Monday, April 16, 2012

A Training of Sorts

So I've been here for a over a year now and guess what that means? Time for my group to start sharing our experiences with the new trainees. I was chosen to do the session on writing and gave it to the new group of TELFers on Friday. Here's the story of that weekend.

On Thursday I left to go to Elbasan  I got in to my hotel around 6:30 and called Ymer, the professor who was going to present along side me. He told me he'd be around soon, so I decided to relax with a beer while I waited. He showed up around 7:15 and bought us more beers while I ran up stairs to gather the materials I had prepared.. We talked for about 10 minutes before he told me that he had tobe somewhere in very soon. My friend Sergio's parents were visiting and Ymer was taking them out for a fancy Albanian dinner. He invited me and before you know it I was sitting down with my buddy's parents.
It was a great dinner full of tasty food like frog legs and stuffed peppers.We had some nice Spanish wine which of course that led to long conversations about the Peace Corps and life in Albania. I really like Sergio's parents and it seemed to me that they had a great time.At the end I tried to pay for my meal since I was originally included
in this meal but Ymer wouldn't have it.

The next morning I headed over to the school to give my presentation. It was supposed to be based on a session design that was created by folks back in DC, I thought that the design was so boring that it would put
the trainees to sleep so I threw out about 50% of what Washington sent me. It went really well but my changes threw my manager, Agim, a curveball because he wasn't expecting me to change anything. The session designs are part of a pilot program to standardize trainings and Agim is supposed to send them feedback about their effectiveness.So I kinda screwed that up but Agim said it was fine and that he liked the changes I made.

The next hour or so was spent chatting with some of the trainees over lunch. I ended up hanging out with them for the whole day pretty much.I was talked into attending the session when the Ambassador came to talk to the group. At any other time I would have bee excited to hear what he had to say but I felt really under-dressed  because I was still in jeans. It went alright though. About an hour later the trainees figured out where they were going to be spending the next 2 years. It was pretty cool to see them all excited and stirred up. The guy who is now living with my family in Kuqan, Jason  is going to be placed in a town that's not to far from me so that's cool. I spent that evening hanging out with him at my host family's place.It was really fun hanging out with all them and Jason and I got along really well which was cool because I was worried it would be a little weird meeting him.

Long story short I had a great time meeting the new trainees and I wish them well.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

That Long Albanian Winter

So as ya'll should be able to guess I've never really had to deal with a real winter. Sure I've seen more snow than most Savannah natives and I've driven through a blizzard, but none of my experiences up until now have matched what I'm going through now. None have they even come close to being on the same level.

It snowed for three days straight the week before Christmas, and I am just now starting to see patches of my street. Most of Erseka is still covered in ice. A doctor friend of mine slipped last week and fell so hard he deflated his lung. The ice on my stairs made getting up and down from my apartment quite perilous for awhile there. This week the city workers started taking pickaxes to the sheets of ice covering the town. Some of those layers were several inches thick. Most days it doesn't get above freezing except in areas with direct sunlight.

 Now I can hear you saying "Hey, man. Slow down, we have winter in the States. What makes Albanian winter so special?" My friends I haven't told you yet that Albanian winter gives everyone a special ability. As soon as December rolls around everyone is granted the ability to see their breath regardless of if they are inside or outside. That's right folks there is no such thing as Central Heating and Air here. Nor is there much in the way of insulated walls which means that quite often it is colder inside than out.

The only real way to negate this is to own a wood burning stove. I'm very fortunate that I have one of these. They are great and don't have that steep of a learning curve. Dealing with the wood can be a burden. You have to buy it, find a place to store it and have someone chop it up. The rituals of building a fire become a way of life. Every few weeks I take a stroll down to the sawmill to grab some kindling, then I spend an afternoon chopping and smashing it into small enough pieces to easily start fires.

There are many types of electric heaters in Albania but most of them are terrible. Many of them couldn't heat a small closet. They are very tricky pieces of technology. My friend Ian has one that doesn't heat his apartment at all but has managed to burn a shirt and a pair of long underwear.

I don't know how Albanians do it, but my fellow PCVs tend to move into whichever room has the stove in the winter. That means some of us spend 3 months living in our kitchens. Not a horrible existence ( at least there is always a snack nearby) but if you ever have to go into any other room in your house you have to grab a coat.

