Saturday, March 29, 2008

Can you pick up my friends?

I can’t believe that I have been here a week. Like is often the case when you are in a new situation or a high-stress-do-a-lot-of-stuff-at-once situation, days seem to stretch to weeks and weeks seem to feel like months. I feel like I have learned so much in just a little over a week. It is amazing how much you can pick up with language classes 5 hours a day. After class, I go home and engage in a kind of charades, talk, look-up words game with my host mom. She is very good at speaking slowly, talking with her hands and repeating words for me.

The food so far has been good. My host has been trying to feed me way too much. I basically have toast in the morning (with peach or fig jam) and then have had various things for dinner. We go out for lunch and are lucky to have a few different options in the town. They have fast food which is basically like a gyro and pizza and pasta. I am pretty lucky in that I have had salad almost every day. They eat meat basically every day, but (I think) I told her that I don’t eat pork. Even though this is a “Muslim” country, there seems to be a lot of pork products around. My host is Orthodox and she went to church last week. There is both a mosque and a church in my town. You can here the call to prayer every day, although I have never seen anyone go into the mosque. Most people that you talk to will say, “I am Muslim, but I don’t practice.” I have only seen about 5 covered women.

Today we went to our second “hub” day in Elbasan. On hub days, the whole group (all 37 of us) come from the 8 satellite sites to the PC training office. Today the COD (Community and Organizational Development)- get used to acronyms, the Peace Corps has a lot of them- group met with the mayor of Elbasan. In the afternoon, the whole group had a training on PC approach to development and then talked about group dynamics. During the group dynamics part the trainer asked if anyone had ever heard of a particular theory of group formation. Since we talked extensively about that theory at BBfP last summer, I raised my hand and said that I had. She asked if I would come up and explain it to the group. With the help of a powerpoint, I basically gave the presentation on the theory! Good thing I feel pretty comfortable teaching material that I’ve only seen once (thank you substitute teaching). My other big accomplishment for the day was to actually get our whole group into the town. We have two volunteers that are living outside of town. They live right off of the road and decided that if it was possible it would be nice if the furgon (minibuses that act as most of the public transport between towns) could pick them up near their house instead of walking all the way in to town (about a 20 min walk). So this morning when we got on the furgon, I told the driver that we had two friends that were on the way and it would be great if he would pick them up. After a little bit of miming (and discovering that I have no sense of direction and was pointing in the wrong direction) he understood and kept two seats open. When we got close to their house, I pointed and said “there, there” and he stopped. Total success! It’s really the little things that count.

Albanian language for the day:

“Ne kami dy shok në rruga.” We have two friends on the road/way

P.S. I am having a little bit of troube getting the computer at the internet cafe to let me upload pictures. I will have a few pics as soon as I can figure this out. . .

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I have moved into my host family in my training site. Well, host “family” really isn’t the right word. I just have a host person. She is a lovely woman who lives by herself in a two room apartment. With a Turkish toilet. Fun (I love Albania!). From my understanding (she speaks about as much English as I do Albanian, maybe less) she is a widow, though I’m not sure when her husband passed. She has sisters (5?6?) and one of them lives in New York. She is a very good housekeeper, likes coffee and enjoys watching “Big Brother- Albania.” No, I’m not kidding. I’ve never watched “Big Brother” in the States, but I think I like it even less in a language that I don’t understand. Albanian TV seems to be dominated by a lot of “American Idol”-esqe music shows, news, Spanish soap operas and Big Brother. My favorite thing so far is the news. Anyway, my host is very concerned about my well-being and that I eat enough. She even gave up her own bedroom for me to sleep in and is sleeping on a convertible couch in the living room. This is part of the contract that they sign with Peace Corps for hosting, that I will have my own room. She also cleared out some drawers part of a closet. I know that some trainees don’t have much room or privacy, so I am very thankful for this. I think that once I understand a bit more, we will get along just fine. Thankfully though, there are two families with teenage girls that live just downstairs and the girls speak English. Last night after I had settled in a bit and had dinner, the girls came up for a visit. A little while later their mom came up to tell me that my friend was here. It turns out another one of the volunteers is staying with the cousins of my neighbors and they had come over for a visit. The town is pretty small and three of us are staying right off of the main square. Today we went for a walk around town and found the important things (school, mosque, church, internet café, bank). Our first assignment for Peace Corps is to do a community map, so this was a good start. Tomorrow we start our intensive (4-5 hours a day) language classes. I think that I am doing ok in the language. I can already do some basic things like ask for an orange or say that I’m tired. It will come. It will come slowly, but it will come.

Naten e mire!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Half-way around the world

I’m seven hours ahead. Just thought I would let you know. Next week I will be eight hours ahead, because Albania, like the rest of Europe does Daylight Savings time on March 30th. By the way, each of my calendars has different days for Daylight Savings listed and none of them are March 30th. Have I told you how much I hate Daylight Savings? Well I do. And now that I’ve come here, I have to do Daylight Savings twice in one spring. Fantastic!

Anyway, so we have arrived. The end of Staging was good. I am starting to get to know all the rest of my group. There are 37 of us right now. We started with 38 but lost one before Staging even got going (I never even met him). Apparently he decided to go get married and go to grad school. At least he made that decision in Philly rather than in the Munich airport or something. I know that there will probably be other volunteers to leave early, but at this point it is really hard to guess who it might be. I’ve heard that often the people you least expect to make it will be the most successful. There are 15 of us in the Community and Organizational Development (COD) sector. I think that the experiences of the group vary greatly. There are few just out of college to a couple that have been working in the field for 20 years. I feel like I am in the middle. I have some experience and a fancy degree, but I still have a lot to learn.

