Friday, December 18, 2009

A Note on Culture

Today, there have been exactly 3 very interesting things that have happened to me that are great examples of the culture here in Albania. The first thing that I want to mention is the man I say peeing on the high school wall this morning. I had just left my house and was about 100 feet away from this old guy when he unzipped his pants and let it go. Public urination - not cool. Public urination on a high school wall with students all around in front of a window at 10am - hilarious (and at the same time gross)!! When I saw that on my way to work, I knew that it would be a good day.

The second thing I would like to tell everyone about is my trip to the bank. When I was in Bosnia, the ATM took my card and did not give it back. I am still waiting on my replacement so I had to actually go inside. Well I open the door and its packed with people. There usually are people but not more than like 10. I walked to the man at the end of what I considered to be a "line" and asked if he was waiting (the 2 tellers were just standing there). He told me that there was "s'ka leke". Translation, no money. I stood there for a second and then I turned around and walked out of the bank. As I was walking back to work I burst out laughing. It was an absolutely ridiculous concept to me that a bank had no money. Only in Albania. Luckily, when I went back just over an hour later there was money again. Now I know why so many Albanians don't trust their money in the banks.

Tonight, Peter and I came into Tirana to go see The Nutcracker at the Opera House. For $5 we both got tickets. It was fairly good. I haven't seen the ballet in probably 4 or 5 years so my memory from former performances is a little rusty but I enjoyed myself. At intermission I went down and found the musicians. I now have a number of a man who may be able to get me a cello!! Whoo hoo!!! Listening to the orchestra play tonight really has made me want to play again. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to play every once in awhile when I come into Tirana.

So it has been a culture filled day. Every day in Albania is always different and for the most part entertaining. It's days like today when I think "How will I ever readjust to living in America??" I think when I get back I'm gonna be one of those people that even my own family is embarrassed of and they keep me locked up in my room. It's going to take a long time for me to break some of the habits I've picked up here. Here's a list of some of my favorites:
-waving my pointer finger to say "no"
-shaking my head from left to right to say "yes"
-pushing my way to front to be served first
-raising my hand up in the air and clicking while calling out "boy!" to get the waiter's attention
-arriving when I feel like it even if we scheduled a time to meet
-assuming that when I'm with a man he will pay for everything
-inviting people for a "coffee" when I mean any type of beverage
-stopping to say hi to everyone I know and ask them the same question 5 times in a row
-negotiating the price for clothes

Well that's enough about Albanian culture for one day. Christmas is one week away and then New Year's!! If I don't get the chance to post again before then Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's!!

Here's a fun picture depicting culture in Albania. It's the Lezha pigs!!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

With December has come Winter...

My apologies first off for again slacking on updating this thing. I thought about sitting down several times to write some stuff down but just didn't know what to write. So here come a long list of what's been happening in the 'bania.

The end of October: Halloween was fun. I don't think it was as fun as last year but there were some creative costumes. Joe, Bethany, Kacey and I went as a group. Kacey was 1st base, I was 2nd base, Joe was 3rd and Bethany was a home run! We all made shirts with nicknames on the back and our team name was the "Puntang Klan". A fun spin off of the WuTang Clan and the Albanian word "pune". Anyways, we spray painted handprints on my shirt and my shorts. Joe drew lip marks all over his pants and we kissed Kacey all over. Bethany pulled off the home run quite well I think. Let's see, there was also Willy Wonka with a Chocolate bar, Dumb and Dumber, a panda bear, brown bear and Koala bear, the Albanian flag, and several interesting takes on a turkish toilet. Always funny to see what we can come up with on a PC budget.

November: Obviously, my birthday kicked off the month to a great start. My English girls totally suprised me. One of them texted me saying she needed to meet with me to talk about an assignment. Well when I opened the door later that day, all my girls walked in with cake, cookies and soda! It was awesome. For dinner, Bethany, Peter and Nikolla took me out to dinner at Ylli's. We had the place to ourselves and after we stuffed ourselves silly we danced the night away. It was a great 23rd :)

Thanksgiving was also very memorable. I was invited to eat at the Ambassador's house. Well I was not let down!! There was a huge turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoe casserole, rolls, wine, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, brownies and lemon bars. I ate a little bit of everything and enjoyed every single bite! I don't think I've eaten like that in over a year and a half!! The conversation was pretty entertaining as well. At one point, the Ambassador and I were talking about the Roma and Gypsies in Albania and he invited me to work on a project for the Roma communities in Albania with him and the Ambassador of Switzerland. Whoo hoo!! After dinner, I spent the night at the Elridges. I was able to talk to my parents and Becca!! What a nice end to Thanksgiving.

