Every so often, I have a day where I can’t stop shaking my head at the sheer ridiculousness of my life here. Before moving to Albania, I worked at a wide variety of jobs. Everything from mowing lawns, to personal training, to secretarial work to a PT Aide. I am no stranger to working at a job that entails me to run every errand under the sun. Some were more fulfilling than others and some were only a paycheck. The Peace Corps has a slogan “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” This is without a doubt, one of the strangest, low to high roller-coaster of a job that I will list on my resume.
I work at the health center and have settled into a rhythm of regularly talking with five women there. One is my counterpart, she is the Albanian that can understand my Shqiplish the best. The other four women are my coworkers, and your guess is as good as mine to what their title might actually be. This last week was full of self-esteem boosting moments with these women. Okay, boosted may have been too strong of a word, or the completely wrong word in general. They do mean well, and that’s what matters right?
I am slowly getting more confidence in my shqip skills to throw in random comments or remarks. My counterpart had straightened her hair one morning and I thought she looked really nice. I told her she looked pretty and that I liked her hair that day. She said thank you and then eyed my hair and commented that it looked like I hadn’t showered that day. Then she started laughing and I had no choice but to join her because we both knew she was correct.
The following day I decided to put some more effort into what I was going to wear. I broke out my dress pants and one of my fancier shirts. I even threw in a sparkly scarf for a good Albanian measure. I felt quite fancy as I walked to work that morning. My coworkers liked my outfit. But, it turns out there was a problem with my face. I hadn’t worn makeup that day, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for me at the health center. However, my face had been breaking out a little bit and it was obvious I had some pimples on my cheeks and chin. My coworker was quick to point that out and thus began the Q & A. Why on earth was I not wearing makeup today if my skin looked like that? Didn’t I know that makeup would cover up pimples? Why hadn’t I planned more time to get ready before I left my apt? My teeth were still white but they were distracted by my pimples and became very concerned. Lucky for me, my coworker whipped out her extremely bright pink lipstick and ordered me to put some on. She explained that if I was wearing this lipstick people wouldn’t notice the pimples on my face. If I am being honest, this is not the worst logic that they have had.
During our coffee break, not only was I rocking my bright lipstick, I was having an actual conversation. I even strung a few sentences together with correct grammar, which my counterpart pointed out. I had no shame as I clapped and jumped for joy at my elementary school level shqip skills. We started talking about prices of homes and apartments in America, as well as other costs. The owner started asking me about where I had lived, the price and how I paid for it. I told him that I moved out of my parent’s house when I was eighteen and went to the university. I explained all of the different jobs I held throughout my four years of earning my diploma. They were shocked to hear that I went to school as well as had one or two jobs at the same time. When I started to talk about the cost of universities, their mouths dropped. Not to mention, the bachelors degree is thought of as the new high school diploma. Just another topic that is a normal part of American’s lives, but a foreign concept to the people I live with now.
It was a frustrating week with my coworkers and a bit of a dagger to my self esteem. But, as I was walking home, my favorite veggie guy waved me over and talked my ear off. I told him I would take one apple and he ended up sending me home with two bags full of free produce. All it took was a walk across town to cheer me up, and free food never hurt!
And if all else fails, hiking in the beautiful mountains surrounding Permet is a perfect afternoon getaway.