Thursday, March 30, 2017

Week Three

The Nine Year School in Bishqem

It is hard to believe but the A20 Peace Corps class has been in Albania now for three weeks. In many ways, I already feel as if I am behind. The language is the key to everything, and I am still mixing up Albanian with German and Bulgarian. How many people do you know who can say that? One of my site mates is having the same problem, she has studied German for years and did a language training seminar there recently. I am feeling my age through this language training, those cranial sulci just are too crammed with other information. We have competency exams coming up, oral examinations where we are expected to display our basic conversation skills. As I have been saying throughout this blog, each and every detail has been honed and perfected in terms of  Peace Corps training, so I am trusting that everything required for us has a deep purpose. I am looking forward to the time when I can converse with people, there is so much to learn from them, and of course I have things to offer, but as I was telling one of my advisers today, Albanians are not familiar with my German verb endings I am putting on the Albanian roots, so I need to get with the program as they say.

Today the Health Education sector trainees were introduced to the Albanian education system. As it seems all over the world, the educational system here is in the midst of reform. We were shown how the ministry of education works with regional organizations, the structure of the schools from nursery school through advanced university programs. What I thought was a good idea is that Albania has vocational and arts programs for secondary school, in addition to the broader educational offerings for what we in the states would call “high school.” 

We are expected after we are assigned to a sector, to integrate into the community. Our mission is to carry out the directives of the ministry of education multi year plan to integrate sexual and reproductive health within the science curriculum, as well as life skills which range from relationship issues, to hygiene and nutrition. There is a broad structure of community support for the schools in terms of parent networks, and district representation of teachers and students. The most interesting thing we were told to take advantage of was the Community Center. These can be independent buildings or within what is called the Nine Year School. This school serves students from first through ninth grade. Each school has the mandate to provide at least 10 hours per week of availability for the Community Center for extra curricular activities.

After this introduction, we went to our training site school to work with the administrators and plan for our practicum for each age group. What continues to amuse me in a sweet way is how similar the personalities and presentations are between the Albanians and the Americans. The PE teacher is, well for lack of a better word, a “jock” with sports logo sweats and such. The teachers who have been there forever are calm, nothing phases them, there are teachers who are not respected by the students, and others who have control of their classes. Our site team is now the topic of the children at recess, so everyone wants to try out their English skills, and we are usually surrounded by smiling children eating chips or Popsicles. In three weeks we will be leading a class for three age groups, My assignment is for dental hygiene, a PE class, and an HIV and AIDS education class for the 9th graders. My partner is quite adept at this topic as she was a public health educator on STD’s and such. How this will all unfold in Albanian is going to be interesting to say the least.

Our regular (and basically only) lunch place is now expanding it’s offerings. Again, the language is the key, and asking the right question opens delicious doors to local gastronomical delights. Apparently it is the best sausage place in all of Albania, and we finally had the vocabulary to ask for sausage instead of “mish” which means “meat” and translated into whatever was available that day. We have normally been getting the local variety of “sause kosa” which is similar to Tzatiki, but now we are having “white cheese” also what one would call “feta” and delicious salad, bread and potatoes. I have offered to make supper to celebrate my host families daughter who just got her diploma for her undergraduate degree. She is going on for a Masters, but it is time to celebrate. I am going to try to make something to chile rellenos with the bukova peppers and feta, it will be the ultimate fusion cuisine, not yet explored in the food trucks of Los Angeles. The Albanian word for “Albania” is  “Shqiperi” so I will be the first to launch Mexiperi cuisine, the ultimate fusion experience!

Next week I will be shadowing a Health Education volunteer in a Southern district. Along with two other trainees, I will be braving the “furgon” transportation system, which is independent drivers in minivans transporting people all over the country. When we were given the education training and I talked with the volunteer who will be hosting me, I started to get really excited. While I am enjoying the training, I have not really felt like I was doing anything other than fumbling through language lessons. Now it is feeling more like what I came here to do. I am brimming with ideas, eager to get to work, and now I will see exactly how another volunteer is getting along in her assignment.

The days are getting blessedly warmer, and everything is in bloom. It is a glorious spring here in the valley near Elbasan. I am trying to drink in the beauty as much as possible.


  1. Fascinating description-- I can't wait for the next instalment!