Wow, I haven’t written in a long while. But this is because I have been happily busy. This is such a relief. They say nothing happens until your second year and for me it meant that it was almost literally I hit year two and I had an exhausting amount of things to and places to go and people to see.
I’ve updated this blog a bit in case you didn’t notice. You can click on other static pages at the top that will take you to more direct information about what I’m working on, when I’m doing it, and how to get a hold of me.
The last time I wrote was the end of February… so what happened in March, April, and now May? I’ve started to keep extremely detailed records on my calendar so I can tell you exactly.
Shortly after my last post I went up to the Close of Service conference in Korca for an Anti- Trafficking in Persons committee meeting. We went up through the East side road and to break it up a bit and to travel with more people, we stayed in Permet for a night on the 25th of Feb. Permet is really quite beautiful. It’s back in a valley with a colosal mountain ridge on one side. The road there is narrow, winding, and mountainous. I didn’t take any photos so I stole this one from Maayan. We luckily had a hot sunny day. Made dinner together and hung out. The meeting in Korca went well and enjoyed the cuisine and hanging out with people.
On the 7th of March was the Teacher appreciation celebration/holiday. I went with Lesley and in true Albanian party style there was ear splitting music, circle dancing, food, and coffees. I think this couple is cute. We made a little bit of fools of ourselves trying to do some American swing dancing and an Albanian dance that involves hopping and turning, though, yes, one of my favorites.
The next big thing was having a St. Patrick’s Day Party in Gjirokaster on March 17th. That seems pretty self explanatory. Numerous people attend and Aimee and others brought some great snacks. Pictured here (L-R) Alana who was in Tepelena, Tani my Albanian friend in Ksamil, Maayan, and me.
On the 28nd of March, Maayan, Zoe, and I met up together for meeting with organizations that we could collaborate with for ATIP programming. We had two very successful meetings with World Vision, An Anti-Terrorism & Anti-Trafficking organization, and as well settled out some goals as a committee and drafted a workplan.
On the way back from these meetings I stayed in Gjirokaster and met a trainee, Derek that I hosted for a few days. Along with some others going to Delvine and Tepelena we played a little beer baseball. The field is kind of above the old bazaar and has this grand picturesque view of all the surrounding mountains, historic homes, and the mosque. Then went to a dinner party at Brandie’s with Alana’s delicious Tex Mex food.
Here’s a little view of one of Ksamil’s roads that’s surrounded by olive trees on other sides that Derek took while visiting. The village used to supply the workers for the communist citrus and olive farms that were in this entire area. Since, most of it has been replaced by hotels and/or holiday homes for people that often live in Greece or Tirana and come back seasonally to work. The buildings and roads that were here were what I imagine would be something like this. The apartment I live in is also in a communist building but likely has had some refurnishing. I enjoy taking this little walk here. When we went there were two shepherds with a flock of about 15 or so sheep grazing in the grass around a building that was destroyed from the government building destruction that happened two years, it was quite an interesting juxtaposition.
But I digress, and this is a quick here’s the last few months in a few paragraphs post. We delivered books I got from Darien Book Aid to the preschools and visited each of the classrooms and were greeted in chorus with Përshëndetje. As well we made some major progress discussing the possible Midhje/Beginning of the Season Festival that we’re hoping to have the last weekend of May in Ksamil.
But this month has been full of some sadness and to not acknowledge that this is a challenging experience with many ups and downs, seems to not give credit to how important these good days are. To tell truth it has had some really bad days of depression and laziness, which seems like not something to post in your blog… I’m not throwing up the pity party tent, I promise. This blog will be quick and rejoicing all the wonders of some successful, hard times.
