Monthly Archives: May 2010

As a last hurrah before moving up to Lezhe, I traveled with a few other intrepid souls down to Dhermi (between Vlore and Saranda on the coastal road) for some beach camping with a few group 11 and 12 volunteers. The only problem with the trip was that I had to bring all my bags full of stuff with me on various busses, cars and furgons all the way south….and then all the way north again…

It was so worth it. A full moon, white rocks, crazy pass you have to drive over to get there, the deserted beach, good friends, night swimming, powerade-blue clear water….all made for an unbelievable evening.

What follows is shameless propaganda – come.visit.albania.

Today is my first day of work as a PCV. When I look back and imagine what I thought my life would be like before getting on the plane in New York, I could not have imagined anything like this…

The last two weeks have been a wonderful blur full of fun and frenzy. I returned from site visits and was in a bit of an unexplainable funk for a few days. I think it was that I both got a glimpse of the freedom that will come after leaving my host family, but the reality of post-training isolation and the extreme individual nature of each person’s PC experience also really hit me. This feeling ebbed as I got back into the groove of training and spent more time with my fellow trainees celebrating the good weather, last language classes (my language proficiency exam went well, by the way!), last hikes in the mountains around Bishqem, last meals with our host families, last training sessions, last days all together as a group and first moments as official peace corps volunteers (no longer trainees!). I feel so lucky to be with the talented and fun training class I am in and I already miss those friends who are far away.

The last days with the host family were emotional and exhausting. Razie (mama) and Jerina (motra ime/my sister) were a bit teary whenever we talked about how I was leaving right after the swearing in ceremony in Elbasan on Thursday. I packed up my stuff and left my room with a view and the farm for good, though not after witnessing a chicken be killed for my going away dinner (had escaped this until now) or having presents such as home made olive oil and millions of fresh-from-the-tree apricots (kajsi in shqip) given to me to take with me. I politely refused the oil as, after ten weeks of very greasy food, I plan to use as little oil as possible in all future cooking adventures.

All the volunteers in Pajove/Bishqem hosted a small gathering at a lokal owned by Brittany’s host family on the last night…and it naturally included some good Albanian fun – circle dancing (this is a phenomenon that happens anytime there is a “fest” of any kind in Albania – weddings, parties, anything…). It was a fun last week, but now I am reeling from and reveling in the freedom of being able to choose what I eat and when I sleep and where I go for the first time in 10 weeks.

Bishqemers....with a few extras in the background

On Thursday morning the 50 of us trainees gathered at the skampa theater in downtown Elbasan with all the Peace Corps staff, the ambassador, current PCVs, host families and local dignitaries for our swearing in ceremony. Many of us including myself brought all our heavy bags (which now have the additional weight of water filters and language books) with us to the theater so we could catch buses to our sites afterwards. After about an hour, we took the oath and swore our allegiance to all things peace corps. This was followed by pictures and a long afternoon (actually, all afternoon and evening) at our local hangout/bar – gramellis. I spent the night in Elbasan with six fellow G13ers at a friend’s apartment before heading out early Friday to go camping in Dhermi with a bunch of PCVs – new and old(er). In all it was a fun and celebratory day – very fitting for the end of our training. We’ve had a wild ride during PST with a few injuries and people having to move host families around, so it’s good news that we all made it to the volunteer stage in one piece…apparently this does not happen often in other PC countries? I also only found out where I was going to move to in Lezhe on Thursday after swearing in, so that was an additional relief worth celebrating.

With Jerina and Razie post-swearing in

I think the Dhermi trip deserves its own post, so I will fill you in on that later. But, meanwhile – I am now in Lezhë and am starting to get a handle on what I will be doing here. I’ll have a LOT more time to email, skype, etc. in the coming weeks….if you want to get in touch face to face let me know. Also – my address that I sent out in an email officially works (thanks mom for the package!) so – send away if you want!

Thanks to all of you who helped me make the decision and prepare to come to Albania. I am so thankful I have the opportunity to be here!

My site visit to Lezhe last week was wonderful. I traveled up with my counterpart, Yllka, and my sitemate, Jen (a health volunteer). I had a lot of fun with Jen and feel very fortunate to have Yllka as a counterpart. Being my “counterpart” means that she will be my main colleague and contact for all the projects I accomplish in Albania, whether in the Bashkia (local govt office) or secondary projects outside of the office.

Bashkia e Lezhes - my future office

While in Lezhe I met almost all the people who work in the Bashkia as well as representatives from the local World Vision and Red Cross offices and a few other local NPOs. There is a lot going on in the city, and it seems like a very progressive town (the first recycling program I have seen!) with a culture that is noticeably more Italian-influenced than Elbasan.

Some highlights: We were able to spend a half day at the beach, hike up to the castle above town, and visit the local library (very nice) and Skanderbeg memorial as well as drink many many cups of coffee at the bars down by the river. I had a great time and can’t wait to go back in a few short weeks! I got to see my potential apartment and it’s a great place for a visit….hint hint….

Jen and I above Lezhe. Taken at the castle.

the beach nearby....would be incredible if there were no trash

the less glamorous side of town - view from the entrance of my potential future apartment building

As the end of training approaches, so does our language proficiency interview. This spoken interview is required of all PC trainees worldwide, and here in Albania we are all preparing. We’ve covered most of the grammar we are going to get to and now need to review tenses, cases and practice speaking about the Peace Corps, our daily routines, what we do for work, etc.

