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Friday, December 5, 2008

Turkey Day and Lentil Loaf (thanks Tauschia)

Thanksgiving has come and gone, the first of two we will celebrate during our service. My burri and I had a great time up in the capitol city, sharing an elaborate meal with some other PCVs at Jan’s house (our program manager) and two Albanian staff members.

I actually took the bus to Tiranё a few days early, unfortunately skipping out on one of the HIV/AIDS lessons we’ve been doing in the schools. Although the Albanians I’m working with are fully capable of doing the lessons on their own, (and thankfully improving each time) I still felt bad for breaking the promise to be there like so many Albanians have done to me. But I had a good reason! Actually, on Sunday morning I went for a run out toward the villages, just like I had done every other day for several months before the marathon, however on this day there was a pack of angry stray dogs out in the fields. As I passed the first village (too small to have a name) five of these dogs came barreling out, bearing their teeth, and went straight after me. I had no time to do anything but scream; two of them didn’t hesitate to grab me, one by the leg and another by the thumb. I’m pretty lucky they didn’t do more damage. Fortunately either my screaming scared them or the people emerging from their houses scared them, but they finally backed off a little, subsiding to only barking fiercely. I literally limped away, broke into a sob, and was immediately taken into the nearest family’s home to drink coffee and be nursed. My shqip skills were at a complete loss, I felt terrible for inconveniencing them, embarrassed for crying in public, and in a fair amount of pain.

Luckily, as a health volunteer I happen to have the best contacts for such a situation. I called Chris and quickly asked that he call my counterpart (also a surgeon), who swiftly picked me up and took me to the hospital. He cleaned and bandaged me, then gave me two shots in the butt. I’m only pointing out that location because everyone has been asking if I got them in the stomach, which I certainly did not. I later called the PC doctor who asked me to come to Tiranё asap so he could look at the wounds and make sure I had the proper meds—thus I ended up going a few days early. ;)

The next morning I did attend our scheduled HIV lesson before catching an early afternoon bus heading north. Gjirokastёr is a good 6.5 hours from the capitol, assuming they don’t stop for any extended breaks, so I arrived well after the sun disappeared (not too hard this time of year). After meeting with the doctor, who took one look at me and assured me that I would live, I stayed the night with one of the staff members and her husband, two RPCVs who served together in Macedonia. They are both vegetarians, so we ate delicious veggie chili with home-baked cornbread muffins. Ahh does it get rougher than that? (!)

I killed a day wandering around the city and the office, then a bunch of other PCVs flooded in for dinner and a career fair at the embassy. Peace Corps arranged for us to meet with various people from the State department, NGOs, and various international organizations, during which they described their jobs, how they got there, and let us play 20 questions with them. I learned a bit more about options for my future, but mostly took away with me those that I absolutely do not want and don’t even have to worry about, which is surprisingly satisfying.

Finally Thanksgiving! A whole crew of us camped out at Jan’s house the night before, eating pizza and staying awake well into the morning engrossed in a Grey’s Anatomy marathon. Everyone contributed to the meal, cooking their own family’s traditional fare to compliment our American-grown turkey (+ stuffing+ canned cranberry). That turkey really did get shipped from America—somehow our country director got roped into driving to Macedonia to pick up a shipment of like 86 frozen turkeys that were supplied to all federal workers. Can you imagine?! Albania’s streets are flooded with those ugly birds and yet the expats still import them from the US. Maybe they don’t know how to cook them without the complimentary thermometer that *pops*!
The next day Chris and I were going to accompany a bunch of friends going north, to Pukё, in order to celebrate Monica’s birthday. Unfortunately, we missed the bus and weren’t able to go, so instead we spent the night out with other volunteers at an amusement park (imagine those fairs that appear in grocery store parking lots)

followed by blue-light bowling. Actually, it turned out to be a pretty good night. I learned that I am in fact a terrible bowler.

The next day Chris and I made the journey south to Thanё, to celebrate our host-sister’s 21st birthday. We stayed two nights, reminiscing about village life, and having two large dinner parties with our extended family. We made brownies from a box—something that amazed and delighted our sister, who absolutely loves the brownies and home baked cookies we introduced her to. You know, because we put actual sugar in them, a new concept. There is a big difference between a chewy oatmeal raisin cookie and a packaged, hard, cardboard-like biscuit.

(chris and our gjyshja, with serxhio in back)

Eventually we made it back home. It was much warmer up north, a nice break, and now we’re back in the cold, rainy south. Its not so bad-- kind of miserably funny. Every day we have rain storms—sometimes I feel like I’m in the Truman Show, where someone beyond my world is flicking a switch and turning the storms on and off at will… For dinner one night we shared a box of TJ’s Indian food, wearing gloves and laughing at our foggy breath between bites.

Our HIV/AIDS project seems to be falling apart this week. My counterparts made no progress during the week I was gone, and the directors of the schools previously failed to mention that the students are busy this Friday, when our contest was panned for. So… we’ll see what happens. It will likely get pushed back to January. But that’s better than never!

This week the kids from our high school group put on some plays in the old theater (in general every Albanian city has an old theater, but they are virtually never used). The students were all divided by language class and performed fairy tales in various languages, including Greek, French, and English. The English students did Rumpelstiltskin, with sort of a poetic edge. Chris, Greg, Allan, and I sat through the entire dress rehearsal on Wednesday-- yet another peek into the cultural differences between Albanian and American schools.
For one, the director never lowered his voice below a thundering shout, though its very hard to tell if he was actually mad because Albanians typically speak to each other by screaming. But also the students are notoriously rowdy. No matter what the teachers does or how loud they yell the students really do rule the school; its very much an Eastern European version of Dangerous Minds. Albanian boys are hilariously homogeneous, every single one of them dresses in the same fighter jacket, gels their hair the same, and emulates a James Dean demeanor as best they can. Girls express a little more variation; though the typical female is currently wearing the uniform of tight jeans tucked into high boots with a fur-lined jacket, some of the girls in our group actually have knock-off Converse and slightly alternative black eyeshadow. I see a revolution coming.

Anyway, successful week, busy yet I'm not. Made it to the youth center and did math activities with the kids; police English lesson; English medical terminology lesson with the nurses; co-translated/edited a grant for an orphan center in Tepelena; went to Delvine to attend Alexi's HIV/AIDS contest-- what a production! Next week: Elbasan for Inter Service and Language Training. At least a nice break from the cold. ;)

1 comment:

Arlene said...

Gazuar, Courtney! Please update us about the Christmas/New Year holidays. How did the people in Gjirokaster (and you) celebrate? Have you seen any of the folks from up north? I hope you're keeping warm.
Your Vjerra.