And one of those particularly times is the close of one service and the start of others. We, Lesley and I, threw together a pretty good cook-out/potluck, Last Ksamili Hoorah Cook-Out with what I felt was a surprising turnout. So, I’ve actually lost my sitemate now. They won’t be replacing her and it’s down to Tani and I. Lesley and I had some great dinners and get togethers before she left, it’ll be an adjustment to not having someone else around. As she said, “I am glad there’s someone out there who knows what it’s like to teach with Marinela; I’m glad I’m there, understanding how challenging it is to work in the Ksamili komuna. Never forget that you ARE making a difference..” Thanks Lesley, for all the food, company, happy spirit, and understanding.
On the 13th we took a really big travel North. Leaving on the 10 pm bus and arrived in the capital at 4:30 am. We then walked a few blocks and stood in the rain for a furgon to Peshkopi. We were actually quite lucky to get one shortly after we arrived. A guy with a truck full of onions and a few bench seats. Seated in the front, we had this whole front window to view the trip in the chilly, wettish morning. Shortly outside of the city, the guy pulled over to a concrete structure where vegetables apparently are sold and stored. It was 5 am and several grandmothers and young boys huddled next to the bundles of leeks they had brought to the market. So this is the process… now we know.
But the trip up was pretty amazing. I probably was not showing is as we all rode tiredly in the furgon in the cold silence as we traveled through the mountain tops, tunnels, around the lakes, passed the old stone homes, fields, over the bridges, and on the narrow often bumpy road on the mountain side. It was a little drizzly so the air was foggy, the grass was much brighter and the whole trip seemed like a little like a storybook. I’ve stolen Meagan Sassman’s photo as I did not bring my camera on this trip at all. Then there was the napping in the warm hotel room, party, the keg, and the sleeping at the hotel by 11 pm. The next day 3 couples and Eric packed up in a furgon and headed back South to Tirana. This was a sunnier, spirited trip, with multiple jokes and counting of cows along the way.
And it was my Birthday. We had a little dinner at a wing place, and I became initiated into the Ryan Serrano casino nights. Of course if you go on your birthday you get the free coupons at the casino, as well all your friends get free playing money too. I was initiated into the fine art of Senor Serrano’s barely betting on the roulette table while getting the highest allotment of alcoholic beverages delivered to you. Needless to stay, it was pretty entertaining and plentiful.
Shortly after getting back, I made it in time to go to the party that the school put on for Lesley’s going away. Was quite a big thing. In the basement of bar Europa, all of the high school classes had a very loud Albanian dance party. Much circle dancing and a huge turn out with the director saying a thank you and farewell, the kids will dearly miss her. It’s nice to see that it’s possible that PCVs can be appreciated and make an impact, even if it’s only clear at the very end. This picture sums it up pretty well.
Yes, there’s more. Finally having convinced Tani’s parents I have ventured into having a garden. Thank you Mom and Dad for sending the seed packets. After about 3-4 times having Tani ask them, to progressing to us asking each of them alone together, we received an ok to go ahead. Starting on April 19th, we ripped out all the grass, worked the soil, and tried to pull out some of the rocks. We planted radishes, sugar snap peas, eggplant, and peppers. It’s slow coming but the peas now have a trellis and are growing up and the radishes are starting to be about ready.
The next weekend I was back up to Tirana for the SmartMob. The SmartMob was a FlashMob that a few PCVs choreographed and planned with an organization. It was to bring attention to the Clean Albania in One Day event that the organization is doing in September. We gathered at the Pyramid to practice, then headed over to the Taiwan Center and gathered inconspicuously in our matching white t-shirts all over the park playing catch, baseball, frisbee, coffee, etc. Then this happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNUOIdyQyHM . The rest of the weekend was getting dinner at the Brau Haus with a lot of volunteers and huge beer dispensers, plus a little more casino for Sarah’s birthday. The next day a few more volunteers were heading out and we said our last goodbyes over Chinese food.
I have to give a little thanks to Ryan for one of these pictures. Sometimes he really makes an amazing meal and this was one of them. A huge Mexican food fiesta.
