Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Off to Continent 3!!

So I am finally leaving later today for BANGKOK to have my wisdom teeth removed!! When Peace Corps told me I thought they were joking about sending me to Bangkok, but I guess they were serious!! I am totally excited to be able to see Asia and finally get rid of these darned wisdom teeth!

Anyways, I am flying Turkish airlines to Istanbull then to Bangkok. I will get there tomorrow about 1 in the afternoon Bangkok time. Right now they have me scheduled to return on the 23rd but that depends on if I get medical clearance. If I don't then I could end up spending Christmas in Bangkok! How exciting would that be!

I hope that everyone is keeping warm and enjoying the holiday season. I will try to post again as soon as I'm back in Albania. Just in case Merry Christmas, Happy Hanakuah, Happy Kwanza and anything else that you may be celebrating!!!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Be Thankful!

I have so many reasons to be thankful this year. I have a house, food, clothes, family, friends, a job and the opportunity to live in another country. It was a little hard to not be with my family and friends this year but I know that they thought of me as I thought of them.
I was very lucky to be paired with a family from the US Embassy for Thanksgiving dinner. I had the best family!! Dave and Cindy Eldrige took Kendra, Bill, Peter and I in along with numerous other Americans, Canadians and some Albanians for the special occasion. There was plenty of delicioius food, great converstaion and heat! I couldn't have been luckier.
My luck continues though as the Eldrige's invited me to stay at their house for the whole weekend. I accepted based on the fact that their house was heated, had a bath tub and Dave is an amazing cook! It turned out to be a great decision and I was sad to leave this past Sunday afternoon.
I am still waiting to hear about my wisdom teeth. I know that they are going to med evac me but its a question of when and where. Hopefully this will all be resolved soon as I am ready to take them out myself with a spoon!!!
Anyways, I want to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving and hope that you all have told those people who you are thankful for, just how much they mean to you. Know that if you are reading this you are one of the people I am thankful for :)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Is It Really November??

So my calender says its November 6th but that can't be right. The weather is still in the 60's and there are flowers in bloom. But then again, my birthday was 4 days ago and there is a new president-elect in America so it must be November.

October was a nice month. The weather stayed warm which was a great treat. I spent some time in Tirana, Durres, Shkoder and Elbasan which was awesome. I didn't get to go to Italy because I decided it was more important for me to stay in Lezhe and plus I wanted to save my money for future trips but that turned out alright. I also didn't go to Macedonia with the Women's Club but that's only because the trip dates got pushed back to November 14th-16th. I got to go to the Elbasan Halloween Party instead though on the 31st which was a blast! People got very creative with their costumes and it was great to see everyone. I was the Energizer Bunny. You know why?? 'cause I keep going and going and going..... hahahaha

My birthday was low key but very nice. The Lezhe gang, Leslie L, and myself had dinner at Besa. Following pizza and beer we had a homemade chocolate cake curtesy of Winifred and red wine, curtesy of Bledar. Yeah that's right we're classy! The best part was instead of candles I blew out a match. It was a really nice night and I have never had such a warm birthday!

The only thing people are talking about now is our new president-elect, Mr. Barak Obama. I am thrilled that he won and look forward to what he does during his term. I am a little sad that I was not in Chicago to join in on the celebrating though. Maybe for the 2012 election....

Anyways, that's about all for now. Hopefully, this month doesn't fly by like October and I will be able to post again soon.

As always, air hugs for you all!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I have been a' traveling!

My passport now has 8 stamps. This is from me coming to Albania initially, going home to the US, coming back and then going to Montenegro. My trip home was amazing but I wish I had had more time. I barely had any time to just sit down and relax. It was like I needed a vacation from my vacation. Don’t get me wrong I had a blast getting to see everyone and eating American food! Ok, not to bore everyone but the hi-lites…

-My brother got married on September 20th. It was a very nice ceremony but the unity candle did not light. Bad omen – I think so J I got to meet my two new little cousins, Carlie and Faith. They are adorable! Justin was my date and he was a great sport since the reception died pretty early and we hung out till midnight.

-I got to hang out with almost everyone I wanted to on Friday. We had drinks and went dancing. So much fun!!

-Sunday was Becca day. We had lunch at Noodles and had a photo shoot.

-Monday I spent at Tosa East giving presentations about life in Albania. Not exactly my idea of fun but I got to count the day as business leave so it was worth it. On Monday I also went to the YMCA to say hi and as I was talking with my former boss she says “You know I never took you off payroll.” Then I say “Wouldn’t it be funny if I taught?” and she replies “I have a suit you could wear.” Needless to say I ended up teaching for 2 hours so now I can look forward to a $10 paycheck! Hahaha

-Tuesday was a family day. My mom and I had breakfast and went to see Mama Mia! The sing-a-long edition. It was amazing! We had dinner with my dad at Cheesecake Factory and then my dad and I went to see Wanted, which I remember watching being filmed in Chicago. It was pretty awesome too.

