Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Finding My Footing

When you first get to your site as a PCV, it can be extremely difficult to find your place. Once you swear in, you no longer have someone from PC to hold your hand every step of the way. It is entirely up to you to figure out what to work on and with whom. Now of course, they give you a little push to help in the beginning. When you receive your site placement, they include a partner organization, a supervisor and a brief idea of what type of projects to work on in your site. This by no means is the only place you'll be working or the only type of projects you'll be working on. Many PCV's want to get a running start when they get to site and because they don't really know what to do, they wear themselves out very fast.

I arrived in "Mango" about two weeks ago and during these past two weeks I have been focusing on studying Darija, meeting anyone who comes to my host family's house, and taking the time to get to know anyone who I end up interacting with while they help me apply for my carte de sejour, or help me in the hanut while I'm trying to act out what I'm looking for (it was a sponge). Until yesterday, I felt pretty invisible in site. That is to say, I felt like I walked the streets and only got attention because people recognized I am not Moroccan. Yesterday, however, people actually came up to me on the street to say hi and I knew who they were. Going from not knowing anyone of the street to greeting six people in one day made me feel like I'm starting to make my place in site.

I contribute that mainly to going to my host mom's association the past two Sundays. My host mom (who is awesome) is the president of an association called "Golden Fingers". They teach school age children music every Sunday. The best part of the association in my opinion is that high school and university students run the classes. I was overwhelmed by how responsible and focused the teachers are. My amazement didn't end there though, the kids who attend on Sunday also participate in teaching and leading the songs. There was one girl, I'm guessing she was probably 13, was playing the drum and she got up and lead several songs by herself. I've enjoyed getting to know the teachers and some of the students from the association and look forward to participating in their activities.

A few of the PCV's from my staaj started teaching December 1st and I have yet to start anything yet. However, I met my first group of students last Saturday. They are in their first year of English and I will be co-teaching with a university student. Another group I will start teaching this week is the teachers from my host mom's association. In two days, I went from having no students to having 12. My host mom and several other women who help with the association would also like to learn some English so there's my 3rd class.

My time in site is getting better and better by the day. Beth, my sitemate, and I were invited to Sidi Wassay last Saturday for a seafood lunch on the beach. A French woman who live's in Beth's neighborhood drove us out to the camping site where the man who helped Beth find her apartment worked. We spent four hours on the beach, enjoying the weather, getting to know some new friends and eating a delicious and free lunch. The owner invited us back out for another lunch and told us we can stay there as well. You better believe come summer I will be there a lot!

I think it's safe to say that I am finding my place. I am making friends, finding work and getting a feel for what type of secondary projects would be possible. I'm not waking up in the morning now thinking "what am I going to do today?". When I wake up now its "what should I do first?". I'm reminded of the book "Three Cups of Tea". The author makes a statement which goes something like this, "The first cup of tea, you are a stranger. The second cup, you are a friend. The third cup, you are family." I've been doing my fair share of tea drinking but I'll take another one now please :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day and Lots to be Thankful For

Today is just another day like most other days in the life of a PCV but today is Thanksgiving and there are many things that I am thankful for. Yesterday I swore in as a PCV so I am thankful I have made it through another intensive and hard PC training. I had my LPI (language proficiency interview) and I received a score of intermediate mid which means I learned enough to swear in. It's also the same level I received when I swore in as a PCV in Albania so that makes me hopeful that my language will be just as good by the time I leave Morocco as when I left Albania, inshallah. I am so happy that I had a wonderful CBT site and sitemates and even though we parted ways today I know that they will be involved in the next 2 years of PC life. I can't thank everyone who participated in training and forget to mention my amazing LCF, Haddou. Without Haddou, training would have been very difficult and not nearly as entertaining.

I am so thankful for the opportunities I have had so far in my life. Serving as a PCV in Albania, now serving as a PCV in Morocco, being surrounded by amazing friends, having the opportunity to learn different languages and cultures first hand, traveling around the world, and having a family who supports me through it all. I wish I was better at telling people how much they mean to me on a more regular basis but I guess you have to start somewhere. So far all of you out there, and you know who you are, thank you for being a part of my life, for influencing my life, for teaching me the important things in life and thank you for supporting me through thick and thin.

Tomorrow I will make it to my final site and start my service. I am excited to get there and start things. There are going to be some long days ahead but I'm ready. There are so many things I have yet to learn but this is why I'm here. I was ready for a new challenge and Morocco has indeed given me challenges. I got this whole PC thing. Two years, no problem. Time to go save the world..... again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let's Get this Show on the Road!

PST is almost over….. again. I think that I have mentioned that PST has not been as bad as I thought it would be the 2nd time around. True it has been draining as the last time was but I have felt better prepared to handle the stress that comes with learning a new language, living in an entirely new culture and living while every move I make is monitored. This time I have known when it was time for me to barricade myself in my room and take a mental break from it all. It may not have been the best move to integrate in my family but it worked well for me and my host family loves me. At least I think so ☺

We returned from site visit last week and met up in Fes before all heading back to our CBT sites. Everyone had a great site visit for the most part. Only a few people had concerns and complaints about their future homes. A huge success since there are so many of us. Everyone is now excited to get to their sites and start working. Roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty so to speak. My site is going to be amazing and I know there will be lots of work to do. Hopefully not long after I get down there, my new dar shbab will open up and I’ll have even more work to keep it all going. The thing I worry about most is how conservative my site is. I will not be able to wear shirts above my elbow if I want to be respected in my town and want to teach any kids at all. It will take some getting used to but it will be fine.

Right now we are still in our CBTs. Here in mine it has been crazy since this last week the king came to open the new dar shbab among other things. We all were supposed to do individual activities this week which has been close to impossible since everyone is too preoccupied standing in the streets to get a glimpse of the king. We made some progress the other day and were able to get a few things done but not all of us have. To add to the craziness, next week is leid kbir – the biggest celebration that Morocco has. We will not have school for two days on account of we will be with our families eating sheep, and visiting the entire neighborhood where there will be more sheep to eat. It will be interesting to see how the whole thing goes. There will be pictures later for sure.

