Saturday, June 20, 2009

Its been awhile...

Hey guys. Its been awhile, huh? I have absolutely NO excuses for not updating this blog. I mean, I can think of a few...but I do generally feel guilty about the lack of amazing, exciting, dramatic, awe-inspiring stories posted of late (Ok, of ever). While I promise that none of the previously mentioned adjectives will apply to this update...I will let you in on what I've been up to for the last month or two.

May started with a little weekend adventure to eastern Albania. (If you have your atlas handy, Pogradec and Korca) I went on the Matura trip (translation: Senior trip) with the high school students. Traditionally, only seniors go on this trip, but since we only have, like, 15 seniors, the whole high school was invited. About 35 students, 3 teachers, 2 fiances (2 late 20's guys engaged to 2 of my 18 year old students. CREEPY. ) and one peace corps volunteer set off early one Saturday morning on quite the ambitious trip. We spent a total of 27 hours on the bus and 24 hours 'vacationing.' It was a disaster from my point of view, because...well, I'm American and like 'order' and 'plans,' but the kids had fun and I had fun hanging out with them.

The next weekend I took a small group of students back east for Outdoor Ambassador Camp. We had a blast. Outdoor Ambassadors is our after-school environmental club. The camp was wonderful, we played games, did some rock climbing, a ropes course, trust falls...the whole shebang. My kids got to meet and make friends from all over the country, which was fantastic. Despite the stress of coordinating the travel and the parents and my grumpy school director (who, seriously, called while we were en route to inform us that he was calling the police on me for kidnapping! The situation was quickly resolved, btw. I'm still a free woman) OA camp was for sure a highlight of my service thus far.

I have been travelling non-stop it seems, and was up in Tirana the next weekend for what I thought would be a nice break. At least I was travelling without kids, you know? I was up for my mid-service doctor/dentist appt. (No cavities!) but had to cut my weekend short when I was informe that I was giving a presentation to the new trainees in Elbasan at the last minute. Although I was kind of bummed that I had to leave Tirana early, it was good to meet some of the new PC faces and share a bit of my 'expertise.'

That about flushes out May. This is getting long, so we'll save June for next time. Stay tuned for Meghan goes to Romania, alternatively titled: Meghan looses all her money and is sold into white slavery.

I'm only half joking.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I'm not the only one who says Albania is amazing

Look look look!

I live on the third page, in a village between Saranda and Butrint. Do you need any more incentive to come visit?

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Its finally happening. Finally. Finally. Finally. I finally feel like I’m actually starting to get things accomplished. Mind you, I didn’t say that I have actually accomplished anything…but I’m feeling that things are definitely on their way, which is more positive than I’ve felt about my work…well…ever.

I’ll save the details of my projects for when they’re actually on the road to completion, but suffice to say, things are looking up.

Otherwise, its been a busy few weeks for this volunteer. The week before last was teacher week and as such, classes were shortened every day so we could have an assembly of sorts all together. One day the kids performed songs, the next they recited poetry, and so on. The kids love performing, and like everything here; it was a competition, which they really enjoyed. March 7th was the official teachers’ day, which fell on a Saturday. So, Friday was a party day. (Because, really, what better way to honor your teachers than to terrorize them by being hyped up on candy and loud music?)

My ‘homeroom’ class is by default the 6th grade class because that is my counterpart’s homeroom class. I don’t usually have classes with them because of my relative incompetence when it comes to explaining things in Albanian and their incompetence when it comes to speaking English. (Ok, ok, they’re like 10, I guess they have an excuse.) Anyway, Friday was a horrible thunder-stormy day and my counterpart didn’t want to come to Ksamil, leaving me to helm the party alone. Thankfully, the glee of 10 year-olds around loud music and candy breaks down all language barriers. We had a wonderful time circle dancing and signing. They also showered me with presents per the teachers’ day tradition.

So, funny story: I caught one of the 6th class boys with a beer. How a 10 year old gets a hold of a beer, I don’t know. Why he would think it would be ok the bring it to school, I don’t know. But, even more alarming, why none of the other ADULTS cared, I seriously have no idea. I’ll give them credit, though. They pretended to care, for my benefit…as I was obviously distressed, but, no academy awards will be given out for their performances.

