Spring in Shushicë

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Greetings from the rural village of Shushicë, a farming town 15 minutes and 40 years from Elbasan, the third largest city in Albania.  I am two weeks into “life in Albania” and it’s quite an adjustment:  challenging, frustrating, fun, joyful and, above all, interesting.

There is so much to tell about the last two weeks….so many observations, so many questions.  Because my time on WiFi is limited, I will save in-depth topics for later and provide just a few vignettes of life in Shushicë.

I am living with Refik Koçi, his wife Rezeja, their three grown children Markelanda, Elson and Erlind, and Qemilla, our 86-year-old “gjysh” (grandfather).  Refik works in the local Komuna, the village hall, but I am not  sure what his job is — I simply don’t speak enough of the language yet to comprehend very much other than words/phrases related to daily life.  Although Refik has an office job, the household is very much a farming — subsistence farming — household.  They farm fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat, but simply to put food on the table.  We eat what’s in season and nothing more.  Dinners with meat are a big deal here.

Our farmhouse has no hot water, no refrigeration and two propane burners for a stove; the oven is outdoors, adjoined to the chicken coop (see photo below).  And, of course there is no heat.  The family pretty much lives in the one room with a fireplace and everyone sleeps in the same room.  As the guest, I have my own room, but it is unheated and once evening comes, the house is a refrigerator.  It may well turn out that my Sierra Designs down sleeping bag is  my best and most needed piece of gear here.

As you can imagine, life at my house is beyond modest.  For the first few days here I had to psych myself up every time I needed to wash my face.  Now, the cold water is (somehow) less of a struggle.  I have showered only twice since I’ve been here (which is quite typical) and seem to be perfecting the art of the “bucket shower,” which is the only way to introduce hot water into the mix.

I am in classes six days/week — either here in town or at the Peace Corps’ training hub in Elbasan.  We get to Elbasan via “furgons,” which is a topic for an entire blog post of its own!  Our training includes language, safety/security (which ranges from “how to avoid unwanted attention” to “how to handle an evacuation order”), and technical training (information that will help me do my job).  We also have projects and very little time to do them because so much of our time is spent in class or doing language homework.

The adjustment is considerable.  Doing well in language class is very different from trying to make conversation or navigate everyday transactions; the lack of amenities is a shock (literally) to the system; and there is so much information coming at me that my brain is like a wrung-out dishrag at the end of the day.  Nonetheless, I am enjoying the challenge tremendously.  It’s beautiful here, my compatriots are great, I am sleeping more deeply (in spite of the cold) than I have in a long time, and every little success feels huge.  I just wish there was less salt — way less salt — in the food!

Here are my fellow Shushicers standing inside a huge tree in the Byshek, a lovely, historical park in our village.
Here are my fellow Shushicers standing inside a huge tree in the Byshek, a lovely, historical park in our village.  From left to right:  Kyle, urban planner from NC; Pier, county planner from Peru from by of NC; Will, economist from KY; Hillary, urban planner from FL; Nicole, architect from NY)
Last weekend, my host mom hiked up the mountain to help stake baby olive trees.  I couldn't figure out why we were hiking with a scissors and a sheet, but it turned out that the family's farm land is in the mountains.
Last weekend, my host mom hiked up the mountain to help stake baby olive trees. I couldn’t figure out why we were hiking with a scissors and a sheet, but it turned out that the family’s farm land is in the mountains and that we were using strips of clothe as stake ties.
This morning I stopped at our neighbor Rehat's house.  He is a gjysh who makes his living selling wood.  He is outfitting his "gomar" (donkey) Fushe with a saddle-type device that's used to carry the logs.
This morning I stopped at our neighbor Refat’s house. He is a gjysh who makes his living selling wood. He is outfitting his “gomar” (donkey) Fushe with a saddle-type device that’s used to carry the logs. He told me that he used to chop by hand but now he has a chain saw.

Përshëndetje (Greetings)

Greetings to my family, friends, colleagues and former students!

In the not too distant future this will be the blog site where I share my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Albania. Right now, though, my focus is on packing my under-100-pounds-total, less-than-107 linear-inches-total suitcases so that I can head off into the great unknown.  I know nothing about how to set up and maintain a blog and am too busy rolling shirts and socks into little balls to figure it out before I go.  I have created this bare-bones site simply to be able to provide a link to those of you who have asked “how will I hear about what you are doing over there?”

Following my blog is easy:  you can subscribe to it and each new post will appear in your e-mail box automatically.  Click the link immediately to the left of this post (in some browsers the link is accessed at the top of the page by clicking on the three bars) and enter your email address; this will trigger a confirmation email with an activation link; click the activation link and you are good to go. I have no idea how long it will take me to get this blog on its feet, but when I do you’ll start receiving updates.

A note about the name of the blog: Sy Shqiponjë….

In Albanian, the word “sy,” which means “eye,” is pronounced “sue.”  That led me to “eagle eye,” which seems like an appropriate name for a blog full of observations.  When I translated “eagle eye” into Albanian, I was surprised to see the word for Albania — “Shqiperi” — as the root of the word for eagle.  Whaddya know?  It turns out that “Shqiperi” (pronounced shchee-per-ee) means “land of the eagles” and the Albanian flag shows the image of a two-headed eagle.  Here is a link to the Albania creation story:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tale_of_the_Eagle

Until my next post, Mirupafshim (goodbye)….