Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ujë, Dasma, Punë, dhe Pushim

The last two weeks were quite eventful, including water explosions, my first Albanian wedding, a lot of work, and fun time.

My second week at site started out really promising. School was wrapping up for the spring signifying that the Education and Promotion unit was frantically trying to finish up all the health education it could do at the schools before summer break. The last topic to cover was drug education, including peer pressure. My counterpart was unsure of how to plan the lesson and so I took that as an open invitation to propose a more interactive activity. To ease her into the idea of activities as part of her promotion work, I proposed a role-play for the students that would emphasize the life skill of overcoming peer pressure related to drug consumption. She liked the idea and allowed me to draft up two scenarios – one that demonstrated a student overcoming peer pressure and refusing drugs, and one that demonstrated a student that succumbed to peer pressure and accepted a drug offer. She liked them both, said “I love you,” and before I knew it we were having the students doing the skit during the lessons.

Unfortunately, not everything in life can continue to go so well. One evening I was finally at home and relaxing when it was as if life said: “Not so fast!” Before I knew it, I was enduring my first water explosion in the kitchen. The pipes burst under the kitchen sink and in the blink of an eye my entire kitchen was flooded with water. I am not sure I ever have jumped up off the couch so quickly but I had to because I had no idea where to turn the water off and so I had to run across the hall to ask for help from the neighbors. It is actually comical now when I think back because I was so freaked out that I could only say: “Kam problem i madh me ujë” (I have a big problem with water). Luckily, they were able to help me right away to turn off the water to the kitchen and shuttle buckets of water onto the balcony. My landlords came by the next day to check out the kitchen and to identify what parts they needed to buy for the repair. Life wanted to test me one more time that night, around 2 am. I woke up from a dead sleep to the sounds of another, more aggressive water explosion. This time, the problem was in the bathroom. At this point, I run straight into the bathroom to confirm my worst fears and also because this is where I have to go to turn off the water. As soon as I stepped foot into the bathroom I was completely drenched with freezing cold water because it turned out that the pipes were exploding in all directions imaginable. I tried to turn off the water but it is so tight that really you need pliers to get it to turn enough. I had no choice but to wake up my neighbors, again. It was so sad because they were also in a dead sleep. This explosion was a little bit more serious due to the amount of water coming out. There was even a pipe in the hallway that burst so their front doors were also in jeopardy. Luckily, one of my neighbors brought a pair of pliers and we were able to turn off the water enough to where we could relieve the remaining pressure by keeping the bathroom sink running. I am happy to report that it has been about a week and all water problems have been remedied.

Later on in the second week, I was able to attend my first Albanian wedding! I love learning about the Albanian wedding traditions because they are quite complex and deliberate. From my understanding, there are generally three weddings – one for the bride, one for the groom, and then one joint wedding.

Matthew and I attended the wedding of our friend Alda (the bride’s wedding), whom we met the very first weekend we lived here in Pogradec. Matthew had been worrying a little bit more about how the dynamics would be once we got to the wedding, if we would be able to figure out what to do, and when to do it. I, on the other hand, was completely nonchalant and excited about even getting the chance to go to a wedding. Apparently I ought to have been a little more concerned because when we got there, the room was full and we had no idea where to sit. Everyone just looked at us. Fortunately, that was the most awkward moment. We just sat down at a table and they started serving us loads of food. We went over to “Gezuar” (cheers) the bride and then I think people felt better about whether or not we were supposed to be there.

The music and circle dancing were the most noticeable features of the wedding right off the bat. I have heard from other volunteers and even Albanians that weddings have very loud music. Some volunteers were smart enough to cut up earplugs so that they were not noticeable in their ears…unfortunately, Matthew and I did not think that far in advance. At times my ears actually hurt. It was funny because when there was a break in the music, it sounded like we were in the ocean. The dancing was incredible, though! There was a group of younger girls that liked to circle dance. They noticed us watching intently and invited us to dance. So, we joined the circle and we were on our way! They were pretty impressed with our skills, but I did not have the heart to tell them that my counterpart practiced the dance with me just before I left work. We did not dance the whole time, because certain dances were reserved for the family. As the family members would circle dance, other family and friends would come up and throw money at them or place the money on their forehead or on the top of their head.

The wedding party had a lot of little helpers that would dive down to collect the money and would run to the bag where the money was being collected.

For the most of the wedding ceremony, only the bride’s family and friends were in attendance. The bride’s immediate family went around and greeted every person there. Her brother told Matthew and I that he could tell right away we were American (I thought great, are we that obvious?). Luckily, his sister told him we were coming and he was looking out for us. About three-quarters of the way through, the groom and his party arrived. The bride’s party all lined up and greeted them as they made their way into the building.

I thought it was really interesting. It was the way for the bride’s family and friends to welcome the groom into their family. At one point, the bride and the groom got on top of a table. Alda’s grandmother also got up there and presented him with gifts. After the groom and his party left, we continued to dance for a little bit longer. Then the party ended, which was good because my feet could not take dancing any longer in mini, non-Albanian sized heels. Overall, it was an incredible experience. It was so much fun going to the wedding and meeting the family in the way we did. I hope I will be able to keep in touch with Alda and her brother because they are back in the US. Maybe we can have a reunion when I am finished with my service here.

At the end of the week, I had seven volunteers stay with me because we were all attending the Gender and Development conference being held here in Pogradec. I was happy to see so many of the other volunteers again. I know it had only been about two weeks since swearing in, but we were all so used to seeing each other everyday during training. The conference was interesting. I think that there were too many cooks in the kitchen with so many extra volunteers eager to get their hands on something. There were seven girls that attended the conference from Pogradec. I did not have a chance to meet them prior to the conference, but I was really elated to see how bright and passionate they were. I am hoping to keep in contact with the girls whether or not our activities are GAD related. While in Pogradec, we made sure to have a little fun as well. I have been secretly wanting to jump into one of the many boats that line the lake but have been too chicken to do it on my own. Thankfully, Katie was there to cross off one of the activities on my Albania bucket list.

One of the other items on my Albanian bucket list was to take one of the paddleboats out on the lake and go swimming. I am happy to report this has also been accomplished. Matthew, Katie, and I hopped on paddleboat 13 as a sort of tribute to our Group 13 volunteers.

After swimming, laughing, eating watermelon, and learning how to get back on the paddleboat from the water (a technique we like to call beached whale), we were ready to call it a day. That is until we saw the seesaw. I am pretty sure the children thought we were crazy, but then they were also more excited about this part of the playground after they saw how much fun we were having…

After this our batteries were recharged and we were back to work. Katie and I headed to Permet to meet with some of the other health volunteers working in the South. Catherine had planned a seminar for us to discuss a project for collaboration. The intention is for all of us to create a health education video that can be shown each month at all of our permanent sites. This would give us eight full months work with a new health topic that has never been covered previously by the Peace Corps. I appreciate the guidance and support the group 12 health volunteers are giving us with this opportunity and I am excited to have such an intense project to start off with considering that the summer months have a tendency to be a little bit slow for health volunteers because schools are out for the summer.

Permet itself is also a very beautiful town.

It is known as the city of roses. Before I got to Permet, all the women at the office were telling me about how many roses there are in the city. When I got there, however, I did not really see too many flowers. I learned that after 1997 there stopped being so many roses. Most Albanians I have encountered do not discuss 1997 too often because it was a really difficult year for the country. There was a civil war that broke out and six Permet residents were killed.

Finally, a tradition in Permet is to hike up City Rock, which of course we had to do. When I first saw this rock, I was a little worried that we would be scaling the wall. Luckily for us, there are stairs that lead you all the way to the top, albeit stairs that are a little wobbly and slanted. But, the view from atop the rock is worth it because you can see all of Permet and the surrounding area.

Random event for the week: I received a call today from a Peace Corps staff member (which always worries me a little because I wonder what they are calling for). She said that she had a weird call for me because there was a woman from the DC office that wanted to talk to me. So, I say OK. It turns out she works at Peace Corps headquarters in DC with the Private Sector Initiatives. She is traveling in Albania right now to learn about some of the Peace Corps Partnership Programs being conducted. She is the sister of one of my sorority sisters back in Colorado. It is such a small world! I have to say that it meant a lot to hear from her. I feel I am in good hands now that I know she is working at headquarters and a call from a fellow Coloradan always makes my day!

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