Monday, May 31, 2010

packing up and parting

I hate packing. I hate moving. I hate packing and I hate moving. I hate packing, I hate moving and I hate living out of a suitcase. It is kind of incredible how much stuff I seem to have accumulated over the past two years. I didn't think that I had that much stuff, and I think that compared to some other volunteers, I don't, but it still seems like a lot when I have to go through it all. I have started to separate everything out into different boxes: one for things going home, one for things I'm packing, one for things to leave here for other PCVs and of course trash. Whenever I am packing or moving, a big bit om my mom's pack-rat gene comes out. I have some pretty random stuff (some of it sent to me, some of it acquired who knows how) that I just don't know what to do with. Do I really need this? No, probably not, but it doesn't need to end up in a landfill either (or in this case in a burning trash pile). I have some clothes that are completely falling apart that I just can't seem to part with and also some clothes that are perfectly fine . . . except the fact that they don't really fit me well anymore (and I haven't worn more than a few times in two years). Getting rid of this kind of stuff is a bit of a struggle for me, but it will have to be done. The only saving grace for me right now is the fact the my dad will be taking a suitcase (or two?) home for me.

Part of the problem right now is of course the fact that as soon as I start packing, and I mean really packing, then it means that I am really leaving. Every day I get closer to the end here and I have to say goodbye to someone else. It may not seem as important as saying goodbye to my friends and coworkers, but I also sort of have to say goodbye to my house and stuff. Over the past two years, my house became a bit of a sanctuary for me in times of stress and loneliness. It was a place that I could invite friends into, but also a place where I could just be by myself and just be myself, away from the sometimes staring eyes of the people in my community. My house had it's problems, but in the end I love it and I will miss it. Even the frozen pipes and weird noise that my toilet makes . . .

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Since most of my close friends here are either already married or in high school, (and thank god I'm not going to their weddings yet) until this weekend, I had only been able to go to one wedding in Albania (in my first summer, my language teacher Ola), so I was really excited when I found out that one of my coworkers, Marijana would celebrate her marriage right before I left Peshkopi. An Albanian wedding is pretty similar to what I imagine many wedding celebrations around the world- lots of food, drinking and dancing. Usually, an Albanian wedding will be at least two parties, one for the bride's family and one for the groom's family. As far as I understand, unlike in the American tradition where there is a "ceremony" with the exchanging of vows, rings and kisses, usually in Albania there is only parties and the official marriage (signing of the marriage certificate) is done privately. This wedding was a little bit special because the bride and groom are Christian, so they did a sort of modified Christian ceremony with rings (but strangely no kissing . . . hmmmm). Other than that, it was basically like any other Albanian party, in other words, circle dancing.

The Valle Shqiptare, or the traditional Albanian circle dance has it's equivalent in many other Balkan/Mediterranean countries. You find it in Macedonia as the Ora and Greece as the Choreia and even in Jewish tradition as the Hora. The dance can range from simple to complicated and slow and easy to a jumping heart racer. The most basic form involves the repetition of a few simple steps- basically, step, touch, step, cross. The first few times you try, you find yourself staring down at the floor in front of you trying to stay on step with the person you are following. After a while you are finally able to look up and enjoy the dizzying effects of the dance. In Albania, every region or town has their own traditional valle. Many of them use the basic step, but a few, like the high spirited Valle Kuksi (from the northern city of Kukes) includes a running jump step that only energetic youth or very experienced dancers should attempt. My favorite is probably the Valle Kosovari because the music has this great drum beat that I just can't resist. I love the way that the circle dance involves the whole community in the dance together. At the wedding, each dance was taken in turn by a different group; the DJ would announce "this is the turn for the Uncles of the bride on the mom's side" and that part of the family would rise up and dance. By the end of the night, no matter who's turn it was, most people joined the dance. You would think that going around in a circle would get old after a while, but somehow it doesn't. Somehow, it's just comforting to be part of the circle and part of the community that formed it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It seems like the countdown to leave Albania started in March at the COS conference, but now it has really begun in earnest with the first real live, official COSs of G11 this week. We have had a couple of people leave since the March conference; one to get her knees fixed (hope you are feeling better!), one to go home for family reasons (our thoughts are with you!) and one to accept a job here in Albania that pays real money (congrats!). But this week is the first week that our group can start to leave without it being an early termination and I feel a bit like every time I say goodbye to people I might be saying goodbye for good.

