On our way to COS, Chris and I stopped in Cerrik for a few nights with our host family, the Cepa’s. The timing happened to fall near Chris’ birthday, so they planned a little dinner party and once again we got treated to a delicious feast and endless “Gezuars!” with our gjyshja and babi. And our gjyshja’s sister too!
Cepa's + 2. We fit right in.
The first night was actually quite slow; we sat around with everyone except for Babi, who was on a late night trip back from korce, where he drives a furgon each day. He didn’t come home until 2:30 am. The only excitement came when our aunt and uncle rushed their son to the hospital, worried because he began throwing up. He had been hit in the stomach by a football earlier in the day, so they figured perhaps he ruptured an organ or something. Turns out he had gotten food poisoning from a hamburger. But that sudden fright spoiled the mood of the night, we decided to celebrate Chris’ b-day the following night, and ate a quiet dinner with Mami, the girls, and Serxhio.
Chris and I took a walk to our nearby training town of Cerrik the next day, literally strolling down Memory Lane. It’s still a muddy journey to a crumbling town, a little depressing to be honest. Although I think that had to do with the gloomy weather. Chris got a shave at his favorite barber, then we sat for a coffee at Friends and watched the townsfolk pass by. We tried in vain to find our old friend’s house, but his neighbors didn’t know who we were searching for. I think he took off for Greece…
Mami also re-taught me how to roll out the paper-thin layers of dough necessary to bake byrek. I’d judge her byrek as by far the best in Albania, but I’m probably a little biased. It’s quite labor-intensive (thank goodness we can simply *buy* phyllo dough!) and can range from pak vaj to very oily! My favorite is byrek with egg and tomato, or the tried-and-true spinach. (Think: spanikopita)
Learning from the best. Expect lots of byrek from me at future pot-lucks....!
So in the evening we stuffed ourselves with fshatar specialties, followed by a truly Albanian style birthday cake. I think this picture sums up the event:
Gezuar Ditelinja per Ti!
When we say Dig in! We really do mean it....
That's our gjyshja, Gezuar-ing to Chris with a glass of homemade raki
Next morning we packed up our bags and headed out toward the “highway”. We got stuck for awhile in the pouring rain and hail, eventually catching a north-bound bus to COS.
*C O S*
That’s Close of Service, our last Peace Corps sponsored conference for Albania’s G11 volunteers. The conference was held in Plepa, a small seaside town outside the larger city of Durres, and inside a hotel resort modeled after Club Med. High walls and low-key guards surround the compound, with manicured lawns full of creepy metal playground equipment, an enormous pool and gazebo, a nearby stretch of beach… February is not the time of year to be there—icy wind tossed the waves into an army of whiteheads—but it was a kind gesture on the part of PC staff to give us a pleasing and comfortable location.
Birthday boy! Can't say he's not loved...!
Unlike many volunteers, I really enjoy conferences—a chance to get together with friends I haven’t seen in months, free communal meals, comfortably warm rooms and showers—but this one was probably the best. The sessions were short and fun, mostly focusing on PC check-out logistics and sharing plans for what people will do once they leave. Lots of reminiscing: a slideshow of photos from throughout the service, a photo contest (I didn’t submit and was kicking myself afterward), one cribs video (from Becca in Peshkopi, link on her blog site), a comedic How-to-Readjust video from a former volunteer, and a debut of a Thanksgiving horror film we made in November. We’re very media-friendly.
Some volunteers also helped arranged fun activities, like the COS Olypic Games. Contests included Raki-Tasting, Fshatar Salad Assembling, Xhiro (as well as best Onlooking-Cuni Impersonators), Seed Spitting, Lighting-a-Candle-in-the-Dark Race, and Blind Texting.
Those with strong stomachs sampled various flavors of raki...
Amy showing off her refined salad-making skills
I failed miserably at Blind Texting...
Struggling to find AND light the candles.. while blindfolded
Chris competed in the Seed Spitting Competition
A crowd of rowdy onlookers waits for groups of xhiro-ing girls
It felt pretty surreal to say goodbye when we still have a few months of service left. Chris and I are staying through the end of July, so we can hardly think about leaving now, but some people take off as soon as mid May. I’m not looking forward to this silent emptying of volunteers. We’ll have a few more parties before then (birthdays, beach camping, perhaps even a train ride) but I know eventually my friends will one by one disappear from their sites, their phones no longer sending and receiving texts.
Sa bukur jemi! Two years in Shqiperi, look at us now!
I was having separation anxiety a few months ago—already nostalgic for life in Albania and missing some of the truly fabulous people I have met here. We’re like family! One night I dreamt that I was in a ginormous American grocery store and I felt compelled to make a persimmon pie, but couldn’t find fresh fruit anywhere. I suddenly, desperately needed to find a market—my market—but something was prohibiting me from returning to Albania. I kept yelling I want to go home! I have to go home! and someone was explaining that I could never go back. I woke up completely depressed and anxious.
I’ve since gotten over that.
It comes in waves—some days I’m totally nostalgic, trying to soak up as much as possible the commonplace scenes, oddities, people, and lifestyle of Shqiperia. Other times, I look at a situation and think, well whatever, I’m leaving this behind. I think I’ve jumped a wall where I no longer feel the need to acclimate and consciously accept things; I just do. That’s the way it is. I guess that’s how life as a PCV is…
Our final group dinner goodbye, pizza and wine at a beach-side restaurant. Gezuar G11!