Moving on, after the 6th class party, I was forced to make an appearance at the high school party, held at the bar/café (all café’s in Albania also serve alcohol) next to the school. As a rule, I try to avoid all party situations with the high school kids because its hard enough for me to assert any kind of authority as it is. The last thing I need is to cavort with them on a social level. Anyway, I ended up at the bar, picture evidence is below:

Notice the smoking, the alcohol and the dancing. Its 10:30 in the morning. Let me repeat: 10:30 in the morning. In all fairness, I would not have been any more comfortable if it were 10:30 at night, but in some tiny way, I would have felt it more appropriate. I guess I’m just so American and puritan and, I don’t know, up-tight. But, there are just so many levels of inappropriate to be found in this situation…it boggles my mind.

I stayed at the high school party just long enough to say hi and have a coffee. Thankfully, I had to leave to catch the bus to Tirana.

After a looooong 8 hour bus ride to Tirana, I had a wonderful weekend at the Outdoor Ambassador training. It was great to get up to the city and see people. It also happened to be the Georgia volunteers’ ‘6 months in Albania’ anniversary. Everybody, with the exception of Aida and Joe, was in Tirana, so we decided to celebrate. We all dressed up, had a wonderful sushi dinner and went to the Sky Tower for a celebratory drink before meeting up with the other volunteers. Really, it was just a good opportunity for us to dress up. We clean up pretty well, no? Of course you can dress us up and bring us to the big city…but there’s still a little volunteer in us all…check out Allan’s shoes.

The sky tower is like the space needle of Tirana? I don’t know if that’s a good comparison, but it’s a bar at the top of a tall building that rotates. It was really pretty and a nice chance to reflect on how far we’ve come and how Albania has changed us. I’m not sure how much Albania we’ve changed…hopefully we can reflect on that in September.

I’m also a third done with my service. I’ve been in the PC for 9 months now. So much has happened that its hard to believe that just a year ago I hadn’t even gotten my invitation yet and was thinking about giving up on the whole PC thing. I have to say, that despite all the trials and tribulations, I’m really glad I didn’t. I signed up for an adventure…and well, I’ve had one.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Picture redux

So, I don't have any new, interesting things to blog about, but I do have plenty of pictures. Starting with...drum roll...a rare picture of ALL the Georgia transfers...even Travis.

Here are a few pictures from my last trip to Butrint. (By trip I mean, 10 minute jaunt, of course, haha) I really, really need to get on posting something meaningful...or at the very least a little bit informative about Butrint. It is, by far, my favorite thing about Albania.

The font in the middle of the currently covered mosaic. YES. THE mosaic. The largest intact Roman mosaic after the Haiga Sofia in Istanbul.

Katherine, Becky and I (and our gracious guide) at the Bektashi center in Vlore.

View of Vlore from the Bektashi center.

Monument posing in Vlore...Travis is taking these pictures. I swear he was there.
That's it for now. Its sunny and almost warm today. I plan to sun myself and hand wash laundry. This is the PC after all.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Quick update: spring has not sprung. Its colder than ever.

That is all.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spring has Sprung?

It’s the beginning of February and it looks like the weather is finally starting to get better. I’m so glad I’m reasonably far south and I’m not looking at a Chicago marathon winter. Chicago marathon winters are ok in Chicago…but with my heating situation as it is (that is to say non-existent) not fun here.

I guess I can consider this spring, so let me say, spring weather here is weird. It rains everyday, usually all night and a little bit during the day. Last night we had a crazy thunderstorm. Perhaps the loudest thunder I have ever heard…and that includes the time Blackstone Hall was actually struck by lightning the summer after sophomore year. My umbrella was owned by the wind and is out of commission. I left it with Courtney in Gjirokaster, as she is collecting them to make re-useable shopping bags with the Gjirokaster women’s group (amazing project, huh? Something easily done in the US too…) I can’t seem to find another (ie I haven’t looked), so I’m using a Seattle umbrella (a hood) for the time being.

Second semester has started off with…not a bang. I was planning on starting my after school clubs this week, but the Gods of logistics apparently aren’t on my side. Now, the logical place to hold an after school English club is, of course, at school, right? I asked about this when I first arrived in Ksamil, in, say, October. My director assured me that it would be no problem and the issue was put to rest. I decided not to start up anything new because I was still in a needs assessment phase (using PACA tools…hey!....cue eye rolling from my PCV readership) and there were so many breaks between November and the end of the year, that it just seemed like a better idea to wait. So, 2009 rolls around, we’re back at school and I inquire about my activities. Its at this point I’m told that, in fact, the school must be locked up promptly at 1:15 everyday, in effect putting the kabash on my activities. Of course.

Have no fear, though, me being the resourceful PCV that I am decided that the cultural center would be just fine. I mean, what is a cultural center for if not to, you know, spread culture, like, maybe, the English language to the youth? My counterpart told me this would not work, as the cultural center is private and you must pay to use it. I figured that my clout as an American, a poor, moneyless volunteer and someone trying to donate my time to the community would supersede anyone’s need for rent. I mean, who asks a volunteer for rent?

I’ll tell you who: the Ksamil Cultural Center.

I would write up the hilarious story of me trying to explain in horrible Shqip what exactly I wanted to do and how I totally couldn’t pay for it, but you’re all getting tired of my stories of incompetence by now, right? And, besides, the story is pretty self-explanatory. I’m the least articulate Shqip speaker in the whole world. Let’s also not forget that the owner of the cultural center is, I believe, a seriously famous Albanian classical musician.

So, yeah, here I am with no after school club. I’m working on it. My senior study group will commence as planned, just in a café instead of a place of learning.

In other important news, Friday was my dear counterpart’s last day at school. Her doctor has put her on bed-rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. This is much sooner than expected. Well, much sooner than I expected. I’m getting a new counterpart from Saranda on Monday.

Its funny, I feel like nothing ever goes on here, but here I am with this ridiculously long blog post about all the interesting developments in the last few weeks. Perhaps the most exciting is the site development that has been taking place in Saranda. If you’ve been following along, you’ve no doubt heard (read?) about my longing for a PCV in Saranda. I’m pretty sure everyone at the PC office in Tirana has also heard (been forced to listen at length?) about this. The good news is that I think it will happen! The TEFL project manager was down here a few days ago scouting things out and there have been some other murmurs of site development in Saranda from the other sectors. Of course nothing is definite…the biggest challenge is finding housing that is suitable and under the PC budget cap…but, its looking good.

If you’re a G12 reading this blog, pray you get placed in Saranda. Seriously.

I also just found out that BJ, who lived with me in Osiauri Cluster in Georgia, will be joining fellow G8’s Adam and Raino here in Albania. Now, every member of Osiauri cluster has been placed in a new country! Katherine in Romania, Alyssa in Paraguay, Michael in Micronesia and BJ and I here! Now, Gomi cluster and Osiauri cluster are going to have to fight it out for Albanian prominence. I absolutely cannot wait until March!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Christmas and the New Year

Very rarely do I get a chance to write a blog in 'real time.' I'm in Saranda right now, stealing wireless internet at the Hotel Butrinti. When I was on the bus coming back from Tirana after IST (see last post) I realized that any good hotel must have wireless internet. Indeed the Hotel does. I wish I had realized this earlier.

Anyway, here is the run down (complete with pictures!) of my holiday activities:

On the last day of school before the break holiday parties were thrown at school. Holiday parties in Albania celebrate both Christmas and the New Year. New Years is a much bigger holiday in Albania. I assume this is because its not religious. Holiday parties in Albanian classrooms aren't that different from what I remember in school. Its basically organized chaos. Dancing, singing, junk food, etc. The biggest difference was the presence of lit sparklers (yes. fireworks.) in the classroom. Those, I'm not going to lie, freaked me out.
Left: 6th class circle dancing.
Right: 6th class group picture with our school director.

After the class party, everyone gathered outside for an 'all school assembly." Where the director and the Mayor of Ksamil announced and handed out gifts to the two best students in each class.

After school, the teachers had a celebratory lunch in Saranda. It was a lot of fun and, in true Albanian fashion, a ton of food! There was also circle dancing at this party, but fortunately, no

Left: Lunch, Right: My counterpart and I

On Christmas eve, I attempted to go to Gjirokaster. I did eventually get there, but not until early, early Christmas morning! As I frequently write, most of the time the living is pretty easy in Albania. This notion goes out the window when traveling is concerned. I tried to leave Ksamil on the 1:45 bus, putting me in Saranda around 2:15, with plenty of time to catch the 2:30 bus to Gjirokaster. Of course, it being Christmas eve, the 1:45 bus didn't come. I finally caught a bus out of Ksamil at 2:30. This of course meant that I missed the 2:30 bus to Gjiro. What I didn't know is that the 2:30 bus is THE LAST BUS OUT OF SARANDA. I arrived at the empty bus station around 3. Fantastic. I could either go back to Ksamil and try again on Christmas or wait for the night bus to Tirana, which passes by Gjirokaster and leaves Saranda at 10.

I really didn't have anything to do at home, so I decided to wait it out. I went to the internet cafe, had dinner, sat in a cafe and read; my parents called. It wasn't so bad, but it really wasn't how I wanted to spend my Christmas eve.

The rest of my Christmas visit to Gjirokaster was fantastic, however. We cooked a gigantic meal and ate at Allan's office, which is pretty 'homey' for an office. We also had some visitors from the US, Courtney's Aunt and Uncle were in town. They're incidentally from Bainbridge and showed me some fun pictures of all the unexpected snow back in Seattle.

Cam, Allan, Chris, Courtney, Alexi, Stephie, Becca, Becky and I before Christmas dinner.
The day after Christmas, we visited the castle and played board games. Chris and Allan taught Becky and I how to play Risk.
The prison at the top of Gjirokaster Castle and The view of Gjirokaster from the top of the castle.

I went back to Ksamil for New Years, which I spent with (ok, and stay with me, this is convoluted) my landlord's sister's family. Besnika, my landlord's sister is a teacher at my school and I give private lessons to her daughter, Klea. They've basically taken me in, kind of like a host family. On New Years eve we had a big dinner with baklava for dessert (yum!) and waited until midnight to shoot off fireworks. It was a really low-key new years, but fun.
So, I guess those were the big holiday events. School is back in session now and everything is back to normal. The next big event on my calendar is Katherine's (one of my Osiauri Cluster-mates from Georgia) tentative visit to Albania in February. When I transferred to Albania, she transferred to Romania, so she's in the neighborhood. Other than that, I'm just trying to stay warm!

Ups and downs

I told my mom on the phone today that I would be more regular about keeping up my blog, so in keeping my promise, here’s what’s been going on:

Last week was IST (in service training…the Peace Corps is all about acronyms, in keeping with governmental agencies.) It was in Elbasan, in central Albania, which was where the original G11’s did their training. So, they were a little bit over being there. It was all new to the new G11’s (ie. me and the other Georgians) so, the location was not a problem for me. It was really nice to have reliable hot water and heat for a week. I also learned a ton about other people’s projects and had an opportunity to learn a little bit more Shqip. Honestly, though, it was a little overwhelming to be in such a large group for six days. I spend so much time alone here that being with people has become a little foreign.

I’m back in Ksamil now for a week and a half before Christmas. My break doesn’t start until Christmas proper which is a little different than back in the US. New Years is the biggest holiday here, which I’m excited for and have yet to make plans for. For Christmas, I’m going to Gjirokaster, only about 3 hours away. Its much more of an ‘old’ traditional town, more ‘Christmasy’ in spirit than Ksamil. But, like Christmas in the US, its not about the place, its about the people you’re with. I think some of the Georgians are going to come down and the lovely Chris and Courtney will be hosting us. I am so lucky to be so close to such amazing people.

