Thursday, September 26, 2013

The many things that have happened in Milot

A lot of things have happened and I’ve been really lazy with the updates. Here are the topics: 1-Milot’s Health Fair, 2-My host sister’s wedding,  3- My 1st experience with couchsurfers,  4-The night I was kidnapped by my host family, 5-World Vision partnership, Impromptu speech, and youth leadership conference in Pogradec, 6-The start of school

1)      Milot’s Health Fair

I wanted to get going with a community project, and I saw that there was a lack of knowledge about basic health information in Milot--thus I began to plan a Health Fair. I took a tooth model, a scale, and some pens from the Peace Corps office, tables and chairs from my school, a Blood pressure cuff from Milot’s Health Center, and used other volunteers as resources. It was a true collaboration of efforts to make this fair happen. Originally, the Health Center did not want to lend me a BP cuff because they thought that nobody would be interested in the fair, and they did not want their name attached to failure. They eventually caved, but decided that no nurses would come to help this time around. I planned to have the fair at Milot’s weekly market, and I wasn’t quite sure if I could claim a space. Things seemed a little fuzzy for a while, and I have to admit I was pretty nervous about its turnout. However, the day came, and the fair was a success. I had created 300 little certificates for people to record their weight and blood pressure, and almost all of them were gone by the end. People were excited to see what was going on at our table, and they were truly interested in furthering their knowledge of health. I spoke with a nurse from the Health Center after, and she told me she heard the fair was wonderful.  She would like to work with me to plan another health fair for the school.

2)      My host sister’s (Bana’s) wedding

 The wedding was say the least. It began with a “bachelorette party” that consisted of going to my family’s local (cafĂ©), getting fake nails with a bunch of other young women, and dancing around to traditional Albanian and modern Albanian and American music. I didn’t really want the fake nails, but all the other women were doing it and it felt like the right thing to do (NOTE TO SELF – that was a bad choice. They took me forever to pry off my fingers and they damaged my nails. Not to mention they were completely useless and impractical. I couldn’t even type on my phone). We stayed out pretty late… just us ladies dancing around and talking about what we would wear to the wedding for THE NEXT 3 DAYS!
The next day was day 1 of the wedding. It began during the early hours of the evening and lasted until 2am. The whole Milot community (Only the bride’s community members) attended the party. It consisted of one of my xhaxhi’s (Uncle’s) feeding me and another volunteer, Kate, a lot of beer and us dancing around to traditional Albanian music for hours on end in the school yard in front of my host family’s house. Most dances were Albanian circle dancing which is a series of steps repeated over and over again while holding hands and moving in a circle – It is EXTREMELY fun! Kate and I stumbled home (starving – We only drank beer. There was no food) and ate whatever was in my fridge at the time. The next day we went to my host family’s house around 3pm. My host sister sat in the family lokal in her gigantic white wedding dress. She sat on a chair in the corner, make up in full forced, and dress sprawled out across the floor. My other host sisters fed her by hand. Her only job for the day was to sit and look pretty while community members came by to wish her congratulations and good luck. While she sat there, other family members handed out candies and sweets that were beautifully wrapped. Later on that that night, there was a huge dinner at Milot’s only restaurant, Barcelona. The place was decked out with ribbons, bows and confetti. Kate and I scored ourselves a spot at the “Family” Table which was very flattering, but super awkward! We were served plates and plates of meet, pickled vegetable, other traditional Albanian treats, and of course…beer. There was a lot of dancing, but mostly for the family of the bride. The husband made an entrance late into the dinner with all of his close family members, and then he sat with Bana for the rest of the night. This party went until 3am. Once again, Kate and I stumbled home feeling absolutely exhausted.