The next Friday, I left Tirana at 6am with 2 buses of Albanians to go to Bosnia for the weekend. Oh it was an experience all right. The travel agent was a disaster but Ardi was there and tried to hold it together. Bosnia was very beautiful and I hope I can go back maybe and spend some more time there. There are still all the remnants from the war but then its developed so much sometimes you forget that there was a war.

English lessons are still keeping me very busy. I'm still teaching my counterpart and my high school girls but now I am also teaching the inspectors at the port of Shengjin. Yeah, that's interesting. There's only about 8 but they are all older so its going to be a lot harder for them to learn. 2 of them are pretty good though and they are learning. I teach there 2 times a week for an hour. In January I will be teaching the police here in Lezha as well. I'm a community development volunteer, not a teacher!! Oh well, I enjoy the lessons for the most part and teaching the inspectors will help decrease the amount of human trafficing that goes on in Albania.

I'm still torn as to what to do after I finish my service here in June. I'm meeting with Hill and Jan on Wednesday to discuss a 3rd year extension. Whether I will do it here in Albania or somewhere else I have yet to decide. My parents I think will disown me if I do another full 2 year service. I'm kinda thinking that I want to at least do the 3rd year. The economy in America right now doesn't look to appealing. Well I have to figure it out by January so I'll let you all know when I figure it out myself. Just over a week until Christmas! I can't believe how fast my close of service conference is coming up. Feels like I just got here yesterday......

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Overdue Update

I'm falling behind on updating this thing again! I don't even know really where to start. Let me just talk about some of the hi-lites I guess.....

The biggest excitement here was that my mom came to Albania and we spent 4 days in the north, jumped over to Italy for 4 days and hung out with my aunt Shelley, and then skipped back over to Albania to spend 4 days in the south. It was a great time. I was really happy she got to see where I'm living, the people I see everyday, and got to experience true Albanian hospitality. It was super nice to spend two weeks with her and see my aunt and of course get to Italy finally!!! We were in Bari, Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Livorno. I have lots of awesome pictures and if I remember I will try to post a few.

Other things, I went to the kindergartens here in Lezha and delivered a bag to each one with school supplies that I received from America. I found out that all the things we had set aside for them back in June had accidentally been given away to children at the cultural center. Oh well. They still got a few things so they can't complain.

I'm teaching English full swing. I give Yllka an English lesson for an hour Monday through Friday. She's learning quick and I have no doubt that she will be able to speak English half as well as I speak Albanian by the time I leave. I also began an advanced English course for 10 girls in the 4th year of high school here. They all want to pick English as their major at University next year so I'm going to try to help them as much as possible. We are going to create a newsletter and have a mini book club along with other fun activities. I wrote to an organization today asking them if they could send me books for the girls and they said yes! I'm totally excited. The books should get here in about 2 months. They will be thrilled.

I'm starting to think more and more about what I want to do when I finish here. I found out that Yllka is getting married on June 27th next year and I can't miss that so now I feel that I won't leave until the end of June or early July next year. Then I have no idea what to do. Should I travel around?? Get a job? Go for my Masters?? Do another Peace Corps service?? So much to think about.... luckily I have time. Halloween is in 10 days and my birthday is in 12!!! Whoot whoot!! It's gonna be an awesome 2 weeks :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Something to Lift Your Spirits

This morning I met with Yllka and she had a very sad story to tell me. She had met with a woman and her two children earlier and heard that the husband had become very abusive. He has become an alcoholic and abuses the entire family. She made a decision that morning that she needed to leave the house. Yllka, being a social worker told them to meet her later and she would take them to someone who could help. She asked me if I could help. I thought of what I could possibly do and then I remembered I still had some things that had been sent to me from America. I told Yllka I would meet her later and she left.

I quickly grabbed some crayons, markers, pens and a toy for each kid and put it all together in a nice little bag. When I met up with Yllka again she was with the woman and her children. After introductions, I handed over the bags and the mother started to cry. She told me thank you and so did the children. The way those kids faces lit up, I knew I had made their day. Such a small gesture yet it helped a lot.

So now it is only noon yet I have made my small impact on Lezha for the day. It's days like this that I love my job :)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer is Almost Gone....