What has really inspired this blog entry has been the ups and downs of Peace Corps service. I thought everything was going pretty well, and then I went to IST. Hearing about all the other volunteers amazing accomplishments kind of got me down a little bit. I have to remember that they’ve been here for 6 months to my 3, so it makes sense, but it was still a little jolting to be faced with. Maybe I was also feeling a little bit jealous of their situations. Most of the other PC volunteers have site mates and live in places much bigger, so they have things. For example, I’m the only volunteer in Albania in a site without even a bank. Additionally, I’m also the farthest away…a whopping 9 hours from Tirana.

I was really getting down on myself and Ksamil as a place. I doubted that I would ever be a good volunteer.

I was feeling not particularly integrated into my community, which is goal one of PC. My language isn’t great (but getting better everyday, I hope) which makes it hard to just go out and meet people. In addition, Ksamil is a tourist place…people see me; they know I don’t belong here, but they don’t really see a reason to get to know me. I’m just another person passing through. Also, the people I work with mostly live in Saranda, so its been a challenge to get to know the Ksamilis.

Yet, despite all this, I recognize that I am so lucky to be here. I really do love Ksamil. I love that it is small and that I will have the opportunity to get to know everyone. I love that I’m the first volunteer in Ksamil and only one here currently, which allows me to take a special kind of ownership in the town. I even love being far away from Tirana, as inconvenient as it is at times. I also love my counterpart who is a wonderful teacher. Some teachers in Albania (and throughout the world…this isn’t a country specific issue) don’t take their profession seriously and just get through the day. My counterpart is the opposite. She is amazing. I am also really lucky to have amazing students. Challenging at times, for sure, but hearing other TEFL war stories at IST really made me appreciate how wonderful my kids are.

So, back to community integration, while I was standing at the bus stop in Saranda, waiting for the Ksamil bus, who walks up but Orreta, the lady who cleans my school and whose house I take Shqip lessons at. She doesn’t speak much English, but it was nice to ride home with somebody and answer questions as to where I’ve been. I felt a little missed…like they actually noticed I was gone, which was really re-assuring. On my walk home one of my neighbors stopped me and also asked where I was. I guess people are finally starting to notice me!

The next day at school, it was wonderful to see my counterpart and check on what the kids had been doing in my absence. They’re still a little wary of me and my weird ways…but they too were happy to see me. Slowly, but surely, I think I am becoming integrated. It just takes time. Which I have to remind myself of…constantly.

Today I woke up with an inexplicable swollen lip. I think it was a mosquito bite. I was dreading going to school today because of it. The language barrier makes even the smallest things gigantic. (On my first night here, I awoke to like 45 mosquito bites ON MY FACE…people are still talking about it). In any event, it just wasn’t as big of a deal as I expected. Then, one of the teachers brought in a letter for me and a package slip. As mentioned before, packages make even the worst days bearable. I was elated.

After school I traveled to Saranda to pick up my package, it turned out there were two. One was from Lindsey, a former G8 in Georgia with me, and one from my parents. The package from my parents was gigantic. Which, quick note, while I accept with open arms all packages without complaint, do remember that I have to carry said packages and take them on the bus with me as well as walk them from the bus. Just something to keep in mind, haha, gigantic packages are a tad cumbersome.

I brought my package home and it looked like Christmas exploded in my apartment. Included were some much needed foodstuffs, Christmas ornaments, some presents which (according to the explicit instructions included by my mother) are to be opened on Christmas day and, perhaps one of the most amazing things I’ve received in my life: A beautifully decorated book with messages from so many members of Kent First Presbyterian.

I cannot convey how amazing this was to read. After kind of having a hard week and a hard day, to open up that book and read all the good wishes was nothing short of inspiring and totally uplifting. I wish I had words to describe how amazing this was. At that moment I only had tears.

And just as I write this, feeling all warm and fuzzy about Albania, the PC, Ksamil, etc, the power goes out. I haven’t made dinner yet. I guess that’s the perfect analogy for how things go here. Just when you’re feeling things are great…a tiny little challenge ruins your evening…and dinner plans.

Oh, and PS. To those readers who are sticklers about grammar. I know, its totally a mish-mash in here and my tense keeps changing. It annoys me too. All the Shqip speaking and working with non-native English speakers has affected my English in horrible, horrible ways.