The next morning Kate had to leave pretty early, and I had to be at my host family’s house for the last bit of the wedding. It was so early, and I was super tuckered out. I waited for what seemed like hours for something to happen. The whole community just waited and waited in front of my host family’s house and there were a lot of decorated cars in the school yard. Finally, the husband’s side of the family arrived dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos. They greeted everyone in my host family and then went into my host family’s lokal for lunch and their own private party. Half an hour later, my sister emerged from the house (practically falling out of the door) bawling her eyes out. My host family followed close behind crying as well. Why was she crying? This is an Albanian tradition for the bride. She leaves the house upset because she will never live there again—essentially she is giving up her family to join another family. As she walked to her new husband’s car she kept crying, and the whole Milot community followed behind her. I oddly found myself crying as well. I don’t know if it was because I was tired or because I knew I would miss Bana, but for whatever reason, I was caught up in the emotion of it all.
Kate has an awesome blog post about the wedding as well so I encourage you to check her site out at:

3)      My 1st experience with couchsurfers

Two Polish doctors came to visit Milot because they wanted to see “The real” Albania. They could not have chosen a better place. When they arrived, the community wanted to meet them, as usual. My school director saw them and decided to invite them to see his village in Fushe Milot. My director is in his mid 30’s, but he is unmarried so he still lives with his mother. His mom cooked us a gigantic meal all made from fresh items from the village. It was delicious! The couchsurfers and my director exchanged Polish and Albanian flags. It was a really nice gesture on both parts. When we returned to Milot, Max and Ola (my CSers) wanted to see the Health Center. I took them to see the center, and they asked to see how the nurses there check hemoglobin and glucose levels. The equipment turned out to be 40 years outdated, so Mat and Ola took a video to take back to their University in Poland to raise awareness of the poor medical conditions in Milot. With any luck, they can raise some money to buy new equipment for the Health Center here. Having couchsurfers made me realize how integrated I have become in the community. I was able to translate for the surfers, and really show them around my city. I also realized  how difficult it would be to be a tourist here without knowing somebody who lived here. Taking a furgon on your own is difficult because you have no idea where to go or how much money to pay. There also are not any official stations. The difference between old and new lek really threw my surfers off as well. Albanians tend to speak in old lek (adding an extra 0 onto the price and making items seem 10 times as expensive). My surfers thought the shopkeepers here were trying to cheat them. Despite the little bits of confusion, it was cool to have them here, and because my 1st experience was good, I will likely continue to take in more couchsurfers.

4)      The night I was kidnapped by my host family

A week after the wedding, I was in my house just relaxing. I had half a bottle of wine left from a “wine and cheese” night that I had with another volunteer, Amber. This particular day while relaxing, I decided to finish the wine. I was also simultaneously watching a Chinese film in Italian. Needless to say, I was a little out of it. I was still tired from the wedding and a little overwhelmed with preparing for the school year to start. I had anticipated going to sleep early when all of the sudden I got a call from my host sister, Ina. “Come downstairs now!  Mom and Dad are waiting for you!” I didn’t know what the hell was going on or why my host parents were waiting for me, but I threw on some pants and ran downstairs. It was after I got downstairs that I realized I was a little tipsy. I stepped on a loose tile and almost fell down only to look up at my 16 year old Albanian language tutor (Kristi) who was staring at me very puzzled. I looked back at him and in English (which he can’t understand) “Uhhh..I’m lost. Where are my host parents?” Before he could say anything, my host parents yelled my name, directed me into their vehicle and we took off.  When we arrived, there was a gigantic dinner waiting for us with a huge baby goat in the middle – and yes, the head was served as well. There was a man playing a traditional Albanian instrument (like a mini 2 string guitar) and singing about…well he was actually singing about drinking Raki and putting pictures on Facebook. It was odd, but awesome at the same time. He just made up the song as he went. I even got a shout out. So what was this dinner for?! It was very the husband’s side of the family to celebrate the recent wedding of my host sister. Bana had requested that I come to meet them. We watched the wedding video, ate a lot of food, and of course… drank a lot of beer (Yes, I was hammered). Bana showed me her new room and gave me a photo of her from her husband’s wedding because they have 2 different weddings. She looked so beautiful! She was dressed in a dress and looked like the queen of hearts. I asked Bana if she was happy, and she smiled at me, holding back some tears and only shook her head no. It was then that I realized why I had cried the day she left. She is only 19 years old, and she had been taken away from her family to live with a 26 year old man. The entire dinner she did not get to sit down and eat with us. She only served everyone else at the table. I hope she will become happier as time goes on. I miss her a lot already.

