Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wrapping up PST and my first days as a volunteer!

Hey guys, I'm sorry I haven't written for a while. I've been crazy busy, but I have a lot of good stuff to fill you in on! Today's categories are: 1) Counterpart (CP) Conference 2) My life in Milot 3) Escape to Tirana 4) Birthday! 5) End of PST and Swearing in Ceremony 6) Where I am now and RPB

1) CP conference
We went to Durres and stayed at this amazing hotel resort called the Tropikal. It was an interesting moment because we all met our co-worker for the next 2 years. It was a gamble with some CP's being old, some young, some with a lot of experience, some with none, some who spoke english, and some who didn't. My CP is a lovely girl named Elsona. She is 21 years old (by far the youngest Cap), and a student at the Tirana University. she stays in Tirana, but works in Milot, and she is very welcoming and kind! We get along great, and we are already friends. During the conference we had a session on how to work with our CP's, which I found to be useful, and a good way to better bond with our new CPs.

2) My life in Milot
I live with a host family right next to the school. When I say right next to the school I mean...I open the gate from my house, step forward, and I'm at the high school (gjimnazi). The location is great, and the family is really nice. However, I definitely feel a lack of privacy, and I took over my new host brother's room so he hates me. When I say he hates me, I mean he locked me out of my room, threw my bags out the door, and gave me the finger! He also licked the top of the bottle we were drinking from when only I was looking just to spite me (charming little guy). However, I understand that he is only 10, and I stole his room so I understand the animosity. My new sister's are 19 and 21. They are both getting married very soon. The 19 year old will marry a 28 year old, and the 21 year old will marry a 33 year old whom she decided to marry after only 2 hours--after being introduced by an uncle. He lives in New Jersey so she will be moving soon :(. She is the only one in the house who speak a little English. 
     Milot is very small; it's pretty much one street. Everyone there acts like they've never seen an American before, so they all like to come up and touch me. I get a lot of coffee invites which is nice, and it's a good way to get to know the community. Everyone is pretty much Catholic, and a lot of the residents go to the city over, LaƧ (pronounced "lotch"), for church.  I went with my family to check it out. English is the 2nd foreign language in Milot, so it is extremely difficult to find an english speaker... My shqip will be VERY good in 2 years! I have a lot of work to do there, but luckily my school director is very progressive and willing to work with me. One more thing about Milot: Women don't go out by themselves EVER. They don't xhiro (Albanian tradition to walk back and forth in the city center in the evenings) or go out in the open for coffees without the presence of a man.

3) Escape to Tirana
During my visit I got pretty sad. I was missing the other volunteers, and I was tired of not understand what anyone was saying. I felt like I didn't have any privacy, and I have to admit I was jealous of everyone else who got their own apartments, and who had their CPs there with them at their site. Luckily, my CP called me, and asked me to come stay with her for a night in Tirana. The next day I was there, and I got to see what Albanian University was like.  I went out for ice cream and milkshakes with her and her awesome roommates, and then got to stay in the dorms. It was a cool experience, and Tirana is an awesome city. It made me really happy to know I have a CP who cares about me, and a place to escape to when Milot gets to be too taxing.

4) Birthday! 
My birthday started the day before my actual birthday. I hitch-hiked to Pajove with Tyler, and we met some really awesome people on the way! When we got to Pajove, there was a cake waiting for me along with most of my favorite volunteers. We were also celebrating Josh's birthday and Paul and Susan's 10th anniversary. We went to the field and played games, but then I got stung by a bee. It occurred because  I was skipping through a grassy field with Kat to country music. Anyway, it was a great time. the next day I woke up to a table full of presents from my host family! They gave me a cake, a card, a perfume set, and a saucy shirt that was spandex, red, rhinestoned, and it had a cleavage slit. I of course sported the shirt for my party which was at one of the lokals. A bunch of volunteers, some Albanians, and one of my shqip teachers, came to my party and we danced for about 3 hours straight. At the end everyone sang this really funny birthday song to me, and zi took a shot of raki --disgusting. It was suchhh a fun birthday, and I am so grateful to everyone who was a part of it. I'm now 23!

5) End of PST and Swearing in Ceremony
Well it had to come eventually.. Our days as trainees came to an end. Most volunteers were really pumped to get to site, but I was a little bummed to be leaving everyone. A lot of people were psyched to start cooking for themselves and to have some privacy, but I couldn't help but feel like I was moving into the exact same circumstances as PST...minus having the company of other volunteers. Anyway, on a brighter note, I was ecstatic to finally have the honor of becoming an official PCV. I also was really excited because the teachers and Volunteers voted for me and another male volunteer, Mito, to do a speech in shqip at the swearing in ceremony. I was very excited, and it went really well :) The US ambassador was there as well as the mayor of Elbasan, all the Trainees, PC staff, and our host families. It was a great moment for me, and all of the volunteers! After the ceremony, we all began to say our goodbyes. It was a strange feeling.

6) Where I am now and RPB
Well, one would think I would be in Milot at my host family's house right now, but the thing is I am actually in Has with Kat. I went to Tirana with other volunteers going up North, and the night before I was supposed to leave for my site, I got a text from my host sister telling me not to come until wednesday the family wouldn't be in the house. Since I was with the group of Northies, they suggested I with them to their sites until Wednesday so I called PC staff and they said OK! I got the chance to see Bajram Curri and Has (A great opportunity)! I am waiting to hear from PC to see what will happen next, but I believe I will go to Tirana today, and then I will head to Burrel for a TEFL conference. After that PC will drive me to Milot so that they can help me with communication with my family and/or help me find some new housing. I have really enjoyed the chance to travel around Albania, but I would like to settle in to my new home and site. 
     I don't want to banter on too much today because this post was long and played a lo of catch up. I scored and Intermediate-High level in shqip on my language placement exam, and I was very happy about that, seeing as PC only required an Intermediate-Low. I realize now how important all the volunteers are to me. They are my friends, resources, and support system. I also have realized how important people back home are to me. It's easy to forget what home is when you're so far away, but being able to talk to friends and family keeps me connected with a very big piece of my life-- a piece that gives me a lot of peace of mind and makes me very happy :))

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