Wednesday I had a tearful good-bye with my mother at O’Hare as I headed through security to head back to Albania. The flight wasn’t too bad. There were good movies playing so the time went pretty fast. Ardi was supposed to pick me up in Tirane but he had work and couldn’t so I ended up taking buses back to Lezhe. Because he didn’t pick me up it also meant I didn’t get to Montenegro for the Madonna concert. It was super sad L However, he made up for it by taking me on Saturday night and then we spent Sunday walking around seeing the sights of Budva. It was gorgeous!

Other than these last two trips I can’t think of anything too important to catch you all up on. It looks like I might be going to Italy for the weekend of the 18th of October just for fun with Kendra, and I might be going to Macedonia for the weekend the weekend of the 31st with the Lezhe Women’s Club. We’ll see how things go I guess :)

Air hugs for you all!


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Full Speed Ahead!

Looking at my calender for September I can't believe how busy I am going to be!! First off, they are having a big grand opening for the new Red Cross Center here in Lezhe. We're keeping busy making the place clean, organized, and Red Cross worthy. Next, I'm going to be helping with a kindergarten for Roma children. I have a meeting with parents this week, and classes start next week. Then I have couch surfers coming in and out staying with me throughout the month. I love having couch surfers because it gets me out of the house and its always so interesting talking to them! My first trimester report is due so I'm busily working on finishing that to turn in. Then I have a training in Tirane for 3 days next week. After that I am going home for a week for my brothers wedding!! I am super excited to get to see my family and friends and eat all sorts of different foods! I of course will be super busy with wedding stuff on Friday and Saturday but am hanging out with friends Friday night and doing a presentation at my old high school for the foreign language classes. That means I also have to prepare a presentation before I leave. The day I come back I'm going to Montenegro for the Madonna Concert. Then its back to translations, web design and coffees. But by then September will be over!

Another big thing happening this month is that on Saturday 8 volunteers who were evacuated from Georgia will be arriving in Albania. They will get a crash course in Albanian and culture. I will be greeting them when they arrive at Rinas Airport and helping out a lot since they are going to do the training in Tirane and I am only an hour away. It's going to be super exciting having new volunteers here!

So as you can see September is going to be a busy month for me but that makes me happy. I'm ready to keep going and am excited for all my small projects! With that said, "Full Speed Ahead!"

Monday, August 25, 2008

Time Flies!!

I can't believe it has been over a month since I've been able to post a new entry. I have actually found a lot of little projects that have been keeping me busy and I've been traveling. Most of my work is with an Albanian who owns his own trasport service. He does transfers from the airport at Rinas to cities all over Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Greece. I'm learning how to do web design in order to help him upload new information and update old information. It is a big project but learning web design is keeping me busy! I also am doing a lot of translations for area guide books for Lezha because most of the translations are very VERY bad. Just one more thing to do when there is no power.
Traveling is an adventure here and I love every minute of it. I don't know if I've mentioned this before but there are no published schedules for buses or the more popular furgons (minivan) and there aren't really stations so to say. In order to travel with a bus or furgon you have to know where and when to catch it and its better to know how much otherwise the driver may try to charge you more. I've been to Tirana a lot, Durres, Cerrik, Shkoder, Puke, Rubik, Elbasan, and Milot. Just this last weekend I was in Puke for a camping trip with some other volunteers and I had a blast! There were about 20 of us who all hiked up one of the mountains and set up camp for a night. Oh it was so cool and wonderful there compared to the hot weather here in Lezhe!!
I was sick (again) and spent a week in Tirana at the Peace Corps office which sucked. I don't think Albania likes my body. We never figured out what it was that made me sick but I barely moved the 5 days I was there and didn't eat anything until the last day. It sucked because I missed Ola's wedding (she was one of my language teachers) and I missed beer fest in Korca. Yeah, I was not happy. But on a positive note, I have lost 20 pounds since I've been in Albania.
Another thing that is keeping me busy is being a couch surfer. I have a ton of people coming to Lezhe within the next few weeks just for a night or two on there way through Albania. I've had a few already and they were so much fun! I love meeting new people and talking about the differenes between life here and there and everything! Anyways, I'm excited to be able to leave the country soon and be a couch surfer myself instead of just a host!
I'm going back to the US in 4 weeks for my brothers wedding already! I can't believe how time flies! I think that's about it for now but I will hopefully post another blog sooner than later. Until then, I wish you all well and I miss you guys!!
Leslie :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I will go where the wind blows me...

Well it has been another few weeks since my last post but I have been a busy girl! On the 4th we had the first meeting of the Lezhe Womens Club. There were probably about 40 women who showed up! It was definitly amazing to see so many women show up. The meeting was held at the Cafe Drini, which is owned by a women and she offered to let all the attendees have free drinks after the meeting. I had to dash out a little early because I had a meeting with my parents on Skype. It was so nice to see them and my aunt, uncle and two cousins. I miss those little rascals! Anyway, later that night we had a party at Winifred's and we ate, drank and had a great time (even without fireworks).

On the 5th we headed off to Tirana for the party at the Embassy. The food was ok but it was nice to see everyone again. It was so weird to walk into the housing complex for the ambassador and other Americans. It was like walking into suburbia in the middle of Albania. I did get to meet a lot of interesting people from the embassy and other Americans who call Albania home for the moment. When we were hearded out of the embassy compound we headed for "the block". There was more drinking, dancing and just an overally good time. I was lucky enough to go back to Tirana for 3 days for a USAID training and was put up in the Hotel Diplomat. I was in heaven! My room had air conditioning, I had a full size bed, a tv and a shower that felt like a waterfall. Oh I was sad to leave.

