Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Burrel, Albania

My site mate Barbara and I arrived in our small town of Burrel yesterday and we are just blown away! The road in is long and winding....up through mountains and curving alongside a beautiful river the entire way. Our apartments aren't quite ready to be lived in yet so the Peace Corps has put us up in a very nice hotel called Vila Bruci. It's more like a family run inn with a nice restaurant and an unbelievable view. Here is your first glimpse of Burrel.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Albanian Culture

What have I learned so far about Albanian culture? Maybe a smidgen. Or an iota. Perhaps not a whole hell of a lot in the mere 6 weeks I’ve been here. And I missed the first 2 weeks, which is the time that the Peace Corps staff gets you well acquainted with the culture which is another reason I know so little. So far this is a little bit about what I have learned:

  • Albania is largely agrarian. There are farms everywhere except the cities.
  • Family is everything. Number one, always. They are connected not only by blood, but proximity. Here in my village families live in compounds or next to each other. And they rarely leave their place of birth.
  • Shaking of the head means yes and nodding means no. (This has understandably caused us all a lot of confusion).
  • It’s a coffee culture and a cup of coffee is really an event that can last anywhere from 1 hour to half the day.
  • Older people get a lot more respect (hooray!) which has led me to go gray all the way. (Yes, mom. You heard me). I don’t know how long this will last but for now it’s fine.
  • When someone tells you a banana costs 300 lek, they really mean 30 lek, because there is a system of new lek in place. When you ask the price you have to ask people “is that in old lek or new lek”?

Now, a bit about gender:
It’s a patriarchal society and men have all the power. There is still a clear distinction between “women’s work” and “men’s work”. In villages women and girls do not “go out” unless accompanied by a male family member or parent (not that there is any place to “go out” to). The younger gals in our Peace Corps group have to be really careful about going anyplace alone. They are told to stay out of bars (coffee bars too) unless it’s designated a “family” place. Most bars are men’s bars and you really don’t want to go there. Surprisingly enough, in order for me to open up a bank account, I had to give them my father’s first name. According to the bank, my designation is now “Joanne Giovanni Luongo”.

I’ll write more on Albanian culture as I come to experience and understand it better.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Phase 1: Finishing Line

Hard to believe but next Monday I'll be swearing in as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer). The first stage of training is a mere 8 weeks (6 for me, since I was 2 weeks late)...unlike the grueling 12 weeks I endured the first time around in Ukraine. Training is Albania has been a breeze. I still feel like I have only arrived here yet Monday I am finished with Phase I. Phase II will find me in a town just 60 miles north of the capital city. Burrel will be my home for 6 weeks of independent living and training, then it's back to my host family in the village of Thane for 2 more weeks of training (Phase III). My group in Thane consists of 8 folks....three of us are teacher-trainers, one is in community development and the others are university teachers. Everyone was assigned to a big city except for me, but to my mind I have the best site for connecting with my community...not an easy thing to do when you live in a big city. I have more opportunities to do some grassroots projects in my town and perhaps the surrounding villages because of its small size. One special thing of note is I have site-mates! A second-year health volunteer is already in place, and a woman from my training group will be placed in my town as well..she is a COD volunteer (Community and Organizational Development). Barbara will be working for the Mayor...who is...wait for it...a women! (A HUGE deal in this patriarchal country). This is a huge coup for me as I will be wanting to do all sorts of community projects and having a PCV with the mayor's ear will come in handy for sure.

                                                         The Village People. (Group Thane)
 Mike. Erion (teacher), Bill, Nate, Adrian, Lindeta (teacher), Cristin, Polly, Me and Julie

Monday, May 4, 2015

Saturday in Tirana

The entire group went to Tirana on Saturday. All agreed it was a beautiful city and a lot of fun. The scenery in this country is unbelievable...hills, valleys, mountains and streams...just lovely. I'll take some pictures when I have a better view (a moving bus is not conducive to good photography). Here I am with some of my fellow travelers.
Jake and I (sorry...poor quality)
Pier and Alyssa
Eric and I

There are ten of us in the group that will be living north of Tirana and this is the group I traveled around the city with today. We went to the PC office then toured around the city a bit looking at stuff and ended with a nice lunch and coffee (and) afterwards.

