Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Relationship and a Positive Reflection

For those of you who didn't know, I am now in a relationship…

A relationship between me and Albania, its people, its culture, and its language. On the other side of that I am exchanging myself, my culture, and my language.  As in any relationship, there is learning/growing, commitment, and passion involved. I allow myself to be vulnerable here because I think relationships are all about taking risks. I believe this is a healthy relationship and is extremely fitting for where I am in my life right now (my early 20s). It is much like those who are currently in a relationship with their studies, business, or even just life in general. While Albania and I may not be together forever, I will never forget the journey within this experience.

To prove this statement, I’d like to share some of the most recent exchanges between me and Albania:
      1.    Project Design Management Workshop (PDM)  
All of the volunteers in my group and I attended a conference in Tirana with (most) of our chosen counterparts to learn how to build a project. This workshop was wonderful for many reasons. First off, we had hot showers… which was a mega plus for me. 2nd, we got to see each other which is always nice after some time apart.  3rd (And this is probably the most important—though hot showers tend to dominate my mind) was that my counterpart and I really gained an understanding of how to make a project. It’s definitely not as simple as I imagined. There are intricate details and jargon that I hadn't thought of and a project proposal/grant is kind of a piece of art. You have to have structure and appeal, and now my counterpart and I are super excited to begin our project to build an activity room in the high school because we strongly believe in our abilities to be strong and appealing. Although I am here to help Albanians understand how to make a better Albania, I myself am learning how to begin projects anywhere in life. I feel like the training here is truly priceless education.

      2.       Language

My favorite part of being an English teacher is seeing my students improve. I have mentioned this many times before in my blogs. However, although I don’t have a tutor, my Albanian (shqip) has improved a lot as well. After official testing at the PDM Workshop, I learned that I am now at an “Advanced-Mid” level of the language which means I am 2 levels up from where I started at “Intermediate-High” and am 3 levels away from the highest level of Albanian, “Distinguished.” I am most proud of the fact that I can switch on and off using Milot’s Dialect and the standard Albanian language.  My goal is to finish my service at least one level ahead at “Advanced-High,” and I intend to get there by beginning to study Albanian grammar. I feel that language has definitely helped my relationship with Albania grow stronger, and culture and integration are currently the 2 elements of my PC service that I am the most satisfied with.
       3.       Real Life and Tragedy
      So now I've spit out a lot of good things about this relationship, but we know there are always little bumps along the way. Recently some extremely sad/scary events have taken place here. My counterpart’s best friend’s father died while fixing a window. The latter he was on was unstable and he fell to his death. Shortly after there was a random attack on a bus by the city of Tepelene and a man proceeded to rob and murder people on the bus. Lastly, a boy from Milot (and my School Director, Host family, and Landlord’s cousin) was squished by a heavy piece of iron that fell on him and also died at only 21 years of age. I personally did not know any of these victims, but am extremely close with those who it affected. Hardest of all was speaking with my 17 year old landlord’s son (who is also my best friend in Milot). What can you possibly say to a 17 year old boy whose cousin has just died in such a terrible and traumatic way? It is hard enough to talk about feelings with any teenager or in my experience with any boy. On top of that my language is just not good enough to really express what I want to say. I told him I was there if he needed someone to talk to and that he shouldn’t feel ashamed of any feelings he has. Sometimes life incidents being you back to the reality of things and for me it was remembering that life still goes on-tragedy and all. I get to see how people here participate in life events such as weddings, engagements, graduations, births, but along with those come sadness and death as well.