This last weekend was also busy. On Friday, Rob (a volunteer from Shkoder) came down to Lezhe and we went to Shengjin with five others from my bashkia and we went to a grand opening of a new hotel. There was a live band, a buffett and the guys bought all my drinks so I didn't pay a cent! The next day, I met women from the Lezhe womens club and we had coffee followed by an excursion to Vain, one of Lezhe's lagoons. The restaurant we went to was right on the water and the food was great. I really am enjoying getting to know the women. When we got back, Bethany, Rob and I headed to the beach for the rest of the day. Then on Sunday, I met people from the bashkia again and we headed off to Shkoder on a mini van we rented for the day. We got to our destination and we played volleyball, hiked around a little, took a lot of pictures and just enjoyed time together. I love the people I work with and I'm really happy that they are not too much older than me because I love seeing them outside of work. Anyway, we spent the entire day out in this village and when we got back it felt good to relax!

This whole work I am at work and actually beginning to get small projects. I am helping the manager of a hotel in Shengjin with promotional materials, I'm helping the manager of a transportation service with his website, I'm going to be working on writing two different grants, one with USAID and one with the bashkia here in Lezhe. I'm beginning to find my place here and I couldn't be happier :)

Keep your eyes open for more posts later!
Leslie :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

On the Road Again....

Out of the three weeks I have now lived in Lezhe, I have been in site about 12 of those days. The first weekend I went to Tirana, Vlore and Dhermi. Tirana was just for fun and boy did I have fun!! Not having a bar close is the best thing ever!! On our way to the Tourism Committee meeting in Dhermi we spent a night in Vlore. Vlore is gorgeous and it is big! You actually have to take a city bus to get from one side to another! Yes, I was in shock too :) However, Vlore has nothing on Dhermi. Dhermi is the most spectacular beach I have ever seen. The water was bluer than blue and so clear!! It was amazing to just float around. Seriously, everyone needs to go to Dhermi.

This last weekend I went to Pogradec and Erseke. In Pogradec we had a gaby party which was basically everyone dressing up in the most ridiculous outfits ever but we had a blast. The club we went to is right on Lake Ohrid and there was lightning in the distance which was just awesome! We went to Erseke to hike through the gorge which if anyone is looking for a little adventure, come to Erseke! The gorge is not only beautiful but if you hike through the whole thing, the rapids get a little dangerous but fun like no other! Those of us who had ventured down from the north, took a 3 am bus back to Tirana. I got back to Lezhe in the early evening on Sunday.

Tomorrow is the 4th and we are having a party here in Lezhe and going to a party at the American Embassy in Tirana on Saturday. It should be fun. And I get to go back to Tirana for 3 days next week for a USAID training. This summer is going to fly by with all this stuff going on. I'm loving the traveling as it gives me something to do and I just love to travel! My trip home to the US for my brothers wedding is going to come fast! Well that's about it for now. I hope everyone is having a great summer! Be grateful for your air conditioning if you have it, because it is HOT here and air conditioning is nowhere to be found.....


Friday, June 20, 2008

Coffees and handshakes

So I have been in Lezhë for just under a week but I have finished my first work week. The people in the bashkia in Lezhë are pretty amazing. My counterpart is so sweet and relaxed. The other people are pretty much the same way. I got a lot of "Who is she?" this week and a lot of "does she speak Albanian?". Everyone was always a little shocked when I would answer their questions even if they were being asked to my counterpart. Then when I told them I only had studied for three months they were even more shocked. I liked their reactions :)

Anyway, I did a lot of sitting in the office because there aren't any projects for me currently. I've handed people pens and I've done some stapling. Other than that I'm just trying to get to know people. Today I was in Shengjin for the first time by myself and ended up just going to coffees with the people who work at the komuna. That was interesting. Especially since it was me with a whole bunch of old men. I was getting looks like no other! It was funny. Their converstaion was so weird. They started talking about sports, then went on to family, then work, then fishing, then the city, then the mayor, then me and my background, then the work I would do and then that was it. The people who I am going to work with were on vacation today so they said I could just go. I wasn't going to complain but still I didn't do anything.

I know that the summer is going to be hard because I need to meet everyone and just prove to them that I can do things for them. It's going to take some time and I need to be patient so here's hoping for a quick summer. Sitting around doing nothing is kinda awkward. Peace Corps stresses building relationships the first few months at site so I guess I'm just going to do what they tell me. Hopefully projects start coming after summer.

My house here in Lezhë is pretty sweet and I only have one thing to complain about. I don't have a working stove currently. Other than that I can't really complain. Especially since some volunteers don't even have houses yet! I just have to get used to walking up to the top of the hill everyday. Let me tell you my knees are dying right now but I'm giong to have buns of steel after two years! Hahaha.

On a happy note: I recovered my phone I thought I lost the other week. And I'm going to the beach now :) YAY!

