Sunday, 20 April 2008

Elbasan is my new home!!!

Dear All,

After one month living in the country I found out that I will be living in Elbasan for two years, which is the city that the training is taking place. Currently I am living in a village 40 minutes outside of the city but go into to Elbasan once or twice a week to meet with the entire training group and have technical training. This is the opposite life-style that I had imagined when I signed up for the Peace Corps. I had imagined living in a mud hut in a remote village teaching basic health issue to the villagers. Well here I am in Albania in the Mediterranean where I will be living in a city of 120,000 people with running water and electricity most of the day, working at the institute of public health. Our job is not to just deliver the health education but facilitate the health care workers in designing and implementing health education activities.

Currently in training my site mates and I are working on preparing health lessons for the 8th grade and kindergarten classes as well as a community lesson and a community project, all the while taking language lessons and trying to learn the language and culture. It is pretty busy but it has been fun.

I am very happy in my placement even though it is nothing like I had imagined. I began the process by leaving it up to fate. There is something so exciting about relinquishing all control over your future to the hands of a federal organization. I did not request a region or country to be placed in or where I would like to be placed within Albania. I would have loved to be in the middle of no where but this is going to give me an incredible experience for my future work. I am going to be doing exactly what I am interested in doing in future jobs plus the added challenge of working cross-culturally and in a different language away from any support from family or familiarity. I will be exposed to NGOs such as World Vision and build connections with them. I will also learn much about public health in the real world or at least in Albania’s world and get experience in completing health campaigns, working with vulnerable populations and with sensitive topics. I know there are many challenges I will be faced with and I will have to work hard to prove myself to my co-workers as well as to myself. Although I will not be physically challenged as I had imagined I think that this will be an extremely mentally challenging experience. I am excited to get started. Wish me luck!!!!

Love you all,

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Two Weeks In

A lot has happened in the two weeks that I have been in Albania. I am living a village of 3,000 people called Stermen. It has a grade school, post office that I have yet to see open, a health center which closes at 1 pm, an ostridge farm, and lots of cafĂ©’s with no one in them.

I will begin with my host family that I love dearly. My host sisters are the sweetest girls ever and are full of hugs, smiles, and laughs. I love all three things so we get along great. The oldest is Migena who is 16 and is called Megi for short. She speaks pretty good English so we communicate very well. This is not the case with most of the other volunteers who are with families who do not speak any English at all. Not many people here speak English expect some of the younger people who have taken it in school. Little boys will yell out as we walk by “what is your name” or “James Bond” or any word that they know in English. The middle girl Matilda is 12 and is also very sweet. The youngest daughter is 6 and is incredibly cute and runs to give me a hug whenever I come home and holds my hand when we walk. She talks and talks and can eats more than the whole family combined yet is a tiny little thing. The mother is a housewife and the father is a carpenter. He is a good guy but the daughters wait on him hand and foot.

All that I heard about hospitality and them loving Americans is true. They are shy in the beginning but as soon as you say “Mire dita, sie jeni?” they invite you into their homes for coffee. They serve Turkish coffee which is in a tiny cup and has the grounds in it still and lots of sugar. Then they offer you a candy or cookie. It has been this way at each house we go to.

Life in general in Albania is much simpler than in the US. Every home here has chickens. They are everywhere running around the streets and in people’s yards. We have fresh eggs and they buy milk from a family down the road that has a cow. I am getting used to whole milk.

One of the things I enjoy most about living here is waking up in the morning to the rooster and birds and the occasional moo from the cow next door. There are donkeys, cows, horses, chickens, and sheep everywhere. Many people still ride in a horse or donkey pulled cart and there are herds of sheep grazing all over and people walking their cows.

The language learning is going slow but everyday I feel a little more comfortable with speaking it and take advantage of small achievements such as ordering lunch at a restaurant or finding my way to Elbasan by bus or having a conversation with a neighbor. I am surprised how much I have learned in just two weeks.

This is a beautiful country. The hills and the mountains, the little villages with animals roaming, and the people are all beautiful. However, you have to overlook the trash on the ground and in the rivers. It is really bad and I don’t know if there are any landfills or anything in the country to properly dispose of the waste. As Albania continues to develop their will be more and more trash. At this time people in the villages do not generate much trash because they do not buy packaged food and junk that they do not need which ends up breaking or just being thrown away like Americans. However the garbage they do make is thrown in the river, lakes or where ever they are at the moment. The infrastructures are extremely weak including the health, education, and economy. It is extremely hard to find jobs in Albania. Few women work even if they are college educated and most families have at least one person in Italy or Greece working and sending money home.

I hope you are doing well. Thanks for the notes. They are nice to read.

Love Maggie