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I’ve hit my two-weeks-left-in-Lezhe mark and there is so much to be done, that life seems a little crazy.

Packing for a two month trip, contemplating moving, searching for a job, saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, giving words of wisdom and showing around new trainees, and cleaning up and organizing my house are all on my to do list. Despite it all, it feels great to be busy. I’m also having great success finishing up two other projects – a tourist map for Lezhe and a needs assessment document that I’ve been writing with six other community development PCVs that we presented last week to USAID and the national Association of Municipalities. I’m glad to have work to do right to the end.

In other news, I’ve decided to continue with this blog during my travels after Peace Corps, so stay tuned throughout the summer for updates!

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.

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.

Yesterday the new group of volunteers arrived in Albania and were escorted to Elbasan for training. Surprisingly, this doesn’t make me really feel anything….in fact, it is so removed from my experience here (I will likely only meet a few of these volunteers and will leave before they swear in), that I almost forgot about it entirely.

A much more momentous occasion (for me) is coming up tomorrow, but I feel a similar disconnect to it as well. March 17th is not only St. Patrick’s Day, but the day that marks my group’s two-year in Albania anniversary. Somehow, it doesn’t seem that important. I feel so comfortable here and am spending time thinking about my departure that my only thought about two years is that it seems short to me…though I do feel like it’s been a while when I think about the fact that before I left the US the Ipad did not exist and Obama was a relatively “new” president.

 

Here in Albania (well, at least in Lezhe) it finally feels like Spring. I’m sure there are cold snaps to come and much of the country is still melting out from the snow of three weeks ago, but, for me, life is comfortable again and I’m enjoying the change in the weather.

This photo is from the first real warm day, Feb. 28th, on a small beach north of Shengjin spending the day on the sand with friends. Thanks to Adam for passing it along!

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, which in Albania means an excuse for all the women in my office to get real dressed up, get their hair done, go out to lunch at a place by the beach and DANCE!

Naturally, I’m excited.

Last year I loved this opportunity to bond with the women I work with and celebrate our lives together, but this time around I see it more as the first (of many, I hope!) farewell fests for me in Albania. AND, this year I get to double dip, as I’ve been invited to an evening soiree at the new American School in town. They will be two very different parties, but both part of a tradition I love here that I hope to bring back and share with my friends and family at home.

So – gezuar dita e grave to all the lovely ladies in my life! I wish I could be with all of you tomorrow!

I have a new hobby – searching for plane tickets online. 

I booked my flight back to the states this week (!). July 23rd I am actually coming home….28 months later.

However, in between then and my COS date of May 18th I’ll be bouncing around Europe and Turkey a bit with Adam. How to do this most efficiently/costly is becoming a bit of a game. A fun way to spend the time….and my cash in lieu funding. 

 

This week I was supposed to head to Macedonia with a few friends for a ski vacation to use up some last vacation days. We have our Close of Service Conference next week and we (group 13) are not allowed to leave the country for the three months we have remaining following the conference.

Unfortunately, a record-breaking snowstorm is following up the cold snap, and Peace Corps has put all Albanian volunteers to stay put where we are. So, while this would have made for AMAZING skiing…the timing is really terrible and I’m hanging out in Elbasan for the time being….which seems like the only place in Albania without any snow. Adam is here with me, and he couldn’t go home if he tried to as there’s almost 2 meters of new snow where he lives.

Reminds me of the winter back home in VA before I left for PC….except that 2 meters of snow does a lot more damage here than in the US. At least 8 volunteers are stranded and couldn’t leave their sites if they wanted to. I’m happy to be here with all my warm ski clothes waiting it out.

For those of you who haven’t heard, this winter is one of the coldest in recent memory for all of Europe. People are dying from low -30s Celsius temperatures in the Ukraine and Romania, and here in Lezhe the bitter wind is out of control.

Unfortunately this kind of weather means that not a lot happens work-wise in Albania. The high school in Lezhe doesn’t have functional windows or heat of any kind so the students have been let out of school early every day for the past two weeks. I may live on the coast where there isn’t much snow, but when the wind blows even the slightest bit the power goes out with an infuriating regularity that is almost predictable, but not quite.

For example, I have had power about half the time over the last month….and I never know when it will be on or off. This is mostly not a problem for my daily existence, except when I hope to accomplish anything at the office. All of this means that lately I’ve been spending a lot of time planning to have meetings that never happen and instead going for coffees or coming home and sitting infront of the fire. Just this week we had to postpone an Outdoor Ambassadors film night fundraiser because the theater we were going to use does not have any heat and we thought that no one would attend.

Conveniently a few of my close friends here recently celebrated their birthdays – good excuses to get together and be cold with company. But, when we’re together and the power is out and we don’t want to go outside….what do PCVs like me do, you ask?

Well, we play lots of cards. Lots and lots of cards. Sometimes, like this past week, we make forts out of all the blankets and pillows in the room to make a warm space to huddle. But most of the time we sit around and converse.

I can’t remember any time in the US when I had this much time to really just TALK with my friends. In person. The time I’ve had recently with my American and Albanian friend is wonderful and rare and makes me not mind the down time at all. Just another way the Peace Corps is a social experiment….and a mirror that reflects our selves on a second life pattern – one far from the stresses of the US lifestyle.

As I’m swiftly reaching my three-months-left milestone I don’t know if I am ready for life to speed up again.

Yes, I have lived in Albania for almost two years. While I feel “at home” here, everyday I am reminded that I am, most definitely, a foreigner.

Even though they remain strange or foreign to me, there are a few things that no longer surprise me after so much time in Albania. I almost don’t notice when my coworkers paint their nails in the office or try and learn the lyrics and dance to Beyonce’s single ladies during work hours. I definitely don’t think twice when each morning and afternoon I interrupt the Bashkia cleaning lady mopping the carpets on the stairs as I walk to and from the office. I automatically factor in about a half hour of extra “go to all the coffee bars and try and find the person” time for each meeting I attempt to have. And, I certainly don’t find it wierd that my landlady’s answer to my house’s lack of electricity during Christmas was to get her husband to go up on a ladder with a screwdriver and split the electric line coming into their home so I could have (albeit weak) light to celebrate by until the electric company fixed it.

While all of these random events might be the day-to-day “normal” of my life these days, one normality that I am certainly not used to is the fact that the thermometer inside my house currently reads around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t surprise me, but it does not make me laugh out loud like most of the other facts of life në Shqiperi.

Thanks, Mom, for having the foresight to bring me my grandmother’s retired down dressing robe! I am “fashionably” sporting it more and more these days.