Friday, March 28, 2014

I'm Feeling This!

Today's blog post is about feelings... and boy do your feelings get weird in Peace Corps. I am already an emotional person, but when you isolate yourself in a foreign country, I believe you get even more in touch with those inner emotions.

For some reason I have developed the habit of crying every time I someone else cries. In fact... I haven't cried at all here without the triggering of another's tears! Today was my counterpart's last day teaching the 1st and 2nd years. Monday is her last day overall, and I'm sure there will be a rainstorm of tears then. I've never seen students so attached to a teacher before. They have written her poems, signed petitions, and well... have cried too. Elsona, my counterpart, was really the best counterpart I could've asked for and I could not be any happier with the time we have spent together. She has become a wonderful teacher and a best friend. I am going to miss her a lot, but I know we will still continue to work together. It will be interesting to begin working with my new counterpart on Tuesday. We have never met so I am really clueless as to how Tuesday will go. It kind of feels odd...the idea of walking into school, meeting my new counterpart, and then suddenly co-teaching together in a class mid-school year. I guess we'll see how that goes down.

To keep the topic on feelings, I've decided to put my emotional energy into various things. Along with exercise (and umm...retail therapy), I have decided to begin writing poems... in Albanian. I have also decided to study for the GRE. I don't even know if I want to take the GRE, but I thought studying would be a good idea just in case. What's the harm in becoming a little more academic, right? The biggest outlet I've found seems to be my sense of adventure taking over. I've been all over the place lately...both physically and mentally. Now, this ubiquitous sensation isn't a bad thing as it might sound. It's actually wonderful. I feel like both mentally and physically my wanderlust is being filled, and along with it this giant sense of luck has taken over me. Every time something that I normally would consider bad or unfortunate happens, I just smile because I know that right behind it is something really awesome. It's like receiving a dirty old box as a present only to open it and find your favorite jewelry inside (in my case something tacky and covered in sparkles...likely an animal or plant of some sort...God I have terrible taste). Anyway, it's awesome... and like my hypothetical jewelry, my adventures are cheap, over the top, and they have brought me way more happiness than they should. I like being lucky! Maybe it's my lucky year :)

I dip into feelings of longing and immediately bounce to feelings of excitement and mostly the feeling of "new." I love Spring because Spring is the season of growth and freshness (and my birthday!). After a year in, what better way to begin than by being refreshed. In the winter I spent a lot of time feeling detached from America, and recently I've decided that, well, I don't care about becoming detached anymore. I have a year left. That is not a lot of time. I'd really like for myself to focus on me this year. And my life in Albania. I always say that..although extremely philanthropic, Peace Corps is selfish time. It's my very own experience that nobody else gets to have or fully understand. I bought a diary to document all of the things that are sometimes hard to say out loud, and I am excited to read it one year down the road.

I've got a lot of feelings people! haha... Happy Spring! Enjoy these photos :)

                                                                    Delicious cookies!
                                                                        Donkey ride!
                                                                Just enjoying it all
                                                             Frisbee with my kiddos :))
                                                           Serenades and Raki in Bilisht
                            How I love waiting on the highway every time I want to go somewhere
                                                              Acquiring lumberjack skills
                                 I killed, plucked, and gutted this rooster... As organic as it gets

Friday, March 7, 2014

To open doors, roads unknown, and a truly wonderful week!

I’m writing this blog post with an incredibly full and satisfied heart. This week will go down as one of the most epic weeks of my young life and here’s why. It began with me learning that I can be productive, efficient, and independent. I finished and turned it my first grant proposal a week early. My Counterpart and I planned and ran a Community and Cultural Exchange day for our High School and Elementary School. I got to spend time with my 2 best friends in Peace Corps down South. I got to play tour guide and travelled around with my Adventure Buddy, Sam, from America (who also brought me American Goodies. Thank you to everyone involved in that—Sam, Janie, Aunt Rosanna and my parents. To top it all off I celebrated Teacher’s Day with all of my students and colleagues and enjoyed every moment. I already thought I loved teaching, but this day really threw that passion over the top.

To break it down, I’ll give you guys some sub-categories as usual.

1)      Grant Proposal
A grant proposal is a lot of hard, teeth-grinding work. It takes a lot of time, patience, and detail. There’s nothing like saying the same thing over and over again in different ways and identifying/predicting all possible outcomes and preparing for those outcomes. For me, writing this grant proposal led to me eating a whole chicken in one sitting (It was too late to buy chocolate and that was all that I had).  My project proposal is to build an Activity Room in the high school so the kids will have a place to hold club meetings, attend after-hours lessons, run student government, and participate in conferences. It will also be open to the community. I’ll keep you guys updated on my project as time goes by. Anyway, the best thing for me about writing this grant proposal was realizing that I had improved myself. There was nobody here pushing me to finish this grant application. My motivation stemmed from my love for my students and the school itself. I had no coach or teacher giving me a grade for completing this assignment or punishment for not completing it. It was really all up to me. After completing the grant I looked at myself in the mirror and truly saw a volunteer; I saw a girl who went out into the developing world to give it her best helping hand—who succeeded. J. Maybe it’s easier to not procrastinate and to work hard when you’re involved in something your extremely passionate about. Maybe I’ve just grown up a lot. Whatever it is, I am proud of myself, and I see so clearly the importance of following your passions in life.

