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.
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