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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

FESTIVALS ABOUND



OK its been a few weeks since I’ve gotten my act together and scripted an update of Albanian life, but much has happened so I’ll try to lay it all out as best I can remember---

First and foremost, summer has ended! We woke up one fine Sunday morning in Berat to a cloudy, rainy sky, and haven’t seen then sun since! In the mornings fog hovers across the city, hugging the castle and completely obscuring the enormous Lunxhёri mountain range we face across the valley. When I get up to go running I have to wear gloves and sometimes a jacket, pumping along a dark road, amazed at the dramatically altered landscape… I successfully finished a 20 mile run, now I’m shooting for one 22 and one 24 before the marathon in November—wish me luck!

Well, the second weekend of September marked Çobo’s annual wine festival (this is a beautiful winery in Berat that we visited with Arlene), where I participated by dressing up in traditional costume with a bunch of young girls and guys and dancing through the grape vines, then stomping grapes in the barrel, à la I Love Lucy…! There were tons of people from different international and local organizations, news crews, friends and family members, and of course PCVs. I was nervous to stomp the grapes—a friend told me that it was painful to step on the stems for 2 hours—but it ended up being a blast, feeling the squishy soft balls pop under my toes…

Pre-festival I was in Vlore, celebrating the birthday of a PCV friend; we had a pre-party gathering with a bunch of people, cooking a communal meal and hanging out at her ranch-style house that is surrounded by grape vines and guarded by several recently born puppies. She later went to Athens via bus (14 hours) to visit her grandparents, just in time for our out-of-country leave to open.

After the wine festival that weekend Chris and I hitchhiked back to Gjiro, welcoming the beginning of the school year. Not only did the weather flip 180°, but the streets are full of young students, flooding the New Town road by my office, and we’re eagerly anticipating the new winter vegetable crops available, like pumpkins, leeks, and supposedly spinach.

Later that week I was invited to join the G10 mid-service conference in Korçe to take part in the first Gender and Development committee meeting. We were put up in a hotel at the very top of a hill overlooking the city-- quite a hike-- and packed full of volunteers. At night we went out to various restaurants nearby, mostly Italian (volunteers never ever go for Albanian food if we can avoid it). After dinner some of us went to a super chic localё with a sparkling faux star ceiling and tasty hot chocolate, which I’ve decided will brighten the long winter season (the chocolate, not the stars!). I stayed another day in Korçe, hanging out with another PCV couple whom I really like, then took the 6 am bus home on Sunday.

I was only back in the office one day before notifying them I’d leave for Tiranё, where I’d be at a PC-sponsored HIV/AIDS conference with a counterpart. I took a Gjirokastrian doctor from the blood clinic, hoping to help educate and motivate him to develop future HIV awareness campaigns. Once again, I took the night bus, which unfortunately blasted music and lights all night and kept me from catching a wink of sleep. So, I arrived, groggy at 4:30 am at Skanderbeg Square, utterly lost in my search for the hotel. Luckily I’m female and still young enough to elicit immediate help from police, who escorted me there. I was able to crawl inside and drop off for an hour of shut eye before the conference began.

The conference lasted 3 days, set in the basement of our very nice jungle-themed hotel, and included almost all of the health volunteers + counterparts in addition to some TEFL PCVs. We were let free around 5 pm; the first night a large group of us went out to a nice restaurant near The Block, where the foreigners live. We had Mexican food, or at least an Albanian rendition thereof. Another girl and I had a great time the second night out with a couple we had met (at the wine festival) who work in the consulate office. One kick of being a PCV is getting to know lots of embassy and international organization professionals, and asking all sorts of career questions. Afterward we joined a going-away party for a friend of ours leaving her office at the OSCE, bound for America, during which many volunteers took advantage of the free drink tickets and then moved on to a karaoke bar. I had to cut out at that point—screaming drunken Albanian girls in a smoky, dark room is not my idea of fun. Whatever floats your boat I guess.

After the conference ended, most PCVs stayed in town one more night, and several more came in town to attend a picnic I had helped arrange to welcome the new Georgia volunteers. We are all excited to take on an additional 8 PCVs who were evacuated from Georgia last month; they have been living in Tiranё while taking an expedited Shqip language and Albanian culture course (3 months crammed into 5 weeks). Most of them will be dispersed to the south, and we are über-excited to be getting a new person in Gjirokastёr to replace Tara, who was the first of our group to ET (Early Terminate) last month.

So, several PCVs and I cooked up a bunch of food and we had an afternoon party (intended to be a picnic if it were not raining) at the PC office with G11, the Georgia crew, and various staff members. Another girl even coordinated people to knit scarves of red, black, and white yarn (red + black = Albanian; white + red = Georgian) as a gift for the newbies; someone gave a welcome speech and I swear we almost Kum Ba Ya-ed. Outside the party we did get a lot of time to hang out with them as well, hearing about their experiences of evacuation, a month holed up in Armenia, and now finally their impressions of Albania… Such a fun-filled weekend!
Now, I’m back here in Gjiro, trying to pick back up on this month’s work schedule. The Albanian health calendar dictates October as Healthy Foods Month, along with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I’m really hoping to get my counterparts to carry out the projects we’ve discussed, such as seminars with nurses from surrounding villages, and distributing a healthy Albanian cookbook around the market. It’s challenging here.

Today I gave my first English lesson to some of the nurses. It could have gone worse. We’ll see how much they retain.

And finally, this week we have been surprised with endless music festivals from various organizations! In the morning there was an artisan festival with several artists from around the country, along with a parade and cannons, and later fireworks in the night. We were shocked that despite so little assurance or planning, various groups had coordinated traditional dancers and musicians, as well as a collection of international classical music ensembles, to perform at several venues. Some were set up in the stadium behind the mosque, others up in the castle, and still more downhill in the crowded New Town. None of the festivals are related, in fact I think they probably detracted the number of audience members by competing for time, but maybe they’ll keep that in mind next year.

That’s it for now—Ja Kalofshni Mire! [ lit; Pass the time well!]

1 comment:

Max S said...

Everything sounds so exciting!

Good luck on the marathon- my buddy here is training for the Silicon Valley Marathon, also next month, but he didn't do his 20-miler yet :-) He is complaining about his knees though as well.

And man, that wine festival sounds great. Annual wine festival.. hmm.. September 2009...