Friday, June 13, 2008

I'm a PCV!!!

As of today I am an official Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania!! Whoot whoot!! The ceremony was short and sweet and fun. The ambassador came to swear us in and the mayor of Elbasan was in attendance as well. There were speeches and all that good stuff. I personally think the high lite of the ceremony was the slide show I made for the beginning. It was pretty amazing :) It's a little weird to think that all the people I was up on the stage with today I did not know three months ago and now its weird to think that I will be living without them.

Tomorrow I will be leaving for Lezhë where I will be spending the next 2 years. I am so excited that training is over and this journey can really begin!

On a sad note: I lost my cell phone on a furgon this morning. Oops.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

PST is coming to a close

On Friday I will be swearing in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. Whoot whoot! I'm so excited that PST is over! I've truly enjoyed my time in Cërrik and getting to know all the other trainees in my group. I am loving my time here in Albania and getting to know all about Albanian culture. I am just so ready to get to my permanent site, be in my house, and get to work!

I cannot wait for the times that are ahead of me. I know that there are going to be really good days and really bad days. However, I know that there are people all over Albania that will help me get through the next 2 years. I am looking foward to my small successes and the big ones will just be icing on the cake. Time in Albania can move slow though so to help keep me happy and content here in Albania, send me mail!! My new address for the next 2 years is
Leslie Surrett
Peace Corps Albania
Lagjia Baslidhja, afer spitalit
Lezhe, Albania

Well that's about it for now. My next post will be from my home in Lezhë!


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

First Small Success - CHECK!!!

On Saturday May 24th, we held our long anticipated art show in Cerrik. After all our worries about no one coming, about not getting any artwork, after having to buy all the prizes and not being able to display the artwork properly, we had a very successful art show.

On Thursday we had gone around to all the schools and collected much more artwork than we thought we would. In the afternoon we went to the cinema to set up what we had. We discovered that setting up the artwork against the back of the chairs was not going to work. We than thought we could tape the artwork on the walls, however this would have required a lot of tape which we did not have and we did not want to put tape on everyone’s art. We found these wire things that we decided to hang yarn between and then use clothespins to put the artwork up. Yes, it was a little ghetto but it worked out great. It took us about 4 tries restringing the yarn before we were happy with the level of the artwork and the closeness to the wall.

Also the week before we found out that our judges, the school principals, teachers and some representatives from the municipality would most likely not be able to make it to the event on Saturday. We decided to take the artwork individually to their respective judges and ask them to pick out their favorites. This actually worked out fairly well and we were able to decide on how we wanted to arrange the prize categories after getting their decisions. We decided to give out one first prize and two honorable mentions for every category. We had prizes and certificates made based on this and then were surprised Saturday morning when the municipality dropped off some more prizes for us to give. It was a very nice surprise.
Another nice surprise on Saturday was walking to the cinema to find a huge group of students waiting outside the doors. They were there but they were there hours early!! We had to finish setting up and finish writing names on certificates before opening the doors! We managed to finish most and then the doors were open and the children came running in and sat down. They obviously had no concept of coming, looking, leaving, and returning for prizes. Well what were we to do with all of them until the prize ceremony? We put on some music and then we just finished getting our stuff together. We had forgotten to write out some speeches in Albania but luckily we had a very fluent English and Albanian speaker there to help us out. We ended up doing the prize ceremony an hour after the doors had been opened and an hour and a half earlier than we had planned on doing it.

The kids loved their certificates and the ones who got prizes were very happy. We took one picture with all the participation award winners. Then we did individuals with the honorable mentions and 1st place winners. When we finished and told them “Thanks for coming!” they all ran out of the cinema tearing the artwork with them! AHHH!!! Most of it was saved but we couldn’t believe it! We all cleaned up and just kept looking at each other going “It’s done!!” None of us could believe how well it went. Yes there were things that could have been done better but overall it was a success.

Now that the art show is over PST is pretty much done in my book but really there are 3 weeks left. The next 3 weeks will go by so fast though so I’m very excited. I hope that everyone back home is getting ready for summer break (if you’re not already on it) and I can’t wait to hear from you guys!


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Playing a little Catch Up....

It has been awhile since my last post so there are some little things I need to catch you all up on first before I go into my “Mother’s Day” segment. First, I will be moving to Lezhe once I swear in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. I will be working in the municipality in Lezhe and the next city over, Shengjin. Shengjin is a town right on the Adriatic so I am very excited to have my body of water back!!! I am also excited (perhaps prematurely) because my house supposedly has a view of the Adriatic! We’ll see what it really has a view of when I go on the site visit in two weeks. Last weekend, we had a Cinco de Mayo party in Hajdaran. It was so nice to have some food with a little kick to it!! And yes, there was a pinata:) I have been sick for the past week and it has not been good. I was sent to Tirana for 2 days and am now back in Cerrik recuperating. For this reason, I was not able to go camping in Belsh this weekend with the other trainees which made me mad but oh well. There will be other opportunities.

