desks with their pens in order to get them to quiet down. In some English classes, only 4 or 5 students participate and follow along with the lesson. This is typical for most high school classes.

On the flip side, teaching Albanian middle school students could quite possibly be the greatest ego boosting experience ever. While observing classes, students with fight over who gets to give up their chair for you to sit in. I cannot count how many flowers I've received in the past two weeks. Spring time in Albania is very vibrant and dozens of varieties of roses grow in the village. Students bring roses to school and give them to their friends or teachers. While teaching at the middle school students gave me flowers everyday. In the afternoons after school children from the village that I've never seen before would rush up to me and give me more roses. Serveral classes lined up after their lessons in order to get my autograph and one girl even asked if she could kiss me. I've never felt so much like a rock star in my life.

May 14, 2006

Since I was in the mood to make some lists, here are several top tens:

Best of Albanian food:
1. gelato - my favorites are banana, pistachio, kiwi, coconut, and tiramisu... I eat gelato about 3 times a week
2. byreke - flaky pastry dough stuffed with cheese or spinach
3. patate - Albanian french fries served with cheese
4. fresh veggies - they have great cucumbers and tomatoes here
5. fast food sandwiches - stuffed with french fries, veggies, and cheese
6. cherries are in season and are incredibly red and delicious
7. fig jelly - I eat this with bread almost every morning
8. I can't think of ten... sheep brains next maybe?

Things I do in my spare time:

1. take walks in the village - you never know who will invite you over for coffee, when you will stumble upon fields of poppies, or when the wind will blow and send a snow storm of dandelion-esq fuzz.
2. drink turkish coffee - for women, most socializing is done over coffee in homes. Turkish coffee isn't filtered, is sweet, and almost tastes more spiced than regular coffee. Albanian women enjoy reading fortunes by looking at the coffee grinds at the bottom of the cup. Its almost like Harry Potter where they read the tea leaves. I got my fortune read and someone in my family is going to get married soon.
3. play cards with my hosts sisters - I taught Briselda how to play 'mano atazo' and she cheats big time. Byorna, the three year old, tries to play too but ends up just throwing cards everywhere.
4. read books.
5. eat gelato.
6. after dinner conversations with my host family that consist of "who is better, Bush or Clinton? Which is better, Albania or America?" and other equally silly questions.
7. make friends with local shopkeepers... sometimes they give me free chocolate, other times they warn me not too eat too much or else I'll get fat.
8. get mail! write letters, email, and hear news from home. Keep the letters and emails coming!
9. read books.
10. hang out with my site mates and have long conversations over coffee, walks, or while watching american t.v. series on laptops occasionally.

Observations on Albanian Culture:

1. Albanians love to dance. Sometimes to the same ten songs over and over. Most dancing consists of holding hands in a circle and doing the same steps for ever song. Its repetitive, but they do it well and sometimes they add in traces of belly dance moves.
2. Women enjoy watching spanish telenovelas which I can actually understand.
3. Every Sunday evening families watch Portokalli which is a quasi Saturday Night Live for Albanians.
4. Most families have a brother, aunt, father, or friend living in either Italy, Greece, Germany, or England who sends money home.
5. Its not normal for people, especially women, to go hiking or camping unless they are sheep herders. My host family was shocked when I returned the next morning after camping without any snake bites and in one piece.
6. It's normal to shower twice a week... which is rough since it is getting incredibly hot outside now and can be quite smelly in a crowded bus or furgon.
7. Albanians are quite frank. They are quick to tell you if you look fat and shouldn't be eating makarona.
8. Families get loud and shout at each other. At first it seems like they are having an intense argument but normally its just over what they should be watching on t.v. and who should hold the remote control.
9. Albanians are incredibly hospitable and will invite complete strangers into their homes for a coffee or raki.
10. When Albanians visit each other in their homes, everyone stands and either shakes hands or kisses. Women kiss each other on the cheek two or three times, old women kiss me up to six times on the cheek.

Strange sights and occurrences in Albania:

1. A white furgon, or van, that is parked on the side of the road by my house that has skinned animals hanging inside to sell. It's the mish furgon, and the reason I plan on becoming a vegetarian as soon as I control my own diet and cook on my own.
2. Small towns that consist entirely of cafes and hair stylist shops.
3. Herds of sheep blocking traffic on the roads.
4. Free range chickens and cows roaming the school yard.
5. bunkers. I still not used to seeing these concrete structures along the countryside.
6. People smoking at gas stations.
7. old women wear only black clothes and white head scarves. Sometimes they are hunched over in the fields or they carry huge loads of hay or greens balanced on their heads.
8. Mixing white wine with coke.
9. Schoolyard game that is like dodge ball except the kids in the middle can’t move and the other students pound them with balls… not quite sure how this game works yet.
10. Sheep head and brains as a delicacy, served to the guest of honor at big meals.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hi friends and family,

Sorry about the long time between posts, training has kept me quite busy these past couple of weeks and finding spare time for writing has been difficult. First a brief overview of the fist five weeks of training...

