FROM BLLOKU TO BLLOKU, di Giacomo Cambus

That´s my second time in Albania. Yes, because first time was in September, for a training course of a week in Pogradec. At that time I didn´t know anything about Albania. I read just something on the internet before I left and I heard all the prejudices that people have in West Europe.

But I was curious! I was curious because I like the countries, for which nobody speak about. And I was curious because of two dear friends that I met during my Erasmus-Studies in Germany. They spoke me often about Albania and it felt really strange and curious that everybody there is able to speak Italian (ok, maybe not everybody but mostl of them for sure).

Last summer, a bitter-sweet summer, I found on the portal of my association the opportunity to go to Pogradec for a training course.

I didn´t know anything about the topic of the TC, I wanted just to go to Albania. I booked my Alitalia flight and on 22th September at 8:00am I landed in Rome and in a hour and half I had the flight to Tirana. At the airport terminal, I remember, I was trying all the time to understand and recognize who was from Albania, because in my region, in Sardinia, there are no Albanians. All I know are just two persons, two students of my university. But I had created an idea how this people could look like, maybe from TV, and actually I think I recognized some people.

I landed n Tirana at 10:50 am, in a small airport, smaller than Cagliari´s Airport (that, by the way, it´s not so small). I read everywhere “Shqiperia”, and I asked myself “what does this actually mean?”.

After a pause, a sympathetic taxi-driver carried me and other participants of the TC to Pogradec, and there came the first delusion: the taxi-driver couldn´t speak any Italian. I came to Pogradec and I met there a different world, with a lot of culture, and a lot of friendly people (for example, a night I was invited to a wedding!!!). About the TC, I met there a lot of interesting and cool people. One of them is now one of my project´s coordinators. But I was regretting not having been in Tirana.

I had this regret and I wanted to go there again as fast as possible. Though I couldn´t image that I would go there so fast!!!

After to weeks I came there again for this EVS project. It is incredible, a Balkan capital with a lot of dynamism and the typical characteristic of the capitals of the ex east-European regimes: that type of attitude to make parties and to have fun every day of the week.

You can see it for example in the Blloku, where are the most exclusive clubs of Tirana are, or you could see it in Sheshi Nene Tereza the day of the football match Serbia-Albania.

But, I think, the Blloku is the most representative symbol of the “Albanian Renaissance”, the Renaissance of the Eagles´ country that now is trying to really start to fly. There, were the paranoid regime’s autocracy lived separated from the rest of the population, today is the kingdom of the nightlife.

Of course Albania has still a lot of steps to do, but here you can still see something that we, in the “civilized western-Europe”, have already lost, like the football fields in Don Bosko, where the children play after the school without I-Phones or I-Pods…

Well, definitely we can still find here the genuineness, and the desire to grow typical of the developing countries. How do we say in Italy, “si stava meglio quando si stava peggio” that means “we were better when we were not”!

Why Albania? Why volunteering?

Palm trees, colorful streets, full of fresh fruits and improvised markets, hurried people, the sound that comes from the mosques to call people to pray, great weather, an impossible language and a total chaos; A country, a city, a new life for me for the next two months, and a lot of new and beautiful people to meet. Here I am in Tirana. A girl from the north of Romania, from a region well known for it’s patience and the way of doing things in a slowly way. And surprisingly I don’t feel overwhelmed 
Why Albania?
Because as far as I seen it’s not the country of mafia or human traffic, or thieves, but it’s the country of a mixture between orient and occident, the country of teddy bears hanging in almost every house, a country with great landscapes. And no, I’m not some descendent of Dracula came here to suck your blood, not even making a tea with the blood of my housemates…I’m here because of a lot of reasons. First of all because because I’m a traveler…and when I travel I see the richness of this world expressed in different ways: life, food, customs, architecture, cultures, etc. Then, I’m here because of my desire to become a better person, because I want to grow more and more, day by day…because I have to be more responsible and more open to the needs of the others and stop living the life in my comfort-zone bubble. Also, my presence here is due to my studies in international relations…the thirst for knowledge about why, we, as human beings, citizens, belonging from different regions, countries and continents cannot live in harmony, without judging ourselves, searching all the time to put labels for everything, without trying to understand, and not noticed the fact that we are equals, no meter the nationality, the race, the beliefs and so on.
Why volunteering?
Because being a volunteer, first of all, means that you give and receive love…love for and from the ones you stay with, you work with, you meet, etc. Then, of course that volunteering can be the perfect opportunity to travel, to have fun, to gain some new skills in different fields, to multiply your number of friends, and why not?!, to prepare for the future, for the days when you will have to actually work for money in order to survive!