Don't even get me started on how wonderful the heating system is in my school.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Knowing When to Fold 'em

About two weeks after my computer started screwing around (late September I think), I took a trip to Tirana to see if someone at the Peace Corps office could fix it or atleast tell me where I could get it repaired. Well that whole part of the trip was a bust but I ended up having a blast anyway. I was going to be staying at Ian’s place and Kumar, a volunteer in a small town in the north, was also going to be staying with us. The two of them wanted to go to that casino that is in the bottom of the Taiwan Center in Tirana and seeing as how I had some extra money to play with I decided to join them.

The only other experiences I’ve had with casinos are one in Las Vegas and one in Freeport and based on my time at those places I had figured that I was going to be walking into a loud, tacky disaster zone. This place was anything but that. It had a fairly chill atmosphere, the music wasn’t too loud, and the drinks were pretty good considering they were free. My plan was to walk out as soon as I had lost my fifty bucks and then resign myself to eating beans for the rest of the month.

I decided to try roulette as I had never played it before and I’m in Albania to try new things right? I got up an hour and a half later having cleaned out all the blue chips and walked out with the equivalent of $200 in my pocket. Ian had won about $400 playing poker and Kumar had managed to come out $10 ahead so the three of us were pretty happy. We headed up stairs and went bowling to celebrate.

Once the game was over, we head outside to grab some ice cream and to head out into the darkness to find some of our other PC compatriots.  The rest of the night was filled with loud rock music, fried chicken, and spilt beer. T’was a good night indeed.

Nje pushim të gjatë

Things not to do on a camping trip

Well that was a long break now wasn’t it? You can blame part of my absence on Albanian’s natural tendency to eat technology as though it was a bowl of Chexmix at a frat party, but the rest of the blame is squarely on my shoulders. Sorry about that. I won’t promise that something like this won’t happen again but I’ll harder to keep my breaks a bit shorter from now on.

So what the hell has been going on with me since we talked last? I don’t have working internet at the moment so I can’t check where I left off before so I’ll start way back in August because that’s bound to be near where I started getting lazy. August started off with me going to Pogradec and then heading off with of group of volunteers and high school aged Albanians to go camping as an Outdoor Ambassadors activity. I was pretty excited about going on this trip because I have dreams of opening my own branch of OA in Erseke (I’m thinking in the spring sometime).

I had never been to Pogradec before but I’d been through it many times because the road to Erseke runs through it. It’s a really well put together city on the edge of lake Ohrid (the deepest in the Balkans they say). It has a great lake front area where you can take a relaxing stroll, grab a coffee, watch local artists work on their latest endeavors, or rent a paddle boat and go out on the lake. As you can imagine it is pretty popular during the summer.  There are some really nice restaurants in that area of town as well. I kind of fell in love with that place as soon as I got there. I think it’s got to do with me growing up by the Savannah River and the Atlantic Ocean; I’ve caught myself missing the smell of saltwater in the air and the sound of sound of waves moving.
Anyway that night was really fun and everything went pretty well until the next morning. 

I met a girl in Matt and Brad’s OA group who had been accept to a university in Oregon and was going to be leaving for America in the next month or so. We got along really well while we were waiting for the bus, and once it arrived and our group began piling in, we decided to sit next to each other and continue or discussion. 
Everything was going well until my brain and my stomach decided that I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my surroundings. I causally looked up and peered out the window only to have nausea grab me as though it was the monster in the garbage compacter in the Death Star.  It didn’t matter that we were only 10 minutes away from our destination nor did I have enough warning to grab a plastic bag. So I puked all over myself. It was one of the most thoroughly disgusting situations I ever been in. I was pretty frakking embarrassed but everyone was cool about it. I was really glad I had packed extra clothes and I ended up stripping right there on the side of the road. Luckily there was a river close by that I could wash my stuff in.

The rest of the camping trip was fun but super exhausting. I managed to puke all over my snacks and bottles of water so I ended up writing them off as a lost cause when I got back on the bus after my initial clean up. So after becoming massively dehydrated from ralphing on the bus I ended up walking about two or three miles until we found our camp sight. After resting for a bit and leaching water and snacks off of people I helped gather firewood. At dinner, I wrapped my stuff up with too much foil so much of my food wasn’t really edible. Also, I was a dumbass who thought that he wouldn’t need a sleeping bag because of course it doesn’t get cold in August. So guess who didn’t get more than one hour of uninterrupted sleep because he was freezing his ass off?  This guy. The final blow to my ego came when I boarded the bus the next morning. It still reeked from the previous day’s events.

