It’s the Little Things

Sometimes Peace Corps volunteers might not feel like they were effective during their service. They feel like they could have done something more. Maybe spend more time out in the community rather than binge-watching Netflix in their apartments. Maybe starting more projects or whatever.

My Peace Corps experience was more than I could have ever hoped and dreamed for. It changed me for the better. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. I am stronger because of joining the Peace Corps and I am happier because of the time that I spent in Albania. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t reflect and smile about all the wonderful times I spent there.

There were times that I wanted to pull my hair out and just give up. There were times that I wanted to hole up inside of my apartment. But there were also times that I laughed with good friends over coffee. There were times where people invited me inside their homes and showed me what true hospitality is. There were times that projects were successful (despite many of the “failures” along the way).

I still talk to many of my Albanian friends everyday. I have even received a few phone calls from them. Luckily Albanian phone plans are pretty great and many people I know have at least thirty international minutes a month that they can use (to call me!). Every time I receive a call or a message I feel eternally grateful to still have these people in my life, even though we’re not in the same place anymore. I was really worried that when I left Albania I would lose a lot of the relationships that I created during my service, but thankfully that is not the case.

Today my friend Joan called me and was telling me all about how he has been spending the summer. He is currently with his family at his beach house having a bonfire next to the sea. They are BBQing fish that they caught yesterday. I can imagine it as if I was there and that makes me homesick for Shqiperia. Joan began telling me about how my presence in Kavaje changed him and the others that I worked with for the better. He said he is more “American” now (which I take pride in). His family has noticed a change in him and even they have begun to interact differently within the family. Joan said, now “we work together and mind our business. We’re starting to reason like you do. We plan things out. We can’t forget you. You’ve been here during a very delicate part of our lives.”

It’s the little things that really matter. I’m so happy that I was able to help influence my friends and students to take small steps to change their lives. I miss them so much, but I know someday we will all reconnect.

Me and Joan during an Outdoor Ambassadors activity my first year of Peace Corps

Me and Joan during an Outdoor Ambassadors activity my first year of Peace Corps

Getting Easier

As each day goes by it is beginning to get a little bit easier. I am not quite as emotional about leaving Albania and I have begun to look back on my experience there. I have been swapping stories with other travelers and it’s been good to share about some of my time in Albania. There are things that I miss greatly, but there are also things that I am glad I don’t have to deal with anymore.

Last week I had a swift kick back into first world reality and received a fifty-eight euro fine for not buying a bus ticket in Innsbruck. That is definitely not something that I am used to, but teaches me a lesson. Things are quite as lenient in other parts of the world and it is important to play by the rules. I am sure that as I continue to readjust back into another culture more things like that will continue to happen. I was annoyed, but honestly not even that upset. I didn’t follow the rules and now I have to pay the consequence. There is nothing I can do about it, so no point in dwelling in my mistake.

The same goes for my time in Albania. There is no point dwelling in the past. I have to enjoy this experience. Enjoy the now. And look forward to the future. Just because I am not in Albania doesn’t mean that I won’t continue the relationships with people in Albania that are meaningful to me. I’ve tried to keep in contact with my students and other Peace Corps volunteers. These connections won’t falter just because I am not physically there anymore.

Even though this trip has been long, I think it has been good for me. I do think that this will help me readjust back into American culture and I can honestly say that I am looking forward to getting back to America. Europe is great, but I am ready to be back with my friends and family for a bit. I am excited to have a burrito again. I can’t wait to go up to the mountains and hopefully reconnect with a few of my Peace Corps friends back in the states (especially my Colorado buddies Susan and Paul). I think grad school was the right decision and I think that going back to school will be hard, but rewarding. My future is bright. It’s time to look back on my past with feelings of fondness and appreciation, rather than missing something. Everything changes in life, but I have to just take solace in the fact that I know everything will work out for the best.