The next weekend came, and what started out as a fun exciting hiking trip to Himare ended up being the most challenging physical experience of my life. We hiked steeply up a mountain to find that we should probably be on the other side and descended sharply through a gravelly rock slide. At times it was apparent our nerves were having a real shock, and there were some tears and thoughts of not making it out of here. It just wasn’t quite what we had signed up for we thought. Falling repeatedly, slipping, scrapping, scratching on bushes, and getting sunburn; were what this trip was entailing. We had little idea exactly where we were.. When we got down though after, probably 1 -2 hours on this rock slide area, there was a path. And slightly down that path was a nice little old lady with her cow and a village in the background. The village was perched over a rapidly flowing river with 19th century homes. She said only 3 families lived there any longer and the rest of the homes remained unused and falling down, but in the most moss overgrown beautiful way ever. The grass was a deep green, with purple flowering trees framing the edges of the steppes. We made camp, washed up in the rapids, and took a stroll over the small bridges to a break between the river.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the people that live there and what their life must be like. There was a young girl probably an early teen that was helping her father outside. As the route back here was treacherous, she was probably home schooled and had lived most of her life with a few other people in this canyon.
The next day we started off with our 4th river crossing, then a path, then we seemed to leave this luscious area to meet the desert. Following an old river bed we walked on the loose gravel that slipped like sand. Then as is narrowed, it became larger rocks. Eventually we started meeting boulders and crawled up and over them. We were in this valley/canyon for probably.. 4 hours, climbing further higher. Then we came out at a shepherd’s shack and quickly ascended the last bit to the ridge to find… more expansive space and a beautiful view but not the sea. They scouted it and saw a village in the distance and it seemed just to go down and meet a road. But once getting down the winding path and heading towards the drainage area we were met with a sharp drop off. Here we crawled across loose gravel to get to the probably 30 more feet of boulder climbing down. Through the trees, into the gravel river area, over the bridges, through the river 3 times, and then we landed at Kuç. Where everyone was properly drunk after celebrating the appearance of the president in town and were heading on back to Himare. We hitched a ride with the most sober who was actually part of something like the Albanian secret service. From the back of his truck, we rolled along the ledge road through the valley we had been aiming for and around it’s edges. Debating how it was we were supposed to have gone, but completely thankful that it was over. We survived and it’s kind of a miracle that no one was injured. But it was a tremendous and worthy experience to have pushed myself that far.
When we got to Himare we had the largest meal we ever had in Albanian probably of salad, spaghetti, mussels, calamari, and shrimp. Then slept in a hotel.
We actually ended up going Zhulat to Kuç if you care to Google.
And what have I been doing since? Going back to work, advocating for internet in the komuna, showing the website, meeting with the director and mayor, a whole lot of shqip, and reconnecting with my community. I’m spending a lot of time hanging out with Marrisa, she lets herself in and keeps me company while I cook. Painting nails, looking at pictures, taking pictures (such as this one of the neighborhood/sea), going to the beach, playing volleyball, and having some Mexican food together.
These last few months haven’t been all parties and traveling to cool places, I swear. In there I got some major work opportunities started. I met with the director of the orphanage in Saranda and discussed the possibilities of a weekly art or sport program. I met Elenita with the Albanian American Development Fund that was very interested in working together in some way on the new management for Butrint, as well as finding other eco-tourism tasks. I had coffee with the director of the Dea Center, Limoz, about possibly showing a GAD documentary with Lesley. And talked about his other interests. While in Tirana for the Flash mob I met DAI, the contracted USAID program that does work with citrus farming in Xarre, located South of Ksamil. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran and also a 4-H member, may be some opportunities to help with their initiatives of improving recording processes and helping to organize farmers as a collective grouping to work together for large purchases or advocating for their interests, long term.
P.S. Thank you Aunt Barb for the care package. These cookies are seriously the best I’ve ever had I think and have to consciously put down the peanut butter. Was quite a treat.
And just a little shout-out to some other amazing things that people are doing and are going on in Albania. The LGBT movement is really gathering some momentum. Read here.