Overall my trip to Pogradec was a lot of fun but I’d never been so exhausted before. As soon as I got to Erseka I fell on my couch bed and slept for 10 hours or so.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July, July, where have you gone?

So my water schedule is back. Apparently they can fix it during election season but once that's all over things go back to normal. This means no water from 9am to about 4 or 5pm. Normally this isn't a problem as I usually shower at night anyway. However, I keep forgetting about the water schedule when I try to wash my dishes and foolish think there will be water at 11 am. I guess I'll just have to adjust right.

So what has happened lately? Let's see this month Jason and I have been giving a small English course for high school students. I was doing a beginners class at 11 and then Jason would come at 1 to help out with the advanced class. These classes have certainly been interesting.

The beginners class started off kind of rocky with the class starting with about 7 girls and then dropping down to one the next session. As much as I wished the other girls would come back, I tend to work better with individuals so I wasn't too bummed out about having only one student. Juliana attended a middle school where she learned Italian and entered high school knowing nothing about English. She worked pretty last year and now she has a decent grasp of the language but still needs a lot of help. I thought she was doing pretty well during our classes but she stopped coming the third week and I ended that class. I really hope I get to work with her when school starts.

The advanced class started off with the opposite problem; every time we had class more and more students showed up. I wanted to keep the class manageable and eventually split the class into two group of up to 15 kids. Of course that didn't happen until week 3 and only a few kids came. I know that Jason wasn't sad to see a lot of the boys who in were in the class go because they tended to get really loud. I too found them rather frustrating but I felt like I was making headway with them during each class. I wasn't making huge leaps or anything but I could get them to calm down and do their work for the most part. Anyway, I designed this class to be more of a creative/ critical thinking class. I never once gave out a vocab list or taught grammar or verbs or anything like that. During the first week, Jason and I handed out pictures from magazines and had them make stories about what was going on. The next classes we made them write skits based off of different scenarios. After that we gave out quotes and did a class discussion. The first class last week was a discussion about what life was like in Albania and what the future has in store for them. It also focused on the 2012 Mayan Calendar prophecy.  During the second class that week, we had them listen to two instrumental pieces and then write about what ever came to mind while listening. All of them produced very interesting things (one girl wrote a song, another drew a cartoon, another wrote a story about her friend) and we ended the class with a discussion about what they made and why they made it.

This week is the final week of course and I wanted to end it with another musical exercise so I'm going to have them listen to a song and do a pseudo fill in the blank exercise and then we will discuss the lyrics. I really hope they've been enjoying it. I know I've learned a lot.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Didn't realize it had been a month since I wrote something

Sorry for the lack of updates recently. Time has been moving oddly for me lately. It's hard for me to comprehend that I've been it site for a month already.

Anyway I suppose I should let you know what I've been up to the last few weeks. Well the first two weeks of June I went to school to observe how my counterparts teach and to meet with the students. I went on a camping trip with a group of volunteers to a waterfall near the city of Gramsh. I spent two days at my host family's place to celebrate my younger brother's birthday. He turned 10 and I gave him a small nerf football and the game bananagrams. After that I came back to Erseka and told my students about the summer course I was going to start in July. The next week I spent most days working at the Outdoor Ambassadors camp that being held in Erseka.
 About 60 kids from all over the country came to the camp and they all had a great time. I helped out with teambuilding and photography activities, while also going on the hiking/ camping trip, making sure no one shot their friend during archery, and teaching a some of them some card games (they really liked oh hell). I also acted as a dj during the big dance the final night and during thank you variety show that the kids put on for us. Those kids were pretty awesome and I really wish them the best in the future.
This week I haven't really done much except for tittle my thumbs and try to figure out my plans for this weekend and to try and plan my course. It starts next Wednesday and I'm hopping it goes well. As for this weekend, I didn't get a ticket to the party at the Embassy but I'm going to go visit some friends in Berat Friday and then spend the weekend with my buddy Ian tooling around the capital.
One of the more unexpected things that has happened this week is that some neighborhoods kids came over and wanted me to teach them English and how to play American football. It's been pretty fun but one of those kids needs to take a chill pill before he punches a hole in my front door. He also tends to distract the other two kids during our small English lessons which is kind of a drag.

Well that's enough for now I think. I promise to write more next month.