I have nestled into the valley that will be my home for the next two years. After looking at a calendar, I realized that I haven’t left my site in almost two months. Integration is the key to success, so one could say that I am sitting right where Peace Corps wants me.
I feel as though I am in my own little corner of the world here. I see the same people every day, from shop owners to veggie stand farmers. If I have any mail, the post office workers yell at me as I walk by. The bakery owner smirks at me as I stare at all of the delicious treats in the case that day. The kids in the surrounding apartment buildings run after me, eager to show off any english skills they possess. When we reach the end of their ability, they swiftly transition into firing endless questions in shqip at me. Which brings about it’s own round of confusion for the day. The one constant in a PCV’s life; confusion.
Work at the health center has picked up a little bit. I have gotten to know more people in my community. I am continuing to get to know my coworker and counterpart more each week. They have begun commenting on my wardrobe each day, now that I can wear some of the clothes I brought for cooler weather. If they especially like my outfit that day, my coworker will round up the rest of the ladies throughout the health center. She then proceeds by ushering them throughout our office so that they can look at me that day. I can officially say that people staring at me for unusually long periods of time, no longer phases me. The staring is usually done by older albanian women, who are talking about me, from what I understand in my limited shqip. It becomes obvious when every other word is “American, American.”
The women in the health center have taken me under their wing and I feel as though I have fit into their little nest. Their productiveness, or lack thereof, can be a bit frustrating. This week, I spent my morning trying to figure out how to work their new freezer. The booklet had an English section, so I was elected to be the repair man for the day. At least I didn’t electrocute myself this time! The following day we spent the vast majority of the morning discussing the fact that I was wearing a short sleeve shirt. Followed by, their opinions that I was bound to get sick because of this. I wanted to tell them that I am from North Dakota, 60 degree weather IS t-shirt weather! But then again, I wasn’t sure how to spell out this scenario in shqip, so I just smile and nod, as usual.
On my grocery run the other morning I bought some red lentils. Apparently, they were new in the store. The owner asked me what I was going to use them for and if I had tried them before, I replied that I was going to make soup with some potatoes and other vegetables. The albanian women told me that potatoes would be good but carrots will be better. No potatoes, only carrots. Got it. I think. She also looked at me with question as she rang up three chocolate bars. Sorry, no way am I opening that discussion. I love chocolate. And I eat it while watching movies on my computer. I am a PCV. It’s what we do. Don’t judge!
Projects have a way of fizzling out in the middle of any progress you may have made. It’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t lived here, but things seem more difficult here. Yes, it’s third world and many people have less than many of us can imagine in America. But that’s not what I am talking about. It is just harder to accomplish anything here. The hurdles that you have to jump through, seem to multiply while you are sitting there translating the conversation in your head. My site-mate just returned from a visit to America. She mentioned that she was surprised most by how easy everything seemed to be. Transportation, food, conversation and life in general just seemed to flow. Whether this is because of familiarity or not, I would have to agree with her.
If you can’t tell, I am struggling with feelings of being unproductive. Learning how to take the reigns and motivate my coworkers is my biggest challenge right now. Mustering up enough confidence to spearhead a project in shqip is not my first instinct. Finding a motivated coworker, with english skills, would be a godsend. Until then, study, study, study. Confusion, confusion, confusion. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. 🙂
I am beginning to relate to the little ups and downs that go along with service in a foreign country. There are times that I feel on top of the world. It can be from making it through an entire conversation with some clarity and appropriate responses. Or leaving work with a feeling of productiveness. Or working with my counterpart for an entire morning outlining our work plan for that month. To which, shqip and Albania replies by swiftly knocking me off my high horse. I have left the house and literally can’t seem to find a single shqip word in my brain. (Cue the confused smile and nodding) Or showing up at work, with my coworkers nowhere to be found, for the third day in a row. Or realizing that our monthly plan has not been followed, but for a single day. Whatever it may be, life here is continually knocking me back to reality. Sometimes gently, and sometimes with enough force, that all I want to do is retreat back to my apt for the rest of the day. Which, I’m finding, can be fixed by a night away from site, filled with friends, wine and of course, chocolate.