“Do people think I just go to the beach all the time?” That’s what I once asked myself while looking at the photos I had posted to facebook at the beginning of my peace corps service. “Oh Gosh it sounds awful!” Must have been what my friends back home in the USA thought after talking to them last month. This post should offer a more balanced idea of just what the hell I do in Albania.
A number of aspects of life here wear on one’s psyche, just enough to cause trouble, such as being unable to express oneself due to language barriers. Larger aspects of my life here were stressing me as well these past couple months such as a lack of work and the loneliness of my site at times. Sometimes I wouldn’t even leave the house and I felt my Albanian language skills degrade because I never spoke it. My ability to speak Albanian has become a real metric of my recent level of engagement in the community.
As gradual as I felt that that decline in my well being had been, this recent boost of energy Ive had these past two weeks in site has come on quickly.
And, my shqip is better than ever.
What made this past week special?
A man I’ve been working with on an agriculture project picked up some materials for me when I couldn’t. It wasn’t much but it meant a lot to me and the project.
This week was the first edition of Allison’s and my English Conversation Hour for local university students. After a couple of weeks of trying to organize something at the university with professors, I was basically told “no” by both the dean and vice dean. I picked up some advice from some students in the process, and learned the library was an acceptable place, which in Albania really matters especially for women.
So, I went next door to the Palace of Culture to get a key for the library. We had 6 students, only 3 of which were university students. Later I learned that a student who I thought had spoken well had been speaking english for the first time. how is this possible? Albanian english education, at least out here in the middle of nowhere, is such that you can study english in school for years without ever actually using it to speak. Looking back, I imagine her brain working in a way it never had before until that moment, for the first time using her english language knowledge to communicate her thoughts. I imagined her forever changed.
A local youth group of “save the children” had a meeting and I attended for the first time in a while. I felt really integrated into the group and was invited to go to Durres with two of the kids for a conference. I felt honored and touched that they would invite me.
The last thing I will mention is that very easily today I was able to have a totally successful business coffee with one high school student and the high school teacher who is the leader of the school’s environmental awareness group. I wanted to tell them about a really simple project and learn what they thought and also have a meeting with students later. It went perfectly. I attribute it all to giving some structure to the business coffee and having met the teacher and student before and formally introduced myself.
Its also very possible I will be moving to a nice apartment on the bulevard. This will be a significant improvement over my current house which is at the end of a long dirt road at the edge of town.
A lot of what the peace corps training tells you to expect you don’t fully appreciate until 10 months into site: It really is like a roller-coaster of emotions here. You will hate it and love it in the same breadth. It really will take a long time for you to become integrated and effective. It really will be one of the best experiences of your life.