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.