In Between

Saying goodbye to Albania was unreal. To be honest, it still doesn’t feel real. Leaving Peace Corps and leaving Albania was much harder than leaving America. I think it is because of the unknown. It’s difficult to say when I will be able to return to Albania because of school, money, and life in general. I can’t deny, however, that more than anything right now I wish I was still there. There hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I haven’t thought about Peace Corps and about Albania. Peace Corps told us that reintegration would be rough, but my reintegration hasn’t even really started yet and I’m already all mixed up.

Most of you know by now that I have started traveling across Europe by myself before I head back to the states. Don’t get me wrong, traveling is great and I’m incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, but it is still challenging. This is my first time traveling solo and there are definitely pros and cons. I just miss having my travel buddy Quinn around to share the experiences with me, but luckily I have met a bunch of cool people along the way.

I’m in limbo at the moment. Traveling and taking in new experiences. Trying to process where I have been vs. where I am going. How will my life these past two years shape me into who I am going to be. It’s such a strange feeling.

Giving up everything that you’ve worked for is exhausting. It’s weird not knowing the direction that the new volunteers will want to take the projects I poured my heart into. Recently, one of new volunteer in my city told me that the girls at the youth center said I was their role model when they were having a discussion about leaders. It made me cry. I wished that I could have been there to do GLOW camp with them again and to continue to build on the activities that we’ve started. But I’m not, so now what?

I am trying to soak up this lifestyle of having no obligations, no responsibilities, the freedom to do whatever I want and go wherever I want. Even though I am sad, I am also trying to be optimistic. I am on vacation, so I better try to enjoy it at least. Everything will work out in the end and a little piece of Albania has changed and a little piece of me has changed too.

Just FYI: I started traveling on June 5th and thus far I have been to Ljubljana, Bled, Budapest, Prague, Kutna Hora, and now Vienna. Tomorrow I’m off to Salzburg.

Mirupafshim: Goodbye Peace Corps

I’ve come a long way from the girl that applied to Peace Corps on a whim to see if she could make it in, a long way from the girl who took out the electricity in every home that she stepped into, a long way from the girl who thought room-temperature food was disgusting, and a long way from the girl that thought furgons were the scariest experience of her life. Peace Corps has changed me in more ways than I could possibly ever explain to anyone, especially those who weren’t here to experience it with me along the way. That is why there will always be a special bond between me and the other group 16 volunteers that went through this experience in Albania with me. We all went through our highs and our lows, but we supported each other and helped each other through some of the darkest of times.

This experience in Albania has meant so much to me and I think that is why this past month I have been so emotional. Crying everyday has become a thing. Saying goodbyes is really hard. Especially saying goodbye to people that you may not see again anytime soon. It was hard to say goodbye to my friends and family in America, but it was different because I knew that I would see them all again in two years. This is distinctive because I am not sure my return date to Albania. It is harder because the friends that I have made these past two years, these friends that I now consider family, will be moving in all different states across America (or even countries across the world). It is tough because I want to stay, but I have to go. I want to stay because of KYAC, because of the students that have changed my perspective, because of my new family here, because of my new life and who I am outside of that life I was tied down to in the states, because I am in love with someone who is going to stay another year.

Goodbyes are really hard, but I’m trying to think of these farewells more like a “see you later” situation.

I am torn. I am excited to go back to the states and to start grad school. I can’t wait to eat a burrito again and order Chinese food delivery. I want to spend time with my family and my friends that I’ve had for years. But I also love my new life. The life I have created for myself these past two years. It’s weird to have to give all that up. It’s strange to move out of my quirky apartment, give up and pass along the projects I’ve worked so hard to develop, leave my friends and students behind not knowing what kind of opportunities they will have now that I am gone, and give up the more relaxed lifestyle of a Peace Corps volunteer. But, I signed up for Peace Corps knowing that is would be a 27-month commitment and that my time as a volunteer would eventually come to an end.