5)      World Vision partnership, Impromptu speech, and youth leadership conference in Pogradec

One day my school director asked me to stay after school preparation hours, and I was really confused why. Trend—I am always confused. When I arrived he explained that I would be meeting with 2 World Vision Representatives. They came in and to my surprise, they could speak English! They discussed the types of activities and clubs I wanted to start, and told them about my ideas for a Girl’s, Model UN, Reading, and Outdoor Ambassador’s club, and they thought they were great. They offered the school a partnership and we agreed to share resources.  Their first request was that I lead a workshop at a conference for the leaders of Kurbin (the district that Milot is in). After the meeting with the WV reps, the next day there was a WV teacher’s training for Kurbin. I went with all my colleagues, and we had lunch and discussed experiences that we’ve had as teachers. It was a little hard for me to follow along because the training was all in Albanian. I kept turning to my colleagues and saying in Albanian “I want ice cream.” They just smiled back and said “Me too.” At the end of the training, when we were all ready to go home, 1 WV rep asked me to give a quick speech about gender equality. She had noticed that all the men only sat with other men and the women with other women, and she wanted me to point it out and say something. Luckily, my counterpart was there to translate for me, but after my little impromptu speech, chaos erupted. Some teachers were very against my desire to empower women. My colleagues stood by my opinion, but it was a very stressful time, and a lot of arguing occurred. The training ended with my colleagues taking me out for a big ice cream. They are great!

A week later, I attended the youth leadership conference in Pogradec. I went with Kate (same volunteer who came to the wedding J ). We gave presentations on Public Speaking and Relationship Building. Pogradec was beautiful. It is right along the border of Albania and Macedonia and has a beautiful lake named Ohrid. The workshop went really well, and the students did a great job. However, they had a little bit of a hard time taking criticism. It was a lot of their first times speaking in Public and although they were nervous, they gave it their best. It’s students like these who lead me to believe Albania will have a bright future!

6)      The Start of School

The start of school finally arrived after a long Summer. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t pretty nervous. My counterpart and I decided to come off aggressive and clear. I am already very young for a teacher, and my counterpart is even younger than I am. We decided it’s better to act tough and not be walked all over. We have a strict no cell phone policy and a homework point system. If we see a cell phone in class, it goes right into a bucket. If students don’t do their homework, they must write their name in a book and they receive a minus for the day. 3 minuses = a full # grade down for the entire year. They can earn back a minus for the day if they participate a lot. Albanian students have much worse behavior than American students as a whole. They tend to shout a lot, leave the classroom, and talk back. A lot of times I can hear my students telling my counterpart that they won’t respond to me because I don’t speak Albanian and won’t understand. Some days, we teach 6 hours in a row. Some days, I want to scream at my students for being so disrespectful. However, there are times that the “poor” student will speak up and try his best. There are times students thank me and my counterpart after class, and there are times they tell us we are their favorite teacher’s and that English is their favorite class. It is times like these that make it all worth it. My colleagues have also asked me to teach them English 1 day a week for an hour after school so I will be doing that too. Also, Model UN applications were due, so now we wait until Oct 1st to see if Milot gets to participate in this year’s conference. Fingers crossed.

Here’s to a good school year!

Here are some photos from my recent endeavors: 

Goat dinner:
 Goat head:
 Health Fair:

 Little Village by Pogradec:
 Bana's Wedding:

 Lake Ohrid:

 Public Speaking Workshop: