In Albanian, yll means star. And it’s safe to say that Yllka, my counterpart, is just what her name implies.
She’s a colleague and friend, a motivated woman and social worker who has helped me both understand working in Albania and have fun doing it. I’ll miss having her around when I move on, but am thankful we’ve both had the opportunity to grow together so much over the past two years.
Here are our happy faces after the library project’s closing event this morning:
Today my six-month USAID Small Projects Assistance grant project came to an end with a grand celebration of reading, books, and community.
After purchasing needed books back in December with grant funds, I worked with Yllka and the library staff to implement the second phase of our project, a month-long book drive that ended today. All in all, we collected over 1,000 new and used books for the library, an outpouring that is amazing for the first book drive ever in the Lezhe community. Each book donated was given a stamp, specific to the project, with a place for the donator to sign their name.
Today, at the celebratory event, we had all the books on display. The library staff prepared a small program including a poem recitation, a musical interlude, the first showing of a brief documentary about the library’s programs (produced by the Bashkia), and a presentation by myself and my country director who came out from Tirana for the day. It was wonderful to see almost everyone I know in Lezhe in one room – Bashkia staff, school directors, students, friends – gathered together in support of this project that my counterpart and I have worked so hard on for so long. And, the soft-spoken yet eloquent Gjergj Shyti (library director) specifically made mention in his remarks of the fact that I was leaving soon and wished me luck with all future endeavors….and then everyone clapped. It was a memorable, fun and heartwarming end to one of my most successful projects during my time as a PCV.
Lori, one of my Outdoor Ambassadors students who also recited a poem at the event, came up to me afterwards and said “you know Laura, a lot of people will miss you when you leave.” I’ve been so fortunate to be part of such a vibrant community here in Lezhe…and I’m going to miss these people a lot, too.
It’s odd to think about the fact that my days in Albania are numbered. The countdown to May 18th begins as I’m cleaning out my closet and planning goodbye gatherings.
After completing my close of service (COS) on that 18th, my boyfriend Adam and I are headed on a two-month tour of Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Portugal before I come back home in July.
Any suggestions of what not to miss on our travels?
The communist block apartment building, a dominate feature of every Albanian city, is an unsung symbol of what it means to be and live in Albania. When finishing a hike, these rectangular taupe-colored four-to-six-storied brick buildings appearing on the horizon or in the valley below are the recognizable first signs of a return to civilization – no matter where you are. Like their corresponding bunkers or grape arbors that dot the countryside, these are the staple of Albanian city life.
At first these apartment buildings may seem forgettable – the mundane vernacular concrete left-overs from a period that no one really talks about. However, over time, I’ve come to appreciate the sight of exposed brick and colorful patches of laundry hanging or pots on the balcony and the nostalgic feel of cool damp concrete stairwells with well worn wells where many have scuffed their feet. These buildings, no matter where in Albania they are, are without a doubt well-inhabited and full of life. Unlike the half-empty recently built apartment buildings in Lezhe that echo and have windows like eerie eyes without light, they breathe.
But, I think my favorite feature of the communist block apartment building is that you never can tell from the outside what the inside may be like. Some of these apartments are redone MTV cribs-style, but you would never know it from the cracking plaster and bundled wires on the outside.
This Sunday several PCVs are partnering with Green Line Albania to organize a flash mob in Tirana to both honor Earth Day and publicize the Green Line “clean up Albania in one day” event on May 9th. Should be the first flash mob of its kind in Albania and a lot of people will be there – Outdoor Ambassadors group members, PCVs from all groups, PC staff, and students from local high schools and universities all celebrating Earth Day together.
I’m trying to learn the dance this week…it’s proving to be a fun but silly adventure – me dancing in my living room alone, having a great time making the neighbors wonder.
There’s a tradition in Albania surrounding eggs at Easter. After dyeing them, you give them to your friends and family. Then they hold onto them for a year and throw them in the river for good luck.
Yesterday I ceremoniously threw my two from last year in the river. Oddly they were very light, having lost all moisture sitting in my living room since last April. They floated away quickly – two red dots on the full and fast-flowing Drini.
Then, today, I was given six newly dyed eggs. Maybe this means my luck’s multiplying?
Bright green grape leaves budding against a stormy sky. I couldn’t resist the contrast.
//Happy spring, everyone!