Overall, that is about all. Lots of things are going on but not too much to mention at the moment. Next week we will be leaving our CBT’s and gathering all together for some last minute sessions before swearing in on the 24th in Rabat! It’s so exciting to almost be done with all this and get going. I’m also really excited to see all the PCT’s from the SBD sector. I haven’t seen really any of them since leaving for CBT. It’s going to be a long week but it will all be worth it once I’m a PCV again.

And my new home is......

I wrote this blog right after site placement and am now posting for your enjoyment....

Site placement day has come and gone. For anyone who has ever gone through site placement day, you know the amount of excitement, anxiety, and fear that every PCT has that day. This site placement day was different from my last one in Albania in several good ways. I had absolutely no clue where I was going to be this time. I didn’t know north, south, mountains, desert, anything! I knew this time that no matter where my site would end up being it was up to me to make it a good site. Sites are what you make them and this time I knew that. I also knew that I had told my program managers, aka the A team, everything that was important to me in order to have a successful service. My life was in their hands so to speak.

On Friday, all of us YD volunteers tried to concentrate on all our sessions through the day to get to our 6pm site announcements. It was a very long day. After some admin and health sessions, we had to sit through committee elections (I’m the 2nd alternative for VAC) and then we had over an hour to kill before our fates would be decided. A group of us decided to walk to McDonalds to kill pre-site announcement jitters. On our walk back, I started getting super excited.

Site announcement was delayed, as it happens in every case, by about an hour. Before they gave us our envelopes with our future homes, they went through some details for our site visits which over half of us would be leaving for the next morning. Finally the moment came to get a simple white envelope with a small strip of paper in it with our names, regions and sites. To draw out the final moment even longer, they handed them out to us instructing us to put them on our heads so that we could all open them together. After what seems life forever, Abdelghanni finally gave the signal to open the envelopes.

Chaos erupted as we all tore open our envelopes and screamed out the names of our final sites. Most of us, myself included, had no idea where their site was but just seeing a name made it real. They put up a map of Morocco with all of our pictures next to our sites after a few minutes and we all ran up to it to figure out where they placed us. Now imagine my surprise when I went up to the board and saw my name, one of two, at a site right next to the Atlantic. How have I been so lucky two times in a row?? I have no idea but I was so happy that I would once again have my body of water for those stressful days. My surprise was well granted because I was told numerous times that volunteers are not placed on the ocean. My new site mate, Beth, is also from Wisconsin. We are definitely the two luckiest trainees in our YD staaj.

Saturday morning we left early for our new site, which for security reasons, I will refer to as Mango. We made it as far as Marrakesh on Saturday and then traveled the rest of the way Sunday. Today is my first full day in Mango and I am so excited to see the town and meet the people. Something I should mention about my town: Darija is not the first language and so I will now have to learn Tashellhet. Most people will speak Darija so at least I will be able to communicate. My host family is super sweet and I’m happy that they will help me integrate once I move down here after swearing-in. There’s a million other things to say about Mango but I will save them for later.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Practice makes Perfect

A month and a half into training and everything is still going well. This past week we started teaching at our community youth center, or dar shbab. I’ve given two lessons, one to a very advanced group and one to a beginner group. My first lesson went very well. We listened to a story and talked about the moral. Then we did a popcorn story together. One where I gave a sentence, then a student gave another one, then another student gave another one and so on. It went very well and they were able to create a moral for the story. To close, I had them each write their own story and the other students in the class had to come up with what the moral was. Overall, it went very well and I think the students got a lot of it.
My beginner class did not go as well. I decided to teach them animals. To start, I had them do a race to name as many animals in English as they could in 3 minutes. Between the two teams, they named 15 animals. One team had no idea and wrote down the name of members of the group; partially to be funny and partially because they did not understand the exercise. Next, we went over animal vocab. That they got. I tried to challenge them by making similes but that did not go so well. I got answers like “you look like a cat” and “donkey like camel”. Not quite what I was going for but I thought I would try. After that we played animal bingo which went pretty well. I wanted to play a game after where everyone had a piece of paper with an animal on it either in darija (Moroccan Arabic) or English. They would need to find their match but everyone showed their cards instead of keeping it a secret. We did charades instead which did work. The kids were getting into it at the end. Overall, it has been a positive experience up till now and I know some things I will need to work on for my final site.
The dar shbab in general has been great. They have been very helpful for us during our training and making it so that we get the experience needed to be successful volunteers. The kids are also great. The ones we have been working with are very excited to learn English and are actively participating in all our activities. I feel bad that they only have us for a few more weeks. We’re basically a tease to them. They get to work with Americans for two months and then we leave them to find a new way to meet a growing demand for English. Hopefully they can get a volunteer in a year or so.
Other things to mention, this coming Saturday I will find out my permanent site. I’m excited to find out where I will be for the duration of my time here in Morocco and even more excited to start! Going through PST again hasn’t been so bad but it gets frustrating some days hearing the same things that have already been drilled into my head over the past two and a half years. It’s hard going from independent to having every move watched like I’m a teenager again. Next year, I’ll have my independence back and then everything will be wonderful. Just have to keep pushing myself through it. Well, hope everyone is doing well and stay posted for more updates!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

So it Begins Again...

