Close of Service Conference, 2014. Last week, Group 15 and a few Group 14 Extendees that we’ve come to know and love got together in Korce for our COS Conference. Preparing us for the post-PC world, the four-day conference walked us through some things we’re likely to encounter, like reverse culture-shock, and explained some opportunities we have as RPCVs. It was also a chance for my group to get together one last time. It had been almost a year since I had seen some of the faces and it was like coming home and coming full-circle around to PST. It was a grand affair, but also one that we left a little more subdued. For many of us, it was the last hoorah before leaving Albania and our PC Family. I officially have a COS date in May and am starting the bittersweet countdown.
Together in Albania. Happy Peace Corps Week!
Model United Nations came to an end this weekend with a two-day debate between fifteen teams, representing fifteen countries, from around Albania. As one of the perks of being in a small country, the teams got to sit in Albanian parliament for the opening ceremony that was broadcast on national news.
A few notes worth reading. The purpose of this blog is to inform and update those at home about my life as a PCV. What I deem in my head as important, or noteworthy, I post. I rely on photos a lot of the time to tell my story – it is harder than I thought it would be to compose long narratives in English while being here. I blame it on my newfound habit (adopted at the DShP) of waiting. I once watched an insect on my Ethernet cord for a good half hour; the time here sure does fly. Instead of fumbling my way through updates, here are some links to follow:
This is an article written about what it’s like sometimes to be a female in this country. Along with my fellow female PCVs, I have learned all too well how to deal with the cat calls and the more disgusting “tssss” noise the men like to make with their teeth.
In the past few days, two protests have come to light in the news: One in Bosnia about unemployment and the politician’s inability to do anything and one in Kosova about the sub-par education system (both topics all too similar to the complaints I here in Albania). Just recently, there have been protests in Albania about the government’s crackdown on furgons. The government recently made it illegal for furgons to drive in certain regions of Albania, including some main routes and, since many people depend on these shuttling minivans as their only type of transportation in Albania, there have been protests about this hastily implemented law that included no backup transportation plan.
A soundtrack for those days when you just want to get home.
- I’ve Tried - Erased Tapes
- To Build a Home - The Cinematic Orchestra
- The Middle East - Blood
- Comptine d’un Autre Ete - Yann Tiersen
- I Remember - Molly Drake
- Swing Lo Magellan - Dirty Projectors
- Lazy Butterfly - Devendra Banhart
- Unexpected Delight - Flying Lotus
- When I Was a Young Girl - Feist
- Riptide - Vance Joy
Albanians are generally conservative when it comes to sexuality. But with increasing awareness of LGBT rights and government support, these conservative views are slowly dissipating. Last week, the PCVs in my area gathered some students from the high school to be part of a presentation on equality, sexuality, and respect given by a fellow PCV and a local NGO focused on LGBT rights. It began with a discussion of stereotypes, and about embracing people for who they are, and ended with a discussion on LGBT rights in the community. For many of these students, it was their first time talking about this topic; watching them decipher what the information meant while speaking to an openly gay Albanian about his experience. After the presentation, speaking with the team that gave the presentation, they were proud of how the students acted in the class and made a note to say that even though the students may not have been very vocal during the presentation the information discussed would leave a lasting impression on them. And that, as a PCV in Albania, is what I hope for. Lasting impressions.
Vevcani Carnival, 2014. During my first few months in Albania I had a conversation with one of the PC staff about travel, and he immediately said that if I have time I should travel to Vevcani, Macedonia for a bizarre festival they have each year. And I made it. For more than 14 centuries, the villagers of Vevcani, Macedonia have come together to celebrate St. Vasilij Day and the arrival of the New Year by the Julian calendar. Arriving in Vevcani felt something like getting off the bus at crazytown. It started off slow, only a few Macedonians dressed up, walking around. But as the day progressed, I found myself closing my eyes with fright as some of the more nightmare-like figures walked by. The parade marked the beginning of the celebration, with plenty of drinking, loud Macedonian music, and almost everyone dressed in elaborate costumes: half political satire and half demon-possessed creatures with blood, animal skins and tails. As the parade ended, the main street cleared as people went into homes and bars to continue the celebration into the morning and two days later I was back in Albania safe and sound. Click here for more photos.
Gëzuar Vitin e Ri nga Shqipëri 2014! My second New Year’s Eve spent in Albania and it was even more amazing that the first. As the first and only major holiday all of Albania celebrates, the people really go all out. No firework or safety regulations in Albania really make it feel like a war zone; trashcans burning, kids running around with firecrackers (the loudest, most annoying and unnecessary things in the world), people of all ages with rocket fireworks too big for them, only some of which successfully fly to the sky before exploding. I could only take so much before seeking shelter and calming my nerves with some sparkling wine. At midnight in Tirana, the Bashkia sponsors a wonderful formal fireworks show coming from the roof of the opera house. The fireworks were right above me, and I rung in the New Year with hundreds of others in the lights, the fire, the noise, the smoke, all while shielding my eyes from falling debris. Happy New Year 2014!
After celebrating an early Christmas with my fellow PCVs, I headed to Ljubljana, Slovenia for vacation. I did not know much about Ljubljana prior to my time in Albania; it’s an amazingly small city tucked away and has everything one could ask for in a Christmas vacation destination: Christmas trees everywhere, plenty of markets and mulled wine. I was there for four days, a perfect amount of time to walk the city twice and take a day trip to Bled, which is situated near the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia. Despite some pouring down rain along the way, Bled turned our to be a great hideaway with an excellent cream cake selection. Being the first to separate from former Yugoslavia boded well for them – plenty of delicious food choices, an organized Santa parade, and weather reminding me of home made for a wonderful and successful vacation. For more photos, go here.
Celebrating Christmas with my PC Family, 2013. This year for the first time Christmas supplies have been readily available in Lezhe and in other cities around Albania; a clear shift has been made between Christmas as a Christian holiday and Christmas as a holiday for everyone to dress up, be merry and decorate. I put up my small plastic Christmas tree in early December accompanied by some spice-scented candles so generously sent by my parents, to really amp up the holiday spirit in my place (and also the lovely Christmas music playing in the background). This past Friday, I went down to Fier for our annual PCV Christmas Party/Free White Elephant gift exchange and on Saturday I headed up to Librazhd for what I’m sure was the first-ever Christmas caroling experience for Albanians. Admittedly a little apprehensive about how Albanians would take a bunch of Americans walking around with candles and singing in English, Albanians showed their true spirit once again, forcibly inviting us in for drinks and delicious mandarins. Gëzuar Krishtlindjën!