Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fears, struggles, and coping mechanisms

As a gymnast I suppose you could say that I spent a lot of my life facing fears. Flipping on 4 inch surfaces, performing in front of judges… in a leotard of all things, coming back after injuries etc. Gymnastics is a sport for the fearless. However, Peace Corps is a totally different experience when it comes to fear. I suppose this is because in gymnastics, if you get too scared, you can choose not do whatever it is you’re scared of. You can pick your skills that eventually go into your routines. However, in PC life, situations are kind of thrown at you and then it’s either sink or swim. Here are some fears/struggles and coping mechanisms I’ve been working with lately:

1)      Fear: Loneliness and the rest of the world moving on without you.
This particular fear is my number one only because sometimes I feel pretty damn isolated. I find myself constantly talking about people back home, so much so that I feel like my community knows who all my family and best friends are. They always ask me when people are going to come and visit me and it’s difficult to explain that it’s not super easy or inexpensive for Americans to just hop on a plane and come and see me. As I talk about everyone back home, I just can’t help but feel like I’ve probably been somewhat forgotten. I speak of times that have passed and every time I look at my Facebook Newsfeed I see so many pictures of what is going on back home without me. As much as I try to keep in touch with people, there is nothing like the presence of being next to someone in real life. I fear that sometimes I’ll get back and have nothing in common with anyone anymore. I know these fears are extreme, but they’re honest and I suppose that’s part of fear anyway, having negative feelings toward a result that will likely never occur.

Coping Mechanism: I spend a lot of time giving myself pats on the back for learning to be alone. At the same time, I do my best to fill my life with optimism and hope. And what I’ve really been working on is allowing myself to just be. If that makes sense… There are a lot of things I can’t control in this world, but my own brain (luckily) is one of the things I can control. Do I want to spend my entire Peace Corps career being butthurt that people in America don’t miss me as much as I want them to? Absolutely not. I want to enjoy this time so that when I get home I can share my new additional life experiences with the people I love. It’s a good life lesson because if you’re lucky, you won’t always be living in the same place as you grew up in. You’ll get out there and meet some new people and experience some new cultures—even if it’s just one city over. You won’t always be surrounded by the same people, and therefore, your communication with your social circle will change. Learning to deal with that can be difficult, but it’s extremely important.  Even when it’s hard, at the end of the day I’m always glad to be here doing whatever it is I’m doing—despite how far I am from the people I love and miss.

2)      Fear: Finally getting comfortable/used to something and then having it be taken away from you.
This shit…this shit is just annoying, and isn’t it just how life goes. Whether it’s a job, a relationship, the weather etc. things always seem to shake themselves up once you get into a groove. My new counterpart has certainly thrown me for a loop. She is an incredibly nice lady, but her English is…uhhh…rusty (I’m being nice). She is from Korca, but she got married to a man in Lac and had a baby right after getting married. She is sad because she misses her family and home and has no friends, except for me I guess. The students are all really mean to her, and my colleagues aren’t much nicer. It’s definitely a difficult situation, but I guess Peace Corps wasn’t supposed to be easy. Though I keep trying to make it that way…

Coping Mechanism: First I turned to running…then alcohol… Then I took a vacation to Istanbul—and ate massive amounts of food. Uh, so yeah I guess you could say I went a little backwards on that one, but whatever. My coping mechanism now is to focus on all of the other things here that make me happy and to embrace every moment where a smile meets my face naturally. I also just laugh a lot when the stressful things happen because often times when I get angry I picture looking at myself from someone else’s perspective and there’s really nothing funnier than watching a tiny 4’10 woman getting pissed off and yelling nonsense in a mix of 2 languages. Also, I realize I’m only here for 2 years. Sometimes I feel like it’s like watching a hamster in a cage and observing its emotional reactions to various tests.

3)      Fear: Being around strangers and creepy people.
I spent my entire adolescence being afraid of strangers. I suffered from paranoia and the fact that I roam around, get into cars with strangers, and strike up conversations with random people strictly out of boredom is kind of odd. It’s cool though. We’ve all seen “Taken” and of course I’m in Albania—without Liam—so you’d think I’d be setting myself up for all sorts of kidnappings and interactions with scary people. Being around strangers and creepy people in a foreign country can be really scary. Seriously, who is going to save you when it’s just you and a scary man in a dark alley…or vehicle? I always carry pepper spray and a knife on me, but as a little woman, I think man with a gun would always win.

Coping Mechanism: The truth is I have had some bad interactions with creepers here. However, I have reacted extremely well when they’ve occurred. As opposed to freezing up or panicking, I’ve been very calm and in charge of my thoughts. It helps. I believe there is something to be said for being someone who finds strength in times of fear. A very direct: “No thank you. Please stop you’re making me uncomfortable” comes of a lot better than a shaky “umm..excuse me..but uh…” and trying to wiggle yourself away from the situation. Speaking up for yourself, remaining calm, and being direct is the best way for me to handle creepers. Also, trying to avoid those situations in the first place; the preemptive strike is an even better way to go.

4)      Fear: Getting lost.
I am the master of getting lost. I can remember the first time I got lost driving around in California I somehow got all the way to Stinson Beach from the center of San Francisco. There was no cell phone reception and I was super scared. There’s a feeling of “I’m never going to make it home” that hits you when you’re lost. Maybe that feeling is why people feel lost in many different ways.
Coping Mechanism: Embrace the chaos. So you get lost… big deal.  Maybe you feel like you’ll never find your way back, but that is a silly and false feeling. If that guy from Man Vs. Wild can find his way back to civilization, then I can find my way back from… a capital city surrounded by people. I have begun to see getting lost as more of an adventure and a fun piece of life. Often times, I feel lost in life here, but that’s cool. I find comfort in knowing there’s always going to be a way to get where I’m going. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

I'm Feeling This!

Today's blog post is about feelings... and boy do your feelings get weird in Peace Corps. I am already an emotional person, but when you isolate yourself in a foreign country, I believe you get even more in touch with those inner emotions.

For some reason I have developed the habit of crying every time I someone else cries. In fact... I haven't cried at all here without the triggering of another's tears! Today was my counterpart's last day teaching the 1st and 2nd years. Monday is her last day overall, and I'm sure there will be a rainstorm of tears then. I've never seen students so attached to a teacher before. They have written her poems, signed petitions, and well... have cried too. Elsona, my counterpart, was really the best counterpart I could've asked for and I could not be any happier with the time we have spent together. She has become a wonderful teacher and a best friend. I am going to miss her a lot, but I know we will still continue to work together. It will be interesting to begin working with my new counterpart on Tuesday. We have never met so I am really clueless as to how Tuesday will go. It kind of feels odd...the idea of walking into school, meeting my new counterpart, and then suddenly co-teaching together in a class mid-school year. I guess we'll see how that goes down.

To keep the topic on feelings, I've decided to put my emotional energy into various things. Along with exercise (and umm...retail therapy), I have decided to begin writing poems... in Albanian. I have also decided to study for the GRE. I don't even know if I want to take the GRE, but I thought studying would be a good idea just in case. What's the harm in becoming a little more academic, right? The biggest outlet I've found seems to be my sense of adventure taking over. I've been all over the place lately...both physically and mentally. Now, this ubiquitous sensation isn't a bad thing as it might sound. It's actually wonderful. I feel like both mentally and physically my wanderlust is being filled, and along with it this giant sense of luck has taken over me. Every time something that I normally would consider bad or unfortunate happens, I just smile because I know that right behind it is something really awesome. It's like receiving a dirty old box as a present only to open it and find your favorite jewelry inside (in my case something tacky and covered in sparkles...likely an animal or plant of some sort...God I have terrible taste). Anyway, it's awesome... and like my hypothetical jewelry, my adventures are cheap, over the top, and they have brought me way more happiness than they should. I like being lucky! Maybe it's my lucky year :)

