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.