As I’m writing this, it is Mother’s Day (I know I am posting this a few days late but you know, internet issues.....) A few days ago I explained to my host mother about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in America. I told her that Mother’s Day is a day for mother’s to relax. The children and father cook breakfast, do any cleaning and the children must be on their best behavior. My host mom was completely shocked that we had such a holiday and said nothing like that at all exists here in Albania. Women in Albania are completely responsible for the cooking, cleaning, laundry and the raising of the children. It’s true some men will do the shopping but I think that is so that they maintain their high level of being outside and women stay mainly inside. That’s just what I think. Anyway, I then explained Father’s Day to her. She laughed when I told her that this was the day when the father got to sleep in and the mothers cook breakfast and the father gets complete control over the tv. “That’s everyday!” she said and I had to agree because it is completely true. Men are only expected to go to work and other than that it is them going fishing, going for coffee, meeting friends in town and walking or playing chess or backgammon in the park. Well I told my host mom that I wanted to show her a real American holiday so I told her that on Mother’s Day I was going to cook breakfast and I would do the laundry and cleaning. She just smiled and laughed a little.

This morning I woke up at 7:30 and began to make pancakes. She wandered into the kitchen and asked what I was doing. I told her making pancakes and she smiled and said she was going to iron. So much for me doing all the work today. I finished the pancakes and set the table and she tried them and said they were very good. I made us both coffee after that and we sat there watching the traditional Albanian music station. Good times. After that I started to do the laundry. My host mom did the dishes. I hung the laundry and my host mom began to scrub the white laundry by hand. My host dad is just chuckling the entire time calling me his “little Albanian”.

Well it is kinda funny for them I guess. I haven’t done anything the entire time I’ve been here and now I’m cooking and doing laundry. I’m turning into a true Albanian house wife!! Let’s just hope that don’t come to expect quite so much all the time. I’m fine doing my laundry and cooking once in awhile but I hope it doesn’t become a very frequent occurrence. I know it will in 5 weeks when I move to Lezhe but until then I’m enjoying my laid back experience with them. I’m glad I was able to at least sort of show my host mom what a Mother’s Day in America would be like and I’m surprised she didn’t supervise while I was cooking. It’s progress. I did have fun doing it and it is what I would have done for the most part today anyway. I really kinda missed my mom this past week. She’s my favorite person in the world. Plus when you're sick you just kinda want you mom. I have survived though and I’ll see her in September so just gotta sit tight until then. But anyways.....

Hope everyone, especially you moms, had a nice and relaxing day!


Friday, April 18, 2008

Always wear a seat belt..... what do you mean I don't have a seat belt?!!

So as you might guess from the title, traveling in Albania can be quite the adventure. This weekend I went on a volunteer visit to Lezhe. I was super excited because that meant no language classes and a chance to see another part of Albania. Well being in Lezhe was great but the trip there got a little complicated…….

So there were 14 volunteers going north for volunteer visits. To go north in Albania, you pretty much have to go to Tirana first. We all met at 7:45am on Sunday in Elbasan so we could go together to Tirana. Well our furgon from Cerrik to Elbasan first of all, almost didn’t make it. It took 20 minutes before the furgon was pulling out because no one was going to Elbasan so early on a Sunday morning. We left with one seat empty but picked up some guy on the side of the road on the way in. However, right after we entered Elbasan we were pulled over by the police. I had never seen this happen before so I was very shocked and didn’t know what to think of it. We sat there for about 5 minutes while the driver showed the officer all his papers and stuff. We then finished the drive in to town. Well after that happened I knew the rest of the day was going to go just as well. We met everyone at the PST office and walked over to the furgon stop. We had to split up and take 2 furgons.

The drive to Tirana was amazing. It was up and through mountains so if you get motion sickness you would hate it but the views were gorgeous and the mountains are so beautiful! When we got to Tirana about 2 hours later we were supposed to be dropped off at the European Trade Center. We texted the current volunteer meeting us in Tirana and told her we were at the café across the street. Well she got there and it turned out we were not close to the European Trade Center! Luckily after I described where we were she was able to find us. We ate lunch and walked around for awhile and then headed off for the other furgons where we would all split ways. The first 8 volunteers going to different sites got on furgons with no problems. Then there was 7 of us with only one person speaking decent Albanian. The furgon drivers were trying to get us to all get on their furgon for a set price. Unfortunately we were going 2 different places. Winifred, the volunteer who met us, was trying to explain that we were going two different places but they did not care. We were all American and therefore could only possible be going one place.

After about 30 minutes of walking around we all ended up getting on one furgon going to the city of Milot where both groups could transfer to other furgons going to their respective cities. Winifred told the furgon driver that 4 were going to Rreshin and 3 were going to Lezhe. He said he would take the 4 going to Rreshin directly there and the other 3 to Milot. Winifred and him agreed on a price and we were on our way. Well, about 45 minutes outside of Tirana, he told Winifred he was not going to Rreshin and that the price was more than the one originally quoted. Winifred gave up trying to talk to him so we all got off in Milot. Luckily there were furgons for both Lezhe and Rreshin waiting. However, it meant we all had to pay more than we should have. I went on to Lezhe with Winifred and the other Leslie.

