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!
Over the last week I’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the ins and outs of PC Albania with my visiting friend. Coming from a business background, she has many questions about the efficiency of the PC program, how measurable our results are, and how our reporting processes work. Though I won’t be able to see most of the “results” of my service in the community or even comprehend what they are, I firmly believe that my presence in Lezhe has been a symbiotically beneficial one. But, I sometimes have trouble putting into words why exactly I feel this way.
Many of my answers to her “why is this this way?” questions are cultural in nature, which are hard to understand if you haven’t actually been in the PC in Albania yourself. In fact, these cultural and work place differences are something that I spent 10 weeks of training learning about, but I think it’s taken me all two years to finally begin to understand how to work within the local hegemonic framework.
I recently read this blog post, “What the Peace Corps Taught me About Failure,” written by an RPCV who served in Africa. While the context of my service is drastically different, at times I’ve definitely experienced the same feelings of incompetence that Maya had during her service. The article is well worth a read for anyone who’s ever criticized the Peace Corps for not having more quantifiable results. Maya’s writing can show a bit about how PCVs themselves struggle with this fact….and why our successes, when they happen, are all the sweeter for it.
I think I could be here another 2 or 4 years and still be surprised daily by the decisions and reactions that happen in the workplace and in my daily routine. The only difference is that by now I’ve learned that the surprise, the feeling of failure when something unexpectedly is cancelled, is normal. I can accept these things and move on. I can accept what I have done here, and go back home.
This week I’ve had an old friend from high school and college here visiting with me here in Lezhë. After not seeing people back home since leaving in March (or even graduation the May before or SPS graduation before that), I’ve only kept in touch with a “distilled” version of my previous social groups. And, for now, I don’t mind that.
However, having a friend stay who I haven’t seen in two full years and having it be effortless and just as wonderful as it always was just reminds me of what I have to look forward to when reconnecting when I go back…..and for keeping in touch with PC and Albanian friends in the future.
Contemplating a major, open ended, move suddenly doesn’t seem so terrifying anymore.