Thursday, April 2, 2015

Boot Camp for PEACE!

We "trainees" will have roughly 7 weeks of in depth training, 6 days a week, we find out our permanent site locations/assignment on April 24th, go to our sites for 5 weeks, then come back to our host family villages for another few weeks and then we are "sworn in" as PC volunteers and the 2 years begins from then (May 11th). The training is top notch and well thought out.  It's a balance between language and then very detailed sessions on gender norms/culture and safety and security.  It's super intense and there isn't much "down time." - it's not a bad thing for me as all the time off from working, I am energized and ready to work hard and learn a lot.

The Albanian language is one of the hardest Indo-European languages to learn - it has 36 letters and some of the combinations are so hard to pronounce like xh is "zha like jacket" and gj is juh with a hard g - we spend hours going through the alphabet and many activities to practice the sounds. The teachers are amazing and patient.  We even had class for 5 hours on Saturday!  I know it will eventually click for me and I will be able to have full on conversations.  I swear my brain is growing new capacity with this process!

Life with my host family
My family is so wonderful.  They are on a true farm and they have 3 kids. One is married and has a 2 year old and they live out at the coast.  The 20 year old daughter lives at home on the weekends and boards at University in Elbasan during the week.  The 16 year old boy spends most of his days (when not in school) at the café hanging with his friends and using wifi.

We eat very well.  Everything is fresh from the farm.  Daily breakfast for me is a half a Persian style cucumber, a fresh farm egg, a half a tomato and a small slice of fresh, homemade goat cheese from their goat, Lara. I've taken to drizzling local olive oil on it all to keep my skin good!  I drink lots of "chai mal" which is mountain herbal tea - love it.  AND I've had to delve in to espresso several times a week to stay awake in language class and I have found it makes me learn it better LOL

I am one of the lucky ones who has a real bed, many have a couch-bed.  I  have 4 layers of blankets and duvet plus my sleeping bag on the bottom and for the first 3 nights, I had 7 layers of my cotton clothing on plus a knit cap and gloves.  IT WAS DAMN DAMP COLD!!! I was not prepared and I can say it was definitely an adjustment.  I have now acclimated and I suspect it will be getting warm soon.

They only heat one room in the house - the kitchen.  It's a wood fire stove and most of the cooking is done on it.  We all hang out in the kitchen (with a small 14 inch "televisor" which is on most of the time with Albanian X Factor, Albanian BIg Brother and Albanian music videos...

My family has a great spirit and makes me feel totally welcome.  While I can't speak well yet, I use the dictionary and gesture a lot. I make them laugh with my attempts and they tell me "no problem." The Albanian culture encourages lots of food and "more" so I have to keep reminding them I am trying to get smaller, not bigger!!

Its a simple life and they seem very happy.  They work on the farm and the wife does all the cooking, cleaning and the men tend to get to go to the café and hangout drinking KAFE and smoking and/or drinking Raki.  My host dad is 46 and much more low key.  He works as an emigrant in Greece for part of the year and will be leaving soon.  Today, they went up to the hills to plant potatoes and onions.

When I arrived the big turkey and chickens were loose in the yard.  I still haven't figured out how they know to stay in their yard and not go to the next farm... Day 4 was a special Navruz celebration and woo hoo - turkey was in that night's soup... I cringed a bit and then dug in...

I'm getting salad every night which makes me so happy!! They even took the raw onions out since I wasn't eating them.

One of the initial challenges was adjusting to not showering every day.  Electricity is expensive for them, so we get.... 2 showers a week.  The 5 of us in this village discovered Baby Wipes at the supermarket and they are now our best friend!!

Today was laundry and now I have clean clothes - yay!!!

The women in the city and even in  the villages take pride in what they wear.  They may not have a lot of outfits, but they like to dress up and be stylish.  Clothes/shoes are often brought over from Italy - its kind of like a low-end Nordstrom's rack approach - still figuring that one out.

When we go into Elbasan for our HUB days, we take a "furgon" which is a mini van and it takes about 25 minutes.  You stand on the side of the road and they stop and pick you up.  Then we are dropped off at a central location and walk about 15 minutes to the Peace Corps office.  The rooms there are also not heated and we sit bundled up and sometimes dance around to stay warm.  And did I forget to mention the roughly 100 stairs we climb up to the training floor...??? Exercise is happening, for sure!!

There is a tremendous focus on the gender norms here.  As women, we have to be much more aware, look down on the street and don't really make eye contact with men in the city.  It's a bit different in the village/s- as most people know we are here/there.  

Once I am at my permanent location, it will be another adjustment to understand the customs and not become a target for theft or assault.  The PC does in depth sessions on security, safety and risk mitigation.   We are still learning what it really means and how to conduct ourselves in a way that is respectful and smart. I will say more about it once I have more experience.

What I can tell you is that I am so happy and blessed to be here.  I look forward to being able to really converse in Albanian and to ultimately have an assignment and make an impact.

We had our first round of "interviews" with the COD PC staff in Albania.  In my typical Debbie fashion, I got them talking about themselves and walked away feeling they get a sense of my potential contributions, etc.  I don't want to try and influence too heavily on what my assignment will be, I want to see what will unfold and then really dive into it.

I'm enjoying the range of ages of people in our group of 53.  There are several married couples - one in their late 20's, mid 40's and one in late 60's/early 70's?  I find myself connecting with most everyone. Everyone is adjusting in their own way...  I see the bonding happening and suspect some of these people will be lifetime connections.

Well - I'm almost out of time for the wifi café visit with my village mate, Mitesh (32 and from Campbell/Oakland).  We had a beer (yes, beside coffee, I'm imbibing in some beer)! and need to head back to our homes (shtepi) shortly.

Please email me with daily and mundane stories... It warms my heart and keeps me balanced.  If you are interested in sending a letter or card, let me know and I will email you the address of the PC office. I won't be able to get any packages until I am at my permanent site (and YES - there is a list)!!

Love you lots and I know you are on this journey with me.
Take care, be well and remember how much we have in the USA to be grateful for...

Mirepafshim (good bye)

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