What to say? The past week has been packed full, and I know the remaining weeks of training will just get more and more busy as we hurtle towards June and moving to our permanent sites.
The trip to Gramsh last weekend was a great break from the stress of language class and host family life. Susan and I stayed with two TEFL and health volunteers who are both from group 11 (done with their 2 years in May/June). We cooked some good food and learned a lot about what life can and will be like after training, which seems pretty good to me. I had no idea what to expect from Gramsh, but it’s great. Though it’s a small city of about 8,000, it’s clean and beautiful and has lots going on. The whole city overlooks a river under the shadow of Mt. Tomori. Because Gramsh represents the small end of where I could be placed for my permanent site, the whole visit reassured my thought that I could really be happy anywhere in Albania. It is such a beautiful country and nothing is very far from anything else (though the roads are terrible so it just takes a long time to get from place to place). Highlights of the weekend include playing with Kevin’s (TEFL) dog, learning about Salep (amazing chai like drink made from orchid root and cinnamon), meeting a few other local ex-pats working on a dam project over beers, and just feeling at ease about life as a PCV. At our hub day yesterday it was nice to compare notes with everyone else about the weekend’s visits. I think most of us are now inspired to work hard on language now so that we can hit the ground running when June rolls around and we move to our sites.
However, what the visit to Gramsh also highlighted was the extent of corruption in Albanian culture and the lack of work ethic here. We have heard about this in so many training sessions, but its interesting to see PCVs dealing with it in the workplace. We all will deal with this every day, and as a COD volunteer working with local government it will be a daily struggle to get anything done. As I meet more and more current volunteers here and discuss their lives in Albania, it is striking how individual each PC experience truly is. It all just seems like a group study abroad trip right now.
Last night I had a great time with my two host sisters (one is home visiting for the week) making chocolate chip cookies in the outside kitchen. I wanted to make something “American” and all went well, though we had to use the round small oven usually used for byrek. After three long weeks I really feel comfortable here, and I enjoy spending time with my host sisters and mother – we can actually carry on conversations now and we laugh a lot, play a lot of uno and dominos and cook together. Two current volunteers who lived here last spring were back visiting their host families in Bishqem last night and stopped for a coffee with us current trainees after our classes. Besides being impressed with their amazing Shqip skills, I liked the fact that they both seem to stay in great touch with their host families a year later. I hope I’ll be able to maintain ties to Bishqem in the years to come.
Yesterday the five of us in Bishqem nailed down our idea for our community project during training. Because Bishqem is basically a bedroom community for nearby Pajove, we are hoping to have a poster making contest one afternoon at the Bishqem school focused on the theme of community identity – what do you like about where you live? Details to come, but this will probably happen sometime in the next few weeks.
Today is a “hub day” in Elbasan, and we have our first meet and greet with the Ambassador, John Withers. Lately a big group of us have been staying in Elbasan after training for an hour or so to relax and catch happy hour (if such a thing exists here – beer is regularly served to the male trainees for breakfast at their host families) at a small bar called Gramelis that brews its own 60 lek beer. It’s the only time all week that we aren’t with our host families or teachers or training staff and are together as a group, so it’s a fun release and something to look forward to after sitting inside all day in trainings.
So, all in all, though it is a pretty stressful time with language and job training, I am having a lot of fun here. And, after seeing a bit of the natural beauty the country has to offer, I highly encourage any and all of you to come visit if you can!