Monday, April 19, 2010
Life in the Land of Eagles
Alright, I have now been in site for about a month and I feel this has been sufficient time to answer the many questions you may have for me. My apologies for taking a while to get back in touch, but I feel that if this had been any sooner, I would have been saying "I don't know, I'll find out later..." So without further adieu, please enjoy my first blog post from Albania.
Before I go into my life here, there is one thing I feel must be discussed right away: the head motions for "no" and "yes" are, in fact, REVERSED here. My host mother shakes her head "no" the way I'm used to every time I speak with her - this is taking some time to get used to. Oh, and when you ask permission for something and they shake their head "no" that is "yes." There is also another head bob that's more like putting your ears toward your shoulders that also means "yes." There are also quite a few minor nods that mean either, but that's a story for later.
Who: There are 49 new trainees in Albania of all different ages - from 22 to about 55 years old. There are three married couples and the gender breakdown is about 17/18 males to 31/32 females. The most represented states are California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Washington in no particular order (I am the only one from the East Side of WA).
Where: For training, all volunteers are spread out in several sites around the 3rd largest city in Albania, Elbasan (3rd largest depending on who you talk to, but that's for another day). Sites are broken down by sector - health, English teachers, and community and organizational development (COD). My group of 6 is COD and is located in a town called Librazhd (seen in above picture), which has around 10,000 inhabitants and is located 26km east of Elbasan. Librazhd is by far the largest trainee site and has much more opportunities for trainees to spend their money. We are getting a bit of a town experience, while most other trainees are living in small villages and are learning things like how to milk cows, plant crops, and pluck chickens (I think this is pretty awesome and kind of wish I had that experience, while some of those living it say otherwise).
What: Right now is the training period of Peace Corps (PCT) and is a 10 week process. During this time we are all learning language (Shqip) and undergoing several days of sector-specific technical training a few days a week. For the last few weeks, we have spent most of the time in our sites going to school for language, and meeting up in Elbasan once or twice per week for sessions with the entire group. This week, however, marks the beginning of practicum for trainees, and COD trainees are going to Elbasan every day.
Technical training is very broad for COD, as we are tasked with quite a variety of projects. One reason I waited to start posting is because last Friday we all received our site announcements; we learned where we will be living for two years after training, where we will be working, and who we will be working with.
I am to be sent to a smaller town called Peshkopi(above) in north eastern Albania. For those of you who remember me saying something along the lines of "some places in Albania are isolated in the winter..." yep, that's me. When I asked my host dad how much it snows in Peshkopi, he answered in meters... Apparently, one of the volunteers currently serving there had his entire toilet freeze (including the tank) last winter. So I have that to look forward to. I'm not too worried though. I feel the pros greatly outweigh the cons to living there. For one, it apparently is veeerrrry beautiful there and has nice, clean, mountain air. The town sits at a little over 2,000 feet, which is somewhat high, as the highest town here is at a little over 3,000 feet. Another bonus is Peshkopi's proximity to Macedonia, at about 20km, I can see myself exploring there quite a bit. Funny enough, the two new trainees Peace Corps are sending to Peshkopi are both from Washington... coincidence? I'm very excited for this, because we both get along really well and will probably be doing a lot of adventuring there.
For my work in Peshkopi, I am assigned to the Bashkia, which is essentially the Municipality for the area. I don't know exactly what I will be doing there, but it will probably have something to do with business development in the area, organizational and management development, with a bit of English teaching mixed in every now and then. That won't be for another 5 or so weeks though. I will be an official volunteer on May 27th.
Back to life in Librazhd/Elbasan though. I absolutely love it here. The country is beautiful and the people are friendly. My host family talks to me every day and feed me tons of food. Librazhd is surrounded by mountains with a large range just to the east (see top picture), past which is Macedonia.
I have been hiking just about every weekend and have seen some pretty cool geography. Last weekend, one of the volunteers in Librazhd and I hiked to just a few hours from the top of this range, and plan on making the trip to the top sometime in the summer when there is less snow.
Oh yeah, the language... Albanian, or Shqip (Shkip) is a very different language from English, with plenty of new consonant blends to learn. For instance, I realized today that the word for everything (Gjithçka) has a consonant blend of "thtschk" in it. Luckily, it is a very phonetic language so if you know the alphabet you can pretty much pronounce anything...eventually. The hardest letters for me to distinguish between at this point are "L" and "Ll" - believe me, they can tell when you are saying the wrong one. I'm getting along alright though and feel I am learning an adequate amount. The more I work, the more I learn, and speaking with my family definitely helps.
Now that this post is up, I will be adding more frequently and will try not to bombard you with books every time. I am also working on video edits to post, so you can look forward to that as well. I hope all of you are doing well and I look forward to keeping in touch frequently (internet is not scarce around here).