I think I had an idea when I joined PC that I would become close with my fellow volunteers. I'd been to enough camps and intense study experiences to know that things like this bond you together in a way that is not possible under most normal circumstances. But PC has been a new level of bonding for me. From PST to IST to Midservice to COS and counterparts to hostfamilies and successful projects to failed projects to project ideas that never got off the ground, I feel like my fellow volunteers understand me better than any other people in the world right now. I miss my family and I miss my friends (Hi guys, I'll be home in August, can't wait to see you!), but I know that it will be hard to go home again because I will have to explain things and recount my stories for the folks back home . . .

Will I ever see them again? There are volunteers in my group from every corner of the US. East Coast, check; West Coast ,check; Midwest, check; Mountain West, check (duh, that's where I am! and Paul, hey Paul!) Alaska, check. I think all we are missing is Hawaii. The good news is that I feel like I have places to stay all over the place now and in this age of facebook, email, blogs etc. it is easy to say that you will stay in touch with people. The biggest problem is that it is easier said than done. Just like I feel like I have only sort of stayed in touch with people back home (you read about me here, I stalk you on facebook . . . ) I'm afraid that once we leave Albania I will grow apart not only physically but emotionally from my fellow PCVs (now RPCVs).
So the goodbye process has started . . . and don't get me started on how hard it is to say goodbye to some of the people in my town

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Une nuk jam nje gomar! (I am not a donkey)

Or our Earth Day project . . .

I have to say that overall it went really well, or at least as well as can be expected. Did we make a big difference in the world? I'm not sure, but it was a great process to go through:
For the past four or so months I have been working with my Outdoor Ambassadors kids (about 10 high school students) to plan and implement a project for Earth Day. We started with an idea to fix up one of the parks in Peshkopi and went through the whole project planning process. We applied for a grant from Disney for "Global Youth Service" and won the $500. Now we had to figure out what to do with that money. Probably the most difficult part of the whole process for me was trying to get the kids to make decisions, plans, and lists and not just doing it for them (I think I said "this is YOUR project" about four thousand times over the past few months). I think that we spent two months making task lists and then on the day of the project I still had kids asking me what they were supposed to do . . .We decided to buy new wood to fix all of the broken benches in one of the parks in town, plan some flowers and do some education about Earth Day, protecting the environment and not using plastic bags. For this purpose we also got some cloth bags printed that say "Take drastic measures, don't use plastic bags" (it rhymes in Albanian) and the Outdoor Ambassadors logo.We spent the last week really getting ready for the project- we put up posters around town, we invited important people, we talked to all of the classes in both of the high schools. And finally the day arrived. And it was raining. At about 9:00 I started getting calls from the students, "are we still going to do the project??." YES! It's not raining, I don't believe in rain, rain does not exist! Luckily for me, my positive attitude won over the weather and at exactly 10:30, the project started and the sun came out. The rest of the day was beautiful. And chaotic. We had men from the bashkia (city hall) come to help install the new wood for the benches, and then the kids painted them. We passed out plastic bags and gloves to the (it seemed like) hundreds of kids that came out of nowhere as soon as the sun came out to pick up trash. When they came back with full bags, we gave them candy (whose wrappers ended up back on the ground half the time . . . what can you do?). When I tried to distribute the cloth bags to the kids that worked the hardest, I got literally mobbed. With children climbing over each other and onto me, I almost lost it. It's hard to remember how to say "Get off of me, I am not a donkey!" when children are attacking you. Eventually, most of the craziness died down and we were able to get some work done including planting some flowers and painting the rest of the benches.

Was it a big change in the world? No, not really. It wasn't even that big of change in this small corner of the world (I think between picking up the trash and all the candy wrappers we maybe broke even on the whole thing . . .) but all that is besides the point. Ten motivated high school students, a few supportive adults and two slightly crazy Peace Corps Volunteers took a project from an idea to a reality in a few months. I hope that I have at least proven to these kids that it is possible to do SOMETHING even if it is small and that people will help if you have a good idea. I also hope that I have laid some foundations for projects with these and other kids to continue in the future. I can't wait to see what they do next . . .