Already two and a half weeks in to my second 27 month service with the Peace Corps in Morocco and there’s lots to tell! I’ll start with a basic overview of what’s happened so far and then I will get into some details. A group of 67 trainees landed in Casablanca on the 15th of September. For the next four days, we were in the ocean side town of Medya. During those four days, we got to know our group, PC staff, and learn about PC Morocco. The high point was definitely going to the beach and playing in the waves. In our staging we have two programs, Youth Development and Small Business Development. I’m in YD with 38 others and there are 29 in SBD. On the 18th, we found out who would be in our CBT (community based training) sites for the duration of training and who our LCF (language and cross cultural facilitator) would be. On the 19th, we left for our CBT sites and met our host families for the first time.
For security reasons, I’m not supposed to post the name of my CBT site so I will just refer to it as Fes since that is our hub site (where all the YD volunteers get together every two weeks). I have five site mates for training; Emily, Abby, Ross, Xavier and Margaret. The other five all live very close to our LCF’s house where we meet Monday through Saturday for language and cross cultural sessions. My family is slightly farther away but is related to Emily’s host family so we see a lot of each other. We have language Monday through Friday from 8:30 until 12:30. Then we have lunch together before doing cross cultural sessions and doing technical training. We go until about 6 each night. Only on Saturday do we finish early at 2. The first two weeks of language have been very intense and my biggest challenge will be pronunciation. It’s only week two so I’m not worried….. yet.
For technical training at this point, we have been going to the dar chabab (youth center) and doing different activities with groups there. We did a community map, seasonal calendar, and a formal interview so far. We were supposed to do daily activities as well but the group we met with were less than cooperative. It happens…. We have one more week of this first stage of technical training and then we begin stage two which is teacher training. A PCV will be coming to our CBT for a week to work with us on how to develop lesson plans, activities to do, etc. We will be very busy until the end of training!
One last note of the technical aspect of training; I will find out my permanent site on October 30th and will be going there for one week October 31st through November 6th. During that time, I will meet with my counterpart, see my host agency, get to know my town a little, and possibly meet my second host family. I will be required to live with a second host family until January 1st.
My host family in my CBT site is pretty awesome. I have a mom, Fatima, a brother, Karim, a sister, Nejwa, and another sister who isn’t really a sister but has lived here since she was 5, Amal. Everyone is very nice to me and Amal speaks some English which is very helpful! The house is very modest. There is a living room, kitchen, bathroom, open space and my bedroom. I feel kinda bad that I have the bedroom to myself and everyone else sleeps in the living room on the couches or on the floor. However, they wanted me to live with them knowing that so I guess I shouldn’t worry. We do have a Turkish toilet and I take shower baths when at home so it’s a bit different. I like my bucket baths though. My bed is more like a table its so hard. I’m getting used to it slowly. Food has been delicious and its always entertaining. Moroccans eat usually eat with their hands/bread rather than silverware. Food is served family style and people take a piece of their bread and dig in. I kinda like it more than eating with silverware but it’s a talent that I will have to develop.
So you can see that life is good so far and I’m adjusting to life here in Morocco. There are a lot of similarities between Albania but I will save those for a later post. Hope everyone is doing well and stay tuned for another update!

Monday, October 4, 2010

First Glimpses of Morocco

A few pictures to tide everyone over until I can get my blog up. For some reason, they do not have microsoft office in the internet cafe......

Everything is going well though. The language is difficult but I'm learning. Food is good. My host family is awesome and I'm loving it all so far.

Promise to put up new blog soon!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Here We go Again...

Well two days to go and I'll be off again. I guess that means I should pack. I have all my stuff together I just have to get it into the bags. Tomorrow I guess. It will be a lot easier this time around that's for sure!

Its been a crazy month meeting up with people and getting things taken care of. Everyday I've had a meeting with someone, whether it be a friend, family, old co-workers or potential grad school professor. I've stuffed myself silly with all sorts of delicious American food; cheesecake, sausages, cheese, brownies, mexican, chinese, root beer and chips. It's been delicious but its definitely time to go back to my practically all rice diet.

So to make this short, my travel plans. On Monday, I fly out of Milwaukee to Philly for staging. Basically that means I meet up with the rest of the group and we do intros and do some paperwork. Then on Tuesday, we'll get on buses headed to JFK. We have a direct flight from JFK to Casablanca. Then its 4 days in a hotel to get to know the group, meet PC Morocco staff, start to learn the language and fill out more paperwork. I will be doing PST in a village somewhere around Fes. Sometime in October I should find out my permanent site for the next 2 years.

So I guess this will be my last blog in America and the next one will be from Morocco!! 2 more years?? BRING IT ON!!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

RPCV living in a Invitee world

As of August 6th I have been an RPCV. What does that mean you may ask?? It means that I have completed my service with Peace Corps Albania and am now back in America. Back in America trying not to offend every one that I meet with my Albanian mannerisms. Back in America being impressed by all the new gadgets that have come out in the past two and a half years that I have missed. Back in America trying to be American.

There's one difference in my situation from most RPCV's. I am only going to be in America for a month. On September 13th I will be leaving for Philadelphia, where I will meet my new training group before we leave for Morocco. It's a little funny for me this time around. I remember when I found out that I was invited to go to Albania. I spent most my time on Facebook asking current volunteers what Albania was like, what should I pack, what should I leave at home, talking to other invitees about what they were packing, what they were leaving at home. There's a group on Facebook for us going to Morocco this September. Reading their posts reminds me of what I went through before heading to Albania.

This time I didn't call the travel agency right after getting the information to book my tickets to Philadelphia. I'm not stressing out over what to pack and what to leave behind. I am not worried about learning the language or fitting into a different culture. I am still extremely excited to go and excited at all the projects that await me, the friends I will make, and the travels I will go on. This time around, I'm not nearly as naive or nervous. I know what to expect in general and I know that I can do it because I already did.

So for the next month I am going to enjoy my time with family and friends. I am going to drink lots of fancy coffees, eat different types of food, see as many movies as possible, take a million pictures and generally enjoy myself. I'm going to keep reading up on current Moroccan volunteers stories but I think I'm going to leave my expectations for my second service here in America and just enjoy the journey.

*****My former sitemates, Jen and Laura, sent me this link to a video they made after saying good-bye to me in Tirana. It's too cute not to share!!


Friday, July 30, 2010

My bags are Packed, I'm not ready to go...

Tomorrow I have to move out of my apartment. It would have been fine if the camp was still happening from the 1st to the 5th but now its the 5th until the 9th. Not only does that mean I don't get to go, it also makes me homeless for my last week. Tonight I'm taking pretty much everything down to Nikolla's and then I'll be floating around for my last little bit here.

I am also going down to Cerrik tomorrow to see my host family one last time. It will be good closure. They were a great family and I feel bad that I haven't gone to visit them as much as I probably should.

This last week was Dile's 50th birthday party and my good-bye party was on Monday. Dile's birthday was awesome. We circle danced, drank and ate... the usual as far as Albanian parties go. My going away party was also very nice. A lot of friends, co-workers, and "family" came. The first picture is of my girls that I taught English to and the second is of co-workers from the bashki, Red Cross and the center for children with disabilities.

The 3rd picture is of Dile and Nikolla. They have been awesome to me for these two years. They pretty much have adopted me as their own daughter and treat me as such. I'm gonna miss them and their two boys, Lisenko and Luis. It's going to be so hard to leave Lezha. It still has not set in that I'm going to be leaving this place in a week. I think I say this all the time now-a-days but really, it will be so weird to not have lunch with Nikolla or to say hi to the barbers as I walk by their shop on the way to work or go for 5 coffees in a day. I'm excited to go home and see my family and friends but it will be sad to leave this place where I've made a second home.

