This weekend Chris and I ventured north of Elbasan, taking an early-morning furgon with a small group of other trainees and stopping off to wander around Tirane before heading even further to the mountainous town of Rreshen. Its not really mountainous, but it is technically amidst the mountains, and slightly cooler than even Elbasan. We all joke about how the PC sends you to every place you don't want to be-- my only request is that I go someplace warm so I laughed and thought "Gee, of course" when we got our placements. *but* It was only for 2 days so I didn't have any problem, and it was a lot of fun.
The two volunteers in Rreshen are doing Community Development and TEFL, and they have amazing projects going. The counterparts they work with turned out to be fantastic-- ambitious, hard-working, and really wanting to improve their own lives, so it was really helpful to see how they guys are able to facilitate success.
We joyously made tacos for dinner the first night-- quite a change from the seasonless Albanian fare we often consume, and its already getting to the point where tiny little things from "back home" are utterly cherished. Looking back, I think we had it easy while traveling through SE Asia because we could move on when we wanted to get away from a particular town, and the food changed frequently from region to region. However, once we get on our own and have our own kitchen I am sure we will find plenty of satisfactory dishes-- Albania has plenty of produce and once I discover where I can obtain whole wheat flour I will be set. :)
One of the very cultural activities we did was properly go "do gyro", which means that we wandered up and down the town's main drag (which in the summertime is closed to all traffic). Walk walk walk. Albanians do this, along with visiting each other's homes for kafe and chocolates, just to meet and greet friends, neighbors, etc. Its a very sociable country.
We also played basketball with some of our volunteer host's friends, which would have been America vs Albania, except that if we did that we Americans would have had a dramatic 2-foot height advantage... I was proud to be the only girl playing in the swarm of guys (setting examples for gender roles), though I think the scariest thing was actually just slipping on the loose gravel of the unpaved asphalt! Talk about danger, I almost ate rocks several times just in the half-court!
Oh yes, and their apartment had wireless internet (sometimes, when the signal and power were both working in sync), and I've been pondering since then about the actual situation I am living. As Dan says (he's the volunteer whose been here one year, our host) "This ain't yer daddy's Peace Corps!"
We jokingly call it Posh-Corps because we have cell phones, occasional internet, and all sorts of gadgets/ apparel (ahem, North Face anyone?) to make our lives easier. When I signed up I expected to go into the jungle or desert, far away from anything western. However, there is just enough influence here from Italy and the rest of Europe to make the landscape, food, and dress seem like a cheap knock-off of our western world. More European than American for sure, but not enough to really feel comfortable. I am still deciding whether this makes me sad and disappointed to be missing out on true hardships (although please don't take this to mean adjusting to Albanian life, culture, rules, limitations, etc. is easy), or if I should revel in the so-called progressiveness of this society.
OK my time is up, more later!