Ok so it's been awhile since I've posted on here but I've been busy! Where to start. I had a Warden's Conference in Tirana (boring), several meetings for a volunteerism project for youth in northern Albania, my mid service conference in Korca (half-way done!!), beer fest in Korca (at the same time as the mid service conference....coincidence, I think not!), a tubing experience in northeast Albania and to top it all off, house hounting. For more details, continue reading....

So the two Peace Corps events were the Warden training and the Mid Service Conference. The Warden training was to go over what we do in case of an emergency. I had to go to it last year so it was a bore for me to go again this year. There's only 12 of us lucky enough to get to participate in the warden training and let me tell you, we love it! Ok so on to the more exciting of the two, the Mid Service conference (MSC). The best part about this conference was that it marked the beginning of our last year here in Albania. We had sessions on some serious stuff (admin, health, safety etc...) but also on some more fun topics such as "why do we work here?", "photo shop", "working overseas after PC", "sector success stories" and "plans for the 2nd year". It was a great chance to catch up with everyone and see what they are all up to.

My favorite part of the MSC was that Beer Fest happened to be at the same time. Conference during the day, beer fest at night. It was perfect! For those of you who have not had Korca e zeze, you should try it! I was impressed by how large the beer fest was. There were tons of people, tons of beer boths and tons of qofte booths. Yum :) If it hadn't been for beer fest I don't think half of my group would have showed up.

On to the tubing experience. Becca and Dylan, the volunteers in Peshkopi, decided one day that it should be possible to tube from Peshkopi to Kukes. Looking at the map it looks very possible. I was convinced and decided to join them on the adventure. The first day was awesome. We floated down the river all day, stopping once for lunch, and once after our bag with stuff went under. It was peaceful, relaxing and a ton of fun! We pulled over to the side at about 7 and made camp for the night. We found out we had not made it nearly as far as we thought. We kept a positive attitude until it was time to sleep. None of us had a good night. We couldn't get comfortable or warm. We tried to keep the fire going all night but it didn't work so well. At one point we got up and found a big stack of hay, grabbed some and brought it over to the fire to try to make a "bed". That still didn't work too well. By the time the sun was up, we had been up for hours, were tired, cranky and hungry. After sitting there talking about it we decided to try to hitch hike the rest of the way to Kukes. We walked and walked and walked. We stopped several times at people's houses to fill our water bottles but had no luck finding food. We just ate the berries on the side of the road. Finally about 4:30 pm (after walking since 8:30) we saw a car. It picked us up and started driving us to Kukes. 10 minutes later they blew a tire, but they stopped, fixed it right away and we were back on the road. After finally arriving in Kukes we ended up eating 2 dinners, crashing at Jennifer and James' and then heading out early the next morning to get back to site. That was my tubing experience.

The last thing to mention is that after my months of house hunting, I have finally found a new apartment!! I know, I'm totally excited! It's in a brand new building and has lots of great new furniture in it. I'm moving on September 1st. The location is so much better, it's behind the high school and not on top of the hill. So excited to only have to walk up 3 flights of stairs instead of the 127 that I have now!

Well that's it for now. Should have more to post soon and with pictures! Keep your eyes open for new posts and until then, enjoy the last few days of summer!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Summer Camp Experience

I've made it back from camp and I'm alive!!! No that wasn't a main concern for me but I feel as though it is an accomplishment. The camp went really well and I'm really happy that we had the chance to do it. We left Monday morning about an hour late but only 5 kids got sick on the bus. The road was fine until we left Elbasan to head up the mountain to Gjinar. That's where the kids got sick. All in all we made it there safe and sound without any problems. The camp site was a lot better than I expected. There were 3 lodges. One was large with 4 bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining hall, some bathrooms with showers, 2 meeting rooms a small chapel and a larger open space that we could all gather. Than the 2 other lodges were cabins that could sleep about 20 each with a bathroom. There was also a volleyball/basketball court and some open spaces for games.

Throughout the week we played all sorts of games. Most of them were group games but a few were individual. Some were games like capture the flag, darts, bowling and soccer but all with modifications for the group. Some of them were really funny to watch :) We went on a hike/picnic on Thursday which was great. We played a game on the hike up and then we found a nice place next to a mountain spring to have lunch. Luckily it didn't rain on us. On Wednesday, Hill, the Albania Peace Corps Director, came down to see how the camp was. He was impressed with the camp grounds, the diversity of the kids and the volunteers at the camp. This made me very happy. On Friday, we gave out a whole bunch of presents that the Red Cross had given us for the kids. It went well but I realized how greedy Albanian children can be ("I don't like this color.", "This is too big", "Can I get what she got?"). I wanted to be like, just take what I give you and be happy!!

