It’s been nearly a month since I last posted, mostly because I’ve been so busy getting settled into my new job, my new apartment and my new life in Tirana. It’s also because there is so much to tell and so much to share that I haven’t known where to start. This is the first of several entries that recap the last month.
In mid-May, our eight weeks of Pre-Service Training (based in Elbasan and surrounding villages) ended and with it, six-day-a-week classes; endless presentations, workshops and homework; rides on overcrowded speeding furgons; 9 :00 PM dinners and bucket showers. Then, on Monday, May 12, the (approx.) 55 members of Peace Corps Albania Group 18 were sworn in as full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers. The ceremony included speeches from our country director, Earl Wall; Qazim Sejdini, the mayor of Elbasan; the youngest of our three married couples with their incredible Shqip skills; and two host families reflecting on what’s it’s like to live with a Peace Corps Trainee. There was music and, of course, the taking of the oath of service. It was all very emotional – to realize the magnitude of our commitment and our service to both our country and the country of Albania.
By the end of PST people were pretty frayed, me included. Peace Corps lore is “if you can make it through PST, all the rest is downhill” and it’s certainly true that PST is incredibly stressful. The work and of itself was physically and mentally exhausting. Take that level of mental exhaustion and then add the stress and exhaustion of trying to manage daily life in a language you don’t yet speak. Then add our living situations: roosters crowing at all hours; cats stomping across the roof in the middle of the night; no hot water; dinner at 9:00 pm; no control over diet; and last but not least overly starchy, salty food. By the end, people were starting to get testy with each other and so it was a good thing that training ended before any friendships were lost. Now, of course, we all miss each other.
Later this month – on June 20th – we all head back to Elbasan for two more weeks of training. The “why” of this 8 weeks on/6 weeks off/2 weeks on schedule is not worth explaining other than to say that the idea is, “now that they’re in the field, doing their jobs, living independently…let’s bring them back and fill in some of the gaps.” I will be glad to see everyone again but feel, overall, that the two weeks away will interrupt the momentum I am gaining at getting settled in at my site.