Even though it is going to be extremely hard for me to leave Lezha, I will always have the memories. I know that when I come back next summer (inshallah!) for a visit, I will have many people to visit and go to the beach with. For now, I just have to enjoy my final days by going for coffees with all my friends and take lots of pictures!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's the Final Countdown!

Days left in PC Albania: 18
Days until PC Morocco: 56

Ok, so not really the final countdown but it's getting so close! This past week, I went down to Corovode. One of the only cities I had yet to travel to in Albania. It was beautiful and a lot cooler than Lezha! Another PCV, Aida, showed me around her site and we went to the canyons and swam in the river most of one day. It was awesome and probably my last leisure trip outside of Lezha. Now I only have 2 weeks left in Lezha and then 4 days at my summer camp before I head to Tirana to COS. Where does the time go??

Crazy kids jumping off the cliffs - no worries, they lived :)

MMMMMM, watermelon!!

Yes, this car really is parked right in the middle of the road.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Is there such a thing as too much watermelon??

HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!! Ok, so I'm a day late but internet has been terrible here lately and I haven't been able to use it in my office for a week now. We celebrated on the 3rd here in Lezha with about 15 PCV's and some Albanian friends. It was a great 4th. We grilled hamburgers, ate potato salad, coleslaw, jello, cake and of course watermelon. Watermelon here is dirt cheap and we were expecting more people to come so we bought 10. Yes, 10 watermelons. We ate 2. But they were really good!!

The rest of the party was watching the Spain-Paraguay game and then we headed to Shengjin to camp out for the night. We found fireworks, which is strange because Albanians only use fireworks for New Years Eve. Our fireworks may not have been Rhythm & Booms or the Big Bang like I always enjoy going to in America but it settled my urge to see fireworks on the 4th. It was nice to camp out on the beach but there were so many mosquitoes!! I had one in my sleeping bag down by my feet that would not die! Trying to squish a mosquito in a sleeping bag does not really work for those of you wondering. We all woke up early (around 5) and decided to try to head back to Lezha to get some sleep.

When I woke up again I realized that I lost my phone somewhere. I decided I must have dropped it in the furgon. I went to Nikolla and told him what happened and he drove me to the furgon station to see if we could find it. The furgon that we had come back to Lezha in was not there so we started driving to Shengjin. I saw the furgon about 2 km outside of Lezha and told Nikolla and he did a U-turn in the front of lots of cars and started chasing down the furgon like a mad man. Luckily, the furgon pulled over and I asked if he had found a phone. He said no but said to check where I sat. I went all the way to the back and luckily, there was my phone :) Thank God it was there!! I went back into Nikolla's car and we went to have a nice lunch to celebrate the 4th before returning to Lezha. I spent the rest of the day relaxing/sleeping but it was an enjoyable 4th.

Only one month left......

Monday, June 28, 2010

The dasem I've been waiting for

This past Saturday was Yllka's wedding. I have been waiting for this wedding for 2 years. As soon as I met Yllka at the counterpart conference during training and found out she wasn't married I told her, "You better get married before I leave!" Now she is married and I have just about one month left in Albania. Good timing Yllka :)

I went all out for the wedding and got my hair done, make up done and bought a sparkly dress so that I looked truly Shqiptare for the occasion. The hairdresser used almost an entire can of hairspray on my hair and I'm gonna be washing it out for the next week or so....

I am gonna miss this girl so much when I leave!

Yllka and Blerim dancing away. It's tradition that when the couple dance together, people throw money at them. Note that Yllka has some money stuck down the front of her dress. Totally normal :)

Just wanted to post a few pics from the wedding. It was absolutely beautiful and I'm glad that I was able to be a part of it. Congrats to Yllka and Blerim!!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

50 Days

The countdown now stands at 50 days. It is extremely weird as I go through my days thinking about how soon I will be saying good-bye to these people who have become a fixture in my days. I'm still trying not to think too much about it but it's getting harder day by day.

I found out that instead of 2 summer camps there will only be one this summer. There are several reasons why. First off, there are still major trust issues between certain community members and the bashki. Especially the Roma have a hard time with letting their children attend the camp for a week. They believe that we may keep their children. The camp that we were planning for July has also proved to be difficult. My counterpart was not going to be able to attend as she is getting married (9 days!!) and will be on her honeymoon. The parents do not know the other people who will be acting as counselors and are therefor afraid to let their children come. So, as it now stands, there are 36 children enrolled for the camp August 1-6th. Hopefully we will be able to fill the last 4 slots but we'll see what happens. I'm sad that I will only be able to go to the first 4 days of the camp since I will be leaving on the 6th and have to go to Tirana on the 5th. I'm just happy that I will be able to see a little bit of the camp.

This week has been really busy. On Tuesday, I was in Tirana doing my COS medical stuff so that it could be sent to Morocco. Yesterday, I was in Shkoder having lunch and coffee with the volunteers up there. Today, the country director and 2 men from PC Washington will be in Lezha to talk to me about the partnership grant I did last year. Tomorrow, I have to go back to Tirana to finish my medical stuff. I have big plans for this weekend by which I mean, I will be at the beach :)

Time to go live it up!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rruge te mbare Piter!

It's happened again. Last night, I went over to Peter's house and helped him clean out his house, pack up his things, and take things that needed to get to other people. We actually got through it all really fast. After about 2.5 hours, his bags were packed, all his trash was thrown out, the clothes he was leaving behind had been taken care of and all the things that needed to go to other people had been taken over to my house. While I helped Peter get ready for his departure, it made me sad to think that this was the last time I would see Peter in Lezha.
Peter has been an amazing site mate. He's helped me get through some tough times and he's celebrated the good times with me as well. We had a final dinner together on Wednesday night with the new volunteers here in Lezha, Laura and Jen, and two other volunteers, Chris and Joe. It was great to have one last hoorah all together. I'm really going to miss Peter during my last 1.5 months here in Lezha but I will survive :)

Today is the official COS date of my group and there are several other volunteers leaving today with Peter. A few have left already but the majority of us are still here for awhile. I know I'm not ready to leave quite yet. I will be ready August 6th, but not yet I'm not. It's even odder to think that in about 3 months I will be joining a new group of volunteers to go through this experience all over again.