Lezhe was great. We got to go to the city hall (bashkia) and met everyone, a center for mentally handicapped children, and a culture center where Winifred taught English. In Lezhe I was also able to find a doughnut, cheesecake and Winifred made lasagna. Even though the Lasagna was quite an ordeal, because she lost power for a day so we had to walk to another volunteers house to make it. Overall it was a great visit.

The trip back from Lezhe was not nearly as eventful but still long and tiring as I see most travel in Albania will be. But my advice is to anyone traveling in Albania, hang on tight because there are no seat belts!!

Monday, April 7, 2008

It's not better. It's not worse. It's just different.

This is how the Peace Corps staff introduced to what life would be like in Albania. After being here now just over two weeks, I would have to agree. It’s not better but I’m thankful for that because I did not sign up for Peace Corps to live in a different country with all the luxuries of the US. It’s not worse but then that’s how you look at it. If you’ve ever read the book "It Could Always be Worse", well that’s exactly life in Albania. It could always be worse. It is most definitely different but I like that about Albania.

Here’s a little glimpse into what my life here in Albania is like. On a typical day, I wake up about 7am. Then I eat breakfast, which is always made for me by my host mom. Usually it is some type of bread, eggs, fruit or cheese. It’s always good though. My training starts at 8am. If I stay in Cerrik, it’s for language. Language class goes from 8am till about 1 pm. If I go to Elbasan it is for a hub day which is for the technical, safety, health or cultural training. That goes from about 9am until 4 pm. In Cerrik, at both my home, the school, and most places we go to drink coffee or eat we find Turkish toilets. Now I mentioned them a little bit in my last note but here’s a little more info on them. 1) They are not always very clean/fresh smelling. 2) There is not always toilet paper. In fact most times there’s not. Thank God for pocket packs of tissue! 3) When there is toilet paper, you’re not supposed to flush it but instead throw it away. Yeah, wouldn’t want to be the one emptying that trash bin! 4) There is not always a flush on Turkish toilets. Sometimes it is just a bucket of water that you throw down the basin to "flush" it. 5) When washing hands, the water is a) very cold and b) there’s not usually soap. Thank God for hand sanitizer!

Ok now that I’ve mentioned what I would consider to be the worst part about life in Albania there are many things I’m thankful for. There are walls, windows and doors. For those of you who though I was going to live in a mud hut, please educate yourself on what Albanian homes really are like. Now indoor heating is not really existent in Albania, so even though it is April I am sleeping in long pajama pants, a t-shirt, sweatshirt and curled underneath three blankets. I definitely am going to love long underwear and my sleeping bag come winter! For some reason that I don’t understand though, they will complain that it’s cold, start a fire in an old stove in the living room, close the doors to that room, but the door and window in the next room will be left open. I am not sure if I’ll ever figure that one out. I am fortunate enough to currently live in a city where there are sidewalks. If I end of being placed in a small town or village, this probably will not be the case. In large cities though there are sidewalks. There are also numerous places for me to go to to drink coffee or eat food. I am overall very pleased with my current living situation.

Life in Albania is very different. For starters, there are cars but many people don’t have them, or the ones that do do not use them frequently. The main mode of transportation is by your own two feet or bike. To get farther distances there are buses (which I have not experienced yet but heard stories about) or furgons. Every time I go to Elbasan I take a furgon (which is like a mini-bus) and it is a good time. The roads in Albania are very narrow and not in the best condition. Whenever you want to pass you just put on your blinker and honk once to let the car in front know. I would be terrified to drive here because there is a complete lack of rules. I have no idea how drivers know what is going on but somehow they manage to not crash everyday so I guess the system works.

Another difference is that meal times are all over the place. For example, I eat breakfast around 7 am. We have a coffee break during our lesson usually around 10:30. We eat lunch when we get done around 1 pm. My host parents get home and eat a small meal around 3:30 – 4 pm. I’ll drink a coffee or eat some fruit with them usually. Dinner is not served until 9 – 9:30 ish. I’m being served this big meal and usually I would rather go to bed than eat but you know it’s their way. None of us volunteers understand why they eat so late. I see my host parents take food with them too so I don’t know if they are just on this 4 meals a day routine or what.
Anyway, there’s a million other things that are different here but I’ll save those for another time. I’m going to visit the trainees at another site today and next weekend I get to visit a current volunteer so I see what life is really like. I’m sure I’ll have some stories after that. Keep your eyes open for more updates!

Leslie :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Finally in Albania!

OMG!!! So I have finally found an internet cafe! It has only taken 4 days! Well I have been Albania for 4 days and it has been interesting! We arrived at Tirana International Airport (which by the way has one landing strip) and I knew I was in Albania when I saw a donkey on the side of the strip. The country is absolutely gorgeous! There are mountains everywhere! It's true that Albania has a little bit of a trash problem but I'm sure I'll learn to overlook it.

So I was in Elbasan for the first 2 1/2 days. Now I am in Cerrik which is about 25 minutes away. I am living in an apartment with a host father and mother. They have a son who is 23 that is studying in Italy (his name is Aldo) and a son who is 21 who studies in Tirana (his name is Besmir). I live in the living room which I have been told is my room. We're on the first floor so luckily I don't have to do stairs everyday. Now the bathroom... They have a turkish toilet. Which if you're not familiar with, google it. YOu'll feel my pain. The shower is not really a shower as much as it is a shower head over the toilet with a tiled floor. It is going to be interesting to do that.