I’m sure once I’m back stateside that I’ll be able to continue to reflect on this experience with a new perspective. Peace Corps is the best thing that has ever happened to me. This is my last blog post while I am in Albania, but you can look out for more blogs to come in the future regarding my post-Peace Corps eurotrip and my readjustment back to America.

Today, June 5th, I am leaving Albania. For now I’m off on a trip across Europe. It’s my first time traveling by myself, but I think that after being in Albania for two years I can handle anything. I’m planning on traveling to Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Ireland. I’ll keep you updated!

Thank you, dear readers, for spending the time these past two years to listen to my ramblings and experience this journey with me.

The last of G16 to COS.

The last of G16 to COS.

My final meeting with the students at the youth center. I made them baked goods and gave everyone participation certificates.

My final meeting with the students at the youth center. I made them baked goods and gave everyone participation certificates.

Having coffee with my neighbor Luci in her home.

Having coffee with my neighbor Luci in her home.

Last visit with my host family

Last visit with my host family

Final beach day with some of the KYAC teenagers

Final beach day with some of the KYAC teenagers

Having coffee with one of my favorite Albanian families and the new PCVs

Having coffee with one of my favorite Albanian families and the new PCVs

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The last time I'll hang out with all these people in the same place.

The last time I’ll hang out with all these people in the same place.

What I’ll Miss About Peace Corps and Albania

Albania has been such a wonderful country to live in these past two years. I have come to love a lot of the cultural differences and things that I once found strange are now completely normal. Living in a completely different area of the world helped give me a new lenses and a different perspective on life. I will miss so many things about this culture and about being a Peace Corps volunteer, but there are also some things that I am happy to leave behind. The good far outweighs the bad though. Here are some things that I will and won’t miss about my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania:

Some things that I will miss

  1. Time with Quinn
  2. The ridiculously large portion size of wine
  3. Traveling around europe for cheap
  4. Having free time to self-reflect and work on personal growth
  5. Weekly dinners with my sitemate chuck
  6. Sleeping in
  7. Shopping at the second-hand market
  8. The unpredictability of everything
  9. Hearing the call the prayer
  10. Albanian hospitality
  11. Cheap everything
  12. Cute Roma children who try to practice their English with me
  13. Summer nights
  14. Having time to read as many books as I want
  15. Bidets
  16. KYAC and my students
  17. The friendly ladies at the grocery stores around town
  18. The man who gave me free olives and always asked about my brother
  19. My vegetable lady who always told me how wonderful I am for absolutely no reason
  20. The waiter Genti at Art Cafe
  21. Having coffee with Gloria, Clody, and their family in the evenings
  22. My host family
  23. TV show marathons during down time
  24. Summer camps
  25. Seeing sheep and farm animals everywhere
  26. National events
  27. That feeling when a lesson was successful
  28. Bike rides to the beach
  29. Running around the villages
  30. Evenings on PCV’s balcony’s spent contemplating life and drinking wine
  31. Entertaining fashion choices
  32. Brightly colored buildings
  33. My Kavaje friends: Entela and Bora
  34. Everyone asking where I have been lost constantly
  35. My neighbor Luci who I still can’t understand half the time
  36. Spending weekends in Berat with Quinn, Dan, and QRB
  37. Being able to walk anywhere
  38. Techno blasting in furgons
  39. The secret garden
  40. Having a good lunch for less than two dollars
  41. Feta cheese
  42. Spending hours at coffee with people
  43. Meeting with the Model UN students every Monday and Thursday
  44. The daily adventure
  45. Sense of community
  46. Irida and her family (and their wonderful home-cooked dinners)
  47. Tomato, onion, and spinach byrek
  48. The kindness of strangers
  49. Not having a smartphone and having real moments with people
  50. Never really quite understanding everything that is going on