2)      Community and Cultural Exchange day
Milot has never really had a community gathering before, and with me having an American visitor and some close-by volunteers I saw the perfect opportunity to host a day to embrace both of these things. Although there were kinks in the organization, overall the day was fun and a great experience for me and the people of Milot. I’ve actually never seen that many people in Milot before, not even at our giant Sunday Markets. The students prepared songs, poems, and dances for the day—some of which went wonderfully, some of which created a lot of laughter, and some that I wouldn’t mind forgetting haha. But I loved every piece of it. The beauty of trying things like this is that there are imperfections and room for improvement. However, I accomplished my goal of showing Milot that days like this are possible. I left my counterpart, other teachers, and student leaders in charge of running the event to show them that they didn’t need me at all. I am so proud of all of them, and very grateful for the volunteers and Peace Corps staff who came to watch the event. It was also really cool for me to have Sam there so somebody from back home could see what I actually do here through something other than a computer screen.

3)      Running Around Albania With My Adventure Buddy
Last year at almost exactly this same date, Sam and I took off on a road trip to go see the Grand Canyon, go snow camping, and catch spring training. It was an incredibly fun time, and I remember thinking that touring beautiful places close to home was a wonderful way to spend my last days in America before leaving for the Peace Corps. I didn’t really think I’d see Sam again until I finished my Peace Corps service, but I guess life just hands you what you need at the right time sometimes. I was beginning to feel pretty detached from America. Seriously, I felt like I was even forgetting how to speak English—not good for an English teacher! However, this week brought a new kind of adventure, still full of awesome times. Keeping a similar theme, we jumped into the freezing Blue Eye (as opposed to last year’s jumping in a snow-surrounded Lake Tahoe). We hitch-hiked, chilled with a lot of locals, travelled down roads unknown, had some awesome conversations IN ENGLISH!!!, ate amazing food (probably more amazing for me than Sam seeing as I’ve been deprived of food), hung out with other volunteers, and spent a lot of time in buses. I was reminded of how beautiful Albania is. It was a great journey, and a great way to spend my half-way point. I am so incredibly grateful to have a friend like Sam to share my
life experiences with, take part in my excursions and support me through the crazy things I do. I will never take for granted the importance of true friendship that at the end of the day remains no matter where life takes you. Thank you so much, Sam!

4)      Teacher’s Day (March 7th)
Teacher’s Day is apparently a big deal here in Albania. I didn’t think I was going to go to school today because I was exhausted from the week of adventuring around Albania, but this is how the story goes: Okay, so to set the scene I actually came back from the airport yesterday after dropping Sam off. I proceeded to pass out on my couch. It was maybe 3 o clock. I woke up at 7 starving, so I opened the fridge and ate the only edible thing I saw in their—a sausage. I literally just unwrapped it and began devouring it. After, I told my counterpart that I would probably take the day off to rest.  I woke up at 7:35am (10 minutes before I usually leave for school) to a text from my counterpart. She said I had to be there and that I wouldn’t want to miss this day. She was right. I threw on the first things I saw in my room and ran to the school. I arrived to see all of my colleagues decked out in dresses and suits. I looked terrible. After 20 minutes of sitting around all my pretty people, I learned that we didn’t even have school today and it was just a day for the teachers to be respected by our students and to go off and party. They politely suggested I go change into something “more special” aka less heinous! I went home, threw on some makeup and a dress and came back to applause from my colleagues who were showered with gifts and flowers from our students. Everyone looked so happy and I thought it was such a wonderful thing to see all the teachers getting the respect they deserved. I must have received over 100 kisses from my students all thanking me for what I do and I also came home with a rose. It was a total feel-good day, and after seeing all the students, us teachers hopped in a few cars and headed to the highway for lunch, dancing, and drinks. I led a few circle dances and had so much fun just goofing off with my colleagues. Although every teacher paid for themselves, they would not let me pay for my portion as respect for me volunteering my time. I felt so appreciated and happy.

I am so happy.

Peace Corps hands you a lot of ups and downs, loops and twirls, but I believe the trick is to really highlight the good times, and let the bad ones pass without much thought. This week will definitely stay with me through rough patches and will bring a smile to my face when I need one.   

And one more thing! Congratulations to one of the PCVs in my group who is marrying a local. Let the festivities begin :))

And as are some photos. Enoy!

                                                                     A lot of students!
                                                       Reading to the younger children

                                                            Traditional Albanian Dancing
Penguin Dance :)

                                                                View of Gjirokaster
                                                             In front of the Blue Eye
                                          Luckily this unknown road led to something beautiful
                                                                       Sam Jumps

                                                                          I jump.
                                                               View from Saranda
                                                                  Delicious seafood!
                                                                     Long bus ride!
                                                         Eating fish eyes for good luck!
                                                        Some of my favorite people
                                                              Teacher's Day Lunch
                                 Welcoming everyone to Community and Cultural Exchange Day