On a sad note, this camp exposed me (again) to the bad manners of Albanians. For example, they don't say please and thank you. They talk over each other. They shout at the teacher when they raise their hand to be picked. They are terrible eaters (they don't eat the crust of bread). They don't respect their elders. The boys pick on the girls and this is acceptable.

Overall I was extremely happy with how everything went. When I got home I only needed about 3 days to recover. Thinking and speaking purely in Albanian for a week was exhausting!! Anyways, I have some great pictures and it was a great experience for myself and the kids. Now it's time for the summer to continue!!

Hope everyone is doing well. Miss you all!

Friday, June 26, 2009

40 kids + 8 Albanians + me = a successful summer camp??

Well in 2 days I will be getting on a bus headed for Gjinar in Elbasan with 40 Albanian kids and 8 Albanians. I'm excited that this camp is happening and after all the work we have put into it I hope that it goes well for both my sake, Yllka's sake and of course, the kids. Yesterday we had a meeting with the adults who are going with us. There is Yllka, myself, Ardian (who works with these kids), Marnelda (a school psychologist) and three volunteers coming from Lushnja. Marnelda has never done such a thing as a camp and freaked out slightly when we told her not to bring heels. Ardian seems very excited to be able to go and Yllka is just excited that her project is becoming a reality. Yllka has been very stressed preparing for this camp. We have had many parents who have had issues with us taking their kids for a week. The idea of a summer camp is still somewhat new here. They think that we are taking them and not going to bring them back. This is also complicated in families where there is only one child, the parents are divorced, or one parent is dead. We are taking one of the kids mom's because that is the only way she would let her son go but he really deserves this opportunity so I guess its not too bad. AT our meeting we talked about what the schedule will be like, what the goals are, what we will be eating, the layout of the camp and a few other misc. details. All in all I think we're ready. We just need to finish buying the food.

I have mixed feelings for this camp. On one side I am incredibly excited that its happening and as many people have pointed out, it is probably the largest thing I have done so far for the community. On the other side I'm slightly concerned that the kids are going to form a gang on the bus ride down and be uncontrolable the entire week. I told Yllka about my fears of going on this trip because no one will speak English which means I have to spend an entire week thinking and speaking in Albanian. I told her not to worry if I dissapear for a few minutes at any given time. I just need some time for my mind to rest and I will come back. I'm also slightly sad that I'm missing the 4th of July party but oh well. It comes every year and next year I should be back in the states for it. I'm trying to come up with a way that we can celebrate with the kids at the camp (good way to work on Goal 2 of Peace Corps). I'm thinking the best we may be able to do is have a picnic that day that includes watermelon. Maybe I'll try to get some fireworks or something but I doubt that will actually happen.

The only other thing to mention is that the elections here in Albania for parlament are on the 28th and the town is in a frenzy over them. Posters, flyers and commercials are all over the place. It is safe to say that elections here get just as crazy as in the US. I've been told to stay inside my house on Sunday night as many people may feel the need to shoot guns up in the air in celebration of their candidates winning. Hopefully this is just a rumor. We'll see.

Oh and one more thing, I really need to move out of my house and get someplace new. No chance of me moving before August 1st though. So far no winners. Hopefully when I get back from this camp I will find something.

Well that's really all for now I think. July is going to be a busy month for me as well. I plan on traveling around Albania, I have warden training for a few days in Tirana and also a new project starting with World Vision on volunteerism in youth. Should be a great summer. Keep your fingers crossed that my camp goes well and I return in order to tell you all about it!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Stuck in the Middle

Well this past week has been a little emotional for me. Let me explain as its not a bad thing its just sorta weird when I think about all that has happened. So to start, this past Wednesday I spent most of the day with Winifred. We had coffee with Bethany and Peter and some Albanians. Then we went to Winifred's house to help her do a final clean, get her stuff to her work, divide up the things she was leaving behind between the three of us, and throw away all the non-important stuff. It was a little crazy. I couldn't believe how much stuff she had! I hope that when I leave in a year I don't have quite so much stuff to deal with. Anyway, it was a little more difficult since she had to gather stuff together to ship to America and then some to send to Iceland where she will be working for a few months. Then she had to pack her bag that she will be traveling around Europe with. So her situation also added to the difficulty of helping her get ready to finish her service. I left her house about 2am Thursday morning. It was sad to say good-bye to her and know that when I came back from Elbasan she wouldn't be in Lezha.

