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Jan. 22nd, 2014

Arts and Crafts at the Convent.







Some examples of activities we did with the girls.

Eneo.



Another post dedicated to my family.



However, the star of this post isn't my sister or my extended family or my mom.



It's all about this little guy, Eneo.



I've seen this little guy in the womb, some months outside of the womb and now at age 1.



I am convinced he could be a baby model.



Or maybe that's the proud aunt inside of me. Here he is with his even prouder mom.



Nah, I take that back, he's a baby model in the works for sure.



I rarely head him cry or misbehave during my short visit home. What a great little guy.



That day, they had one of their pigs slaughtered as part of a fresh welcome home dinner for Eneo and his parents. Here's Teuta poking fun at me for being a vegetarian.



Here's the family enjoying a delicious meal together.



Took a photo of one of their plates. Imagine this without the meat and that's my version of dinner. Freshly cut vegetables, home made garlic soaked olives, fresh slaughtered pig, baked red paper and farm cheese.



Here's one last shot of Eneo for now. He's learning how to walk! I bet the next time I see him he'll be running.

Tetor. (October)



A lot happened in October. Here's Sabrina practicing a couple of simple origami pieces like the crane and the flower.



I have shitty luck with cat poop. Sometimes I get surprise visits from my grandlord's cats and they leave me presents in the tub or on my fluffy blankets.



Also, I am super annoyed by the number of flies that have popped up this fall and winter.



Homemade pizza rich with flavor in Kel Cyre. Here's Casey taking a grand bite of Stella food.



Kel Cyre is one of the smaller, and of course most beautiful, sites that I visit regularly.



Shepherds are some of the hardest working people in this country.



They herd on whatever terrain in any kind of weather.



Deep south family laughing over coffee.



Himare's beautiful waters welcoming in the fall.



Uniting Sabrina with a feline friend.



Monday night creative course in full swing.




PC Albania G15 leaders from various organizations met up to present to the AADF (Albania American Development Fund) for funding for our respective projects. Such projects include the annual OA (Outdoor Ambassador) summer camp, OA YLC (Youth Leadership Conference), MUN, GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and WO!A (Write On! Albania).



I will miss the instant trust that parents have towards strangers and their ability to allow their children to be held by others.



I'll also miss the openness and instant comradeship with complete strangers. I ran into this guy while traveling to Tirane from Elbasan. This man's wife's family still resides in Delvine while he and his wife have lived in Philly for over 15 years. They currently self own a restaurant which they created from the ground up and he learned English once he got to America. I will also miss listening to uplifting and hopeful stories like these.



New favorite bar in Tirane is Duff. Duff is run by a man who studied architecture in the states so not only are the surroundings fun and well thought out but the menu is up to par with American standards as well complete with a delicious happy hour.


Crafts at the convent. 3D hands.



I have grown fond of making meals for friends and as always, I love hosting people.



Vegetables are from town and the rice wraps are a delicacy from a special store in Tirane. Here are Karl and Kat sharing a laugh.


OA Sarande is one of my favorite youth groups.



It's been an immense pleasure to be a part of their group since my own one in Delvine didn't flourish.



Visiting a Roma village outside of Sarande.



The Roma are the most impoverished of all groups residing in Albania. They fight a difficult battle against society especially when it comes to racism and economic status.



Exploring the back of Delvine. This is only a 10 minute walk from my place on the other side of town.




Abandoned barracks.



The beginning of my MUN group. Since this photo was taken, we have replaced one member.



The different brands of water that can be found in Albania. These are the most common/popular amongst volunteers.



Silvia also picked up how to fold some cranes.



And in honor of the best day of the year, Halloween! Halloween this year was absolutely splendid. Here's Stella dressed as a... deviled egg.. serving deviled eggs!

Model United Nations.



One of the nation wide projects that I am involved in is MUN. Originally run by an outside organization, this year a couple of fellow volunteers have taken it upon themselves to coordinator this massive event. Here are just a handful of people involved in making this event what it is.



MUN is a difficult and arduous journey for both the volunteer and the students. For the volunteer, it can get extremely frustrating to see your students not working to their full potential, respecting your homework assignments and plagiarizing.



For the students, it's a battle between learning outside of their comfort zone, gaining new experiences, learning how to balance their time wisely and growing to exceed expectations.



For both sides, it is also an incredibly rewarding experience as well as fun.



As volunteer educators, we do not have the same expectations as most of our counterparts. We do not stand for cheating and we absolutely despise plagiarism.



We see our students as the future of Albania. We expect them to be and do better under our direction as part of this extra curricular activity. What we ask of them is not impossible nor is it out of the ordinary.



We work to engage them, to have them exercise their analytical thought process and to express their opinions in a professional and accepting atmosphere.



We find joy when they succeed and sorrow when they don't.



All in all, MUN has been quite the journey and with only a few weeks more to go, I am quite excited to see what my kids are capable of against all of Albania. This year, there will be 13 other teams present in Tirane and I believe every one of us has trained our teams to the best of his or her ability.

Librazhd.



Librazhd is an incredibly progressive town with a great future ahead. Because it is a satellite site and has been for a few years, the citizens of this town are constantly exposed to Americans and their American ways. With that in mind, the people have really opened up to accepting change and evolving with the world. The volunteers of Librazhd continuously have great projects that make an impact on their community and it is most evidently displayed in the actions of the youth as well as the older members of the town.



Librazhd is also home to some of my favorite kids in the world and the most loving camp that I have ever heard of, Kampi Pa Emer.



I really need to get going on sorting pictures from summer camp this past summer and sharing it on here. Here is a forewarning on how cute it's going to be.



Here's what we look like after not having seen each other for a few months.



Here's another version of love and family since I seem to be on a roll: my fellow volunteers. This photo was from a surprise birthday party for Kyle, one of my favorite volunteers.

Unë dua familjen time. (I love my family)



I travel around Albania alone about 95% of the time. I plan on writing a fun tip list on how to survive furgon/bus rides because I feel quite experienced on the topic considering how far Delvine is from Tirane and the north. This particular Elbasan direct ride that I took to get to my host family has been one of my favorite rides to date. it was only partially full, not humid or cold and I got to bond with almost all the passengers who were also all male. Plus marriage was only brought up once and I was able to assert myself that no, I am not married nor do I wish to be in the near future.



Here's mama esmete (sp), my second host mom and first host mom to Chris whom I consider a brother. That was long and confusing wasn't it? Anyways, our two families are close and tied together by a marriage with one of my cousins to one of her sons. Family is a BIG thing in the fshat (village) life and as mentioned in previous entries, my family is huge.



My lovely host sister and close friend, Teuta. Here we are clinking glasses and cheering over our short lived reunion. Moving away from my host family was one of the toughest things but at least I get to visit occasionally. Although the fshat life tends to be more narrow minded and more traditional, especially for females, my family accepted and allowed me to be who I was without any remorse or guilt meaning I was expected to drink both our drinks since Teuta hates alcohol and it was perfectly acceptable.



I got the chance to attend a wedding celebration during this visit so here we are getting dressed up for the occasion. Although I didn't go to the actual wedding, this celebration was in honor of the groom. The bride and groom each get one party to themselves where mostly drinks and lots of dancing happen.



Here's my gjushi making sure I had a drink in hand.



Why are some people dancing and others sitting? Although I can't confirm that this is how it traditionally goes, I can describe the events of the night. Everyone sits with their family and patiently wait for their family's turn to circle dance in front of everyone. Once your family's turn, each member of that family gets to choose a song to circle dance and lead their clan in. After all families have had a turn at dancing, then it's the groom and his men followed by a ceremonious and alcohol fueled circle dance complete with the ripping and burning of the groom's shirt and bullets being fired off into the air as well as money bring thrown around.



My grandparents sitting patiently and enjoying themselves. It took about 2 hours before our family got to go and dance. My typical reaction in a crowd setting now a days is to try my best to blend in from fear of being sought out, ridiculed, put on the spot, etc. I don't like to be the center of attention especially for nothing so being outside is always a little nerve wracking for me unless if I'm with a group of volunteers or in this case, my family. I cannot put into words how much respect and love I have for my host family and our extended members for accepting me into their lives without any question or personal gain. I feel enveloped in warmth whenever I am with them.



The family cat, Lilo. He's gotten quite big since I lived there.



My other pair of wonderful grandparents. Their relationship began when he spotted her over the river many years ago and they've been together ever since.



Every time I visit, it is now a tradition to visit all my extended family. Whenever you enter an Albanian home, you must first take off your shoes and then greet everyone properly. My favorite is the cheek kiss which you administer to both cheeks of any gender. (What I always confuse is which side to begin.) Following the greeting, you sit down in an offered seat and then you are given a drink and a sweet. Since my family is my family, I am also always offered a shot of raki - a right reserved typically only for male guests. I guess my family is either really rad, out of the ordinary or a beautiful combination of both. I'll go with that last thought.



Saying good bye. This part is my least favorite.

Current Thoughts.

Here are the current thoughts that are rolling around in my mind:

- I have less than half a year to go and as I look over my blog entries, I feel as though I've done an incomplete job of portraying the life of a Peace Corps volunteer. But then again, explaining the life of a PCV to someone who hasn't done it is like this:


What I can do from here until I finish is do a better job of uploading and blogging with sentence long explanations as I have done in the last few entries.

- As the finish line closes in on us, common conversational topics are now trending towards life after Peace Corps which ranges from entering grad school to living back at home with the parents. I will be doing the latter and the very thought of returning to where my journey began, in front of a computer at home staring wistfully at the screen, is absolutely daunting.

- This winter has not been rough at all in both boredom or weather. I didn't even get any firewood and my electrical bills have not sky rocketed. As for finding things to do, I've had plenty to keep me busy and entertained although I should probably be more productive.

- As a second year volunteer, I have a better handle on everything from work to relationships. I am thankful for the learning experience.

- I really should be better at doing laundry, especially when it comes to folding.

- It's been raining hard the last couple of days. I've been enjoying it since we're barely had any bad weather this winter. I really like the way the hail sounds against the glass, it makes being inside under a mountain of blankets much more pleasant and cozy.

- I wonder what everyone is up to in the states.

- I wonder what everyone is up to in Albania.

- I should get started on some more posts. Although it's not about numbers and always about quality, I have a goal to reach 150 posts by the time I COS. I believe I can do it. Also, Casey has a goal to post once a week as part of her New Year's resolution which I agreed to participate in as well.

- There are some really good PC blogs out there that I am slowly discovering. Check out my latest favorite:

Korrik. (July)



Casey standing atop the staircase leading to her latest and last apartment in Albania.



My grandlord, nonna, standing in her little outdoor kitchen making lunch. I remember my own grandmother, on my mom's side, had a similar set up in China.



Organized a potluck picnic in the park with the deep south family. Left to right: Kat, Karl, Casey & Ivy.



Bonfire night in Kel Cyre.



Perfect beach day in Fier.



Another deep south meal. This time it was a surprise welcome party for our latest addition, Kat.

Qershor. (June)



I've really let this blog fall behind on time so here is my feeble attempt at capturing my service through photos on a month by month review. Pictured above is our group picture from a good bye party hosted by the Outdoor Ambassadors of Sarande for Sarah who moved to Tirane shortly after this.



Company from Macedonia visited.



Sarah's goodbye/end of the celebration in the bashkia.



Sarah and Casey with a respectable woman from the community.



Newborn kitty running around the grounds.



Edi Rama, the future prime minister, making his rounds around the country to seek more votes.



Color party at the Purple Palace.



Beautiful flowers.



Crafts Party.



Deep South welcome party for G15 & G16.



Camo being her sweet self.



My Monday evening creative writing group with my grandlord and their end of the year certificates.



One of the cooler recycling projects I've seen around the area.

What It's Like to be a Woman in Albania (and a lot of other places too).

Our group is currently putting together and editing the welcome book for the incoming trainees that will arrive in mid March. [Side note, although it really doesn't feel like it, my group has now had the opportunity to meet 12, 13, 14, 16 and now upcoming 17. Time flies.] Included in the book are essays like these that try their best to depict a visual of what to expect for certain types of people. Being female, a minority and an older volunteer are the kinds of stories high lighted because although everyone's experience is different, some are slightly more bumpy than others. It is never fair to categorize or group someone into just one because in reality, we are a multifacted culture with an infinite number of twists and turns that make us who we are. However and unfortunately, what does connect us is our run ins with a unique kind of unwanted treatment. But before you keep reading, keep in mind that the following does not account for every single male in Albania but only a small portion. Everywhere in the world has unsavory characters with the potential to ruin the reputation for their country and these words are brought on by those very men but do not let it deter you or frown upon Albania because they only represent a small population. As for the ones that aren't mentioned in the following, they can turn out to be the nicest and more welcoming people you will ever meet. With that said, if you take out any country names, this essay could unfortunately be applied to any location. The following was co written with Melissa and you can check out her blog posted on the list.

“Hey baby… sweetie…sexy”. All of these and more are common phrases that a female, especially a young foreign female, hears on a somewhat daily basis. From little towns to large cities, it is inescapable as is the constant staring. However, it’s not all bad because as an ambassador, we have the opportunity and power to do something about it. Albanian women do their best to ignore these rude and degrading comments because society frowns upon women voicing their opinion. Women are also afraid of being labeled as a bad girl which sets them back significantly in social settings, status and even marriage. As an American, we have a different set of expectations and we have the ability to correct this belittling behavior and demonstrate that women are much more than a walking piece of meat.
Sexism, like many other things in Albania, is a dichotomy.  As an American woman, you have a bit more freedom because Albanians know that life is different for females in America.  This can be a good thing at times, such as when you want to have a male volunteer stay with you or get a beer in public.  However, Albanians also perceive American women to be more sexually open and active which can lead men to feel more ‘entitled’ to say and do disrespectful things or make strong sexual advances that they think will be welcomed by a progressive American and therefore less-chaste woman. Albanians learn about American culture from watching our TV and movies and for this reason, many of them have a one-dimensional understanding of our lives. The rules may be a little different for us, but we still try to abide by the same social standards out of respect for the culture and to protect ourselves.  Unfortunately, your reputation in your town can be easily damaged, which could have negative consequences for your work and life.

When it comes to work, our jobs are a little more difficult to carry out in comparison to our male volunteers. Women are taken less seriously and even though we’re seen as a little more different because we are American, we still don’t receive the same amount of respect as any male Albanian or American. In school, you may find yourself in difficult scenarios ranging from advances from male students to down-right disrespect from entire classes because female teachers are overall not feared. For health and COD volunteers, even though you have the qualifications to execute your job, you may find yourself dealing with male counterparts who try to set you up on dates, female counterparts who dress you up, ask when you’re getting married and tsk when they notice you are not wearing lipstick. As a woman, it is difficult to establish yourself as an authority figure in any of our roles but it is not impossible either. Every day is a battle, some days are wins and some are losses but the important thing is to never give up and recognize that you are not alone. Maybe the most difficult challenge is to set an example and make them question their version of gender roles.

Confronting sexism is a constant struggle so it’s important to take things one day at a time.  You’ll find that on some days it feels easy and fulfilling to correct, or educate Albanians about sexism.  Then you experience the days where you might find that you just don’t have the energy to put yourself out there.  To help yourself cope, you shouldn’t feel shy to ask for support from other volunteers.  It can be therapeutic to talk about your experiences and help bear the burden.  Male volunteers can be very helpful in a variety of ways, whether it be sitting between you and a man on public transport, walking you home after dark or assuming the role of your boyfriend to ward off suitors. They can also be an invaluable asset when teaching Albanian men about respecting women.  It’s important for male volunteers to set a good example because they are looked up to so much by the men and boys here.

All in all, being a female in Albania can be rough, but it’s all part of the Peace Corps experience. Volunteerism includes self-sacrifice and you will be stronger for it in the end.  Our service pushes you onto a path of self-discovery and you’ll find that your inner-voice will be reinforced. Empowering women is a worth-while cause and an integral part of our job.  The women of Albania are the heart of this country and they deserve so much more.  It is an honor to fight and struggle on their behalf, because it’s an area where we can exact real change.



 

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