Some things I won’t miss

  1. Traveling in unreliable transport
  2. Harassment from men on the street
  3. Smoking inside
  4. Crazy driving and being scared for my life
  5. Being a “celebrity”
  6. Roosters all night
  7. Weird intestinal issues
  8. Trash everywhere
  9. Not having enough options of “female-friendly” places to hang out
  10. Working with people who are jaded with the system
  11. Dog fighting and the condition of some street animals
  12. Toilets that don’t flush
  13. Bathrooms without toilet paper
  14. Worrying about drinking water
  15. How cold my apartment was during the winter
  16. Everyone being concerned about my marital status
  17. Hand-washing my clothes because my laundry machine had mold
  18. Not having enough tangible work at my primary assignment
  19. Feeling sick walking around during the summer heat
  20. Never really quite understanding everything that is going on

50 Things I’ve Learned in Albania

  1. Life is all about perspective
  2. Patience truly is a virtue
  3. I can do a push up
  4. Bright lipstick is fashionable and appropriate
  5. Writing a grant is totally worth it in the end
  6. It is possible to have an entire basic conversation in Albanian using mainly the word ‘mire’
  7. Glitter, heels, and tight clothing make any outfit much better
  8. It’s fun to xhiro in the evening
  9. How to cultivate awareness
  10. Texting on T9 ain’t so bad
  11. You can always bargain at the second hand market
  12. How to say no and when to say yes
  13. I can run over a mile without stopping
  14. It is hard to make care package food last more than an hour, but it’s possible
  15. Using a Turkish (squat) toilet is not the end of the world
  16. Raki is basically like poison, but it pairs well with a macchiato
  17. How to interpret opposite head knod, finger wag, and tics
  18. Apartment heat is a luxury
  19. I can now sleep on any surface
  20. Circle dancing is fun and a great way to spend any Albanian party (because the music is too loud to have a real conversation anyways)
  21. Bad wine is better as a “spritzer” with sparkling water
  22. How to be an assertive pedestrian
  23. Don’t measure a successful life only on work
  24. Sometimes you won’t have a seat on public transport, so it’s essential to learn how to balance on make shift chairs in furgons
  25. Charades, enough said
  26. You can flush a toilet that doesn’t have a flush handle by using a bucket of water
  27. It’s okay to wink at children and its appropriate in many situations
  28. How to avoid cars while walking in the middle of the street
  29. It’s important to carry wet wipes or toilet paper at all times
  30. How to wash dishes at lightening speed
  31. Hitch hiking can be a fast way to travel
  32. How to stay cool with no air conditioning and how to stay warm with no heat
  33. Card games make any night out with friends more enjoyable
  34. Even if you’re 15 minutes late you’re still on time
  35. It’s okay to wag your finger and tisk to say no
  36. How to work with limited resources
  37. Half of the work is just showing up
  38. Albanians will answer/use the phone during all times of the day
  39. Roosters crow all night long (it is a myth that they crow when the sun rises)
  40. Street dogs are usually pretty friendly
  41. Most work is done over coffee and good things come in time
  42. Watch the road for holes and cracks
  43. It’s usually warmer outside than inside in the winter.
  44. Cheap red wine taste better cold
  45. Honking the car to get someone’s attention in most situations is normal
  46. Tomorrow doesn’t always actually mean tomorrow, be flexible
  47. To eat the entire lemon, peel and all
  48. You can never have enough bread.
  49. The grass is always greener where you water it
  50. I’m a lot stronger than I ever imagined

#HowISeePC: Albania Photography

Here is a collection of some of my favorite photos that I have taken over the past two years in Albania.

The lady I bought most of my vegetables from in Kavaje.

The lady I bought most of my vegetables from in Kavaje.

We only have the freshest of meat in Albania.

We only have the freshest of meat in Albania.

Men playing their daily afternoon boardgames on make shift tables.

Men playing their daily afternoon boardgames on make shift tables.

Goats hanging out next to the sea.

Goats hanging out next to the sea.

A man walking around in old town Gjirokaster.

A man walking around in old town Gjirokaster.

A man collecting recyclables from the garbage cans in Berat.

A man collecting recyclables from the garbage cans in Berat.

A creepy doll hanging above a byrek shop in Gos.

A creepy doll hanging above a byrek shop in Gos.

A lady selling honey and raki elixir on the side of the road between Vlore and Himare.

A lady selling honey and raki elixir on the side of the road between Vlore and Himare.

One of the thousands of bunkers built across the country during communism.

One of the thousands of bunkers built across the country during communism.

An elderly couple having an afternoon conversation in Kavaje.

An elderly couple having an afternoon conversation in Kavaje.

Proper disposal of trash is still a huge environmental issue faced in Albania.

Proper disposal of trash is still a huge environmental issue faced in Albania.

Colorful balconies in Elbasan.

Colorful balconies in Elbasan.

A man charges people a small feee to take pictures with this bear in Durres.

A man charges people a small feee to take pictures with this bear in Durres.

Some sheep trying to escape the heat on a hot spring day in Kavaje.

Some sheep trying to escape the heat on a hot spring day in Kavaje.

A husband helping his bride after a photo-shoot at the amphitheater in Durres.

A husband helping his bride after a photo-shoot at the amphitheater in Durres.

My neighbors in the village of Pajove. They've gotten so big these past two years.

My neighbors in the village of Pajove. They’ve gotten so big these past two years.

An adorable kitten in Gjirokaster. There are a lot of kittens in the spring time because most street animals are not spayed or neutered.

An adorable kitten in Gjirokaster. There are a lot of kittens in the spring time because most street animals are not spayed or neutered.

Waving goodbye to daddy in the castle of Berat.

Waving goodbye to daddy in the castle of Berat.

Chicken dinner at my host family's house. It's fresh from the backyard.

Chicken dinner at my host family’s house. It’s fresh from the backyard.

Going on an afternoon trip in the rain.

Going on an afternoon trip in the rain.

My neighbor's flowers blooming in the spring. They smelled so good.

My neighbor’s flowers blooming in the spring. They smelled so good.

Traditional music during the trip to Kosovo with the Municipality of Kavaje.

Traditional music during the trip to Kosovo with the Municipality of Kavaje.

Moonrise over Mt. Tomorri.

Moonrise over Mt. Tomorri.

Children playing at the roma center in Berat.

Children playing at the roma center in Berat.

Seafood dinner in Kavaje.

Seafood dinner in Kavaje.

Sunset at the castle in Berat.

Sunset at the castle in Berat.

Another traffic jam.

Another traffic jam.

Genie land in Fier.

Genie land in Fier.

Ancient artifacts in Apollonia.

Ancient artifacts in Apollonia.

Dinner at my host family's house during my final visit back to their home as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Dinner at my host family’s house during my final visit back to their home as a Peace Corps volunteer.

More old men playing boardgames in my neighborhood.

More old men playing boardgames in my neighborhood.

A furgon and a bunker in Pogradec.

A furgon and a bunker in Pogradec.

A nice police officer that I met during a bike ride enjoying an evening snack.

A nice police officer that I met during a bike ride enjoying an evening snack.

A lone flower near the Durres amphitheater

A lone flower near the Durres amphitheater

This doll caught my eye because it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz.

This doll caught my eye because it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz.

Nuts, eggs, and spices for sale in Kelcyre.

Nuts, eggs, and spices for sale in Kelcyre.

There were sheep skinned alive and slaughtered on my walk to work.

There were sheep skinned alive and slaughtered on my walk to work.

Santa is keeping the evil eye away.

Santa is keeping the evil eye away.

More of the street art and mountain tea in an abandoned building down south.

More of the street art and mountain tea in an abandoned building down south.

A boat restaurant between Fier and Berat.

A boat restaurant between Fier and Berat.

The town of Himare at night.

The town of Himare at night.

The path to my host family's home.

The path to my host family’s home.