Thursday morning I woke up really early to catch the 6 am bus to Tirana to get to Elbasan for the 10 am swearing in ceremony of the Group 12'ers. I didn't have much sleep but I got up and I got there in time for the start of the ceremony. Watching their ceremony reminded me of our swearing in ceremony a year ago and how excited and anxious I was. Now a year later, I feel at home in Lezha. I have many friends and I feel like I make an impact on the community. After the ceremony I talked to the new volunteers and their excitement was just like my own had been. Sitting there, drinking beer with them, talking about their excitement and fears was just mind boggling for me. I was no longer the new kid and I only have a year to go until I will be leaving Albania. I am in the middle of my service and I can't believe how fast the time is going.

Today, back at work I am super busy. My summer camp is actually going to happen and there is lots of paper work to do. I also am finishing a ton of brochures for USAID to print out for us. I was sitting in the office talking to several co-workers and they were like, "We are so happy that you are finally getting products produced." I decided to not bring up the fact that these things were not really new (except the summer camp). But the talk made me feel good. I have a year under my belt and I know that this next year is gonna fly by. The only problem is now, how am I going to be able to leave this place in a year??

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

False Alarm! The Project is a GO!

Ok so after prematurely being disappointed about my project no longer being on the Peace Corps website I learned that it is actually because it is fully funded! I got to tell my counterpart today and other people I work with and it is definitely a good thing. There have been celebratory coffees today and now I am excited for all the work that lays ahead. Hopefully within 2 weeks the money will be in the new bank account I'm opening and then its time to buy stuff. In just under a month I will be on the road with 45 kids on the way to Gjinar! How exciting!

On another exciting note, the trainees swear in tomorrow and begin their 2 years of service. This is just plain crazy to me because that means I have been here over a year already! Only a year left and I will be trying to get rid of stuff, pack stuff up and be heading on to some new destination (which who knows where that will be...). This is just mind boggling for me.

On a sad note, my site mate Winifred is leaving tomorrow to travel around a bit and then off to Iceland for a few months on a project. It will be sad to not have her anymore in Lezha but she will always be here in spirit... Rruge te mbare Winifred!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Well so much for that Idea

For the past month or so I have been working with my counterpart, Yllka to create a summer camp for children who are from families who live below the poverty line. Up till about 2 weeks ago I thought it would happen. To fund it, we had written a Peace Corps Partnership grant. This basically means that people who I knew back home and reached out to, who felt like donating to this camp, would be the main financers of the project. Today as I went online to check to see how much money we were still waiting for, I was disappointed to find it no longer listed. As we had planned on having this camp at the end of this month I knew that the funding needed to come by early June. Today is Memorial Day so no one is in the office to ask if this means that the project is being stopped because we didn't get the funding we needed or what exactly are our options. If the project is being stopped I am in for one bad conversation with Yllka later. If there are some other options well then maybe there's still hope.

I'm sad that this is just one more project that most likely won't happen but at least I tried. I hope that this will be an eye opener for Yllka. She hasn't been very active in helping me look for funding. Hopefully this will be a learning expereince for her as well. Yes I am American but no I am not rich nor am I conneted to people who have access to hundreds of dollars.

The summer is about to start so with that I have hope for sunny days and more small successes. The new group is swearing in on Thursday. I'm no longer the new kid! Best of luck to them. Just remember that patience is key to being a successful PCV here in Albania. Oh and go for every coffee you can :) Time to go find Yllka and have a chat. I may need a hug later...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Needed That

Last week I got back from a vacation that I really needed. Everything was stressing me out a bit here so it felt good to get away. Now I'm back and I'm ready for more!

My vacation started by traveling up to Herceg Novi with an Albanian who I help out here in Lezha. His name is Ardi and he has a transportation company. He had a group of Albanians he was taking to Herceg Novi and he had an extra seat which he offered to me. It worked out great because it was the same day I was leaving for Dubrovnik, Croatia. He dropped me off at the bus station and then I had to wait a while for the bus to arrive but it was smooth sailing from there. I had barely stepped off the bus in Dubrovnik when I was pulled aside by a woman asking if I needed a room for the night. I talked her down from 20€ to 16€. The room was nice enough and there were two Americans traveling around staying there as well. We wandered around that night and again the next day. Dubrovnik is amazing! Expensive but gorgeous. My flight left at 8:30 pm so I headed off to the airport around 6 and waited for the plane to start boarding.