Today I have walked around town with Besmir and he has shown me things to know. This has been interesting since he doesn't speak English. There are 4 other volunteers living in Cerrik. Courtney and Chris ( they are married), Karen and Rebecca. I know, another BECCA!!!! hahaha :) Well I'm about out of time on this thing so I'll wrap up with my new cell number. Dial it exactly as you see it here (0355 69 34 75 492). Calling is extremely expensive for me but I'll be able to send text messages. Oh and I don't have all your addresses so if you want mail send me a message with your address!!!I miss you guys!


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Time to Hit the Road

Ok, so after what seems like forever I am leaving tomorrow for STAGING!!!! I can't believe I really am. I've hit a few minor problems (my suitcases didn't fit the specified dimensions, they were over the weight limit......) I think I am ready to go. Tomorrow morning at 4 am I will be waking up, walking out my front door for the last time for awhile and saying good-bye to my parents.

I'm not going to lie, it hasn't really sunk in yet that I really am leaving. Like this is the REAL THING! Saying good-bye to everyone hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be (I thought there would be a lot more tears...) but you guys have helped me to have a blast the past few weeks and I have so many new pictures and memories that it has made it a little bit easier to actually get on that plane and go.

I guess what I want to say is thank you. You guys are the most amazing friends ever and I don't think I would actually have the courage to go if I didn't know that you guys are supporting me all the way. With that said, I expect mail!!!! My address for the first three months is:
Leslie Surrett
Peace Corps Albania
Rruga "Ali Visha" Nr. 15

Good-bye everyone!! I will miss you all! I wish the best for all of you!
All my love,
Leslie :)

Monday, March 10, 2008


So this weekend was a blast! Here's a recap......

Friday March 7th we were at Magoo's. My friend Paula bought me a doodle bear which all my friends wrote on for me. Some of the comments got very inappropriate very fast. Anyways, the bartender knew it was my going away party but he decided to tell everyone it was my birthday instead because it would be "more fun". Thanks James. So everyone was buying me shots all night. We played a lot of pool and joked around and took lots of pictures. I didn't get home until about 4 am and I had to baby-sit at 7:30. Surprisingly I was able to get up and I felt fine all day so overall a good night.

Saturday March 8th we went to La Cage. I met up with Scott, Ryan, and Paul at Scott's house so we could pre-game. Apparently my straight guy friends did not want to go to the gay bar sober. Hahaha. Well we did a power hour (which is when you take one shot every minute for an hour) and then headed off to La Cage. It was pretty packed. Lots of dancing followed. I got the guys to take off their shirts and they liked it!! Hahahaha. Seriously I don't know what their big fuss was. I asked them if they had fun and they were all like, "Let's come here again!" What a good time.

Sunday March 9th we went bowling. Katie and Maria made me a very sparkly card which Andrew went ahead and signed his name on later. Thank you Andrew. Toni, Becca and me were the only ones bowling until Jessica showed up. Toni was rocking it and me and Becca were just doing our thing. You know, the not such good bowlers thing :) hahaha. Everyone else who came was just sitting around and talking but it was pretty amazing. Scott, Paul, Toni, Becca and I went on to have dinner at Steak & Shake. Oh I will miss their shakes! We were causing so much trouble I'm sure the waiter was very happy when we left. Oh well, we bought stuff and paid so too bad for you mister! Oh we are such trouble makers!

Anyways, I got a lot to do this week. For instance PACK!!! I'm starting that today. I need to go make some prints of some of the pictures from this weekend. I have a few miscellaneous things to buy. I need to go over the language courses that the Peace Corps sent me so I can know a few words when we get there. I have to finish all the paperwork they sent me to bring to staging. I have to spend some time with my parents but I know I have a lot of things planned for with friends too. This week may get kinda hectic but I can't believe I leave in 6 days for Philly!!! AHHH!!!! I'm so excited! My next post will probably be from Philly so until then, keep on smiling!

Leslie :)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Travel Plans!

Hey everyone!

Ok so here are the travel plans as they stand so far......

Departing Milwaukee, WI March 16th 7:00am
Arriving Detroit, MI March 16th 9:14 am
Departing Detroit, MI March 16th 10:14 am
Arriving Philadelphia, PA March 16th at 11:45am

Staging is at the Sheraton University Center March 16th - 18th.

Leaving Philly March 18th at 11:00 am to head to JFK.
Departing JFK at 6:45 pm
Arriving Munich, Germany 8:00 am March 19th
Departing Munich, Germany 10am March 19th
Arriving Tirana, Albania 12:00pm March 19th.

I can't believe staging is in 3 weeks! I still have a week and a half of work to do. Then there's all the packing to do, good-byes to say and last minute details to take care of. I can't believe it's almost here! I'm so ready to get going I just wish work was over. I'm sick of working overnights and I'm tired of the naughty kids I teach swim to. Only a few more days then its time to hit the road!

