Group 17 has arrived in Albania and have completed two weeks of Pre-Service Training. At the end of the second week, the volunteers are all given a much needed break from language classes. They are sent to currently serving volunteers that are scattered around the country. This gives them an opportunity to see what day to day life is like. I was having a hard time registering that the new group was here. It didn’t fully hit me until my visitors got off the bus. I had actually been here a year. I was now one of the older group members with experience as a volunteer!
Last year, I went to Fier for my visit on the second week. I still remember walking around and taking everything in with big bright eyes. The two girls I was visiting had their lives together at site. They were integrated, had adjusted to Albanian life and were using their shqip with anyone and everyone they saw around the city. I was so impressed, and it gave me hope that I would one day be at their level. Now, one year later, I am that person for the new volunteers. Do I feel as though I have my life together here? Not even close! I am still confused most of the time, don’t understand most things in Albania and am astounded that a year has already passed. To give myself a little credit, I have learned a lot. I have settled into my city and am slowly getting the hang of life here. It has made me realize that the confusion and feelings of being a foreigner will never, truly go away.
Peace Corps sent me one of the married couples in Group 17. They are originally from the UK, but have lived in California for the past 25 years. Graham, was a small business owner and is in the Community Development Sector. Teresa, is a nurse and will be working in the Health Sector.
As PCV’s, you get used to spending a lot of time by yourself. Whether you have a site-mate or many volunteers close to your city, won’t make that much of a difference. You live alone, go to work alone and spend your evenings, alone, curled up on your couch watching reruns of a random tv show. This usually doesn’t bother me that much. I lived alone for a few years before coming to Albania, and have no problem entertaining myself. But I am human and it does get lonely. Needless to say, I was excited to have people coming to visit my city. The new volunteers stayed with me from Saturday through Tuesday. As you can imagine, that was quite the change from my normal solitude.
The first few days we did some hiking so they could see more of Permet and the surrounding mountains. We ended up crawling through a hole in a fence in order to get through to the main road. The owner of the property was standing there, spouting off random directions in Shqip. An Albanian, yelling, telling us what to do and then laughing at our weird foreign tendencies. There couldn’t have been a more fitting snapshot of life here for the new volunteers.
When volunteers get together, we always try to make as much delicious food as you can. More times than not, this involves a Mexican feast. We stayed true to style and made fajitas one evening. The new volunteers visibly relaxed as they realized the next few days were at their disposal. They were getting a well deserved break from the jam packed schedule of PST. It was fun for me to hear them talk about the challenges of those first few weeks. There are so many awkward incidences when living with a host family and not having the language skills to communicate. I had forgotten about a lot of these moments. As the weekend wore on, the best advice I could give them, is to just make it through PST. Life gets so much better once you arrive at site and gain your independence back!
On Monday, I took Teresa to work with me. Graham and the other COD volunteer went with my site-mate to the Municipality. Teresa and I made our way over to the health center. We talked a lot about what she might come to expect in her workdays with a health center. My coworkers were in the office that morning and plenty of introductions were made with the rest of the staff.
Vike, Oli, Teresa and I all wandered towards the center of town later that morning. They wanted to hang some health posters up to promote healthy eating. Afterwards, we headed to a cafe that sits alongside the river. During our coffee break, Teresa got a true sense of what life might be like at a health center. Vike and Oli do not speak any english, so her shqip skills were put to use. I helped translate throughout the conversation, but she understood a lot of what was happening. I was very impressed by how much she had learned after two weeks. She did a great job with the limited vocabulary she has at this point.You could see the wheels turning away in her brain as she struggled to retrieve the meanings of various words. It was just another reminder of what life was like at the beginning of service.
The volunteer visit is a great way to give the new trainees a glimpse into the future. After recalling what it was like to be the newbies on the visit, I still can’t believe I’m on the opposite end of the equation. I have unconsciously switched into the role of an older group member. I answered their questions with the experiences and lessons I have learned since being here. I recounted many of the funny, confusing and frustrating stories that make up my life as a PCV. It’s a great feeling to be able to sit back and revel in the fact that I have made it through an entire year in Albania!