Congrats G11 on COS'ing!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another Day, Another Change in Plans....

And the plan has changed yet again..... I went to go see where I could live with a family last night and the house was nice. Nothing fancy or great but nice. The problem was that they didn't have a car to bring me back and forth to Lezha everyday, they have a motorcycle. PC is strictly no motorcycles here in Albania. The other problem is that turns out there are some issues at home. It would not be a good situation for me to be in. So now it looks like I will be staying in my place and Laura will have to live with Jen for the summer and then move into my place once I leave. Easier for me but more hassle for her and PC.

Another thing I wanted to say that I kinda thought about a lot last night. I was sitting with Viktoria after we ate dinner (they slaughtered a chicken for me) and she was telling me about her marriage. She went into detail about how violent and abusive her husband has been to her over the years and we were both in tears by the end. I just have no clue how these women put up with it. Almost every married couple I have met have been happy in public eye but behind closed doors its just goes from bad to worse. There are some amazing women here that have to live terrible lives because their husbands suck.

The bigger question I have is, why is it that all the women hope that I will marry an Albanian man if they know it most likely means I would be in an abusive, violent relationship??? I wish there was a place for these women to go to get help, but those types of places do not yet exist here in Albania. Hopefully, their daughters will not be put into the same situation. Only time will tell. The other issue is that it is strictly taboo for these women to bad-mouth their husbands, or leave their husbands. If they do either of these things they are shunned and have no chance of meeting someone new who could make them happy. It's a terrible situation that many women in Albania face but maybe one day it will change. My hearts go out to these women and I'm making it my mission to have as many coffees with them as I can before I leave so that they can at least know true friendship and have a simple pleasure to look forward to in their day.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

PC really likes to test your flexibility skills.....

Last night I got a call from Marsi, the assistant for the COD program. She asked me if it was possible for me to find a host family to move in with for my last 2 months..... by Friday. Well I was totally prepared to share my apartment with Laura for my last 2 months but PC decided it wasn't going to work since it's only a 1 bedroom apartment. So, since I'm so integrated into the community and know the language, it makes sense that I would move into a host family and not Laura.

Well today I wasn't sure exactly how to approach the situation. I knew people who always said they would love to have a volunteer live with them but I wasn't too keen on moving in with most of them. They would be strict with me and for my last 2 months, I don't want strict! So I went to have coffee with Vikotria who owns an awesome small little restaurant here in Lezha. We're just talking about this and that and she says how much she would love to have me live with her. "Really?" I ask, and she starts going off about how there's a room ready for me if I need. "Well, actually I do." I called PC and told them I found a family. The only problem is that they live in Ishull Lezha which is a village just outside Lezha. Luckily, since PC has had so many problems finding housing for this new group, they are more than happy to bend the rules a little for me to make it easier for them.

Tonight I'll go and check out the house. If I like it, I was given permission to move in without PC coming to check it out. It would be really fun to live with them. They have a daughter who is 9 and absolutely adorable and I love Vikotria. Plus it means, awesome homemade meals for my last 2 months! If all goes well tonight, I'll be moving in like 2 days. Guess I should start packing.......

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Good-bye's and Hello's

As I was looking through the contacts on my phone the other day, I realized I needed to delete several numbers. Other volunteers from my group have begun to COS and it's starting to set in that I will be leaving here in about 2 months. If I had decided to just go home instead of going to Morocco for 2 more years, I could be leaving in 2 weeks. I wouldn't be ready to leave in 2 weeks though.

The summer camps are starting to be organized. The first one will be July 5th - July 10th. The second one will be August 1st - August 6th. I will be able to help out at the first one but the second one I will only be able to help out the first day or two since I will be leaving August 6th. I will be going next week to check out the campground and make sure that PC has all the info they need so that if anything happens, we're covered. Yllka and I have begun to discuss who will be attending the camp and what things we will be doing at camp. I'm happy that this year we will be a lot more organized than last year. I feel that Yllka will be ready next year to take on the camp project by herself.

This weekend, the trainees will be swearing in and 2 new volunteers will be coming to Lezha to start their service. There's so many things that I feel like I have to get done before I can leave here even though there's a new volunteer "replacing" me. You can't really say that someone is "replacing" you though because every volunteer works differently from the others. I hope that the new volunteers find their niche and will have a successful service but it really is up to them to find the work and make the connections in the community. Current volunteers can only help so much. I know that when I look back at my service here in Lezha, I will have mostly only good memories. Everyone has a bad day or two during service so I can't say it has all been good but overall it has been an amazing time. I look forward to starting it all over again in Morocco.

The best thing about this time of year in Albania is that there are little things happening all the time and when there's not, there's always the beach! So today, not much going on, time to go have some coffee's and then I'm thinking beach time :)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bad Things Never Happen One at a Time

The end of April/beginning of May was not a good time for me. It all started well enough. Bethany and I headed down to Gjirokaster for a night before going over to Corfu for a few days. We had a great time with the Gjiro crew and it was nice weather to be out an about in the town. On Wednesday April 28th, we got up bright and early to catch a bus going to Saranda. Unfortunately, the 7 am bus we thought would take us to Saranda did not exsist so we took an 8 am one instead.

Once we got to Saranda we had to find something going towards the Albania/Greek border. We jumped on a bus going to Butrint and in Butrint, got on a furgon going to Qafe Bote. The furgon ride was something else. The road was very narrow (not uncommon) but also very bumpy. Not to far from the border we were pulled over by some police looking for people without papers. They questioned Bethany and I, but once they saw our American passports, they let us be. Instead, they pulled 3 guys off the furgon and we went on our way. Once we got to Qafe Bote, we had to wait 2 hours for a bus to come on the Greek side to take us to Igoumenitsa, the town where we were going to catch a ferry to Corfu. We met an Albanian boy on the furgon who was also going to Corfu and he helped us get our tickets. On the ferry we encountered a problem, our phones were not working. As we were talking to the boy, we found out he lived up by Sidari which is where our friend's brother, Fation, lived. He offered us a ride up there. We were hoping to stay with a couchsurfer but once we got to Corfu and checked the internet we still hadn't received a reply from her. The boy and his cousin drove us to a few hostels that were closed so in the end he took us up to Sidari. We waited at a restaurant for Fation to show up after work and help us to find a place to spend the night.

Once Fation finally got to the restaurant we were exhausted. He and his friend helped us to find a place that was cheap and nice enough. We dropped off our stuff and met up for dinner. After dinner was drinks and then it was bed time. The next day we got up early to head back into Corfu city to meet up with Bethany's cousin who was on a cruise and was making a port call in Corfu. Unfortunately we got there 3 hours after her ship had docked and couldn't find her anywhere. We decided to go off and look around the town and do some shopping. It was a nice day to wander around the old town and be tourists. We headed back to Sidari on the 8pm bus and ended up meeting more Albanians. A girl sat next to Bethany and after a few minutes asked her if she spoke Albanian. Of course she said yes, and then the girl said, do you know Fation?? Again, yes. The girl goes "I've seen your pictures on facebook!" Turns out she was Fation's girlfriend. What a small world! Anyway, we meet up with Fation again after work for drinks. We went to bed kinda early again. I was planning on leaving Friday morning so that I could get to a birthday party in Corovode by Saturday morning. Well I slept through my alarm and missed the ferry.

When we finally got up, the sun was shining and we decided to spend the day at the beach. First things first though, coffee!! We had coffee on the beach and then layed out to soak up the sun. About 3, we headed in to get some lunch. After ordering, I decided I wanted to go look in one of the stores to buy a skirt. On my way to the store, I stepped on a branch. It hurt like no other! I was like, walk it off Leslie, walk it off. Well once I got in the store and asked for a bandaid, I passed out on a chip display rack. Not pleasant. The store owner called a doctor. He came and checked me out, took me to his clinic for a minute and told me there was something in my foot and it would need surgery to be pulled out. No way, not without PC approval first! I walked back over to Bethany who had no idea what had happened. Filled her in, and after eating got online. I tried to contact our PCMO and CD to ask what to do and of course, no one responded immediately. I had to have anther PCV call the CD to tell him to get online. I spent the next 3 hours talking to them about what to do. We decided I would come back to Albania the next day and they would pick me up and we would go from there.

That night, we convinced Fation to let us stay with him at his house. We went and had some raki with his parents. I went to bed about 1 and Bethany and Fation stayed up drinking. About an hour after they finally went to bed, Bethany started throwing up next to the bed. I waited for her to finish and then tried to clean it up as quietly as possible. Once we woke up about 6am, she was still in bad shape. Everyone else was up and worried about her too. We waited at the door for the 7am bus to take us to the port and it never came. Fation had to drive his dad to work so he ended up driving us to the port after. We barely made it.

Once back in Albania I called the PCMO and told him to meet us in Fier so we didn't have to wait in Saranda all day for him. We got there in the early afternoon and went the rest of the way to Tirana together. After dropping Bethany off, they took me to a clinic to get my foot x-rayed. Nothing showed up. Lowell, the PCMO, decided I would stay with him until we figured out what was wrong with my foot. The next day, May 2nd, I got a call from Joe and he told me I needed to call my mom right away. I called her and found out what I had been dreading - my grandma had died. The rest of the day I was a wreck. I had to stay off my foot as much as possible because of the pain and I couldn't talk to anyone who I really wanted to talk to because they were all in America.

On that Monday, PC drove me up to Lezha to grab some things. When we got back to Tirana, they took me to another clinic to get an ultrasound of my foot. That time they saw what was causing me so much pain. I had a piece of wood, about 5 mm big stuck in my foot. They decided to do surgery then and there to get it out. It wasn't too bad and only took about 30 minutes to find it. Once we got back to Lowell's house I checked my email to see if my mom had booked my ticket to come home. She had, I was leaving the next day at noon.

The flight home wasn't too bad. Even my short connection was made since I got wheeled through the airport since I had just had surgery on my foot. It was so nice to be home and see everyone and have the comforts of home for a few days. Of course a lot had changed but not that much. My grandma's funeral was Friday May 7th. It was in Whiting, Indiana and I think she would be very happy with how it all went. I hadn't seen my grandma in over 2 years but she looked amazing. She didn't look sick at all, which is a lot better than she looked in her last weeks according to my dad. It was very sad to say good-bye to her but I know that she's happy where she is now and isn't suffering anymore.

I came back to Albania on the 14th of May and now after about 3 days of readjusting, I feel at home again. I'm back in my routine and happy to be here. It was weird to be home after so long. Even weirder was that I came back to Albania the day that 3 people from my group COS'ed. Less than 3 months now and I'll be finishing my service here. I can't even think about what life will be like, not living in Lezha. This is my home now and I'm comfortable here. I'll have about 6 weeks in America before leaving for Morocco to do this all over. I'm anxious, excited, and nervous. I know I can do because I have but at the same time its going to be so much different from here. I'm trying not to think about it yet since I still have time here but it's hard to not think about.

Well this turned out WAAAAYYYYY longer than I had expected but I needed to get it out. Hopefully my bad luck lately is over and it's back to only good things. Only time will tell though but my fingers are crossed :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Thash i themi.......

Thash i themi is "blah blah blah" in Albanian. There's no one clear subject of this post and I enjoy saying "thash i themi" so there you go. Anyway, a few things to catch everyone up on.

This last Friday, the American Ambassador and German Ambassador came to Lezha to discuss the "Klodi fenominom". For those of you who have no idea what this is, a little background... On the show "Big Brother" this season there is a guy from Lezha who announced a few weeks back that he is gay. There were several protests in Lezha about the fact that he's from Lezha - not that he's gay but from Lezha. Anyway, the protests were followed by threats to him and his family. The American Ambassador has supported him and his family through this whole thing and on Friday came to show his support for Klodi (Klodi by the way is still on the show and has no idea that any of this is going on). So, after the deputy mayor of Lezha gave a welcoming speech and a brief history of the tolerance usually found in Lezha, Klodi's mom spoke, as well as the mayor of the region of Lezha, then the American Ambassador, the German Ambassador then a representative from the ministry in Tirana, and finally the police chief of Lezha.

