A Story of Living Situations in Albania

August 13th, 2012

Things were just going too well in Albania it appears and for a refreshing air of this shit is real, I am now homeless. This is a story of unfortunate circumstances that were exacerbated. 
Here’s the story start to end. Peace Corps placed me in an ‘apartment’ following PST. It was one room within a hotel that had a small kitchenette. Smaller than the dorms I had in college, probably. The sliding doors led to a long balcony that was above their grocery store. The door I had a key to led to the hallway of their home. The sliding glass doors did not lock and I left them open usually because they were my only ventilation. That and my fan, which they were constantly upset about me using. They also barely let me use the washing machine and when they did they would come up into my room afterwards and tell me to get my things. Sometimes this was very early in the morning, when I was only wearing underwear. In general they were always right near the door to my room because it was connected to their home’s balcony so it was very much like living with a mean host family. 
I allowed a few people to stay with me still. And after one said occurrence where I had a friend that was Chinese American, they became extremely upset and yelled at me about having Kinez stay with me and tried to throw at me my rent and tell me to leave. I cried and said I had no where to go and they took pity on me. I had no one else stay with me and I left at the end of August. 
And I moved to my home that I stayed in until yesterday. Here I was happy. It was a great place that was well situated, I was able to get internet, it had a tub, and plenty of room.
But things eventually went sore as the neighbors were reporting on me for having people stay with me, claiming that I had parties of 30 people. The landlord was also upset about me having too many things. They literally expected that I ought to have been living out of a suitcase as though I’m on vacation and that I had brought too many things into their home. 

The major problem though is that there is plumbing issues. It started with the village changing to a different water system, having a meter. The pressure became stronger somehow and made all of the facets leek. My friend Tani fixed all of these and I paid for any needed supplies out of my pocket. As well the deposit began to overflow because the plunger that shuts it off was not correctly installed. This led to a headache of problems of turning the water on and off from the mains or the deposit, depending on the time of the day. They eventually sent the plumber to fix this. 
Then a pipe clogged and we tried draino and wire hangers to no avail. Having the standard that we sometimes needed to fix things because the landlord was so far away, these seem just and normal actions that we would have taken when faced with this dilemma.  But apparently a wet spot was be caused on the outside of the building. We tried repeatedly to reach the landlords and eventually they called the plumber who came with a snake to unclog the tub.
Overall I was fairly obsessed with cleaning the house when I lived there and regularly had days where I revamped the whole place. I think though that Albanian women have a different standard of cleaning. As most do not work and just run their homes, they have the time to dedicate to excessive cleaning every day. I do not have such luxury being here in this country to do service and not to take care of a household. So understandably some things like cleaning the stove kind of weren’t a priority to me. 
So the water problem escalated. It appears the plumber did not fix the issue and actually it became much worse. A week and a half before moving out, the landlord started getting contacted by the downstairs neighbor freaking out that things were ruined in his home from the water problem. They in turn started freaking out on me. Understandably, I didn’t know of this issue since I’m not an expert in plumbing and the expert they had hired had already come and told me that it was fixed. 
So a month later I’ve returned to continue with the story of why I have arrived at my third home. Here being where I left off, I don’t still have the feelings of complete and utter terribleness. I probably haven’t articulated fully what it felt to me to be basically kicked out of my house and for those not in Peace Corps, perhaps it really wouldn’t make any sense.
So let me try to explain; integrating into a community is probably the most important thing one must do in order to do community development work in the manner that is carried out by PCVs. When all of this happened with my old landlord I felt that the world was out to get me. I hung out in my regular haunts and she would show up and accuse me of breaking everything in her home and barrage me to pay her for problems that were even pre-existing. She also took other people to the home to show the disgraceful manner that the Peace Corps volunteer left her apartment in (again I was given about 24 hours to leave). She was bad mouthing me around the neighborhood, and it made me even nervous that I heard people talking about it on the bus, or so I thought.
Why this is such a big deal is that I left my country, gave up two years of my early adulthood to devote to a country in need. In my aspiration statement for Peace Corps I did not make grandiose statements like some other volunteers. I made simple and clear statements that I hoped I was to be a part of a community that was in need and to be valuable and helpful for their endeavors for improvement.
When this happened with my old landlord and I was alone, except for Ryan and Tani, dealing with this, I felt that there was no vested interest from the community of Ksamil in having a Peace Corps Volunteer. That the system of tourism that infiltrates this community in the summer, the ownership of the majority of property by Albanian Greek immigrates, the complete obsession with money grubbing for the short period of 2-3 months was not conducive to having volunteers.
It was really hard at that time. It was hard to say that my service hadn’t worked out like I desired. It was one of those times where you think seriously about the actual benefit that all related parties are getting out of me living and working here.
I didn’t go to work really for the month of August because I was overwhelmed with Midservice Conference, going to America for a wedding, being kicked out of my home and living in a tent, finding a new home in the busiest time of the year, and preparing for and going to the OA Summer Camp. I fell behind on my komuna work, my English tutoring, OA, and ATIP.
That takes us to now. It’s September in Albania. It’s amazing that like a light switch we’re back to the normal village. Most of the tourists are gone, many of the businesses are closed or closing, and you know that the people you see on the street are the residents. Going back to work after being gone for so long was really awkward, until I got there. Then it’s just like I was gone for the weekend. They ask where I’ve been and say that I’ve been missing and then we get back to what we’re supposed to be doing and head to coffee together. Albanian’s short memory that we joke about so much is really helpful in this way. With the lack of tourists people are happy about their success and more willing to have a friendly chat while getting your groceries. You can greet someone on the street again and it’s just because you’re being neighborly. It’s back to being a bit more of a community.
I saw my old neighbor on the street the other day. They had always been very open and friendly with me. Their daughter played at my house, I baked them desserts and shared things I grew in my garden, and they talked to me about problems with my house. I was afraid that the old landlords would turn her against me and that I’d not be treated as warmly. But she gave me double cheek kisses when we greeted and double cheek kisses when we departed. We don’t always communicate so well but she knew how much I enjoyed living there and.. I think she gets the problem that happened. I think she’s on my side. That was really nice to see.
I also have a new house to make things more comfortable. It’s literally a house with a driveway, garden, balconies, and two stories. The whole building is owned by my new landlords Astrit and Shaze but they lived upstairs so that I could move in early. They have moved back to Greece now. It has a flat screen TV in the living room, a very large kitchen with a nice stove and two refrigerators, and two bedrooms. It’s really the posh corps. No, I won’t have internet any longer so I’ll be reading much more. No, I won’t be in a dense community with a neighbor to always lean on but I’ve tried that and we can see how well it went.
I’ll be living a much more solitary life, in my big comfortable home on the edge of town. I’m finally getting it now with PC and I’m going to scale back my dreams and ideas to negotiable activities. Slowly I’m going to start making the next step and get to applying for jobs, considering grad schools, and possibly studying for the GRE.
Things were always going to work out but this situation was really one of the lowest points of my service. The lowest points of course only make the highest points all that much more important but are just as necessary to tell.

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