Sunday, June 14, 2009

A traveling we will go

Week 8 brought a serious change of pace to the Peace Corps Training Schedule- things are getting extremely busy! The whole group met at 8am on May 11th in Elbasan to set out for the capital city of Tirana and the upcoming COUNTERPART CONFERENCE and SITE VISIT. To the non-peace corps volunteers out there, I’ll break down the lingo, so prit pak (wait a little)…


COUNTERPART CONFERENCE: The group spent 2 days in the capital at the lovely Hotel Chateau Linza. We started the trip off with a tour of Tirana- all 33 of us were divided into groups based on region (SOUTH CENTRAL!) and given tours by current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s). The PCV’s took us around the city, let us in on their favorite lunch spots, showed us the bus stations to get to our region, and then dropped us at the Peace Corps Office where we met with the PC Staff for some meetings. Upon our return to the hotel, the real fun began. We had 20 minutes to put on our Sunday best, meet in the conference room, and anxiously await the arrival of our future counterpart. Each volunteer is paired with one primary counterpart in our sites, and this is the person we will primarily work with over the next two years… NO PRESSURE. As expected, the room reeked of awkwardness, especially when we all had to introduce our counterparts in Albanian after 5 minutes of conversation with them. Lucky for me, my CP speaks English- her name is Dorina and she works for the Directorate of Public Health in Berat. She has previously worked with a PCV, so she is used to working with the Peace Corps and knows what it’s all about. This could turn out to be either positive or negative – so I’m hoping for the best to come with her.  Other counterparts definitely made me laugh, one of them told us “she hoped her PCV would make her famous,” so if that’s not setting the bar high, I don’t know what is! And as always, no gathering can be complete without some good old-fashioned circle dancing each night, a guaranteed way to feel dizzy and nauseous after spinning rapidly in a circular motion for over an hour, but also a guaranteed good time.


SITE VISIT: Following our 2 days in Tirana, we all went our separate ways to visit our future homes and get a 4 day sneak preview. I was hosted by Corrine who is the volunteer currently living in Berat (she has successfully completed one year) and my future site-mate for the next year. She is a TEFL Volunteer and teaches English at a local high school. I also got to meet Marissa, a volunteer from group 10 who is leaving this year upon the completion of her two years. Both of the girls showed me “the ropes” or as many as they could in 4 days time- and I must say they were a HUGE help. I briefly got to see my new apartment- a pretty large apartment on the outside of town that will need a lot of cleaning and a LOT of love, but has great potential. During the visit, I also got to meet important people around town that I might be working with over the next two years. I met the new director of the Public Health Department of Berat, all of the people who work in my future office at the Directorate of Public Health, people who run a free STD/HIV testing clinic, the director of the mentally handicapped center/home in town, and the people who work at the municipality (bashkia) including the MAYOR himself.  We were invited to the opening ceremony of an Art Gallery Exhibit that night which was phenomenal. I also was invited to start an Ecotourism Campaign in town with the Bashkia workers. They kicked everything off on Friday morning by inviting high school students to come learn about ecotourism, and we went hiking up one of the mountains in Berat. They learned about future tourism in Berat and what backpackers are looking for when they come. They also learned about how to maintain a clean environment, and understand why foreigners often come for hiking. Berat is a beautiful city, and I am VERY excited to be a future resident!

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