Overall their messages were very well said and I think it may impact several community members. Community members were given an opportunity to speak their minds as well and most of them had positive things to say. Only one old man was really negative about the whole situation. I was incredibly proud of one of the members of our Youth Parliment, Xhulio. He is a big glimpse of hope in this country and I'm glad he was able to show that to the ambassador.

This weekend I had two trainees come and visit me in Lezha to see what volunteer life is like and to get a little break from training. I met them in Tirana and after an American breakfast we headed into Lezha. The weather was wonderful and we decided to hike up to the castle. Peter and the trainees (Matthew, Terry and Tiffany) all climbed the walls into the castle while I chilled on the outside. It was very amusing for me to get to watch :) That night I made everyone tacos and the trainees got to experience their first Albanian disco! Good times as always. On Sunday, after a delicious french toast breakfast, we went to Shengjin to have a relaxing Easter on the beach. I twisted my ankle so I just watched as they played frisbee. We had an amazing seafood lunch before heading back into Lezha to have a lazy afternoon. Yesterday, we showed them the ropes. We went to Peter's office at the Department of Agriculture and then to the bashkia. After spending time in the social work office, development office, urban planning, foreign affairs, and meeting the mayor we headed off to have a coffee. We are after all introducing them to what life is like for volunteers. For lunch, we went to Ylli and enjoyed some traditional Albanian dishes. Then we enjoyed another lazy afternoon. I taught them all the fun Albanian words to impress their host families and language teachers with :) Last night they had the honor of experiencing Albanian blackouts. My power was flicking on and off every few seconds and then stayed off for an hour or so. We ate mac & cheese by candlelight and then when the power came back on, we decided to watch a movie with the candles on.

Today the trainees left after getting to see the day center for children with handicaps, experiencing the bank after its been closed for a long weekend, and had a coffee with my Lezha dad. Overall, I think they got a good glimpse of what volunteer life really is like here in Albania. I know they enjoyed being able to speak English all the time after being with Albanians most of the time for the past 2 weeks. This weekend I will head down to Elbasan to meet the rest of group 13. I have to figure out who's going to come to Lezha to replace me. So I think that catches you up on this past week. Oh, one last thing....... my hands are pink from Easter eggs! Thash i themi :)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

They say you can't live without water.......

I have not had water in my apartment for 2 days now. Usually it will go out for a few hours and then come back. The longest it was out before was 1 day. Now we're going on 3 so I'm losing my patience. The dishes are piling up in my sink, my laundry is waiting to be rinsed out and hung up to dry, and I need to shower. All I want is like an hour of water and then it can go out again... is that too much to ask?!!

On another utility note, I went to pay for my electricity today and found out that the contract that I have been paying for is for someone else. After about an hour, it was all figured out. I've been paying too much! I knew something was wrong when I got a December bill of 7,ooo leke! Well, after figuring out all that, I paid up for all the months that I lived at this apartment (since September) and still got money back! Whoot whoot! I went to pay for electricity and instead got money back. That's a pretty sweet deal. Hopefully there are no more screw-ups while I'm living there.

This weekend I have two trainees coming to visit me in Lezha. My sitemate, Peter, has another one coming to stay with him. So with all of us together there is bound to be a party one night, Sunday is Easter so something fun for that too, and I think I'll even share my American goodies with them :)

So with all that said, I wanna wish everyone a happy Easter and oh, today is April Fool's so get out there and fool someone!

Friday, March 19, 2010

I Remember that Rainy Day I Came ketu.....

2 years ago today, 35 crazy kids and myself landed in Albania for the first time. We had had a long journey, we didn't know what to expect, I myself was super excited yet scared at the same time. Then after I had found BOTH my bags on the carousel, I knew that my time in Albania was going to be great. I was the first one through the security doors and onto the bus that would take me to Elbasan to get this whole crazy adventure going.

As I look back at how the past two years have gone, I can't believe how much I have been able to accomplish, how much I have learned and how much there still is to be done. Some of my favorite things so far in Albania have been:
-the summer camp in Gjinar
-the Lezha Women's Club
-working with the Roma community
-helping out at the Red Cross
-volunteering at the Special Olympics in Tirana
-going up to the Lezha castle
-going to the beach everyday in the summer
-being able to debate in Albanian
-drinking coffees daily about two to three times

It will be weird to not be in Albania. Speaking of not being in Albania, I now have my official COS date. It will be August 6th. I will then fly back to America for a little more than a month. Staging for Morocco will be September 15th. 6 months and I'll be a trainee again! We have a group of 51 trainees that just arrived here this past Thursday - welcome group 13!! I will be going through everything all over again, staging, PST, language learning (by which I mean charades), living with a host family (where I will use charades to communicate for the first month or so), learning a new culture (where I will probably offend someone using my charades), and dealing with the stress that comes with doing all that (so many charades! so little time!).

Spring has come to Albania and with that a new energy. The days are getting longer which means, more time for coffee, less time at home! I have lots to do in my final 5 months here. I have two summer camps for the Roma kids in June, and I will have a summer camp in July in Thethi (Hill is getting special permission from the Embassy for me to go to it). My high school English class is putting together their second edition of their newspaper and we will still get out a third one before summer comes. My counterpart is trying to learn as much English as possible from me before the new volunteer comes. I'm doing some Spring cleaning and getting rid of lots of clothes, shoes, books, and misc other items I have in my house that I do not need/want. I am so much more productive in warm weather than in cold!

That's about it for now. Again, welcome to Albania group 13!! Enjoy all the time you have with each other during training, learn as much as you can, take in the culture, and mos u merzit!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March Madness!!!

This March has been crazy and it is going to be crazy until April comes!! I don't know what it is about March, but it seems like everyone has their birthday in March. I have already celebrated 4 this month, and there's another 10 or so to go!! Also in a few days the new group of volunteers is going to arrive in Albania and I've been preparing stuff for them to help out with their training. It also means my 2 YEAR ANNIVERSARY in Albania is coming up. My project with Yllka is going to be in full swing next week too. See what I mean... CRAZINESS!!!

So let me break it down for you a bit more.... Group 13 volunteers are arriving on the 17th or 18th..... I forget which exactly but they're coming!! It's the biggest group of volunteers to arrive in Albania. I am preparing the tourism sessions for the COD volunteers and helping to do site development in both Lezha and Shengjin. I have also been asked by the language teachers to do some dialect training for the volunteers who will be in or around the Lezha area. We have so many different dialects here it will be nice for them to at least here what kinds of things they will hear. It's definitely different from the standard Albanian that they learn during training.

