Sunday, May 30, 2010

It's Official!

We have been in Albania for 10 weeks now. This past week has been one of the most exciting and yet most emotional weeks for me. Everything we have done during our Pre-Service Training has contributed to our eligibility to swear in as official Peace Corps volunteers. We have worked tirelessly on our health projects, Shqip-speaking ability, cultural adaptation and relationship building. I have been thinking about whether or not I have changed over these 10 weeks and if so, in what way(s). I know that I most certainly have changed, but it is difficult to pinpoint how right now. One thing I know for sure is that my life has been greatly touched by my new friends and family.

My host family has been such an important component to my experience thus far in Albania. I think it is amusing to remember how I was so nervous to meet them for the first time that my hands were shaking and I could hardly even muster any of the 10 words I knew in Shqip at that time. Now in only 10 weeks, they are my family. Last week, they took me to the village where my host father grew up. There, they dressed me up in traditional clothing that my host gjyshe (grandmother) made by hand. I hope you can tell from the photos just how beautiful the clothes are. There are so many intricate layers to an outfit. There are pants, a skirt, a long sleeved shirt, a belt, an apron, a vest with embroidery, and two veils.

My host mother also got dressed up in the traditional garb. She kept joking about how she is a modern woman and so the traditional garb is a bit too interesting for her.

It was so much fun and a fantastic way to wrap up the home-stay experience together. I am especially appreciative for how willing the entire family has been to help me learn Shqip and learn about Albanian culture and traditions.

On May 27th, all 50 of us swore in as official Peace Corps volunteers. This was certainly one of the most exciting moments I will have as a volunteer. I am proud of how far we have come in these 10 weeks and I am excited about all the potential we have with our projects at the permanent sites. The ceremony was great, albeit a little sad because it forced me to realize how finite our time is together. I have made so many great friends with the other volunteers and with the staff, but now we are all dispersed throughout the country.

We were lucky to have both the mayor of Elbasan and the US Ambassador to Albania partake in our swearing in ceremony. The mayor said he always asks for Peace Corps to send all of the volunteers to Elbasan because he knows that we are all motivated to get things done. The US Ambassador, John Withers, talked about how when Peace Corps was started, many critics said the organization would never last and that the model would be ineffective. Well, the organization has endured and done so successfully. Next year, Peace Corps will experience its 50th anniversary and I think it will be an incredible honor to be serving during this time.

Earlier in the week we learned that two representatives from our group 13 would be able to give a speech during the ceremony and the catch was that it was to be completely in Shqip. After a round of rock-paper-scissors, Nathan and I were granted the opportunity to give the speech during the ceremony. Contrary to popular belief, we did not coordinate our ceremony attire.

Luckily, we were able to write the speech in English and then have one of the language teachers translate. That gave us more time to practice saying the speech in its entirety. And by practice, I mean that my host parents probably knew my part by heart by the time I actually gave the speech. It was a high pressure situation because first and foremost, we wanted to describe our experience and extend our deepest gratitude to the host families, community members, and staff members that have made this experience so special and that have equipped us with the skills we need to be successful volunteers.

I was scared that my voice would crack or I would be so nervous that I would not be able to pronounce the difficult words. Somehow, I was able to suppress these worries and it went well. Ok, there was still one word that I could never pronounce properly despite repetition and a strategically implemented foot stomp...After my first paragraph, my host mother stormed the stage and gave me a bouquet of flowers. It was an amazing moment for me and it took nearly everything I had not to cry. Good thing Jan came and held the flowers for me. During the speech, it was reaffirming to hear the audience laugh at our jokes and applaud our series of “thank you.”

Apparently we were also on the news. The media came to our ceremony, I think in large part because both the mayor and the US Ambassador were there, but they showed us giving part of our speech. Katie’s host sister saw me and they texted me about it right away. Then as I was saying my goodbyes in Belesh, one of the restaurant owners told me he saw me and was so proud! My counterpart’s husband here in Pogradec also watched us on the news. Too bad I never had a chance to see, but maybe it is better that way :). At least now I am spared any potential embarrassment.

The worst part about actually swearing in was the fact that it meant we had to say goodbye to all the people we have grown so close to in such a short time. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that I am horrible with goodbyes and have a propensity to cry. Well, there was no difference here. I cried when I said goodbye to my “pasty white Belshians” and to my host family. I am trying to be positive, though, and remember the fact that I have been so lucky to meet such incredible people. I am excited about being able to share this entire Peace Corps experience with them!

I am now settling into my new apartment in Pogradec. Nesting has been going well thus far. Yesterday I was able to go to the outdoor market and pick up a lot of items for the kitchen, which will be fantastic for when I decide I am hungry enough to start learning how to cook. My neighbors are already pinching my cheeks and kissing me more than I am comfortable with, but I’ll adjust eventually. I found tabasco sauce yesterday which pretty much was a hallmark experience. Tomorrow is the first day of work and I am excited, nervous, continuously crossing my fingers (and toes) that I will be able to communicate at least to some extent, and hopeful for everything we will be able to accomplish through our collaboration.

Cool experience of the week: I felt my first earthquake! Well actually there were three small tremors. Matthew and I were making our way to Pogradec from Elbasan and we had to wait in the furgon for about 45 minutes before it filled up enough to make the drive. Being in the furgon allowed us to feel these tremors because it absorbed and transferred the shocks pretty fantastically.

Love and miss you all.

1 comment:

  1. It all sounds amazing Stacy. Congratulations on everything. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures.