Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A great beginning: O Sa Mire!

March 25, 2013

     The day I arrived at my host family was a great day. Everybody said it would be an extremely awkward day,  but in fact it was full of warmth, happiness, and the familiar feeling of a loving family. The only uncomfortable part was when I was waiting in the car (Peace Corps staff got out of the car to find my house, and I was the last one to get dripped off so I was alone with the driver), the driver asked me if I was married, and them proceeded to try to speak to me in Albanian. but anyway, I am staying with a host Mother and father, and 2 host sisters. They have 3 cousins that have all come by the house as well, and one of the, will move in with us for a while.

 I asked my sister, Ira (16 years old, how their family got selected to host a PCV, and she told me it was because she has been wanting to host a volunteer for a long time. She told me that her family asked to host a volunteer before, but their house did not meet Peace Corps standards for housing. After that, their family decided to build a 2nd story so they could have a volunteer, and now that volunteer is me :)) The 2nd story will be finished in 1 week. It looks wonderful, and I can tell they have put a lot of hard work into it. My sister Ira speaks english very well. She also loves to play soccer and basketball, and she finished 7th place at a really big spelling competition. She also volunteers at world vision and likes to go on jogs. She is way ahead of her time for an Albanian girl, and I am very proud of her. Ira has a sister named Sindi. Sindi is 9 years old, and she is in her beginning stages of learning English. She is very cute, and I love playing cards with her and chatting with her through google translate. My host mother is a teacher for young children. She is also a great cook, and she enjoys trying out english phrases with me. Her name is Mira, and she calls me her 3rd daughter. She also is convinced I'm starving because I don't finish all the food she gives me...she gives me A LOT of food (including homemade goat cheese she made from her brother's goats: YUM!) My host father has been working on the house a lot so he is not around much. However, every time I see him he is smiling, and he likes to chat with me when Ira is there to translate. He speaks the least amount of english in the family and is a school director for older children.

     Librazhd has been awesome so far. There is one main street where everyone walks, and everybody seems to know each other here. Albanians greet almost everybody they walk by. They usually say "C'kemi" or "Mire?" Which means "What's up" or "good?" The response is always "mire." There are a lot of stray cats and dogs on the street...as well as chickens, horses and donkeys, and if you go off a side street...sheep! The cars drive extremely fast, and most of the time when I'm walking I feel like I'm going to get hit by a car. There are Albanian flags everywhere, and there is also a really nice few of snow capped mountains. Librazhd is beautiful. 

     We are learning Shqip (Albanian) right now, and I want to get better SO badly. I am constantly studying and trying to pick up phrases from my host family. We played a lot of card games with the cards I got them from Yosemite, and it has helped me with my #s, certain phrases, and names of royalty and shapes. The language barrier can someti es be funny. Today Another volunteer, Masha, and I stopped to pet a dog and a store owner came out to us and rubbed his hands together to indicate we should wash our hands. He then said "hajde" which means come. We tried to show him we had hand sanitizer, but he had no idea what it was so eventually we gave up on our explanation and went to his shop to wash our hands...with freezing cold water. 

Oh and speaking of freezing cold...it is FREEZING at night. I understand why a sleeping bag was necessary. It is saving my life. Along with the sleeping bag,  I sleep in smartwool socks, long underwear, sweats, and gloves. It's pretty effing "ftohte" (cold) here at night. 

I'm going to wrap up my thoughts now because I am so tired. Pre service training (PST) takes a lot out of you and tomorrow we travel back to Elbasan. I'll end this post with so e funnies. My nickname is now Big Panda. Apparently if your friends think you are funny they say "You are big." Panda rhymes with Miranda...so now I am a funny Panda. Also, I have some funny stories about other volunteers. One guy is at a host family who only serves hot dogs because the family thinks Americans love hot dogs...so there are hot dogs at every meal. Another story: My friend Kate has a host family that doesn't speak any English. The other day she put her shoes on to leave, and her mom took her shoes right off her. she couldn't explain that she wanted to leave. Her host mom also thought her spray sun tan lotion was perfume and proceeded to spray it on herself and around the house. I am the only volunteer so far who was a squat toilet...lucky me :)) but I am getting used to it. We all have our funny stories, and it is great being here in Albania. I am very happy. 


Friday, March 22, 2013

Some fun stuff to know!!!

March 22, 2013
Mire dita! Tomorrow I meet my host family and I am SO excited :) I can't wait to share how that goes with everyone. Now, however, I can tell you a little more about PST and what I have learned so far. Here are some interesting facts about Shqiperi (Albania) and Peace Corps:
1) Albania does not have numbered buildings and therefore no formal addresses. For example an address could simply be "the blue 2 story apartment across the bar and around the corner from the grocery store."
2) Albanians love to kiss. If they really like you, you get 4 kisses when greeted. Sometimes pinched cheeks as well..
3) It is appropriate and common to ask a woman her age. It is also cool for people to ask each other how much money they make. Albanians are very open.
4) Child trafficking is very common here. A lot of child beggars are products of this. :(
5) Generally Albanian time is different from American time. Aka..they usually run pretty late.
6) Teddy bears and dolls are hung up by their necks on houses for good luck/to keep bad spirits away. It looks pretty creepy.
7) Albanians like Americans. They are happy to cling to you as they walk to show off that you are "their" American friend.
8) "Coffee is not coffee, but sometimes it is just coffee." In Albanian culture sometimes coffee can = marriage proposal or agreement to seriously date. However, sometimes coffee is just coffee. It is how people socialize in Albania, but women have to be extremely careful when asked to get coffee by a member of the opposite sex.
I hope you guys enjoyed those fun little facts. Today we just continued are language classes and received quick medical check ups. We also began working with our sector and got to meet with volunteers from groups 14 and 15. Tomorrow we have language lessons, cross cultural training and then... Off to Librazhd to meet my host family!!!
Naten e Mire!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1st Day in Albania!!!

