Last week, group 17 was sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers! As they all departed to their homes for the next two years, I sat in Permet and waited for my new site-mate to arrive. Not only was I lucky enough to have another volunteer placed in my city, they also put a younger couple in a neighboring town. We spend a lot of time alone as PCV’s, so you can understand why I was more than excited to have some new friends in my part of the country.
Kelcyre is a smaller town, about twenty five minutes from Permet. Monika, and her husband Will are the towns newest residents. One of the biggest reasons for my excitement, was that Monika is also in the health sector. It can be a lot easier to get projects underway when you have the help of another volunteer. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to start working with her!
May is dedicated to anti-smoking on the national health calendar. My coworkers and I had been planning to teach a few lessons in the high school on this very subject. Over coffee on Monday morning, I talked to my coworkers about the new volunteers and their backgrounds. We all decided it would be a great idea to have Monika visit and help out with the anti-smoking lessons.
Later that week, Monika, my coworkers and I, all headed to the high school to partner up with the school nurse. I had prepared a few PowerPoints, games and videos to do in the classes. We were hoping to get through to at least a few of the kids, as smoking is a serious problem here. When we arrived at the school, we found out that the nurse was nowhere to be found. Surprise, surprise (please note the sarcasm), our teaching plans fell through that morning. However, a requirement for PCV’s is flexibility and so we simply moved on to plan B.
I had explained to my counterpart, that Monika’s background involved working with special needs children. We have a handful of kids in Permet that have been diagnosed with various learning disabilities. There aren’t a lot of options for these children and so they are still put in a regular classroom. Unless the disability is severe, in which case, they are usually kept at home, without any proper schooling. My counterpart decided to take us around the schools to meet these kids. When we walked into the classrooms, the teacher would blatantly point at the child with a disability, call out their name and explain what was wrong with them. This usually antagonized the other children to also point at this child and repeat what the teacher was saying. A lot of things no longer surprise me here, but the lack of privacy that my coworkers handled the introductions with put me at a loss for words. This was a completely normal and accepted way to handle things here, and that made me wonder how to even broach the subject with them. Especially when all of this is being said in Shqip. I decided to save that battle for another day.
Our back up plan for the rest of the morning, involved the cutest 3-6 year olds in Permet. As we headed to the kindergarten, I realized our plan b was going to be a lot more fun than lecturing a bunch of teenagers. The kids were adorable and introductions were made while we started playing with blocks. The teacher and parents of a little boy in the class, were worried about whether he had a learning disorder. After spending ten minutes playing with the kids, they turned to Monika and expected her to diagnose the child. In the midst of the discussion, I was called over the translate. That was quite the change from last summer! I felt a bubble of pride well up at this small success and gave myself a pat on the back. Until they sped up their conversation and I had no choice but to quietly retreat back to playing with the blocks.
As the morning wore on, they continued to pressure Monika to tell them what was wrong with that child. We explained over and over that she could not diagnose him in a matter of thirty minutes. Just because she had been a teacher in America, didn’t mean she had any magic tools. They kept assuming that there was some sort of language barrier and that we were confused. I kept explaining it would take time. For the first time since I have been here, it was the Americans reminding the Albanians to slow down!