For the first three days of training we are staying in a hotel in Elbasan, a medium sized town in Central Albania. Elbasan has all the comforts of home- Internet cafés, appliance stores and Greek restaurants. There is a University here that focuses a lot on teacher training. Many of our language trainers attended Elbasan University. Tomorrow we leave the comforts of the hotel to go to our training host families. We are split up in groups of 4-6 volunteers in small towns or villages near Elbasan (and by near I mean up to 45 minutes by bus). These small sites are where we will do most of our language training and work on training projects. Two days a week we will travel to Elbasan to do trainings in large groups.

So far, there has not been too much in the way of adjustment or culture shock problems because we are still in our little American bubble at the hotel. Tomorrow when we go to our host families, I expect that will all change. We have had our first two Albanian lessons, and although it is hard, I am pretty confident that I can learn.

That is it right now from Albania. I will post again soon about my host family and how training is going.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I'm leaving on a jet plane. . .

Staging is done. Philadelphia was ok- I had a cheesestake. We fly out this afternoon.

I don't know when I will next have internet access to post, but I will update as soon as I can.

In the meantime- sing me out. . .

Kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Tell me that you'll never let me go

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe I hate to go

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My last day in Denver

6:38- My alarm will not go off for another 7 minutes, but I am awake. I'm not sure how much I slept last night, but it couldn't have been more than a few hours.

7:15- Ok, I'm awake. I'm out of bed. If I'm going to be awake I might as well do something and packing is making me crazy. My big backpack is 3 pounds too heavy and I don't know what to take out. Guess I'll go see a rock show.

7:45- Holy Shit! This line goes around the block. I guess that there are some people that have been waiting since like 7:00 last night. Crazy people. There is no way I'm going to wait in line. But who needs to wait in line? I know the band! I call Jamie and he comes outside.

7:50- Maybe it is the lack of sleep. Maybe it is the millions of people in line. Maybe I'm just nuts. When Jamie asks me how I'm doing I have a mini breakdown and start crying in his arms. He calms me down and then convinces the radio rep to give me a pass to get in. Sometimes it is nice to know people.

8:00- After lots of shoving and craning and searching I find Ria and Coby hanging out. There are way too many people in here. There is no way that this is safe.

8:15- A U2 cover band is playing somewhere over there. I don't really like U2. I really don't like U2 cover bands.

9:30- The Flobots are about to go on. We push our way to the stage, but decide that getting stepped on is not really that fun. Ria and I back up and Coby disappears. We are next to the stage with our backs to the stairs and because of the gigantic speaker we can't see a thing. They have a burping contest on stage. Gross. The Flobots start playing and of course it is awesome. Even though I can't see the stage (If I stand on my tip toes and lean back a little I can sometimes see Andy's head) I can hear them. I'm glad I decided to come.

10:15- The Flobots are done and they were awesome. We head outside because it is getting hard to breathe in here. We almost go and get something to eat (I'm starving) but Jamie comes out and gives us VIP passes to get back in thinking that there might be food inside (the Eggs part of Keggs and Eggs). We find where the food used to be, but it is all gone. We chill out in the VIP area for a bit anyway, cause we're cool like that.

11:00- Goldfinger are playing downstairs but I am upstairs hanging out with MacKenzie and Ria and Colin. Some guy just asked Colin for his autograph. We're not really sure who he thought Colin was. . .maybe Jamie? The funny thing is that MacKenzie is right here, and she is actually in the band!

12:00- We decide to go get food after all and drive to Watercourse. The whole place is surrounded by cops and has police tape all over. We find out later that there was a stabbing. Watercourse is open, but there is no place to park. On to City O' City instead.

2:00- I drop Ria off at the SCG office and say good bye to everone there.

3:00- A few last minute errands then home to pack. Well actually, unpack then pack again.

6:00- My suitcases are exactly 50 pounds each. Minus a few t-shirts, a roll of duct tape and some random odds and ends did the trick.

8:00- Head over to Liz and J's for the party. Liz made cupcakes with the Albanian flag. Awesome. Also awesome is Liz's chess set cake for J's birthday. People show up and give me cds. Oh so awesome.

2:00- Say my last goodbyes to Liz and J and the last stragglers of the party. Head over to Chronic's house for breakfast.

3:00- Chronic made me rasberry crepes and turkey sausage. Even though he forgot the whipped cream, it is awesome. We watch MTV and eat our breakfast on his living room floor.

3:30- In bed. I sleep.

7:00- Awake and trying to get everything together. Oh my God, I'm actually doing this.

10:00- Dad takes me to the airport. I don't know how I got it all in but I did. My bags weigh about as much as I do. I can almost walk without tipping over. And now I'm on my way.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Do I need that?

"Probably not," is the answer that I keep coming up with. "Do I want that?" unfortunatley is a different question with a very different answer. The problem is that I have been brainwashed by the American consumerist culture into believing that I need everything that is in my house and now given the challenge of trying to fit several rooms worth of stuff into two bags weighing no more than 50 pounds each. . . Argh!

Anyway, I think I'm starting to get nervous. My nerves are manifesting as stressing out about the one thing I have control over right now- packing. I have so far packed and unpacked my suitcases at least twice in an effort to get everything in and stay under weight.

I am also starting my goodbye process. My mom left this morning for a trip to Vegas for her Aunt's 90th birthday. Of course this trip was planned before I got my departure date. So instead of her wishing me off to the airport, it was the other way around. Yesterday I went to spend some time with my sister and the girls. Tomorrow will be the big goodbye to all my friends.

Ok, enough procrastination, back to packing. . .