Hey there! I am writing this blog in a very VERY tired state. It is only 7:44pm here, but the jet lag is pretty darn intense. I slept really well on the plane..which made some volunteers a little jealous (hah),  but I am still inevitably jet-lagged as ever. There are 34 of us volunteers here in Elbasan, Albania now, and I am so excited and happy to be here with them. After getting off the plane, we took a 3 hour bus ride from Tirana to Elbasan. The views were incredible. There were big mountains covered with snow, grassy fields, the ocean, and a lot of cool little stone houses, chicken, cows, and goats. We arrived at a hotel in Elbasan, where we continued to get a tour of the city (got to walk in a real castle!) from a local, and another PCV who is stationed in Elbasan. Following the tour we ate a meal of pickled vegetables, some type of porridge, and chicken in lemon sauce. During this meal we got to hear from the mayor of Elbasan and the PC staff. We also received our in country cell phones. Our schedules are already super full and we get to meet lur host families on Saturday! My host parents are teachers who live near the Librazhd city center. I'm sorry if this entry is vague and non-descriptive, but I'm exhausted. Time for bed. Also, for some reason I'm 1 of only 2 volunteers that can get online so far so...it's pretty cool I got to post this. Naten e mire!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pre-Staging for the West Coasters

Today I arrived in Philly for Staging. However, Staging is actually tomorrow. Everyone west of Denver got to arrive today, and it was incredibly awesome to start meeting other volunteers. I got off the plane and had a couple hours to kill before another volunteer, Kathryn, arrived so I decided to sit down and not do anything because...I brought WAY too much luggage. However, while sitting (and thuse glancing at my phone) I saw that another PCV was at the airport and so we met up. Eventually there were 5 of us girls, all with too much luggage, figuring out how we were going to get to the hotel and spending the rest of our day together. We all hopped in a shuttle, got to the hotel, and decided to go out for Cheesesteaks and beer. Later on the 5 of us met up with more volunteers, and I really just enjoyed my time getting to talk to everyone. I'm so excited to meet everyone else tomorrow, and I can't wait to get to Albania! Everything is starting to feel more real now, and I am very happy about my decision to serve as a PCV! :))

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

5, 4, 3, 2...Albania

There are 5 days lefts until Staging and 4 days left until I leave home. I've been very productive these last 2 days by making mini "to do" lists and running tons of errands. However, before that I kind of took some time to just let my mind completely relax. I went on a road trip and spent a lot of time just doing things I enjoyed. It's difficult to spread your last days at home out properly. I threw a good bye party at my house so that I could spend some time with family and explain a little more about what I was going to be doing (like I really know at this point). I also cooked them some traditional (or so the internet says) Albanian food with the help of my best friend and father. It was a nice little send off and my family showed me a lot of love and support. As far as actual Peace Corps prep went, I had to take a couple exams and fill out some worksheets. 1 exam was on what to do if physically assaulted and the other was on grammar and teaching techniques. The grammar portion was pretty brutal and took me quite a while to finish. The worksheets were on teaching and lesson planning. One even required a "mock lesson" which didn't go so smoothly, but it's cool. I'm sure I'll get the hang of it.

Today our group found out more about our host families. They may be subject to change, but as of now I am to expect to live with a host mother and father (ages 44 and 40) and 2 host sisters (17 and 9). I am super excited to live with 2 host sisters! Having only 1 older brother, I have always wondered what it would be like to have some younger sisters, and I look forward to being a great role model/influence on these girls. I hope they like me!

Packing-wise..today I bought my toiletries and meds. My suitcase is getting full and I keep telling myself "I WILL NOT OVER-PACK.  I WILL NOT OVER-PACK!" I am going to post my final packing list once I'm there, but or now I am still in panic mode. Here are some things that have been on my To-Do lists. I have accomplished most of the tasks, but not all:

-REI trip-money belt, quick drying towel, rechargeable batteries, sleeping bag, high quality travel umbrella
-WalMart trip-meds, toiletries, mini flashlight, battery-operated alarm clock, wet wipes, hair accessories
-DMV- switch plates from Ohio to California
-Purchase Property Insurance
-Close bank account
-Fill out pre-staging papers
-Have Power of Attorney signed
-Get phone unlocked
-Spend time with friends and family--make phone calls/skype dates with far away friends

 This post is probably super jumbled up because that's where my thoughts and feelings are right now. I am super excited to go, and while I will miss people here, I take comfort in knowing that the best people always find a way to stay in your life.