I dip into feelings of longing and immediately bounce to feelings of excitement and mostly the feeling of "new." I love Spring because Spring is the season of growth and freshness (and my birthday!). After a year in, what better way to begin than by being refreshed. In the winter I spent a lot of time feeling detached from America, and recently I've decided that, well, I don't care about becoming detached anymore. I have a year left. That is not a lot of time. I'd really like for myself to focus on me this year. And my life in Albania. I always say that..although extremely philanthropic, Peace Corps is selfish time. It's my very own experience that nobody else gets to have or fully understand. I bought a diary to document all of the things that are sometimes hard to say out loud, and I am excited to read it one year down the road.

I've got a lot of feelings people! haha... Happy Spring! Enjoy these photos :)

                                                                    Delicious cookies!
                                                                        Donkey ride!
                                                                Just enjoying it all
                                                             Frisbee with my kiddos :))
                                                           Serenades and Raki in Bilisht
                            How I love waiting on the highway every time I want to go somewhere
                                                              Acquiring lumberjack skills
                                 I killed, plucked, and gutted this rooster... As organic as it gets

Friday, March 7, 2014

To open doors, roads unknown, and a truly wonderful week!

I’m writing this blog post with an incredibly full and satisfied heart. This week will go down as one of the most epic weeks of my young life and here’s why. It began with me learning that I can be productive, efficient, and independent. I finished and turned it my first grant proposal a week early. My Counterpart and I planned and ran a Community and Cultural Exchange day for our High School and Elementary School. I got to spend time with my 2 best friends in Peace Corps down South. I got to play tour guide and travelled around with my Adventure Buddy, Sam, from America (who also brought me American Goodies. Thank you to everyone involved in that—Sam, Janie, Aunt Rosanna and my parents. To top it all off I celebrated Teacher’s Day with all of my students and colleagues and enjoyed every moment. I already thought I loved teaching, but this day really threw that passion over the top.

To break it down, I’ll give you guys some sub-categories as usual.

1)      Grant Proposal
A grant proposal is a lot of hard, teeth-grinding work. It takes a lot of time, patience, and detail. There’s nothing like saying the same thing over and over again in different ways and identifying/predicting all possible outcomes and preparing for those outcomes. For me, writing this grant proposal led to me eating a whole chicken in one sitting (It was too late to buy chocolate and that was all that I had).  My project proposal is to build an Activity Room in the high school so the kids will have a place to hold club meetings, attend after-hours lessons, run student government, and participate in conferences. It will also be open to the community. I’ll keep you guys updated on my project as time goes by. Anyway, the best thing for me about writing this grant proposal was realizing that I had improved myself. There was nobody here pushing me to finish this grant application. My motivation stemmed from my love for my students and the school itself. I had no coach or teacher giving me a grade for completing this assignment or punishment for not completing it. It was really all up to me. After completing the grant I looked at myself in the mirror and truly saw a volunteer; I saw a girl who went out into the developing world to give it her best helping hand—who succeeded. J. Maybe it’s easier to not procrastinate and to work hard when you’re involved in something your extremely passionate about. Maybe I’ve just grown up a lot. Whatever it is, I am proud of myself, and I see so clearly the importance of following your passions in life.

2)      Community and Cultural Exchange day
Milot has never really had a community gathering before, and with me having an American visitor and some close-by volunteers I saw the perfect opportunity to host a day to embrace both of these things. Although there were kinks in the organization, overall the day was fun and a great experience for me and the people of Milot. I’ve actually never seen that many people in Milot before, not even at our giant Sunday Markets. The students prepared songs, poems, and dances for the day—some of which went wonderfully, some of which created a lot of laughter, and some that I wouldn’t mind forgetting haha. But I loved every piece of it. The beauty of trying things like this is that there are imperfections and room for improvement. However, I accomplished my goal of showing Milot that days like this are possible. I left my counterpart, other teachers, and student leaders in charge of running the event to show them that they didn’t need me at all. I am so proud of all of them, and very grateful for the volunteers and Peace Corps staff who came to watch the event. It was also really cool for me to have Sam there so somebody from back home could see what I actually do here through something other than a computer screen.

3)      Running Around Albania With My Adventure Buddy
Last year at almost exactly this same date, Sam and I took off on a road trip to go see the Grand Canyon, go snow camping, and catch spring training. It was an incredibly fun time, and I remember thinking that touring beautiful places close to home was a wonderful way to spend my last days in America before leaving for the Peace Corps. I didn’t really think I’d see Sam again until I finished my Peace Corps service, but I guess life just hands you what you need at the right time sometimes. I was beginning to feel pretty detached from America. Seriously, I felt like I was even forgetting how to speak English—not good for an English teacher! However, this week brought a new kind of adventure, still full of awesome times. Keeping a similar theme, we jumped into the freezing Blue Eye (as opposed to last year’s jumping in a snow-surrounded Lake Tahoe). We hitch-hiked, chilled with a lot of locals, travelled down roads unknown, had some awesome conversations IN ENGLISH!!!, ate amazing food (probably more amazing for me than Sam seeing as I’ve been deprived of food), hung out with other volunteers, and spent a lot of time in buses. I was reminded of how beautiful Albania is. It was a great journey, and a great way to spend my half-way point. I am so incredibly grateful to have a friend like Sam to share my
life experiences with, take part in my excursions and support me through the crazy things I do. I will never take for granted the importance of true friendship that at the end of the day remains no matter where life takes you. Thank you so much, Sam!

4)      Teacher’s Day (March 7th)
Teacher’s Day is apparently a big deal here in Albania. I didn’t think I was going to go to school today because I was exhausted from the week of adventuring around Albania, but this is how the story goes: Okay, so to set the scene I actually came back from the airport yesterday after dropping Sam off. I proceeded to pass out on my couch. It was maybe 3 o clock. I woke up at 7 starving, so I opened the fridge and ate the only edible thing I saw in their—a sausage. I literally just unwrapped it and began devouring it. After, I told my counterpart that I would probably take the day off to rest.  I woke up at 7:35am (10 minutes before I usually leave for school) to a text from my counterpart. She said I had to be there and that I wouldn’t want to miss this day. She was right. I threw on the first things I saw in my room and ran to the school. I arrived to see all of my colleagues decked out in dresses and suits. I looked terrible. After 20 minutes of sitting around all my pretty people, I learned that we didn’t even have school today and it was just a day for the teachers to be respected by our students and to go off and party. They politely suggested I go change into something “more special” aka less heinous! I went home, threw on some makeup and a dress and came back to applause from my colleagues who were showered with gifts and flowers from our students. Everyone looked so happy and I thought it was such a wonderful thing to see all the teachers getting the respect they deserved. I must have received over 100 kisses from my students all thanking me for what I do and I also came home with a rose. It was a total feel-good day, and after seeing all the students, us teachers hopped in a few cars and headed to the highway for lunch, dancing, and drinks. I led a few circle dances and had so much fun just goofing off with my colleagues. Although every teacher paid for themselves, they would not let me pay for my portion as respect for me volunteering my time. I felt so appreciated and happy.

I am so happy.

Peace Corps hands you a lot of ups and downs, loops and twirls, but I believe the trick is to really highlight the good times, and let the bad ones pass without much thought. This week will definitely stay with me through rough patches and will bring a smile to my face when I need one.   

And one more thing! Congratulations to one of the PCVs in my group who is marrying a local. Let the festivities begin :))

And as are some photos. Enoy!

                                                                     A lot of students!
                                                       Reading to the younger children

                                                            Traditional Albanian Dancing
Penguin Dance :)

                                                                View of Gjirokaster
                                                             In front of the Blue Eye
                                          Luckily this unknown road led to something beautiful
                                                                       Sam Jumps

                                                                          I jump.
                                                               View from Saranda
                                                                  Delicious seafood!
                                                                     Long bus ride!
                                                         Eating fish eyes for good luck!
                                                        Some of my favorite people
                                                              Teacher's Day Lunch
                                 Welcoming everyone to Community and Cultural Exchange Day

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A bit about learning disabilities

I am so happy that I am a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteer because I have truly fallen in love with teaching. It just feels so important and it challenges me in many ways. Every day I gain and learn something in the classroom where I am co-teaching. Something I would like to discuss, however, is learning disabilities. In the states, learning disabilities seem to be identified at a pretty young age. They are not considered to be too shameful or problematic, and the US works extremely hard to accommodate those with learning disabilities. Here in Albania, there seems to be zero diagnoses of these disorders, and therefore there are no accommodations.

I first began thinking about learning disabilities during one of our TEFL trainings when another volunteer gave us a presentation on them. She reminded us that we are not doctors, and therefore cannot diagnose any disorders, but instead can help our school communities to become aware that such things exist and to help them create a better learning environment for those with symptoms of various learning disabilities.

After class today, I could not agree any more with that volunteer, and I find it extremely important to educate my colleagues about the existence of learning disorders and various classroom coping strategies. Things kind of clicked in my head today as I sat watching one of my students unable to sit in his chair. He has almost been expelled multiple times for disruptive behavior and can't ever seem to get through a class without pissing the teacher off. We had no idea what his actual skill level in any subjects was because it was always just assumed he was a "difficult student" and would never try anyway. Today was different though. I've always liked this kid's smile. He has such a truly happy looking smile, and he smiles so often it really makes it hard for me to believe that he is an evil kid. On a side note I don't think any of my students are evil. Anyway, today he bothered my counterpart (as usual) enough to the point where she was about to kick him out of class when I decided to have him come up to the blackboard to work one-on-one with me. We were looking at when to use "do" vs. "does." Because he has never paid attention in class or done his homework before I knew he had no idea how to do the exercise in the book so I changed it up for him and gave him space to move around and write on the board. I wrote "Do" in a box leading to a trail of the words: I, you, we, they, and anything plural ex// "students" or "Jack and Jill". Then under that I wrote the word "Does" in a box leading to a trail of  words: He, she, it, and names of things that are singular ex// "a student", "Jack", "Jill". We then looked at the book together, identified what the subject in the sentence was and matched it with one of the trails on the board. After finding the subject on the board, he could trace his hand back to either the word "do" or "does." In this way, he finished the whole exercise by himself. Every time he got a correct answer his face lit up, and the entire time he did not pay attention to anything but the problems at hand. The bell even rang and he kept going until he finished the problem he was working on.

Today really inspired me to learn more about learning disorders and creative classroom techniques. As a teacher, it is not my responsibility to diagnose or find cures for these students, but instead to figure out the best ways to work with and educate them. As a Peace Corps volunteer, my job is to transfer this knowledge to others so that Albania can continue to improve its overall level of education (specifically regarding English) and have a better understanding of why some students are the way they are. I get really overwhelmed with all the projects I want to do/have coming up, but I feel that it is imperative to work with my colleagues on adjusting classroom techniques for those who may have learning disabilities. Once I figure it out, I'll let you know. In the meantime, stay tuned for the awesome things to come this month-- It's a surprise!!! ;)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Relationship and a Positive Reflection

For those of you who didn't know, I am now in a relationship…

A relationship between me and Albania, its people, its culture, and its language. On the other side of that I am exchanging myself, my culture, and my language.  As in any relationship, there is learning/growing, commitment, and passion involved. I allow myself to be vulnerable here because I think relationships are all about taking risks. I believe this is a healthy relationship and is extremely fitting for where I am in my life right now (my early 20s). It is much like those who are currently in a relationship with their studies, business, or even just life in general. While Albania and I may not be together forever, I will never forget the journey within this experience.

To prove this statement, I’d like to share some of the most recent exchanges between me and Albania:
      1.    Project Design Management Workshop (PDM)  
All of the volunteers in my group and I attended a conference in Tirana with (most) of our chosen counterparts to learn how to build a project. This workshop was wonderful for many reasons. First off, we had hot showers… which was a mega plus for me. 2nd, we got to see each other which is always nice after some time apart.  3rd (And this is probably the most important—though hot showers tend to dominate my mind) was that my counterpart and I really gained an understanding of how to make a project. It’s definitely not as simple as I imagined. There are intricate details and jargon that I hadn't thought of and a project proposal/grant is kind of a piece of art. You have to have structure and appeal, and now my counterpart and I are super excited to begin our project to build an activity room in the high school because we strongly believe in our abilities to be strong and appealing. Although I am here to help Albanians understand how to make a better Albania, I myself am learning how to begin projects anywhere in life. I feel like the training here is truly priceless education.

      2.       Language

My favorite part of being an English teacher is seeing my students improve. I have mentioned this many times before in my blogs. However, although I don’t have a tutor, my Albanian (shqip) has improved a lot as well. After official testing at the PDM Workshop, I learned that I am now at an “Advanced-Mid” level of the language which means I am 2 levels up from where I started at “Intermediate-High” and am 3 levels away from the highest level of Albanian, “Distinguished.” I am most proud of the fact that I can switch on and off using Milot’s Dialect and the standard Albanian language.  My goal is to finish my service at least one level ahead at “Advanced-High,” and I intend to get there by beginning to study Albanian grammar. I feel that language has definitely helped my relationship with Albania grow stronger, and culture and integration are currently the 2 elements of my PC service that I am the most satisfied with.
       3.       Real Life and Tragedy
      So now I've spit out a lot of good things about this relationship, but we know there are always little bumps along the way. Recently some extremely sad/scary events have taken place here. My counterpart’s best friend’s father died while fixing a window. The latter he was on was unstable and he fell to his death. Shortly after there was a random attack on a bus by the city of Tepelene and a man proceeded to rob and murder people on the bus. Lastly, a boy from Milot (and my School Director, Host family, and Landlord’s cousin) was squished by a heavy piece of iron that fell on him and also died at only 21 years of age. I personally did not know any of these victims, but am extremely close with those who it affected. Hardest of all was speaking with my 17 year old landlord’s son (who is also my best friend in Milot). What can you possibly say to a 17 year old boy whose cousin has just died in such a terrible and traumatic way? It is hard enough to talk about feelings with any teenager or in my experience with any boy. On top of that my language is just not good enough to really express what I want to say. I told him I was there if he needed someone to talk to and that he shouldn’t feel ashamed of any feelings he has. Sometimes life incidents being you back to the reality of things and for me it was remembering that life still goes on-tragedy and all. I get to see how people here participate in life events such as weddings, engagements, graduations, births, but along with those come sadness and death as well.

To bring this post to an end on a less depressing note, I’d like to just banter about my thoughts on life right now.  Oh wait… also I want to mention that my neighbor has been out of town for 2 months and therefore I have not had a washing machine to use, and because it is winter, hand washing clothes is not only painfully cold, but the clothes dry too slow and collect a mildew-ish smell. Yummm. Ok back on track to my thoughts! I think it’s really important for people to do some good solid self-reflection. I have actually been somewhat self-critical lately in a negative way, and I finally have begun to come out of it. At the Tirana conference we also had some IST training and overall Peace Corps-ish activities and in one of them we had to write down our 3 biggest struggles/stresses here. Most people had written something along the lines of 1) Loneliness 2) Integration and 3) Language, but mine were completely different. They were 1) Cold Showers 2) Acne 3) Weight gain. I was originally disappointed in myself because I felt like my struggles seemed to be a lot lamer and more superficial than everyone else’s, but then I realized…hey, that’s the truth.  In order to combat these struggles, I really had to give myself some self-love and compliments (my favorite)! As cheesy as it sounds (and this is super cheesy), I really began to feel that for each physical flaw Peace Corps makes me stress about, I also get a compliment for each of those gosh darn inner beauties. I love helping people. I love going out of my way to make my friends feel special. I am generous with my time, energy, and money. Realizing these things really brought me back up, and although un-showered, pimpled, and a little heavier than the NCAA athlete I once was, I am completely satisfied with myself. J

And now… photos:
                                         My Counterpart and I at the PDM workshop in Tirana
                                     Following suit and putting my head in a hole at the Church of Lac
                                          My published news article for the Tirana Times :))))

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Edition...Yeah I am behind.

Hello there! I haven't written for a while and honestly I don't really feel like catching people up here in detail so I will just quickly run through on some important things that have happened (with a few highlights) and then continue on with where I am now :)

Ok Thanksgiving/Hanukkah --> A lot of volunteers gathered in Gjirokaster for a Friendsgiving and I (with some help) cooked the turkey :))

Language Refresher --> A conference/workshop designed to help us refresh our language skills was held in Elbasan. We also had a talent show that was a bunch of fun! Unfortunately after, we lost another volunteer, and another volunteer fell in a hole ( happens here). She was okay though--just a few stitches and she was super champion about it.

Christmas --> Some other volunteers went "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" status and went to Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava together. It was awesome. We had leggings with denim print that fit all of us.

New Years Eve --> I spent it with my counterpart and her family in a small town next to Lac called Sanxhak. I stayed for a couple days hanging out with her and eating a lot of wonderful traditional Albanian food. Turkey and Baklava are 2 things that are traditional for this holiday. The fireworks were nuts! There were also a lot of AK47s and firecrackers being shot out of people's windows. It kind of felt like I was in a battle zone and I even got hit in the head by a firework sparkle.

And now...NOW!

I have reach my month long mark now of running 4-6 miles 4-6 days a week and it feels awesome! Except of course, for the quarter-sized blisters on my feet, my arthritic ankles, and for the cough I've developed from the little sick boy in a furgon I took. However, they are of no matter! I have always made excuses for why I don't run (especially more than 1 mile at a time). I never liked running. It took me like 5 tries to pass the mile test in college (1 mile in 7:15) and I kind of always viewed running as punishment. For whatever reason now, I enjoy running. I love when Albanians stare at me like I have 3 feet. I love my running buddy who keeps my pace even though he's 6ft tall. I love the view and the fact that I can be outside in WINTER! I love feeling healthy and athletic, and I love that running helps to build my schedule.

My running buddy has also told me that our running has inspired him to plan to build a gym in Milot for men AND WOMEN! Yayyy.. I couldn't be more proud of him, and I am excited to help him begin this endeavor!

Besides running, I now have 2 extra courses after school to help students who are behind. I love the extra courses because I get to work with students who are there solely because they WANT to learn and not because it's required. This course is a teacher's dream.

I haven't been in a writing mood lately, hence the lack of blog posts. Hopefully, I'll find that mood somewhere in the near future so I can do a better job keeping you all updated, but until then...

That's all. Here are some photos!

Performing in the Language Refresher Talent Show
                                                          Finding a Kosovare in Vienna!
                                                              Bratislava, Slovakia!
                                                     Circle dancing at 1:30am in the airport
                                                                  Christmas Markets!
                                                          Kidneys from the T-day Turkey
                                                                A view from my run
                                                              Friendsgiving in Gjirokaster
                                                               Ugly Sweater Party

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Insight to My Life and Albanian Culture: Fall Edition

I know I am not doing the best job at updating this blog, but on the bright side, I've been really busy with work.
Here we go with today’s categories: 1) Daily life and schedule 2) The bluntness of Albanians 3) Concept of time 4) A weekend in Fushe Arrez

1) Daily Life and Schedule

I have finally established routine. I wake up at 6am every morning, I do some Yoga and I fix myself a breakfast off hard boiled eggs, Turkish coffee with Allspice and cinnamon, and a fruit of the season (which happens to be pomegranate right now). I live a hop skip and a jump away from the school, and school begins at 7:50, but I feel the need to wake up extra early because I am not a morning person. I need the time to stop being angry at the world and also to get my mind in gear to speak Albanian. My Counterpart and I teach 4 classes on Mondays, 6 on Tuesdays, 6 on Wednesdays, no school on Thursdays, and 6 classes on Fridays. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays I stay after school for an hour. On Mondays I help students who are behind and want to catch up. On Tuesdays, I teach the teachers English. One Thursdays I come for 1 hour after school to work with the Advanced English students—we do leadership activities and Model UN. There is a short break after 3 classes, and the other teachers and I always go for a coffee and a student usually brings us some byrek. We take turns paying for each others’ coffees.  Once I get home from school I prepare a lunch and work on extra school stuff such as grading papers, lesson planning, and test making. After, I go down to the lokal (cafĂ©) downstairs and hang out with my landlord’s sons who are like my little brothers here, Eli (21) and Kristi (16). I usually stay there until closing at 7:30. After that, I go back home, eat dinner, sometimes work out, and pretty immediately pass out.

2) The bluntness of Albanians

Have a pimple? Gained or lost some weight? Wearing ugly or non-flattering clothes? Looking tired or more energetic than usual? Albanians will let you know. There is no tip-toeing around the situation. I can’t quite decide how to deal with this aspect of Albanian culture yet. In some senses, I kind of like it. It’s nice to not have to guess what people are thinking. Americans are white lying champions, and sometimes I really want to know… “Do I look fat in this dress?” The American answer is always “No, oh my god you don’t ever look fat!” The Albanian response… “Yes. You should wear the other dress because it makes you look more beautiful.” I appreciate the honesty, but sometimes the blows are brutal and I have to thank my stars that I have a healthy self-esteem. As an American, my first instinct is to perceive this bluntness as rude, but now that I am getting accustomed to it, I just find it normal. In some ways it makes me more comfortable.  It’s like..okay all my flaws are on the table, and now we can move on. For example, “Miranda, you have a pimple. It is pretty big and it makes you look like a teenager, but don’t worry because you still have a beautiful face.” Or “Oh Miss, please wear contact lenses. You are so much more beautiful without glasses.” These are phrases I hear pretty often. Backhanded compliments? Honesty? Tough love? I don't really know what this all is, but whatever the case, I am getting used to it. Another thing is the comparisons. Without fail Albanians are the first to point out who is better at what. They let you know who speaks better Albanian and who is dressed the best out of you and your friends. I can take the personal hits, but when I have to watch it happen to a fellow friend or volunteer, I get extra uncomfortable!

3) Concept of time

     It’s already November?! Woahhh..New volunteers are coming in only 4 months, I’m going on my first out-of-country holiday next month, and language refresher is this month. Where is all the time going?! My concept of time is off. I seem to think of myself as only being here for a few months, but I’m on the latter half of finishing up my 1st year. I am curious to see how my concept of time will change throughout my service here, and that is why I am documenting now.

4)  A weekend in Fushe Arrez

     I went to visit (in my opinion) the most isolated volunteer this weekend in a city called Fushe Arrez. The ride there is a crazy twisty turny road up the mountains. However, it was worth the effort to get there. I was really pleased to see all the work that my friend James is doing there. He has an impressive amount of kids that he does outdoor activities with every weekend. This particular weekend we played basketball, sharks and minnows, hiked up a mountain, and then played American football. It was easy to tell the kids loved James and really appreciated his time and dedication to them. They also spoke English extremely well and were very fun, sweet kids to be around. Fushe Arrez itself is a beautiful town surrounded by nature. It’s a perfect fit for James who is from Montana. 

James and one of his students picking up trash after the activity:
 The kids of Fushe Arrez:
 Me and the girls in Fushe Arrez:
 The hike!
 An 8 year old made me into a cat for Halloween :)
 My "little brother" Kristi:
 My neighbor teaching me how to make pumpkin byrek:
 My Albanian Jack-O-Lantern!
 Making Raki and roasting chestnuts with my host family in Milot:
 My wonderful counterpart serving me dinner for Bajram at her house: