Each year, the health volunteers are in charge of holding a health fair in their site. Sounds pretty simple right? Well, keep in mind that it is Albania. Nothing ever pans out to be “simple” here. Whether it is explaining to your coworkers why you should advertise for an event like this. Or crossing all of your fingers that they will show up for work that day. Each of us have run into different road blocks these past few weeks.
A couple of weeks before I wanted to hold my health fair, I started planning what I wanted to accomplish. I began talking with my coworkers about what I wanted to do, as well as asking their ideas. I also started suggesting days that we should hold the event. In my mind, a week or so out was a good suggestion. It gave us enough time to plan for help, get materials in order, and for me, to cross all my fingers and toes that it wouldn’t be a failure. To which my coworkers replied no, we cannot plan it for that day. What if it rains? We can not have a health fair when it is raining!! Did I mention Alabanians hate rain? I tried to explain that I would like to advertise for the event, a logical thing to do in in my mind. I also wanted to try and line up help from nurses, doctors and other volunteers. How am I suppose to do that if I don’t know what day it is?! The more I explained my reasoning, the more their faces twisted in confusion. Okay, I tried. We finally came to the roundabout decision that they would decide what day we would have it, and inform me of that. Like I said, all my fingers and toes were crossed that this wouldn’t be a complete failure.
The next morning, I arrived at work, with a bright new idea in the back of my mind. My site mate works in the Municipality, and suggested holding our health fair in the Cultural Center in town. This would solve the possible rain problem, and give me a chance to plan ahead for the fair. I laid out this idea to my coworkers and it was met with blank stares. They seemed to be thinking what on earth is wrong with this silly American. My idea was shot down without much thought. Later, I learned that the Cultural Center and the Health Center are different political parties. Turns out, that idea was shot down before I even suggested it. My counterpart also explained that we cannot have it inside because there are no people inside. Ohhhh Albania, sometimes I wish I could just shake people. That is what advertising is for!
Later that week, we decided that we would have the health fair the following day. Why? Because the weather forecast was sunny. Of course, that would be the main reasoning for making a decision here. If you can’t tell, sometimes it can be a tad frustrating. Nevertheless, we worked throughout that day, to prepare for the following day’s festivities. Our office is loaded with pamphlets and brochures. My coworkers have been asking me why the Peace Corps is not giving us more materials this fall. I explained that I will try write a grant for this very thing. Although, I had trouble keeping a straight face as I stared at the mountains of “materials” stacked throughout our office.
Albanians seem to enjoy hoarding pamphlets, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. People will grab a handful of the exact same brochure and quickly walk away with it. Owning 7 copies of the exact same book/pamphlet/brochure seems a bit redundant to me. Then again, I stop trying to make sense of things people do here. The best I could do is try and stop anyone walking away with a stack of diabetes booklets, take all but one, and ask them about their health.
We spent the early morning setting up in the town center.
I was pleasantly surprised by the support of the local health workers. The director of the hospital came, as well as a handful of nurses throughout the day. They were able to take people’s blood pressure and answer any questions. I had low expectations after the first health fair I took part of. In PST, each of the training groups held a health fair in our villages. This was during our sixth week of being in Albania and we were very new to how things worked here. I remember seeing one of the village doctors taking someones blood pressure. The doctor was sitting down, the patient was standing up and did I mention, the doctor was smoking a cigarette? Wrong on so many levels, and scary to think that this man apparently went to medical school. Thankfully, the nurses in Permet knew what they were doing.
Permet was buzzing with people throughout the day and I am happy to say, the health fair seemed successful.
As an American living in a third world country, we are sometimes caught in the cross hares of what characterizes success here. These amount to radically different definitions in America versus Albania. Keeping that in mind can be an integral part of feeling successful here. I am also finding that it can help amount to a much happier volunteer!