To bring this post to an end on a less depressing note, I’d like to just banter about my thoughts on life right now.  Oh wait… also I want to mention that my neighbor has been out of town for 2 months and therefore I have not had a washing machine to use, and because it is winter, hand washing clothes is not only painfully cold, but the clothes dry too slow and collect a mildew-ish smell. Yummm. Ok back on track to my thoughts! I think it’s really important for people to do some good solid self-reflection. I have actually been somewhat self-critical lately in a negative way, and I finally have begun to come out of it. At the Tirana conference we also had some IST training and overall Peace Corps-ish activities and in one of them we had to write down our 3 biggest struggles/stresses here. Most people had written something along the lines of 1) Loneliness 2) Integration and 3) Language, but mine were completely different. They were 1) Cold Showers 2) Acne 3) Weight gain. I was originally disappointed in myself because I felt like my struggles seemed to be a lot lamer and more superficial than everyone else’s, but then I realized…hey, that’s the truth.  In order to combat these struggles, I really had to give myself some self-love and compliments (my favorite)! As cheesy as it sounds (and this is super cheesy), I really began to feel that for each physical flaw Peace Corps makes me stress about, I also get a compliment for each of those gosh darn inner beauties. I love helping people. I love going out of my way to make my friends feel special. I am generous with my time, energy, and money. Realizing these things really brought me back up, and although un-showered, pimpled, and a little heavier than the NCAA athlete I once was, I am completely satisfied with myself. J

And now… photos:
                                         My Counterpart and I at the PDM workshop in Tirana
                                     Following suit and putting my head in a hole at the Church of Lac
                                          My published news article for the Tirana Times :))))

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Edition...Yeah I am behind.

Hello there! I haven't written for a while and honestly I don't really feel like catching people up here in detail so I will just quickly run through on some important things that have happened (with a few highlights) and then continue on with where I am now :)

Ok Thanksgiving/Hanukkah --> A lot of volunteers gathered in Gjirokaster for a Friendsgiving and I (with some help) cooked the turkey :))

Language Refresher --> A conference/workshop designed to help us refresh our language skills was held in Elbasan. We also had a talent show that was a bunch of fun! Unfortunately after, we lost another volunteer, and another volunteer fell in a hole (Yeah...it happens here). She was okay though--just a few stitches and she was super champion about it.

Christmas --> Some other volunteers went "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" status and went to Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava together. It was awesome. We had leggings with denim print that fit all of us.

New Years Eve --> I spent it with my counterpart and her family in a small town next to Lac called Sanxhak. I stayed for a couple days hanging out with her and eating a lot of wonderful traditional Albanian food. Turkey and Baklava are 2 things that are traditional for this holiday. The fireworks were nuts! There were also a lot of AK47s and firecrackers being shot out of people's windows. It kind of felt like I was in a battle zone and I even got hit in the head by a firework sparkle.

And now...NOW!

I have reach my month long mark now of running 4-6 miles 4-6 days a week and it feels awesome! Except of course, for the quarter-sized blisters on my feet, my arthritic ankles, and for the cough I've developed from the little sick boy in a furgon I took. However, they are of no matter! I have always made excuses for why I don't run (especially more than 1 mile at a time). I never liked running. It took me like 5 tries to pass the mile test in college (1 mile in 7:15) and I kind of always viewed running as punishment. For whatever reason now, I enjoy running. I love when Albanians stare at me like I have 3 feet. I love my running buddy who keeps my pace even though he's 6ft tall. I love the view and the fact that I can be outside in WINTER! I love feeling healthy and athletic, and I love that running helps to build my schedule.

My running buddy has also told me that our running has inspired him to plan to build a gym in Milot for men AND WOMEN! Yayyy.. I couldn't be more proud of him, and I am excited to help him begin this endeavor!

Besides running, I now have 2 extra courses after school to help students who are behind. I love the extra courses because I get to work with students who are there solely because they WANT to learn and not because it's required. This course is a teacher's dream.

I haven't been in a writing mood lately, hence the lack of blog posts. Hopefully, I'll find that mood somewhere in the near future so I can do a better job keeping you all updated, but until then...

That's all. Here are some photos!

Performing in the Language Refresher Talent Show
                                                          Finding a Kosovare in Vienna!
                                                              Bratislava, Slovakia!
                                                     Circle dancing at 1:30am in the airport
                                                                  Christmas Markets!
                                                          Kidneys from the T-day Turkey
                                                                A view from my run
                                                              Friendsgiving in Gjirokaster
                                                               Ugly Sweater Party