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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Excitement in Elbasan!

Much excitement has been occurring here with our PC group—on Friday afternoon (the day we had been anticipating for weeks) we found out our site placements for the next two years!
Although each of us desperately wanted to know our fate (because of course we all want a beautiful beach-side town with mountains and all the amenities) at the same time ignorance is bliss… To be told we would spend the next two years of our lives stranded somewhere uncomfortable is heartbreaking. However, when the time came and we were handed our packets, the most important thing turned out to be which other volunteer(s) we would be close to.
Chris and I totally lucked out and got assigned to a town in the south, called Gjirokaster. Its supposedly a beautiful place nestled in the mountains, near to the border of Greece, and because it has been deemed a UNESCO World heritage site it will be a great location for Chris to work on tourism development. The thing I like most about this town is that it is extremely hilly—similar to the silver mining town of Taxco, Mexico, and so it should be full of steep, winding streets with a new view on each level!
Here are some sites to give an idea:

We also have two site mates—one of whom is an excellent artist and will no doubt team up with Chris to create some amazing animations (his animations have part of some international film festivals) and who knows what…
I will be working in the Public Health Department—and word on the street is that I have my work cut out for me—I’ll keep you posted! Not sure what I’ll be doing exactly (we’re not given assignments per sé, but are matched up with counterparts and instructed to assess the community needs) so hopefully the practicum training I am doing now will give me more concrete skills to implement something useful.
After learning our sites there were a lot of emotions—knowing where we would be/ not be placed, who we would be living with/ without, and what situations we’d be facing caused a lot of stress! As you can expect, almost everyone went to Castle Bar to kick back (and for some, drink away their anxiety), which is an outdoor localё next to the historic castle ruins. Our crew from Cerrik were the last to leave, and only just too late so that we missed the last furgons going back home! No more busses, and the taxis are 5 times the price, so we tried to get a hold of my babai, who drives a furgon himself. Of course we couldn’t understand each other on the phone, but I think somehow he got a hold of his buddy who happens to work for the PC because the driver pulled up out of nowhere to save us! We did make it home safely, if only a little embarrassed…
Today is Saturday (E Stunё) and feels like 3 days in one! In the early morning all the PCTs met back in Elbasan to perform “simulation stations”, which was a fun way to test us on our language skills. We divided into small groups and went out to 7 different “stations” around town, with the task of interacting using Shqip while our teacher silently observed and graded each of us. We went to the clothing market and semi-spontaneously created questions such as “How much does this pair of socks cost?”, “Do you have this in purple?”, “Do you have it in a larger size?”. Next our group went to the food market and pretended to buy all the ingredients for a four-person birthday dinner, within a budget of 2000 lekё. We had to ask for directions, speak with the priest in the Orthodox Church (which was built back in the 1400’s!), question some furgon drivers about journeys to Tiranё, answer questions about our families in America and Shqiperiё, talk with students in the high school about our daily routine and finally explain the 5 W’s of Peace Corps service…! Shumё e veshtirё!!
Afterward the PC staff rewarded us with cookies and snacks in the PST office.  We met with our teachers individually to discuss what we did well/ what to work on, then Chris and I took off to catch a furgon to the nearby village called Kyqan, where our host-cousin was hosting her wedding.
So an Albanian wedding! What can I say?—it was interesting (not terribly different from any other party: lots of food, dancing, terribly loud music) but a little nerve-racking because all 200 guests wanted to talk or see the Americans who showed up, and so we did a lot of smiling, nodding, and trying to decipher some of the things people were asking us. And of course, circle-dancing! Chris and I were corralled to the neighbor’s house on Thursday night to participate in the pre-wedding dancing celebrations, so that we could practice for the Big Day. We’ve done it a few times and I’m still not getting the steps, but I think it’s acceptable that Americans have two left feet. Also, the bride is marrying a man from Greece, so there was also a bit of Greek dancing and music, though I can’t yet tell the difference beyond the Greek dances which include slowly bending down to slap the floor.
My head is still ringing from the music—I’m sure I broke an ear drum. I had to go stand outside a few times because it was so loud I was getting nauseous. Also I didn’t partake in most of the food, which consisted of 3 different courses of sausage, biftek, chicken, kabobs, veal, pork chops, and several “mystery meats”. Chris and I both turned to each other and synchronously shouted “How many animals died for this feast??” as we burst into laughter; it was border-line jaw-dropping.
Finally! The family got lodhur [ pronounced lothure: tired] and we squished into our uncle’s makine [ car, actually a green station wagon] to make the journey back home. The rest of the evening is ours, so I’ve been doing Pilates and soon I will go downstairs for dinner. Hopefully we’ll get bean soup. Then who knows… perhaps an early nights’ sleep? Natёn!

1 comment:

Arlene said...

Happy Birthday, Courtney!
Who are the people in the photo withyou and Chris?