I have lost count of the times I have messed up when speaking the language. Probably within the first few weeks I was living with my host family during training. Language learning isn’t something that comes naturally to me and honestly, shqip eshte veshtire!! (Albanian is difficult!)
The sentence structure is more similar to Spanish than it is to English. The grammar has cases, which I still have no clue about. The pronunciation is key, we don’t write shqip in our day to day lives. We speak it. The key to improving my language skills is just that. You can’t communicate if you don’t try. You have to speak. Speak it often and to whoever will listen. Albanians, unlike a lot of Americans, will almost always lend an interested ear. They love talking and having coffee for hours on end. The fact that I am an American makes me that much more of an intriguing contender. Speaking with reckless abandon does not come easy to me. I know I usually don’t have the right conjugation of the verb when I am talking. I would like to be correct and not sound like a 5 year old trying to speak. That usually presents a source of hesitation when I am out in my community. Previous volunteers will tell you that the people who speak, not caring whether they are correct or not, are the ones that will pick up the language the fastest. Makes sense, practice makes perfect. Or in this case, moves you into a middle school language level. One of my goals throughout service is to toss out the hesitancy that always tries to creep up. Easy to think about, a little harder to execute. The language is without a doubt, one of the hardest parts about service in any PC country. I knew this as I headed to a foreign land half a world away. No surprise there. English is not a language that is spoken at my office and in the end, this is a blessing in disguise. It forces me to speak shqip, practice my pronunciation and usually expand my vocabulary. Even when I don’t want to. It also helps me realize that even if I do sound like a 5 year old when I speak, my counterpart can understand what I am saying. Most of the time anyway. Confusing is an adjective that could be linked to a large chunk of any PCV’s service. It usually results in a good laugh, or in the very least, an embarrassing story.
August wraps up the last month of summer for the kids of Albania. School starts towards the middle of September and that means more work for a lot of volunteers. There has been talk in the future, that they are going to place health volunteers in the schools. This is a great idea, and would give the health sector more of the tools we need to be successful at site. In my opinion, Albanian youth are in desperate need for a basic health education and life skills course. I am hoping to organize this and run a couple classes in the high school. My placement is technically in the health educational and promotional dept in Permet. There is not a lot going on in my office at the moment. There is a health calendar that we follow but there isn’t an event on it for the month of August. My counterpart tells me this is because it is too hot and everyone is at the beach. I’m always in favor of some beach time but I am glad the season is wrapping up. Otherwise I will start to go stir crazy from the summer laziness. In reality, that attitude will never disappear from life here, but I am hoping it is less extreme in the fall.
One of the key goals in the Peace Corps is to integrate into your community. That is why we are placed with a host family during training. It shapes the reasoning behind why the program is set up as it is, to push successful integration. It is a key reason why a lot of volunteers are successful. We are told to focus on building relationships in our community, especially during the first year that we are here. If you don’t have a good foundation in your community, you aren’t going to have the resources you need for projects. Intentional Relationship Building; IRB. One of the more important acronyms taken from the lengthy list in the PC handbook. I have to keep reminding myself of that when it feels like I am doing nothing at work. Taking the time to build a trusted foundation with locals is going to be a key to my success down the road.
I am extremely happy with my site placement. Permet is not too big, not too small and overall a beautiful city. It’s quiet and that will bode well for my happiness over the next couple years. It lies off the beaten path and doesn’t have a good road leading up to it, but those come few and far between in Albania. I love my apt and it feels homey to me after I was able to put my touch on it. That said, there are definitely moments that I have felt I need to get out of site. I have started to feel like I am going crazy because of the stagnant attitude at my workplace. Luckily, being a PCV instantly plugs you into a pipeline of friends scattered around the country. Traveling here may be dirty, gross and hot, but it is cheap!
My sitemate and I have been in charge of planning five summer camps to take place at a national park outside of Permet. They will take up most of August and the beginning of September. Kids from all over the country will be attending the camps and funding came from the US Embassy. Being a part of the planning process has given us something to look forward to and a great feeling of being productive. Planning has also given us a snapshot of the challenges involved when working in a foreign country. More to come on that later in the month. Fingers crossed that it all goes smoothly.
Some challenges here are small and barely given a second thought. Some follow you around for days. Some can be resolved in a matter of minutes. Some may stick around for your entire service. Some have to do with language and the lack of communication. Some don’t. Fall down seven times, stand up eight. Big challenges or tiny mishaps. No matter what you’re facing, you can’t succeed if you don’t try.