The flight was fine and when we landed in London I hurried through everything so I could finally meet David. I was so excited! He was great. I spent a full week in England with him and we traveled to Thetford, Bury St. Edmonds, Stonehedge, Windsor Castle, London and Lakenheath. All in all it was a great time and I got to see some great stuff. I was sad though because I only charged one of my camera batteries instead of both so I missed out on some great pictures while we were in London doing a double decker bus tour. I really enjoyed meeting David and finally getting to spend time with him. I was sad to leave that Monday but my journey wasn't over yet. I still had to get to Albania from Dubrovnik.

After landing again in Dubrovnik I waited around a bit to try to figure out whether I should stay in Dubrovnik or go straight for Montenegro. Well I found a minivan going to Budva which was perfect because I got an email from Ardi saying he would be there with a group of university students. After meeting up with Ardi, we had some beers and then I got some sleep. The next day the group and I went to Kotor which is by far one of the prettiest cities I have seen in the Balkans. I wish my camera had not been dead! We came back to Budva and relaxed the rest of the day. On Wednesday we left for Albania but made stops at Stephen Island, Tivar and at the Shkoder Castle. I was fed up with the university kids by the time we got to Lezha and I was so happy to be home! Overall it was a great trip and it really was what I needed. I feel refreshed and ready to go. Now only if the internet was working at the bashki......

Friday, April 17, 2009


Hello everyone! Well the time has come for all of you who have wanted to help me, to help the children. I have written a Peace Corps Partnership Grant with Yllka, my counterpart. The grant is for a one week summer camp for children whose families live below the poverty line. This camp is an opportunity for them to see another part of their own country and learn about things like leadership, team work, cooperation, respect, self esteem and creativity. Here's how it works; Peace Corps has listed my project on their site ( Once you go there, click on donations and then search Albania. My project will come up. Read the project description and if you feel compelled to do so, donate! Otherwise, spread the word on to others who may be interested in helping. We are working with a short time frame so the more people who know the better. Please don't let this opportunity pass you by. It's for the kids and how can you say no to their faces???

Friday, April 10, 2009


I can’t believe how well tonight went. I was slightly dreading the concert because of all the drama that has been happening leading up to this event but tonight I was amazed. Today was the National Day for Roma Communities. I was approached by the president of the association of Roma here in Lezha numerous times asking how I would help with this event. I told him that I had boxes coming from America that had gifts for the Roma children. Well, he at one point thought I said I would give money. That day I had to explain to him that even though I was American, I am poor. I explained to him what my role in the community is and told him that I would be more than happy to help plan the event in any way besides giving money. He did not like my answer but he came back to see me again.
The next problem was that he found out that I was going to distribute the contents of the boxes I got from America at a center that children go to after school. The problem was that both Roma and Gypsie children go there. This was the day for ROMA communities and not GYPSIE communities. He explained how the two cultures are completely different. My response was that both communities are different but they do both reside in the same neighborhood, they marry each other and both are very poor. Why should only one community benefit from the boxes? In the end we decided not to distribute the boxes today but on June 1st, which is the International Day of Children. This way both communities can benefit and there can’t be any argument as to why they both are getting presents.
On to the actual event today. There was a concert arranged for 5pm at the Cultural Palace. It was agreed between the Roma and Gypsie’s that both communities would be represented and participate in the event. I could not believe how well they worked together in under 24 hours after the agreement had been reached to organize all the performers and pull the event off! The stage was all decked out for the event and I had a great time. I’m pretty sure everyone else did too. People were dancing in their seats, in the aisles and at the end, even I was pulled up onto the stage for a little traditional Albanian dancing.
At the beginning of the concert, when they were thanking everyone who helped make the event possible, I was shocked to hear them thank me. It went something like this, “Thank you to the American who is always a friend to the Roma. I’m sorry I forget your name now but know that you have helped us a great amount.” They gave me flowers and they all cheered and clapped for me. I’m not going to lie, I cried. At that moment I realized just how important my role in the community was. I didn’t realize that just by me saying hi to them every day and playing with their kids I made as much of an impact as I have, but now I know.
It’s after a day like today I really love my job. It really is true; Peace Corps is the toughest job I’ll ever love.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

This Just Might Work...

Well after so many things falling apart around me, I think I finally have gotten something together that is going to work. 2 things actually!!! First things first....

On April 8th, I was hoping that we would have a concert in honor of the National Day for Roma Communities. When I found out that they were looking to me to fund this concert, the idea ended. No concert. Well I still have these packages from America and I need to get these supplies to the Roma kids. The new plan is to hold a small party for the Roma kids at the Roma community center on the 8th. We will play some games like bingo and the children will get the stuff that my high school sent to me as prizes. This way the kids still get to have some fun and they get some fun stuff from America. My counterpart, Yllka, is onboard with the plan as is the director for the Roma community center. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this actually will happen. There's only 2 weeks for it to fall through so I'm thinking I can keep it together for 2 weeks.

The next project is a lot bigger. Again my counterpart, Yllka and I want to have a one week summer camp for the Roma children. We will take them to a village outside of Elbasan and play games, do group activities and just let these kids experience what they otherwise would not experience. We have already written the project proposal and I have translated it. After talking today with the country director, looks like we will be able to submit the PC Partnership Grant to get funding. This means that I will have 2 months to get all the money. I'm depending on people from back home to spread the word around to go to the website (when it gets posted) and donate!! I need as much help as I can get so if you're reading this tell your peeps to help out too! This will be a great project if it doesn't end for some mysterious reason. Anyways, I'm really hopeful right now so keep your fingers crossed for me!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

1 Year Down, 15 months to go

I have been in Albania for one year as of today!! I can't believe how fast the time has been going. The new group of volunteers arrived yesterday. 34 new trainees. I can't wait to meet them. It's hard to believe that I am no longer the "new kid" and that next year at this time I will be close to leaving. The experience here has been everything I thought it would be but so much more. I have learned Albanian, have helped with numerous projects, have built relationships in my community and now feel as though Lezhe is my home. Just walking to work today I had to stop and have conversations with 4 people on the road. I have been so lucky with my placement and service. The continued support from my friends and family back home has also been tremendous and I am so happy that I have them behind me on this adventure. This would be much harder without their continuing support.
On another note, I just got back from Athens, Greece on Tuesday. The bus ride on the way down wasn't as bad as I thought the 14 hours would be. There was an American backpacking through Europe so he kept me company until we all started dozing off. My first day in Athens I walked around A LOT and saw most of the "typical" tourist sites. I stayed with a couchsurfer that night and he showed me around at night and we met up with another couchsurfer for drinks. The conference that I went to Athens for started on Friday and I met up with Dile, an Albanian from Lezha there. The conference was ok but a lot of things didn't apply to us since it was for the European Union and Albania is not a part of the EU (yet...). Anyways, Dile and I slept at a Greek girl's place for the last 3 nights. Sophie was a great host as well and I had fun talking with her. The conference ended on Sunday and there was time for more shopping, sight seeing and eating. I was so happy to eat my authentic greek salad and gyros!! Haha. Dile left early Monday morning but my return bus didn't leave until 8pm. I spent the day with Dile's cousin and his family. They were really nice and showed me around Pireaus (the port of Athens). The trip back to Albania was much longer but I made it back :)
Now I will be busy for awhile helping prepare materials for the new trainees, making materials for my municipality and helping with some smaller projects. Spring is going to fly by and it will be summer before I know it!!
Hugs to everyone!

Friday, February 20, 2009

BRR!! It's cold out here!

Well not much has been going on around these parts. It has turned colder and I'm not enjoying it. Yesterday it actually snowed. And here I was beginning to think that Spring just might be around the corner. Well, hopefully it still is!
I'm having a real hard time getting anything done with any of my projects currently. It's a little frustrating that I have all these great talks with people and they seem motivated to really do some good. A week later, BOOM! No more motivation. I need to come up with a new way of getting people to work with me on these projects. Maybe I need to just break them up into a whole bunch of really small projects so that people will stay motivated till the end. Maybe..
Other than that, I'm hanging in there. I'm a little sad that I didn't get the assistant postition for the new PST starting in March but oh well. I have some other things on my plate so its probably for the better. I will be doing a session on tourism development in Albania so I'm getting things together for that. I can't believe that I have almost been here a year! CRAZY!
Well I have a meeting/party tonight with the Women's Club so that should be fun :) Albanians and their circle dancing is never a dull moment! Tomorrow I might head up to Shkoder for a Carnival party but we'll see what the weather is like.
I hope you are all staying warm!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away....