Famous pyramid landmark...a solute to communism back in the day.


Crazy architecture...a round-cornered building

More crazy architecture

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Assignment Part2

SO, as explained in the last post, I’ll be heading to a small town a short bus hop from Tirana. Although the town is small, the school district is actually 50,000 strong. My job, as I explained it, will be primarily to train teachers and provide on-going professional development in the way of seminars and workshops.

There are other aspects of the job that sound really interesting. Some are easy-peasy while other sound down-right daunting. Under the heading of easy-peasy would be helping the schools with the implementation of camps and clubs and exploring the notion of “Schools as Community Centers”. (This is a new initiative of the Ministry of Education and Sport). Since my experience lies in the very heart of this idea (remember my turning the libraries in Novomoskovsk into a community centers?) I am super excited to tackle this. Also under easy-peasy will be helping teachers to improve their English. (English Club for English teachers? Yeah, a good idea last time but not many attendees. However, what we did was pretty great and I can improve on this previous model). There will be challenges, of course, but at least I can draw heavily on my previous Peace Corps experience. The not-so-easy-peasy jobs will be organizing professional development seminars and conferences for the entire region. As well my host organization’s desire to establish a teacher-trainer network in order to support all the English teachers in the region. Yuh. Lots of cool challenges on the road ahead and I am super excited to get started.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Assignment: Burrel, Albania

Today our training group received their site assignments. As far as I could tell, no one was disappointed, save for one, but that seems to be the case everywhere in the world.  I am slated to be living in a small town 90 km north of Tirana, the capital city. According to the information the Peace Corps has given me, there is either a population of 12,000 or 19,000. The town itself has a Facebook page and says it boasts about 10,000. Not big by any standards but big enough….and small enough that I can get to know people on a more personal level. I’ll be working out of the district’s educational office. My main job will be to provide training and development for English teachers. It appears as if I will provide training for not only the teachers who work in the town, but also for the surrounding villages. In all the entire school district has 55 English teachers. There are lots of other opportunities for community development in the area as well and I can’t wait to get started.
I don’t know much about the town, but one of my colleagues visited there not too long ago and said it was really nice. It is a mountainous region and quite cold according to my host mom. I will also have site-mates…something I didn’t have when I served in Ukraine. It will be nice to have Peace Corps friends in my town. I looked up the town on-line and found out Albania’s one and only king was born there. Also of note, the town was home to the most feared communist prisons in all of Albania!
All and all a good day with lots of excitement for everyone. The best news was that my friend Sue is going to be posted in Tirana…less than an hour by bus so we can do some girl stuff once and a while.
Sue and I on top of the castle in Elbason. (My first good selfie!)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Child Safety?

What I know about children can just about fit into a small thimble, so believe me when I tell you I am no expert. What I DO know about kids I have learned through news stories in America, with their safety being of the utmost importance. I know there are laws governing parents about child safety seats in cars and advice about staying away from purchasing used cribs and things of this nature.  There are thousands of safety-related stories (some pretty horrific) in America and other western countries.
What I have observed in Albania would curl the toes of American parents everywhere. Tots running about with lollipops in their mouths, playing with butane lighters, and running silly through the house with sharp knives and garden sheers. As well, this same tot has been observed running and up and down rough concrete stairs with no railing where one little misstep would send the tot plummeting down to the first floor. I’ve also observed two tots in the front seat of a car playing rough and tumble (sans seat belts) while another volunteer spied a tot sitting in the driver’s lap steering the car.
Do you suppose perhaps we worry too much about our kids?