[dated April 11, 2012 – a little late and sorry no pics this round – coming soon!]

Dear reader,

Yesterday during class we got the sad news that after 4 days of rain and cold a second cold front is on its way from Europe.  April showers bring May flowers, but in Albania it brings cold weather y el hijo del Lole no le gusta el frío.  For my friends who know me, this had to happen some time that I would complain about being ftóhtë (cold).  It probably won’t be the last either and by next winter I will know the true meaning of cold.  Every night I wrap my self in a cocoon of four heavy blankets.  The morning routine begins with slamming the snooze button and dreading the moment I finally have to emerge, hardly transformed into something more beautiful.

No two days are entirely the same, even in a sleepy rural town such as Thanë, but generally I start the morning with a cheerful “Mirëmëngjes,” from the host parents and Turkish coffee.  Then it is a quick two-minute walk to school into the frigid classroom where our Thanë cohort go through the language routine, anxiously awaiting our coffee break.  I get the feeling these next two years will be very stimulated.  Alternatively we head to Elbasan where the day is divided between language and Peace Corps training related to our fields [Community & Organizational Development (COD) in my case], security procedures, and working with local population and handling the sudden flux of attention.

This will be the true test of my spirit, as I’m beginning to learn that Albanians expect proactive attention.  Marauding youth demand a response to their broken English (usually consisting of “hello” and curse words) but after only 3 weeks I’m still figuring out what is appropriate.  Most are happy just to have a small conversation to appease natural curiosities.  With others for now it is probably better to strategically retreat.

These missteps and lessons learned I will be applying soon enough.  This Friday we all receive our assignments and learn where in country we will be placed and with whom we will be working.  The majority of COD folks will be placed in municipal bashkias, but not many hints or clues on geography despite my best sleuthing.

Peace Corps (and everyone who has or is volunteering) has told us multiple times, “the experience is different for everyone,” and “you make of it what you want.”  Fortunately I’ve had many great role models, most recently Corey from Group 14 Albania.  Current trainees were sent across Albania to stay with volunteers from Group 14 and outgoing Group 13 to see what the experience is like first hand.  I went north to the small city of Vau Dejes, just east of Shkoder.  I’ll quickly side-track to say that Corey was an amazing host and as I said, a great role model.  There wasn’t a day that went by that someone didn’t recognize him, or that we were invited for a coffee or chat.  Despite the challenges of his site, he’s been able to meet some great and encouraging people and worked to develop projects, mostly working with youth and a local judo school.

One night while gutting trout, I asked him when things finally “clicked” for him and he began to feel at home.  Eight months, but even when he still didn’t feel at home, everyday he went to his bashkia, he spoke with people in the shops and in the kafe, he even started taking judo, and little by little (avash, avash) the language came, and the friendships were built.  The relationships are of utmost importance.  Everything in Albania of real importance happens over coffee, and it takes time and effort.

So avash avash friends, the good things are worth it.

¡Hasta la próxima!