It has been raining every day for the past two weeks and after I thought long and hard about building an ark, it stopped! The sun is out and shining and I plan on doing laundry (which will be very exciting!). Anyways, it's nice to finally have some good weather. It's been a long two weeks.
Another happy thing is that I think I have a masive project about to start. When I was back home in September I gave a presentation to my old high school. One of my former teachers was very excited to be able to do anything for me so they held a drive to collect clothes, shoes and school supplies for me to distribute to the Roma children. Their drive went very well and they collected over 20 boxes of stuff. Then it was on me to figure out how to get the stuff to the kids. After talking to some people in the community we came up with an idea....
We're going to build a new kindergarden! It will be just for the Roma children so that they can preserve their own culture while learning Albanian so that they can really integrate into society and have a brighter future then their parents could've ever hopped for. I am very excited about this!
On April 8th, we plan on having a concert in honor of the National Day for Roma Communities. Roma children will sing and put on a short drama. After the concert they will be given things that were sent her from my old high school. The proceeds from the concert will go towards the new kindergarden. To finance the rest of the project I'm hoping to do a Peace Corps Partnership Grant. Basically 25% of the project funded by my community here in Lezha and the rest coming from people back home.
We still have a lot to talk about and we have to figure it out fast. I know that this will be a great project as long as I can get the support I need from my community here and at home. I'm just hoping the sun stays out to keep my spirits high!
Hugs to you all,

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Oh the Places You'll Go...

Happy New Year's!!!! What a few weeks I have had! My time in Bangkok was amazing. Here are some of the hi-lites... I got to Bangkok and after checking in at my hotel it was off to the hospital for my first appointment. Well the dentist ended up removing my lower right wisdom tooth right then and there! It wasn't too bad except I was awake during it and could hear them drilling and the sound of my tooth cracking. Yuck. The next few days I just kinda lounged around to get used to the time and enjoy the comforts of air conditioning and t.v.

On my first Saturday I went on a temple tour and saw the Temple of the Dawn, Wat-Po (home to the reclining Buddha) and the Marble Temple. My favorite was definitly the Temple of the Dawn. It was breathtaking and absolutely the most beautiful thing I have ever seen! Wat-Po was beautiful in it's own way. The cool thing about Wat-Po was the line of buckets it had to collect 1 Baht coins that people dropped in for good luck. The Marble Temple was also cool and it is also a school for munks. There was a guy undergoing the ceremony to become a monk while I was there. Definitely cool.
On Sunday I went to some of the sights around downtown. I saw the Victory Monument and walked around the shopping district there. Then I went to Siam Center and was in awe at the stores you could find there. Versace, Gucci, Dolce & Gabanna just to name a few... Way above my per diem amounts. I did however enjoy McDonalds (known as McThai in Thailand).
That Monday I had both of my wisdom teeth on the left removed. Again not a pleasant situation as I was awake and could hear it all happening. The pain lasted a lot longer with those two. I didn't do much at all on Tuesday or Wednesday to prepare for my Christmas excursion on Thursday. I was picked up from my hotel at 6 am and we were off to the floating market. Probably one of the coolest things ever! A must see if you find yourself in Thailand. After that it was off to a snake show, then to a handicraft outlet, then lunch on the River Kwai (gorgeous!), then we stopped at a cemetary, and then it was time for what I had waited for - the Tiger Temple!!! We got there in time to pet the tigers before they were walked back to their enclosures for the night. It was awesome! We made one final stop at the World World II Museum before heading back to the hotel for the night. It was probably the coolest thing I could've done while in Bangkok on Christmas and I will never forget it.
The rest of my time in Bangkok was just wandering around and I left on the 28th. I was happy when I landed in Tirana that there wasn't snow on the ground. It was cold, but there wasn't snow. New Year's Eve I spent in Durres with two other volunteers. It was insane!!! People buy fireworks and just shoot them off where ever they feel like it. We had a blast though.
Now I'm getting back into the swing of things around Lezhe. It feels good to be back here and I'm excited for my projects that I have coming up. If I could change one thing it would be having heat in my house but hey now, that's what being a Peace Corps volunteer is all about right? If anything it's making my skin thicker. Alright time to do some work. I hope you all have had great holidays and a great New Year's!
Hugs to you all!