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 (café) 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: