Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Until next summer...

Summer is officially over here in Pogradec…It was remarkably and uncomfortably hot here the past few weeks and I was vocally counting down the days until fall. In fact, it has been hot enough here that my professional dress attire at work has taken a turn for the worse. I have been telling people: “Jam gati për dimër,” meaning I am ready for winter. In response, my Albanian friends have employed scare tactics on me…perhaps so that my wishes and hopes do not induce an early winter, but maybe also to prepare me for what is in store. First they say that there really is no fall here but that we move quite rapidly into a persistently cold winter. Then, they keep asking me if I have a wood-burning stove. The answer is no. Instead, I have this electric heater, which might be nice because I will not be at risk for accidentally burning significant portions of my skin. Unfortunately, it also means my electric bill will probably exceed what Peace Corps allocates to me for utilities and it will do a very bad job at keeping me warm when the electricity is out. Well, one of the old ladies that lives on the first floor of my building told me that last week summer was over. I was not sure if I believed her at the time because it was still hot. Now I believe her. It is actually cold here at night and it is raining today for the first time in a couple of weeks. Ahh…the joys of not sweating around the clock. Cold or not, I am looking forward to this perk. My friend Bruna took me shopping to buy a wonderfully soft, cozy, and warm blanket that will be my favorite possession this winter. What she failed to tell me was that when girls buy these blankets, it signifies they are preparing for marriage. Oh my….

This Saturday will mark my 24th week of living in Albania. That means I am approaching the sixth month mark of my service….one half of a year and one quarter of my entire service. This realization puts a lot into perspective for me. I have to really get my rear end in gear so that I can graduate from George Washington in a timely manner. Unfortunately, I realize that I am too idealistic and ambitious when it comes to my culminating experience project (thesis) that it will be impossible for me to implement unless I simplify a bit. It also means that I need to move into preparation and execution modes for applying to medical school. The combination of these stresses and the continuous process of adapting to a new country and culture propelled me into the culture shock/depressive stage. The newness of Albania wore off and I was disillusioned by a lot of things, including work ethic in the office, gender norms, lack of Mexican food, etc. Fortunately for me, I have incredible site mates and a wonderful Peace Corps family that brought me back with positivity and excitement.

Most of us are gearing up for the busy work schedule we anticipate (which means we could quite possibly be setting ourselves up for disappointment) once school starts again on September 6th. There are the last minute trips visiting other volunteers and enjoying the final stretch of circle dancing for the summer. As Pogradec volunteers, we have been quite fortunate because other volunteers want to visit our beautiful site and us before summer is over. Two weeks ago we had an influx of volunteers that came to attend the beer fest in Korça, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Pogradec. The beer fest was a great opportunity to reunite with other volunteers, drink $0.50 beer, eat incredibly delicious shish kebab chicken, and explore a new city. They had live music that ranged from head banging rock music, to hilarious covers of corny American music, and Albanian rap music. I loved the slogan of the festival: Gjithmonë ka një vënd për një birrë! (Always has a place for a beer).

At the end of the day, the beer festival was such a blast because of the good company I was with…

Last weekend Brad had a couch surfer from Spain stay at his place. This guy heard of a place in the mountains of Pogradec called Kabash that had beautiful waterfalls. Of course we decide we had to go check it out. We did not know where to go and tried to ask some of the natives along the way. They tried to direct us to the furgons that would drive us there and when we told them we wanted to hike there they proceeded to think we were out of our minds. So, we were left to follow our instinct in our eager search of the esteemed waterfalls. We decided that the best approach would be to follow the river up the mountain figuring it would lead us to our destination. On the way up, we noticed that the river became increasingly polluted. No matter how long we live here, the trash always disappoints.

We also had to walk through a Roma community, which I particularly enjoyed. I think the children are beautiful and I even got some fantastic high fives, which left some stinging. Also, the kids were the most helpful in pointing us in the right direction to Kabash. The only scary thing about this area was the known presence of stray dogs. Matt and Brad had hiked through this area before and were followed by barking dogs the whole time they were there.

The Spaniard was petrified of being attacked by a dog and picked up the biggest rocks he could find to use as weapons in case of an attack. He freaked me out by his paranoia so much so that I even found a rock myself. Luckily, the dogs could have cared less about us and our limbs were spared.

The trail led a lot to be desired as we approached the waterfall. In fact, there really was not a trail at all and we had to channel our inner leapfrog as we hopped from rock to rock back and forth across the river. Only once did I accidently miss a rock and nearly fall into the river (don’t worry, it was not very deep). Thankfully, though unfortunately for him, Brad was close enough to me where I could grab him and save myself. We finally arrived at the waterfalls and though they were not as big as we were expecting, it was a beautiful site.

We also heard of a church nearby so we decided to hike up some more to the church. Finding the church also revealed an actual trail that we decided to take on the way down. It was an especially refreshing trail considering the route we took up to Kabash. It also came with one of my favorite views of Pogradec.

This past weekend we had some more special company in town and decided to hike back up to the church and have a picnic. I agreed only on the condition that we found the trail we used on the descent the previous time and Brad agreed. He said he would have no problem finding that trail. During the initial part of the hike, we found a trail but it kept going up and did not really resemble what we remembered from the previous weekend. We looked around and realized we were significantly higher than the church. We found this little path that headed down and so we decided we should probably take it in the hope that it would lead us to the appropriate trial. I almost feel that it was not a trail at all but instead a dense forest of pokey trees and bushes. After swinging through trees, climbing through bushes, falling on my butt, and receiving numerous lashings from tree limbs we made it through the forest miraculously at the church. At this point we were all drenched in our own sweat and exhausted from the adventure we had. But, we had a great lunch and found some fresh cold water along the way.

Finally, I know I am in Albania when the lokali (bar/coffee shops) only let guys go upstairs if there is a girl with them. We suspect that it provides opportunity for making out in a turp (shame) – free way, though I have yet to observe said behavior. Anyway, it is a good thing I am here for my site mates and the other male volunteers because I can be their wing girl (well, except for Steven). When they want to meet a pretty Albanian girl I can go with them so that they can have access to the girls’ hang out on the top floor.

I do admit that it is fun checking out the girls. I am learning a lot about my site mates by their preference in the ladies. Also, I
can observe the interesting and intimidating Albanian fashion scene.

This is the coolest toilet I have ever seen on the beach…

1 comment:

  1. My dear Stacy! I miss you so much and I am so proud of all the wonderful things you are doing!!! You are truly an inspiration to me hermana! Love you!