Group 16 got it’s first taste of freedom in week 8.
We set out from Elbasan on Monday morning and headed to Tirana, the capital city of Albania. After a tour of the big city, we headed to Durres for the counterpart conference and then left for our sites on Tuesday afternoon. When our schedules are busy they are jam packed and this week has went incredibly fast.
The tour of Tirane was fun and we were split into groups based on our site placement. I was put into the deep south group, along with 4 other Group 16ers. A group 15 volunteer showed us around the city and we took advantage of the American restaurants the capital has to offer. They also pointed out to us where the NYC bagel shop is located. I will definitely be making a return trip for that!
After the morning tour of the city we got back on the bus and left for the city of Durres to meet our counterparts for the first time.
Volunteers have told me that the two most awkward times you will have in the PC are when you meet your host family and counterpart for the first time. I can wholeheartedly agree with that so far. Durres provided some mad awkward times for me and a few other volunteers. My counterpart does not speak any English so it was time for me to use my very limited shqip skills. We had supper and plenty of “getting to know each other” time that evening. Thankfully, my counterpart seems like a great person and I am looking forward to getting to know her better once I widen my conversational skills. There were about 4 other volunteers that were in the same boat as me. The other volunteers have counterparts that speak English, lucky for them right now. However, I am told my shqip skills will improve much faster than some other people since I will be forced to use it every day!
Following our conference, my counterpart and I boarded a bus for the four hour ride to Permet. I started to feel a little anxious as we made the trip. The city was going to be my home for the next two years and I had never stepped foot in it before. Excitement also began to settle in as we got closer and the scenery began to change. Mountains, hills and rivers began to appear and I found myself staring in awe at the beautiful landscape of this country. We don’t have these views in North Dakota!
My site mate from group 15, Liila, met us at the bus stop and helped me with my bags. The first ten weeks of PC has turned into multiple trips of carrying your numerous bags around. One of the things I am most excited for after training is moving my bags to my apartment and finally unpacking!! I think I have almost reached my limit on the amount of time I am comfortable living out of a suitcase!
That first day I was lucky enough to visit the Benja, the thermal waters that are a short drive from Permet. This is one of the tourist attractions that is located by Permet and it attracts many foreigners and locals throughout the warmer months.
We also visited a hotel bar&cafe on our way back to Permet where we were served fresh bread from the oven and fresh hand churned butter. That evening we made Mexican food (if you can’t tell that is what most volunteers miss) and relaxed in my new home for the next few years.
The following day I went to meet my counterpart and was introduced to most of the staff I will be working with. It was a bit like show and tell as I went from the health center to the high school to the hospital. I am now known to everyone as the tall American with pretty eyes. Every Albanian that I met, including the mayor, immediately asked me if I had found a place to live yet. Technically, right now I am homeless because they have not found me an apartment to move into. Finding housing in Albania is extremely different form American. It is all word of mouth and no one really knows who lives where. They are able to talk to their cousins friend, who knows the brother of the family who lives in that particular apt and tell us that they are living in Greece at the moment. So, it takes time to find what housing is available right now and even longer to track down the owner. It sounded like every resident that I met in Permet is looking for an apt for the new American though. Keep your fingers crossed!
One of my favorite parts of my site visit was the hike that we went on the third day. Liila and I tagged along with an Italian tourist, her coworker and a retired sheep herder. Let me tell you something about sheep herders, they are unstoppable supermen when it comes to hiking. I know this should come as no surprise but when you see them in action it makes you feel incredible slow and out of shape. Our guide would be rolling his cigarette while walking up the side of the cliff, smoke, repeat this process and still be waiting at the top of the hill for us. I would arrive, panting and out of breath and he would just sit there and stare at me like he had been taking a nap. He also showed us what flower bulbs to dig up for their water content and nutrients. Good things to know if I ever have to sleep in the hills.
We stopped at his parents’ house in one of the villages we went through in the hills. He has 10 brothers and sisters and it seemed as though we were in a different world. The houses that were located up in the hills were equipped with what they needed to survive and it showed us what it really meant to live in the rural areas of this country.
On the way we located some cherry trees and our guide yelled out a man’s name and the owner of the trees appeared from one of the houses in the distance. He then graciously brought us up to his cherry orchard, I was in heaven. He asked me if I was from America to which I replied yes and began telling him I am a volunteer. His next question was are you married. I did not hear this as I do not automatically assume your second question to an American stranger is about their relationship status. So I kept talking about moving to Permet and he finally interrupted me with “are you single?!” I am sad to say this misunderstanding was spoken in English, I am going to remember for next time that it is hometown and then marital status in conversations.
Continuing on our 6 hour hike we ran into some sheep herders dogs. The dogs in Albania are not nice like many of the dogs in America. They are meant for guard dogs and most of the time hate strangers because they think you are threatening. This is even more true for sheep herding dogs because they are taught to attach anything that might threaten their herd. Luckily our guide chased them, threw things at them and basically kicked butt as the rest of us stood back in fear. If Survivor ever comes to Albania I am snagging a sheep herder to be on my team because we would easily win.
The rest of my site visit consisted of walking around my new home and getting to know the locations of the important buildings and of course the markets, cafes, locals, and restaurants. I am very lucky to have an awesome site mate that was able to show me around and introduce me to this new lifestyle. Permet is a beautiful city and I think I will be very happy there as I settle in for the next two years.
This summer will be full of conversations in my broken shqip, mapping out my new town, and of course spending some time in the river as it gets way to hot here for my ND skin!