In my life I have lived in a red house, a grey house, a white house and a light blue house….but never a bright green (think chartreuse inside and out) house. Now I call such a place home. The PC homestay coordinator must have known that is my favorite color.
Last Saturday four other dazed and tired volunteers and myself were spirited away from the comforts of the Hotel Univers in Elbasan for the adventure of life with a host family in the village of Bishqem. We were dropped off at our respective homes knowing about 10 words of Shqip (albanian) and knowing nothing beforehand about the environment in which we will live for the next 10 weeks other than the names of our hosts. Jeff (spelled Xheff in albania), Libby, and I are all staying with families that are neighbors and I am pretty sure half the town is related. Bishqem is a town of about 1600, and we all stick out like crazy walking to and from the school each morning for language classes. Each week we’ll have about 20 hours of language instruction in bishqem and 15 or so of technical training and sessions with other volunteers about safety and albanian culture in Elbasan. Topics include how not to get diahreah and what to do when there’s an earthquake. Tomorrow all the COD (community and organizational development) volunteers will meet the mayor of Elbasan.
All other time is spent studying, sleeping or hanging out with my host family – Rasie (mama), Jerina and Antonini (16 year old twins), one cow and many many chickens.. Baba is working in Greece, and there are four older siblings who are all married or living abroad. I enjoy spending time with them and in just a few days my Shqip has progressed beyond charades and pictionary to actually forming some sentences and talking about my family and home in the states. They love the book I brought about Virginia and think it is shume bukur (beautiful) and a very very snowy place. Last night we celebrated the muslim holiday of Novruz by baking byrek with a coin hidden inside and eating a young chicken.
Some observations after a few days in Bishqem:
-Albania is truly a place of extremes. Libby’s host family lives in a small village on a dirt road, yet they drive a mercedes.
-Women lead restricted lives – us female volunteers are frequently the only women in the cafe where we eat our lunch. I went for a run yesterday and got lots of stares.
-Albanians (at least those in Bishqem) do not use any spices besides salt….and we eat mounds of rice and noodles at every meal.
– There does not appear to be any public trash disposal system at all. anywhere.
Right now my head is too full of a murky soup of vocabulary, so these are my initial observations. Hopefully some photos and other, more coherent thoughts will come later….