A typical week of training consists of 5 days of intensive language lessons from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. I have two language teachers that rotate every other day and listen to us butcher their language. I feel like I'm progressing with the language but there are some things that are quite tricky to learn such as declension on nouns that have 6 different cases and are different for definite/indefinate and masculine/plural. If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it. You don't want to know. I am able to communicate basic need and am starting to talk more with my host family.

Aside from language classes I am working on my teaching practicum, developing a community project, and attending sessions on medical issues, safety and security, and cultural issues. I have observed several classes taught by Albanian teachers in the middle and high school and started teaching classes this past Thursday. Generally, classes are qiute chaotic with 40 students crammed in a small room and sharing seats. There are often behavioral problems in the classes and teachers often have to talk over students. Sometimes there are only 5 students in a class of 40 who actually understand and follow the lesson. I was lucky to co-teach my first classes to 12 year old students who were well behaved, attentive, and participated. After a lesson about food and shopping, Julie and I were bombarded by students wanting our signatures and giving us flowers. One girl even asked me "Jenny, can I give you a kiss?"

Living with a host family is a unique experience and even though this is the third host family I've stayed with abroad I still am not used to it. My host family is a young couple with two young daughters who are 3 and 8 years old. I've taught the 8 year old several card games so we spend most evenings playing war after we finish throwing a ball around outside. We also brush our teeth together every night before bed so I like to think I'm spreading the importance of good dental hygiene. It's a big adjustment living with small children since they always want to play cards, draw pictures, or use you as their personal jungle gym. Personal space is smaller in Albania as it is and I feel like its even more so with Albanian children. When I'm not playing with the kids I hang out with my host mother and her friends from the neighborhood. Since the men are always out of the house at cafes, the women socialize in their homes and invite each other over for turkish coffee in the afternoon.

I currently live in a small town outside of a larger city named Elbasan. I spend most days in the village and when I'm not in the school teaching, observing, or attending language classes I go on walks in the area with my sitemates or we hang our in the lokals (small restaurnats) to plan projects. My village has hills on one side and we often explore small paths that are mainly for sheep but go through some beautiful olive groves. The other side of the town flattens out to form a valley with another range of hills and mountains farther off in the distance. Sometimes I go on long walks through the fields surrounding the village where there are several houses spread out and crops growing or fields of poppies. I have lunch in the village at the lokals with my four sitemates almost everyday. Typically we eat either pilaf, salads with really fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and a feta like cheese, or the Albanian version of french fries with some cheese on top. On hub days in Elbasan I meet up with the other volunteers for training sessions. Elbasan has some nice amenities since it is a large city such as fast internet, execellent gelato, and interesting historical sites like the old city walls and castle.

This past week I received my site announcement that told me where I will be living for the next two years. I will be teaching English in a village called Levan which is outside of Fier and on the way to Vlore. It is in the central west part of the country close to the sea. The area isn't as mountainous as the interior which cuts down up aesthetics but also means it won't be as cold in the winter. I will not have a sitemate and will be the only American in the community but there will be two volunteers in both Fier and Vlore which are both less than an hour away. Vlore is a coastal town with nice beaches and Italian influences so I will probably visit the volunteers there a couple time over the summer. I don't get to visit my site until four more weeks so I will take pictures and write as soon as I find out more! Until then I will be busy with my practicum and community project as well as still adjusting to the realities of my service in Albania.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Hi friends and family!

Here's a quick first post before I fly to Albania today. I arrived first to staging on Monday so was put in charge on taking pictures of all 37 other volunteers going to Albania with me. It was a great way to meet everyone in the groups although I still don't remember everyones names. After sorting out all of the papers and going through introductions, the Albanian Ambassador stopped by for a surprise visit to welcome us and prepare us for service in his country. He assured us that Albanians love Americans, almost excessively, and that we were both wanted and needed in his country.

I am very fortunate to have connected instantly with many other volunteers in my training group. We are a diverse group as far as interests and backgrounds but somehow have so much in common. Monday night in Georgetown I went out to dinner with a group of nine other trainees then walked to the mall to see the monuments light up at night. It was a great way to boost positive energy and get pumped for the trip ahead of us.

Today I fly from DC to Vienna and then to Tirana, Albania. I can't wait to get there and see my home for the next two years. I love you all and will miss you tremedously... keep checking for future posts and feel free to post back!