This morning, for the first time in at least a couple months I woke up with a slight chill having left my windows open. I swigged some coffee as I tried to remember where I left of at work yesterday.
For the past few weeks I’ve been juggling two project ideas, neither of which I’m completely sure will begin. As I’ve mentioned before, the Director has expressed interest in having me modernize the lab a bit (improving protocol, and reviewing their equipment to get the lab up to EU standards). And in addition to this, I’ve been working with others to start some pre-natal classes (PNCs) here in Lezhë. A previous volunteer working in Shkodër, in partnership with World Vision, set up a series of PNCs aimed at getting expecting mothers the information they need to have a safe and successful pregnancy and birth. This program is one of the most needed here, along with patient-centered care and more information on how to talk with your doctor. A majority of expecting mothers get their information on pregnancy and childbirth from their mothers, or other mothers in their family, which leaves them with several unanswered questions and insecurities. With the help of PNCs, the aim is to improve their comfort of the childbearing process and increase the community’s knowledge of not only a safe pregnancy but also a healthy relationship between doctor and expecting mother.
Needless to say I have my hands full. I walk into the office shortly before 8am to a team of my counterparts, nurses and office folk, all discussing and arguing over what to do. I hand them the resources I’ve found in Shqip so far and breathe slowly as I try and decipher what it is they’re talking about. As time goes by, people start to empty out of the room and I find a seat next to Nuzi, a quiet, wise-looking nurse who always seems to comfort me. I tell her I barely understand, people talk too fast and her only reply as she pats me on the back: “avash, avash.”
I spend the rest of my day sitting in my chair, contemplating my next move, as I watch a fly clean it’s wings on the Ethernet cord.
August is going by at the speed of light. My days zigzag between work, life in lezhë, and traveling around Shqiperia; my most recent event being a trip home to see the parents in Librazhd.
I had yet to be back since the end of PST and I think it was the first time I realized how different my life is now that I’m a volunteer in Lezhë. Walking the streets of Librazhd, where I used to go to school every day and see volunteers on a daily basis, and have a family to go home to every night, made me incredibly homesick. Not just for life back in the states, but for a home, for family, for company. An idea that is now absent in my life.
On Saturday morning I walked up the stairs to my host-family’s apartment. The pit next to our apartment complex is now filled with an identical building’s skeleton, the small yard on our neighboring hill that I left as a mud patch now has tomato stalks bigger than me. I walked inside, took off my shoes, and was greeted by Mama Xheni, bright eyed and smiling as usual. Oh boy, did I miss that smile. After a bowl of watermelon and some pear juice, we spent a couple of hours in our normal routine – sitting, smiling at each other, and watching some television. The 5-year-old boy who lives downstairs even got the courage to come join.
The next couple days, I shared between time at home and time with friends around Librazhd. I couldn’t help but compare my life in Lezhë; people speak so differently in Librazhd, it’s less pronounced (I like it more), and people, albeit full of smiles, walk around almost as if with a slight chip on their shoulder, a little more pessimistic; perhaps because it’s a mountain region, or maybe just because it’s small. The last night there we had a big feast with fusuli, byrek, qofta, and plenty of yummy home-made, terrible-for-you foods. The laughs, the shqip, my shqip (that Mama Xheni claims only she can understand), and the family - all restored me.
And now I’m back. Sitting at my desk. It’s trash-burning day as the fumes waft through my window like every other smell of Lezhë. I would close the window, but I’m desperate for the breeze.
Speaking of hiking, Bunker Trails is another great site set up by volunteers in Albania. It’s in the beginning stages, but who wouldn’t want to go hiking in Albania with such an informative site telling you where is best? Not to mention it’s a great way for me to explore the Albanian countryside and still be productive. Here’s to hoping we can keep it up!