I am writing from my new home in Cerrik, Albania, with my host family, the Çepa’s. Our family is made of babi, mami, three sisters (mottёr) and one vёlla (brother). We’ve just looked through my computer’s photos and they have now been introduced to all of you! Their home is very comfortable and cozy and we are having a great time. It is hard because we don’t speak any Shqip [Albanian language; pronounced ‘sheep’], but they are very patient and we look in the dictionary a lot. Our town is small—the first homework Chris and I have done is to make a map- and we have an internet café which the other PCTs do not. Tomorrow we will go to the local school for our first language classes (five hours!) and then we will spend all afternoon trying to practice Shqip. Twice each week we will ride a furgon (minivan) to Elbasan and meet up with all 35 other PCTs to do project training.
I am not wearing my piercings because the Peace Corps staff told me they would be offensive, but I think my familia is OK with them. Big Brother is a very popular TV show here (I am not certain yet if there really is a Big Brother in real life here too) and they see a lot of western pop culture.
The food here is really good—mostly I have been eating homemade breads, green salads, lots and lots of cheese, tomatoes, and this morning I had figs! Chris is getting lots of lamb, but my family is so nice and they understand (and joke about) me not eating meat.
Orientation in Elbasan was a lot of fun—a good chance to get to know the other PCTs we will be working/ living/ learning with; G11 is very diverse with a range of talents and personalities and Chris and I have really hit it off with some. Our schedule was packed full; each hour the group was assigned to be in some room or another, learning about various aspects of Peace Corps, the history, assignments, living conditions, safety & security, intro to Albanian culture and what to expect, etc., as well as a few language classes, interviews, medical check ups... The days’ work was broken up by kafe breaks and meals, during which we roamed around meeting all the new faces of Peace Corps. Everyone was loaded with materials: training manuals, project manuals, language books, medical kits, water filters—good thing we brought an extra duffel because we filled it right away! While in the hotel room in Philly I was embarrassed by how much stuff we had brought along with us, however I feel much better after seeing that everyone is completely overloaded.
I feel completely overwhelmed being here and knowing that not only will I be staying for two + years, but that I have this enormously challenging task ahead of me. I realized that volunteering for PC is a challenge in a completely new context; instead of living in the states and getting a job, balancing bills, striving for a social life, etc., I have thrown myself into a whole new dimension where none of those things matter. Instead, I must be totally focused on learning to communicate with the people around me, which can be extremely frustrating, in addition to creating community development and health awareness-raising agendas that I’ve never done before. I also must spend my energy trying to adapt to another pace of life with new rules, unfamiliar faces, at times horribly cold weather (!!), endless unknowns, fewer amenities; and to try and stay healthy and positive, forcing myself to believe that I will be successful and have a fulfilling experience…
At least I feel safe and welcomed by our new family, which can make all the difference. For now, I’m going to roll up into my sleeping bag because “unё jam lodhur!” [I am sleepy!]