Yesterday, after quite a bit of traveling, we arrived in Tirana and took a two-hour bus to Elbasan. It’s so beautiful here. I’ve got Albanian phone, my leke, and it’s already starting to feel like home. Of course, I’m still in a hotel awaiting the move to my host family on Sunday. Tonight, my biggest task is to stop saying “I am America.” Une jam nga Americka, silly.
This morning I woke up, after nine hours of sleep (desperately needed), to the reality that I’m officially in the Peace Corps (albeit as a trainee). Yesterday was rough. Saying goodbye to family was by far the hardest of the events and I’m pretty sure it was the first time in my life I felt physically ill from nerves. Despite resistance from me and my heavy bags I made it to DC and immediately fell to sleep (probably a good thing, as when there’s the slightest chance to be homesick I prefer to be with others or asleep).
Orientation events didn’t start until noon, awaiting the arrival of the other PC trainees, so I had the morning to relax and take in this city. By now DC feels like a second home or something. Between my trip to DC in February to visit dear friends and my trip last week, being here seems very normal.
All 44 (I think) gathered in the hotel to begin orientation. Lots of safety training and what to expect upon arrival (expect nothing), mingling and bonding activities. There are so many things to learn! Seven hours later, I’m filled to the brim with information that I fear I might forget. I feel so much more secure. Things are set; I have flights, I know my fellow volunteers, I know where I’m going and what I’ll be doing and all is well.
Photos will come eventually…celebrating my last night in the US with my fellow trainees has made me too tired, and I’m afraid it’s beyond my abilities. Tomorrow I catch a flight to Albania and the process continues!
OMG Ihaveonedayleft. As soon as I opened my eyes this morning, those are the only words I could create. I could care less about daylight savings, it lost me an hour of this busiest of days. My room looks like no packing has been completed, copious amounts of laundry must be done, paperwork must be signed, sealed, delivered, emergency Albanian must be learned written down, hugs must be given, and oh so much more.
I’ve done this to myself. I procrastinate, like right now, and it’s what makes my life so entertaining. This week, I’ve spent my time on things that matter more; things I love, things I will miss, and things that give me happiness as the looming date of my departure comes near. Like the sounds of the morning song sparrows and other soundscapes of the PNW, puzzles, family, more puzzles, reading and watching the weather change, and visiting with friends and family.
Today is the start of a new week. I’ve bottled up the above things to take with me (metaphorically, of course) and can now focus on the many requirements before departure. Ready…Go!
For the past few months, ever since I received my lovely invite, I haven’t really been able to answer questions about what I’ll be doing in Albania. I have a title, Community Health Educator, but all additional details are decided and explained once I arrive. The PC ideally wants to place volunteers in jobs that suit our strengths and interests, which is why I wont know more until I get there.
According to my staging information, I’ll be flying to DC for orientation and then to Tirana. Once we arrive in Tirana (right now my group is around 40 people I think), we will be split into smaller groups and each of us will individually join a host family. From what I understand, we’ll be going to school every day for language and technical training and then, at around 5 weeks, the training gets more specific depending on what we’ll be doing after our Pre-Service Training (PST). Health volunteers do a multitude of things (some of which do not include health education at all, such as English language tutoring and computer tech). We do various projects on preventative care, work with clinics and organizations to improve health care systems and efficiency, train and give educational lessons to youth, and much much more. What do I want to do? I’ve had to fill out numerous forms on this very subject - what do I expect to be doing, what skills can I bring to the group, what am I comfortable doing, etc. I try not to expect anything specific; rather, I hope I do something relating to my interest in health care. For now, I’m going in with a blank slate (or as much of one as possible) because at this point I have no clue what my daily activities will entail or what my community will need.
After PST, I will officially be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and will begin my two-year service. I will move to my permanent site (to be announced sometime during PST) and will work and live among the community. I will know so much more once I arrive. Until then, I am faced with lovely emotions that resonate uncertainty. Words cannot express how excited I am to begin this adventure…or how nervous I am with all of these unknowns.
A packing playlist requires many things: it must energize at times for heavy lifting and arranging, it must calm for times of concentration and double-checking, and above all it must provide constant enjoyment for those dreadful periods of fear and bewilderment.
Procrastination has gotten the best of me. My resistance to packing might be some form of denial. All I know is that it gets harder to leave the safest corner of my room by the hour. One thing about the packing experience that I do enjoy is how freeing it is to simplify. I’ve become a maniac - things are tossed, prized possessions are packaged, and very few items remain to be stored. My possessions for the next two years are slowly making their way into one large suitcase and a medium sized backpack.
The above might conjure up an image of neatly stacked piles and processions but no, it’s quite the opposite. A tornado has struck.
The timeline of my Peace Corps application process is something that I think many people have heard of partially at least, depending on when I was around them. Some saw my frustration stage, some my excitement, and most were around for the waiting state - that long period of time when I could do absolutely nothing but wait for an update from the offices in D.C.
I don’t know exactly when or where my interest in the Peace Corps originated. But on a whim back in October 2010 I applied. Submitting my application in the chaos that was my life, it didn’t even register with me that I was serious about PC until I got an interview date. Preparing for that interview and talking to my boss about the Peace Corps made me incredibly aware of how much I actually wanted this to be my future. It seemed like the best of the best of options considering the uncertainty I carry for a future profession and the longing I have to step outside for a while. After the interview with the recruitment officer in November and hearing that I was nominated for a Health Extension program I began the longest process to test my patience yet.
By request, I began strengthening my French language skills (still worthy, even with it no longer needed) and taking classes on health extension through USAID. As the months went by I completed dental and health clearances, both tedious and somewhat eventful. I got some shots, then some more shots, then paperwork to get more shots. I filled out entirely too many forms and talked a lot to PC staff, returned and current volunteers. And, when I thought I couldn’t wait any longer, in August 2011 I had my final placement interview. I was more than overjoyed when I heard that my blue invitation packet was in the mail and a couple of weeks later there it was on the doorstep (the post man got a very loud and slightly embarrassing thanks, and my dance resembling that of a sportsman scoring the winning goal ensued).
After opening the invitation and reading that I would become an invitee heading to Albania in March so many thoughts rushed through my head. Mostly positive thoughts and some negative, which is exactly why I think they give you seven days to accept. It took me six. And every day since then I’ve been enjoying, in the Pacific Northwest, knowing that my next adventure soon begins as a Community Health Educator in Albania.
One day this past summer in San Francisco I had some spare time. I already knew I was heading to Albania and I think it was the first time it actually registered in my mind that I had joined the Peace Corps. As I waited for my dear friend to get out of class I picked up a random book, The Motorcycle Diaries, and began reading. A passage I came across that day perfectly explains my thoughts on what I hope this blog will be:
"In 9 months of a man’s life he can think a lot of things, from the loftiest meditations on philosophy to the most desperate longing for a bowl of soup - in total accord with the state of his stomach. And if, at the same time, he’s somewhat of an adventurer, he might line through episodes of interest to other people and his haphazard record might read something like these notes."
Between the summer and now I have spent filling my days with everything I love and am sure to miss. It was my early retirement. And now, with one month left, I’ll begin to check things off my never-ending to-do list before Albania.