And we’ve only just begun!
Monday of this week marked the final day of class in Cёrrik, which felt like senior year all over again. Here it is hot during the day and we are all daydreaming of our future sights and lives and the events shortly to come, which involve moving out of our host-families’ houses and saying our goodbyes to each other. And, in addition to the heat, after so many weeks of pounding Shqip into our heads we’re all just tired! So we weren’t too upset when the PC staff invaded our classroom to confiscate the chairs and blackboard they had supplied for the lessons, but tried *almost* sincerely to feign sadness that we had to close up shop mid-sentence. Goodbye school! Goodbye Cёrrik! Afterward we celebrated our final lunch in town together by feasting on pizza from the big, fancy hotel near the internet café.
The weekend was also very exciting and busy because we completed our final community projects—in Cёrrik we hosted an art festival. Our squad of PCTs has been meeting with school directors, the bashkia, students, and store owners to talk about the festival, trying to encourage submissions of art work from all age groups and in each of the categories. We have 5 schools in Cёrrik, and we got submissions from almost all of them ranging from “littles” (or, nxeneset, which explicitly refers to pupils in the lowest grades, and people get wildly distressed if you call them studentes ), “middles”, and the gymnaz (which sounds like gymnasium, but actually means high school, and no they don’t have a gymnasium anyway). The submissions included drawings, watercolors, beadwork, embroidery, sculpture, and poetry, which we displayed in the town cinema for the event. The bashkia allowed us to use the kinema, as well as donating some prizes for the winners. Other prizes were donated by the dyqan (shop) owners, and Chris drew fabulous certificates to award each of the participants. I think all of us were nervous that at any moment the whole thing would fall through—but luckily we received a ton of art work and a very large crowd of students who were eager to get their awards and see what this art fest was all about. We were fortunate to have a surprise interpreter, the daughter of the urban planning director from the bashkia, who speaks wonderful English and was kind enough to stand on stage and translate our speeches and call out the unfamiliar names for awards. We definitely got lucky, but maybe that’s just how it always works…
After the art festival we jumped into a furgon and joined the massive crowd of PCTs and staff members in the nearby village of Shalёs, in order to watch and support their project, which was an all-girls’ volleyball tournament. This was introduced as a past time for the girls, who very obviously lack recreational spaces, faculties, and opportunities, and who otherwise sit around the house all afternoon because they are not allowed in the internet cafes, or to go out without a specific errand (and a partner). Not that the villages or towns are dangerous—there is simply nothing to do, especially for girls.
The PCTs had been practicing for several weeks with the vajze in the 5th-8th grades in order to teach them how to play, as well as eliciting a group of mother’s to knit the net by hand in effort to promote sustainability. It was a fabulous success- we got to help by selling (and buying) deserts to make back the money on the cost of the balls, and it felt more like a huge party with all of the PC staff, music blasting, and tons of children crowded around the asphalt court, cheering and screaming as the girls battled it out. Perhaps none of the girls will grow up to be superstar volleyball pros, but they certainly had a lot of fun these last few weeks and will hopefully continue to play, or even create other outlets in such a male-privileged atmosphere.
Chris and I walked home from Shalёs, through Cёrrik and around the koder (hill) to Thanё (our village) that evening. We wandered through the fields, stopping along the way to pick wild chamomile and to talk with the shepherds and farmers. With a stop in Cёrrik’s crowded park to buy a bag of fresh popcorn (needed to refuel), the entire journey lasted almost 2 hours. And of course our family slapped their heads and moaned when we explained that we had walked so far—completely unheard of for anyone who does not absolutely need to…
And finally, on Sunday we celebrated several PCTs’ birthdays by having a party in Cёrrik, which started out as a large gathering for lunch (at the outdoor restaurant we frequent, which we foresee becoming very grand once Albanian tourism picks up). The tables were smooshed together and everyone ate family style—the usual Albanian fare of tomato-cucumber-salty cheese-salad, yogurt, meat, french fries, and bread; then some gals revealed the birthday cakes, which were dark chocolate and covered with white frosting and cherries, yummm… ;)
Afterward the real excitement came, where we took over the Turkish college’s soccer field and played our first ever round of PCV kick ball. Although the weather was intensely hot, we lathered ourselves in sun screen and played, becoming quite a spectacle for the guys hanging out the dorm windows! Vilma, our language teacher who also celebrated her birthday, joined the game, despite the fact that she was dressed in typical Albanian female-wear. Which means that she sported clothing we might wear to a night club—a slinky half-shirt, sparkly jewelry, and spiky high heels (which we forced her to trade for tennis shoes not being used). Eventually, as the players disappeared under the shade of the trees, a small soccer match formed, and then just a few of the die-hard players with too much energy were left to bat the ball around until even we became too tired.
I’m always surprised to talk with current PCVs from groups 10 and 9, who always seem to agree that no, they never did such PCT activities. They hardly ever grouped together—no parties, no gatherings for lunch or ice cream or to kill an afternoon, nothing really. I think that for Albania, our group is unique in its cohesiveness, optimism, and creativity; and, because of these I hope we will be more successful than the groups before us who seem jaded and/or indifferent to their experience living here. I know Chris and I are excited—we’re going to live in Gjirokaster! We have many personal goals--which are encouraged by the PC in order to stay happy and busy—and, even though life as a PCV can sometimes be ‘uncomfortable’ (i.e. no water, no electricity, no heat, dirty spaces, etc.) I think we will find joy in little pleasures that outweigh the negative aspects.
At least I hope, check back in two years!!