Thursday, September 5, 2013

Gramsh Girls Camp Pictures

Last week my dream of holding a girls camp here in Gramsh came true.  I've spent the past month forgoing summer vacation to organize and plan and every second of it was worth it.  It is still too early for me to have the words to describe this camp and what it means to me but it was easily the most fulfilling thing I've done yet.  Twenty-three girls aged 14-18 came for three days of lessons and activities focusing on healthy living, leadership and physical exercise.

'Crossing the River'
The girls were involved and enthusiastic, even at 9 AM during their summer break. I worried that they would find some of my American games silly or weird but they took to them with a vigor that even surprised me.

My counterpart Laura leading an activity on creative thinking.
The Albanian women that I worked with to organize the camp stepped up to the plate and really committed to my vision and making it happen.  They gave lessons, led discussions and acted silly with me, showing me that they really appreciate my work and friendship.

A group shot with all of the PCVs, my Albanian counterparts, and visiting PC staff members:  Mira, Language and Culture Coordinator; Agim, TEFL Project Manager and Earl, PC Albania Country Director.
The PCVs who came to help were amazing with the girls and there is no way I could have done it without their energy and their willingness to make countless friendship bracelets and hair braids.  Overall it was overwhelmingly fantastic!  There are so many pictures there is no way I could decide between them all so be expecting more to come later!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Albania in the News

I love seeing articles about Albania in the international press.  This one is from BBC News and I think it does a great job of representing the contrasts found here in Albania. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Family Vacation

After a year of teaching this PCV was in serious need of some pushim (vacation).  Luckily my family was able to come and visit.  We went on whirlwind trip through Croatia, Montenegro and Albania.  I won't go into too many details since this blog is meant to focus on my time in the Peace Corps but it was a great to see my family and explore some new countries.  It also gave me a new perspective on my life here in Albania.  It is both empowering and super scary to see how much this past year has changed me personally and changed my perspective on the world.

My dad, brother and I in Zagreb.

The whole family in Dubrovnik.

My mom and I took a day trip to Mostar in Bosnia.

View from the balcony of our hotel in Kotor, Montenegro.
I don't think I'll completely understand these changes until I'm home for good so I won't get into them anymore but I did learn one important lesson while I was away: I love Albania!  I don't know when it happened or how it happened but this place has become my home.  The Balkans have a long history of ethnic division and still to this day there are ethnic tensions.  I found myself defending Albania and its people as if it was my home town that people were talking about.  The smallest comment, even if it was true, would set me off talking about how beautiful the country and the people are.  You'd think that I was a paid PR rep the way I was talking about Albania.  And after all the traveling, I couldn't wait to get back to my country.  

So I guess it's official.  Albania you've won my heart!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

23 Qershori

June 23rd might seem like just an ordinary day but here in Albania, the whole country is holding its breath for this day.  Its election day and here it means everything.

As PCVs we are not allowed to express our opinions on Albanian politics so I should make it clear that this blog in no way is meant to support one party or candidate over another.  My goal is simply to provide a picture of what politics are like in Albania.

Now to understand Albanian politics you have to meet the big players.  On one side with the Democrats we have Sali Berisha.  He has been Prime Minister since 2005 but he is actually a trained doctor, specializing in cardiology.  From the opposition we have Edi Rama.  He is the leader of the Socialist Party and served as Major of Tirana for 11 years but most importantly he is exceptionally tall (like half giant) and a former painter.

Unlike in America, the two parties don't represent any fundamental ideological differences, they are more like separate groups promoting themselves.  They agree that Albania needs jobs, to end corruptions, to join the EU, to develop infrastructure, etc.  This means that much of the political rhetoric is simply insulting the other party instead of promoting their own plan.

So you might wonder how it is possible to have such a strong political debate when there are so few differences between parties.  Well imagine this, every public job here in Albania is a political appointment.  The school directors, professors, nurses, doctors, police, firemen, street cleaners, every single one.  So this means that in order to rise to the position of a director, you should be a strong supporter of your party.  But this also means that with any change of the party, almost everyone is either fired or demoted to make room for appointments from the winning party.

This creates a rather difficult situation as you can imagine.  It in a way takes away the voters freedom to choose the best candidate regardless of their party.  In America it isn't unheard of to vote Democrat one election and Republican in another but here where party loyalty is tied to your job or the job of a family member, the party comes first.

Election meetings in Gramsh.  Top: PD. Bottom: PS

Last week both Berisha and Rama came to Gramsh to host election rallies.  They were both well attended and naturally the following day in school all the students wanted to talk about was politics.  Since we are required to be apolitical I tried to turn the conversation towards a discussion on democracy.  I asked them as young voters how they had decided who to vote for.  What do they want to see for their country?  In some classes it worked, in others it just turned into a debate on politics.

So now we sit and wait.  Who knows what changes elections will bring to my school or to the people I've come to know here in Gramsh.  But despite the difference between our two democratic systems, it has been inspiring to see so many of my students debating passionately about politics and hearing their aspirations for their country.  I truly believe that one day they'll be able to achieve them.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A New Normal

I did it again.  I fell off the blogging wagon.  I'm horrible.  I wish I could say that life has been so boring that I've had nothing to say but that would be a lie.  In fact a lot has happened in April and May. In these past two months a new group of volunteers have come to Albania while the previous group of volunteers have been slowly leaving to go home.

It has been a time of transition and for my group, a time of reflection.  We're halfway through this experience and the big kids now.  In recent conversations with other PCVs we've discussed how we want to change our roles during our second year or what passions we want to spend more time exploring.  But as different as we all are, the one common thing we agree on is that Albania is our new normal.  The things that used to take us by surprise now are a part of everyday life.  Which I think in a way explains why I haven't been blogging as much.  Things like seeing a donkey outside my window or hearing a wedding caravan go by used to be something I wished to share but now they're just a part of my life.  As guilty as I feel for not blogging, I guess this was the ultimate goal in coming here, to get to a point were I'm assimilated with the people and the culture.

But big things are still happening and I will try to remember to share them with you.  Here are some highlights from the past two months:

  • The weather has finally changed.  I'm no longer curled up in my apartment with a wood stove and three layers on at all times.  I wore shorts this past weekend and it was magical.  It also means that it is the time of year for afternoon thunderstorms.  As magical as wearing shorts is, being stuck in a sudden downpour without an umbrella isn't so awesome.
PCVs before the Flash Freeze in Elbasan (Photo Credit: Heidi Curtis)
  • The new group of volunteers is engrossed in PST in Elbasan.  I have had the pleasure of going in to give presentations and help with cultural events almost every week since they arrived.  They're so full of energy and spirit that every time I go there I come away energized.
Checking out a mosque during PST with the new group. (Photo Credit: Amber Wunderlich)
  • Speaking of the new group, I got a site mate!  Yes thats right I will no longer be the lone American in Gramsh.  He'll be working at the Health Center and I can't wait to share this amazing town that has become my home over the last year with him.
Site Mates!!! (Photo Credit: Josh Guzman)
  • I'm working on starting projects that will keep me busy this summer.  Currently in the works are a leadership camp for girls and an English Language Lab for the high school.  It looks like it will be a summer full of planning and paperwork.

That's it for now.  I will try to be a better blogger I promise!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Comparing the US to Albania

Have you ever stopped to wonder what would really be different about your life if you lived in a different country?  Would you live to be the same age?  Would you have the same number of kids?  Would you use the same amount of electricity?  What about your odds of dying in infancy?

As hard as I try not to, I find myself comparing life here to my life back home from time to time.  It is a bad habit that I'm trying my hardest to break because lets be honest, the lack of peanut butter here might seem like a big deal to me but it doesn't say all that much about the differences between home and here.  But there are some real differences I've noticed living here that go beyond the superficial things. 

Check out some info on the differences between the US and Albania here.