Before becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer I had it in my mind that being part of the Peace Corps would allow me to go out into the world and really make a difference in peoples’ lives. I would not say that I am not making a difference, but what I would say is that what my service has, so far, seemed and felt like has been completely different than what I had imagined. I have come to learn that the tiny successes and improvements that I occasionally see are very very important to my survival here in Albania.
Upon my arrival in Philadelphia for orientation, everyone in my group looked so bright-eyed, energized, and ready to take on the world. I was excited. Here were people who want adventure, look for challenges, and feel like they should focus on others for a while, rather than themselves. I met my roommate in Philly and liked her right away. Then the following day we all boarded the plane for Albania. Luckily, I had an entire row of seats to myself for the long plane ride, while other volunteers were packed into seats right next to each other. Once in Albania, my group and I were taken to a hotel in Elbasan for a 3-day orientation to the country, prior to meeting our host families. I had, not one, but two roommates. I once again had lucked out in the roommate lottery. So by this time I was pumped about being in Albania and being in the Peace Corps. Things were looking up!
All through my life, I have had some absolutely amazing experiences, but for some reason each of those experiences came with a price. Unfortunately, so did Peace Corps Albania. My luck began to dissolve, and dissolve fast!
I would like to list just a few glitches that I have come across over the past 8 months I have been here...
1. 1st morning, ice-cold shower. Water went out once I had shampooed my hair. End up having to get out of shower and go to the room next door to finish up.
2. Upon first meeting my host family, I told my host mother that I needed to throw up. I hadn't even learned how to say, "I am going to school", but somehow I had the vocabulary and grammar to tell her that I was going to be sick. (this was not at all what I was trying to communicate)
3. Last night at host family's house I was not only locked out of the house, but a huge metal chain and pad-lock had been wrapped around the gate of my host family's yard. I had been locked out, at night, in the dark.
4. During a furgon (van) ride from one town to another I got so sick I cannot even begin to explain. I was throwing up in a plastic bag, while the furgon driver was swerving all over the road, making it nearly impossible for me to successfully aim into the bag.
5. A bus driver tried to charge me 800 leke for a 400-leke ride. To his surprise, I speak Shqip (Albanian). I refused to pay the inflated price, which resulted in me being left in the wrong town without a way to return to my village.
6. My toilet began to leak H2O around the base. Upon further investigation, I found a colony of maggots living underneath my toilet. I had it fixed about 3-4 days after this discovery. Note: I am not sure that it was completely fixed because I think it might be leaking again...
7. The water in Himare is pretty dirty. When water comes out of the faucet it is tinted brown. Due to the really "clean" water I have developed a bacterial fungus along the jaw line of my face. Why there and no place else? On top of that, I can't get it to go away because no matter how much I scrub/wash my face I am still using the water, which was the problem to begin with.
8. I had boarded a bus that was heading back to Himare. Things were looking good. I got a good spot on the bus and had no one sitting next to me. Not 5 minutes out of town does a man get on the bus with 2 dead/bloody animals in bags. He leaves them right next to my seat and proceeds to go to the back of the bus to find a seat. He was on the bus until the final and last stop.
I tell these stories not to complain or criticize, I tell them because they are good stories and, to be honest, I really can't believe some of this stuff has happened. Most of what we, Americans, may think of as interesting, weird, and/or gross, are just cultural norms in Albania. One of my favorite things about being here is all the communication errors, differences in infrastructure, and the more primitive lifestyle.
The way I deal with all these differences is just to laugh about how absurd some of these situations are, while trying to be as understanding and respectful of the Albanian Culture at the same time. I wouldn't have any stories upon completion of my Peace Corps service if things like these didn't happen. I am really happy that I am here and I really wouldn't change any part of my experience thus far, except for maybe the maggot colony under my toilet...