Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Albania? Seriously?

So, I guess it’s about time to resume my blog. Here’s the one sentence, readers digest version of the last month: we were evacuated to Armenia, where we did nothing.

Of course there are notable exceptions: the “Georgia South Refugee Olympics,” the Sadie Hawkins dance and last but not least, the swearing in of the G8’s in Tsaghkadzor. But, as a general rule, I caught up on a lot of television and read a lot and on our last night I was crowned Grand Master of Didi Michaeli’s new card game, aptly titled “Grand Master.”

Oh, and I also received my luggage! On our last night in Tsaghkadzorr, the PC vehicles pulled up with ALL of our bags. One of the boys in our group walked in and exclaimed “It looks like a Nordstrom blew up in here!” That’s how we roll. With lots of clothes. The bad news was that since we were flying within Europe, only 20kg of baggage was allowed with us. We should be getting the additional 20kg in about a month. In other sad news, I forgot that I had done laundry (in the tub, naturally) the night before we left and left it on a balcony. I now have significantly less underwear than before. But, it’s the Peace Corps, we deal. And, well, frankly, you’re not going to feel sorry for me when I tell you about where I’ve moved to.

I’m now in Albania, my new home for the next two years. Albania is amazing…and I almost feel guilty telling everybody what an amazing time I’m having. Didn’t I sign up for the Peace Corps in hope of a life of misery? Unfortunately this isn’t exactly panning out. First, Albania is beautiful (not to compare, but…its not quite as pretty as Georgia, but refugees don’t complain.) Second, the Albania PC program (staff, volunteers, the whole population of Albania) has gone over and above to make us feel welcome. On our first night we were treated to an amazing lunch that included pizza without…and brace yourself for this one…mayonnaise. That night we had dinner at our country director’s home, met his family and played with his adorable puppies.

On day two we were taken to the beach. Yeah, a white sand beach on the crystal clear Adriatic. How jealous are you now? On a scale of 1-10, seriously. After the beach, one of our program directors took us out to dinner in Tirana (the capital of Albania and where we’re staying for 5 weeks while we learn Albanian) and then we walked around downtown (In dark-time, kids…we’re allowed free range even after 8…unthinkable in Georgia) and while we were looking for a certain wine bar that apparently serves 100 lek (about 1 dollar) wine. We didn’t find the bar we were looking for, but stumbled upon a wine distributor who invited us into his show room and kept bringing us gigantic carafes of tasty Spanish wine and plates of cheese. We decided to buy a few bottles since, well, this is the first real wine we’ve had in quite awhile and he then gave us a discount on the wine we bought. Georgian hospitality is great and everything and I’m used to the wine flowing like water, but this was out of control.

Satiated on good wine and cheese, we awoke this morning to our first language classes, lunch with our program managers and a meeting with the US Ambassador to Albania.

So, yeah. I have no complaints about life right now. Things are of course going to get harder and my next two years won’t be like these last two days, but I’m going to enjoy it while I have the chance. I think we’re going to pretty much get to live like ex-pats in Tirana for the next five weeks. We’re so lucky to get so much individualized attention from all of the PC staff and the American community at large in Tirana.

I’m going to stop bragging now, I’m sure, dear readers, you’ve had enough. I’m going to hold out hope that things get worse and that you’ll have a whiny, bitter post to read next time.

But, I wouldn’t count on it…


This is a really old blog post that I wrote before everything 'went down' in Georgia. It was already written and eventhough not exactly timely, I figured it wouldn't hurt to put it up. Oh, and if you're privy to my ketchup story, here's where it all started...

This weekend all the TEFL’s went on job shadowing trips. How we’re supposed to ‘job shadow’ teachers in the middle of summer on a weekend, I don’t know, but, alas, that was the plan. In all honesty, I think the Peace Corps staff was just trying to avoid insurrection…the business kids always get to leave site and do fun stuff…TEFLs not so much.

Two other PSTs and I were job shadowing a G7 in the Kaketi region. Kaketi is the easternmost region of Georgia. It’s also the hottest region of Georgia and a malaria zone. Oh, and guess who forgot to pack her malaria meds?

If you guessed me, you would be correct. I figured I’d just stock up on tonic water and try to find some good gin. PC medical didn’t feel as optimistic about my obviously well thought out plan. The good news is that you can buy malaria medication in almost any pharmacy and it’s cheap.

Anyway, the G7 we were shadowing lives in a village about 10 km from the Azeri border. This means we were in for a 4+ hour trip on Georgian public transportation from our villages in central Georgia. Yay!

As a quick aside, the notion of Georgian public transportation seems pretty cool, right? I mean you can go anywhere you need to in the whole country for like 20 Lari. But, then you may ask yourself, how can a country like Georgia have an efficient and inexpensive public transportation system? “Cities in the US like Seattle hardly have reliable public transport and the CTA in Chicago is on the verge of collapse,” you may muse.

Well, Georgia can have such a system because it’s ridiculously unsafe and not regulated by the Government. Georgia’s country-wide ‘public’ transportation system is a system of old 16 passenger vans that drive no less than 70 kmh on mountain roads and poorly maintained highways…but, hey, they’re cheap! I’m sure Wikipedia can do a much better job of explaining these than I can…so have at it.

Back to the trip…so we took various marshutkas and navigated the metro in Tbilisi all by ourselves and arrived in Vardisubani (our final destination) in a little under 5 hours. Vardisubani may be perhaps the hottest place I’ve ever been. It was easily pushing 115 degrees when we arrived and didn’t cool down our entire visit. But, on the plus side, it’s beautiful and our G7 host and her host family were wonderful to us.

On Sunday we traveled up to Signaghi. Signaghi is one of the first towns in Georgia Saakashvili pushed to renovate, as he has a vacation home there. It’s really beautiful in a fakey-touristy sort of way…so of course I loved it! St. Nino’s church, where St. Nino is buried, is also there. If you haven’t been reading up, St. Nino brought Christianity to Georgia and she’s kind of a big deal. We went into the church, which is beautiful, lit candles and touched her tomb. Unfortunately, its kind of holy site, so no pictures of the inside, but if you’re ever in Georgia, be sure it hit it up.

While St. Nino’s was pretty amazing, I think the highlight of the day was lunch. We had Mexican food. Yes. We ate Mexican food in a little town in eastern Georgia. The owner is part of an international Georgian dancing troupe and his brother-in-law is American, so the food was surprisingly authentic…we even had hand made tortilla chips! After a month of nothing but Georgian food (which is amazing, don’t get me wrong…just a little lacking in variety) it was a very welcome change.

The next morning it was time to depart again, we caught the early Marshutka into Tbilisi and may or may not have spent a little more time than necessary making our way from one side of the city to the other. We stopped for American style breakfast: omelets and Starbucks coffee, and did a little window shopping. I bought real Heinz ketchup at the big grocery store in Tbilisi, which really can’t be replicated, and is absolutely essential, I don’t care where you are in the world.

So, all in all, I had a wonderful weekend. It was a nice little morale boost. PST can be ridiculously stressful and adjusting to Georgia can be tough, even though there is a reason certain countries coughlikegeorgiacough are considered ‘posh corps.’ It was nice to have a break and an opportunity to find a few American style comforts. The big news is that they announce our permanent sites Friday…which signals the beginning of the end of PST! We’ve already lost 8 G8’s…I’m just so glad I’m making it through.