My 2 year anniversary in Albania is on March 19th. I can't believe that I've been here so long. It doesn't feel like it at all. I will be staying in Albania until Mid-August. Then I will go home for a month leave before heading to Philadelphia to go to staging (again) before taking off for Peace Corps Part II: Morocco!!! I decided just last Friday that I will do the full 2 years again. Now I just have to do some medical stuff and it will be official. YAY!!

My project with Yllka is going to be in full swing next week. We will be doing the first delivery of food packages to families. It will be interesting to see how it all goes. I have my doubts about this project and its sustainability but Yllka and the Light Force director, George, is pretty confident. The summer camps will be fun this summer. I cannot wait to do the summer camps! I also just found out that I might have the opportunity to go to Thethi (a restricted area for volunteers) to do a summer camp that is sponsored by the UN. Our country director is looking to get special permission for me to do it. Hopefully he will let me know more details soon but we'll see.

Yesterday was Women's Day. Youth Parliament sponsored an event for the Roma women to celebrate their history and culture. It was fun to learn more about their traditions and customs. They all had a good time dancing! You put on music and all of them are on their feet dancing! So much fun! I was sad to see that their wasn't as good of a turn out as last years Women's Day event but still happy to see some support from the community.

So as you see, it really is March madness around Lezha right now. I hope that you all are well and if you're about to come to Albania, getting excited!! You are about to start the adventure of your lifetime. Until next time!!

Friday, February 26, 2010

COS Conference........ has it seriously been 2 years?

This past week I have been in Durres for my group's COS conference. The first thing that we were told is that it doesn't just mean close of service but continuation of service as well. This week has been the first time that everyone is our group has been together, along with the Georgia transfers. It was really interesting to look around the room and see the people who are still all here. We only lost a few people over the past two years. Our group is still going strong.

Anyway, the conference itself was a bunch of paperwork, how COS will work and also talks about the future. We all were able to discuss our service here in Albania, the impact we've had and what we will miss most about Albania. Another fun aspect of the conference was to talk about where we are all going after COS and what we will be doing. A lot of people are going back to the US and starting grad school. There are some people who will be traveling around after they finish here. A select few people are even staying in Albania. Other fun parts of the conference were Volunteer Olympics (raki tasting and blind texting were two events), the talent show, getting new movies and tv shows, seeing all the volunteers who I rarely ever see, and singing show tunes while drinking wine :) The group I came here with is amazing and I'm glad I got to spend some time with them again before we all start going our separate ways. I know I will see quite a few of them again but it's always the question of when??

On the last night of the conference I was given very exciting news - Peace Corps Morocco is interested in taking me as a 3rd year extension volunteer!!! I do not know all the details yet about PC Morocco but I think that hearing about on the last day of the COS conference was perfect. I now have to talk to my country director, do more medical stuff and figure out the time line for me leaving Albania, spending a month in America and then leaving for Morocco. It is crazy to think that I only have a few months left!! I really don't feel like I've been here for two years. I still remember the day I arrived in Albania. Oh those were the good ol' days :)

In 2 weeks, group 13 will be arriving in Albania. This group will be the biggest group we have ever gotten in Albania, 52 volunteers! I will be busy during their training helping to find housing and doing presentations to the trainees. Also in a week, my big project with the Roma/Gypsy community will be in full swing. We are giving out the first packages of food and holding meetings with the families to discuss community service projects. There will be lots to do and I will update everyone soon on how everything is going.

I hope everyone is doing well and staying warm!! Spring is almost here!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back to Normal

Well, all is well again in Lezha. After 5 days in Tirana, it was decided that it was safe for us to return to Lezha. The dams that were all at critical levels when they pulled us out had been tested. They worked and the water levels went down over the weekend. How happy I was when I saw Lezha from the road!

Even though Lezha is ok, parts of Shkoder and Lezha are flooded. Valipoje, Ishull Lezha and a few other villages remain under water still. The evacuation and now clean up of these areas is underway and I'm impressed at how well the situation went. It could have been a disaster. Luckily, no one died and everyone has a place to stay until its safe for them to go back to their homes. These people however wil have a hard time when they return to their homes. This year, their crops will be much smaller and most of them have lost all their livestock. It will take a long time for most to recover from this months flooding.

On the bright side, it has been sunny all week and not nearly as cold as last year. Hopefully this is a good sign that Spring will come quickly. My life is back to normal as I'm translating materials for a project, teaching English, and planning a vacation in 2 weeks. Peter, my sitemate and I, will go to Istanbul and then return through Bulgaria and Macedonia. I'm super excited for a little break. Plus, I need to get away from certain people in my city who are driving me crazy!! Nothing serious but the normal little things that just get to you over time. I can't believe my COS conference is in a month and COS is only 5 1/2 months away! Seems like just yesterday I was packing to come here.....

Hope you all are staying warm and can't wait to see everyone again!

Friday, January 8, 2010


Hello all,

I hope that everyone had an enjoyable holiday season and that 2010 is off to a great start. I spent Christmas in Lezha with another volunteer and for New Year's I was in Durres. On the 2nd, I went to the wedding of the sister of one of my friends from Lezha. Also on the 2nd, we had heavy rain and flooding in Lezha. Well the rain continued and now I am in Tirana.

On the 3rd, I received a call from the country director asking me what the conditions were like in Lezha. I told him there was some flooding but nothing to severe. On the 6th, I received a call from our safety and security director asking again how the situation was. At this point, Lezha was not really affected by the continuous rains. I told her we were all safe and sound - no worries. Well, yesterday I received another call from her again saying that PC decided to relocate us to Tirana. She told me to pack up a weeks worth of stuff and be ready to come into to Tirana.

My sitemates and I were picked up about 2pm by one of the PC drivers and we came into Tirana. We are all staying with different American families. Today we had a meeting about the situation in Shkoder and Lezha and they have decided to keep us in Tirana until at least Tuesday when the reasses the situation. Again, let me tell you all I am fine and wasn't in any immediate danger in Lezha.

I'll post again when I learn more but hopefully my next post will be when I'm back in Lezha!