It’s odd that once you learn the more complex parts of Albanian grammar (they have these personal pronoun abbreviations called clitics that are wicked confusing) the more dumb I feel. It’s supposed to make more sense as we go along, right? Wrong. Though I know I am making great progress, I think I have more of a knowledge of what I have been doing wrong all along and that stresses me out a little.

Thinking back to the few weeks before I left for Albania (now seems like so long ago!), I know many of you asked me about the language. At the time I didn’t have any real answers because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Yes – Albanian is its own strain of the indo-european language group. No – I don’t know anything else about it. No – I probably won’t use it after the peace corps because only about 5million people in Kosovo, Albania, Greece and the US speak it.

In the spirit of sharing what we are all going through, I’d like to point out a few of the oddities of learning Shqip (or “languages shqip” as my host sister calls it) as an English speaker:

1. Many words are the same but mean different things.

  • For example: pullë (postage stamp), pulë (hen), and pyll (forest) are all pronounced exactly the same. An ë on the end of a word is usually silent.
  • Djath= both cheese and left
  • Qep = to sew and onion
  • Vesh = to get dressed and ear
  • Qai (to cry) and çai (tea) are pronounced exactly the same
  • Pres= both to cut and to wait
  • The word for foot and leg are the same, the words for fingers and toes are the same, the word for niece/nephew and grandchild are the same. On the other hand, Shqip has two words for Aunt and two words for Uncle – distinguishing between the mothers and the fathers side.

2. There are many many short words in Albanian. You can form entire sentences with two letter words. These don’t make any sense, but just for example: Unë do të ha me ty dhe do të lë me të. (I am going to eat with you and leave with him). Ai ka një dhi të re që ka një sy të zi. (he has a new goat with one black eye). If you haven’t already noticed, the word të can be a personal pronoun, an article for an adjective (depending on the case), an article for possession, and is part of any future tense or subjunctive tense verb. These can all occur in the same sentence.

3. Cases. Clitics. Cases. Albanian has five cases. This means nouns can potentially have 10 different endings. Clitics are these short forms of accusative and dative pronouns that are really unique but very annoying. For example: “e di” means “I know it.” It is the short form of “Unë e di atë.” The little “e” is a short form of “atë” and must go before the verb – it’s a clitic! Surprise, you can say the pronoun twice at once, but don’t need to except sometimes….if you are confused, so am I.

4. Plurals are so confusing….when I am listening to people speak it is very difficult to pick out what is plural and what isn’t. Most of the time it seems like words are made plural by adding an “ë” to the end. To review: when ë is added to the end of a word it is silent. Sweet.

5. Some favorite words:

bubullimë = thunder
xizëlloj = lightning bug
udhëkryq = crossroads
byrzylyk = bracelet
buzëkuqi = lipstick
shkëlqyeshem = great!
shumëngjureshë = mulitcolored
kikirik = peanut

On the up side, I met my Albanian counterpart yesterday and we were able to communicate almost entirely in Shqip for about an hour about work and life. I think we exhausted my vocabulary in that time, but at least we understood each other okay. I am off to Lezhe for a 3 day visit today to meet people and check out the city before I move for real in about 2.5 weeks.

Tuesday was our community project in Bishqem. All the training groups are supposed to do a community project in their site, but because the TEFL and health volunteers do a lot of additional practice teaching and workshops in their sites for us COD volunteers there’s a bit more weight placed on our project design and management process. We worked with the whole 8th and 9th grade in the Bishqem school (about 150 kids) and, with the help of a few Peace Corps staff, two of our host sisters, and a few of the teachers at the school we were able to pull off a successful poster competition. Our theme was “Ne Jemi Bishqemi” (we are Bishqem) and we asked the kids to reflect on what they like about where they live. We wanted to encourage a bit of community self-reflection because Bishqem is a town that most people who live here leave and does not currently have a lot of opportunities for development. We actually ended up with some great posters, and afterwards we had prizes and played a bit of volleyball and football with the kids outside. While it’s hard to know what the sustainable outcome of the project will be, it was a lot of fun.

Last weekend a group of us from Bishqem and a few of the other small training sites west of Elbasan in the foothills traveled to the one training site east of the city in the mountains, Librazhd. The trainees in Librazhd are a little spoiled in my opinion. First of all, unlike rural Bishqem, Librazhd is actually a city of about 12,000 people. There are actual stores and banks in this town. Secondly, the mountains surrounding on all sides are gorgeous.

A group of five of us hiked up along a few ridges up over the town for the better part of the day. We climbed a good ways up above the city and could almost glimpse a peak in nearby Macedonia. This is such a small country! And, because we were close to the border, there were tons of bunkers left over from the communist era. Supposedly enough bunkers were built during the 1960s and 70s so that the entire population of Albania could be inside them. All that preparation for an invasion that never came. These bunkers are everything from a small cement shelter to a tunnel built into the mountain to store tanks. Though they are pretty ugly, on a hike in the hills they are open and ready for exploring. In the usa they would be blocked up and off limits in no time, while here they are almost like public shelters – often full of sheep poo from farmers who bring their animals up the hills. The large ones near Bishqem are closer into town and now function as barns, garages and storage facilities.

Librazhd from above

Something I hope to get more involved with here is the mapping of trails in Albania. A few other pcvs have started a website called and are starting to upload good hiking trails via GPS. Tourism development is one of Albania’s huge opportunity areas and one that I will most likely be working in quite a bit.

Adam, Me, Matthew, Libby