Leslie :)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lost in the Snow

This winter has been so terrible! Yesterday we got 14 inches of snow. That's on top of the 5 we already had on the ground. And they are saying we're probably getting more today! I shoveled 5 times yesterday. I had to shovel out the coffee shop and the house. My dad has been gone since Sunday on his little Washington D.C. vacation that my mom and I got for him for his birthday. How convienent. My hands hurt and my back hurt like no other.

Before I could come to the coffee shop today to shovel I had to shovel out the end of our driveway which was blocked by ridiculously heavy snow. Then I got to the coffee shop to see that the stupid plows pushed almost all the snow from the road up onto the sidewalk. The side is now completely impassable unless you're ready to be shoulder deep in snow. I have a little path in front and three openings to the road so people can get in without having to walk the half a block that's still covered in snow.

I keep asking people what the weather is like in Albania and they say that its really hot in the summer but gets really cold in the winter. I asked how much snow and they said not really any at all. I am so ready to be there instead of here! I found out from my placement officer that the staging is going to be in Philly. That made my day. I'm so excited that the day I leave here is getting closer. I keep thinking about packing and stuff that I still need to get. One month left of work and then a week after that I leave! Let's hope I don't drown in the snow before that day gets here!

Hope everyone else is staying warm/dry/safe!
Leslie :)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Here I come Albania!

I GOT MY INVITE TODAY!!! I will be leaving on March 20th for staging and leaving on the 23rd for Albania!!! I will be doing community development as mentioned before. I'm so excited!!! I freaked out when I saw the FedEx package in front of my front door. I keep reading all the stuff that sent me. I get to fill out a whole bunch of new paperwork, write a whole bunch more stuff and start stressing over what I need and what I don't! I have less than 2 months to prepare myself and I know the time is going to fly!


Well I guess that's really all for now. I'll post more info as I get it!

Leslie :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Finally! Medical clearance has come!

Oh. My. God. I finally have medical clearance! It has been a long time since I thought this day would come! All the things I have had to do has been crazy! I'm so happy that I finally have it. I only know because my toolkit was updated. How crazy is that? No more bold HOLD! on my toolkit. Now I just have to wait for an invite.

It has been over 5 months since I went to my interview for the Peace Corps and was told I was going to be nominated for Community Development in Eastern Europe leaving in March of '08. That seemed so far away then and I can't believe it's the middle of January and I still don't know when and where I'm going. This process has just aggravated me and pushed me to the point of asking if this is really what I want to do. Even though I had to go back to the doctor over 5 times to get something that was missed or needed more information, even though I had to go all the way to Chicago to get a medical file for something that happened a long time ago, and even though I had to go the dentist 4 times, I can say.......... yes. This is the one thing that feels right right now in my life. Even though it drives me crazy and I'm anxious as all heck, I know this is what I am supposed to do.

I feel like this first part has been so drown out and long that the next part will be a whirlwind. I expect I will receive an invitation within the next month. However, if I am still leaving in March that means as soon as I get my invite I could be leaving weeks later for staging. It will be crazy but extremely fun! I'm finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel as it were. I can't wait to see what's on the other side waiting for me.

For anyone out there who is reading this who is going through the medical part of this whole process, hang in there. I know how challenging it is. Just remember to be as thorough as you can be and don't leave anything out. It's like the Peace Corps says, "Now is a good time to practice skills you will need during your volunteer service, patience and flexibility." So hang in there guys. Hopefully you will be as excited as I am now in a few weeks :)


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Looking to the Future

Happy New Year's!!!! I hope everyone had a great night last night and that everyone's 2008 is an amazing one! I always like looking back at the past year but even more so looking towards the future. It seems as though I have a lot to look back on and a lot to look forward too. So here's a little look at 2007 and a glimpse into my hopes for 2008.

-I started the year off with a hopeful heart hoping that my year in love would be better..... that didn't happen. I met some amazing people but none of them were what I was looking for.
-I traveled. Lets see..... I went to Texas, New Orleans, and Arizona.
-I finished my Bachelors' in Business Administration with a concentration in Hospitality Management at Robert Morris College in Chicago.
-I looked into many different options for after graduation. Teaching in Japan, working in Austrailia, staying in Chicago, being happy in Milwaukee....... just to name a few.
-I decided to apply for the Peace Corps. Not only will this be my opportunity to give back to the worldwide community it will be my chance to do things that I love to do. I will learn a new language, surround myself with a new culture, travel, and I will get to make people smile.
-I had an amazing experience working at The Hard Rock Hotel Chicago and learning all the different aspects of the lodging industry.
-I get to work with children now and watch as they learn to swim and see how proud they are of themselves when they learn something new.
-I turned 21. I think that's all I really need to say about that :)

-I am enjoying spending time with my friends and family while working 3 different jobs.
-I am excited and anxious at finding out where I will be going as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am supposed to leave in March but we'll see how that goes............
-I have an open mind as to what to expect for this year. I have so many hopes but we'll see how everything goes.
-I know my experience with the Peace Corps will be extremely rewarding but also challenging and exhausting. However, I have the support of all my family and friends and I know I will have the support of whichever community I end up in.

So with all that said I have nothing but high hopes for this year. I know that everything I hope for may not come true but I'm keeping an open mind. So goodbye 2007 and hello 2008!!