Ana-Maria, Romania

Ritorno in patria

Eccomi qua…nel mio paese natio per partecipare ad un progetto di volontariato EVS. Sono 20 anni che vivo in Italia e in Albania sono ritornata sporadicamente durante le vacanze estive. Avevo il desiderio di vivere il mio paese nella sua quotidianità. E ora mi trovo a Tirana a condividere questa esperienza con altri 11 ragazzi provenienti da Italia e Romania e tutti i volontari locali. Il primo giorno che sono arrivata ho conosciuto le organizzatrici dell’associazione Beyond Barriers, le quali sono state gentilissime e di un’accoglienza unica. Dopo quattro giorni di corso ci hanno portato a visitare le due scuole dove avremmo dovuto dare il nostro aiuto. Il primo impatto è stato abbastanza duro…e li mi sono chiesta se veramente saremmo stati capaci di affrontare la situazione, anche perché, i gradi di disabilità sono diversi. Ma poi le cose cambiano giorno per giorno. I bambini sono contentissimi quando arriviamo…ci mandano baci e ci applaudono. Li aiutiamo nel disegno, li facciamo giocare in giardino e ora stiamo preparando la festa di halloween. Vederli divertire così mi da una gioia immensa e pensare che tra due mesi li dovremmo salutare…mi rattrista…

Jolanda

First but not the least

So, this is my first post to the blog since I’ve come to Tirana. First of all, I have to say that I am very happy about choosing Albania amongst other EVS options. Romania is very similar in some points with Albania and the “cultural shock” I’ve been warned about wasn’t that big at all. I found myself in a new culture that I am fascinated with and I am sure that I still have a lot to discover about the way that people behave here. We managed to go to visit the beutiful Durres and take long walks on the beach and even to make a bath in the sea even in october. The local volunteers are awesome and I’ve spend a lot of time with some of them cuz their stories are so interesting that we didn’t notice how quickly the time passes. Until now ( it passed almost three weeks ) I am feeling great in this new country although I know that there are still many things  for me to discover about not only the country and the people but also about life in general and working with the kids. The work with kids till now was very relaxing, let’s just say because it’s not only playing and drawing with someone that you get to know, it’s about standing next to a human just like you who is excited to do and share new things and experiences with all of us. So far I have been working only with kids at the center, and they are all great beeings. In the morning they are so enthusiasthic about us coming to them, and even if I don’t know the language well so I can talk to them there is always a kiss, hug or a smile that saves the situation and connect us. We managed to make  a list of activities ( things to do with the kids for next week ), in order not to waste time and to make it as constructive as possible for us, specially now that Halloween is aproaching  and we’ve planned to have an awesome party at the center that will include all of us. We taught at this Halloween party as a way to get close to the kids, to spend more time with them and as a way to share laughs and smiles together while we’re playing different games or singing. I am so curious and excited for the next weeks to come because I am sure we have a lot to give and also to receive.

P.L.U.R,

Alexandra

Photo: Me and Viktor and our little non-human friend

 Photo on 10-24-14 at 5.29 PM

souls instead of dirty hands

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Confusion, decisions, confusion again and suddenly… an EVS call for Albania.
So here I am in Tirana, a chaotic city, dealing with everything living with eleven strangers randomly joined together implies. But after 3 weeks they are not strangers anymore so I will share my experience related to something really touching for me: school work.

First time I entered the school I was shocked. All I could see was dirtiness and a lot of strange faces staring at me. I have to admit that I wasn’t able to see beyond the appearances. When the first kid came and shook my hand I was scared, probably more than him and all I could notice was his dirty hands.

Then came all the frustrations connected to the conditions those kids are kept, then the frustrations related to language barriers and the fact that I was not able to put in practice all the things I wanted to do with the kids because of their level of understanding.

All this until one day when I shook a boy’s hand and I was touched by his reaction. Then I realized that for those kids is not important to know the name of the colors or to understand the rules of a game but they simply need something that we, in our complicated life, forget: affection. They only need a smile and a handshake, they only need to be accepted. They are as they are and for some of them there is no perspective to understand things at the level ordinary people do. So besides trying to teach them how to draw or how to play games we should look beyond the barriers and realize that the one who learn are not only the kids but ourselves. And the lesson they are given to us are more important than all the lessons we try to give to them.

From that day I started to see souls instead of dirty hands…

Teodora

My first Albanian guitar

Total confusion, I had to leave. I really wanted to go. On December 7, I accidentally entered the Evs website and read “immediate departure for Albania-project on disability.” It was everything I was looking for, it was everything I had studied for, all I wanted to do in my life. And after all…I wanted to go! I was even willing to do it without my guitar, my other half. So I sent the CV, called the association and started to wait. On the day of my twenty-seventh birthday, at 8 am, I was called and told to pack. Once at the airport I was so excited, I was not afraid at all, I just wanted to go and explore new places.

So now here I am. It’s been 16 days, but time seems to pass at a different speed, here. Everything’s so intense, so full. Relationships evolve quickly and soon turn into sincere affection. The fear of the end starts to appear soon.

All the volunteers and the group to which I belong are the most valuable, important landmarks in this period, they are already almost a family. A half- Italian, half- Romanian and above all Albanian family. A family to which I feel that I belong. A home where you can share everything, from milk to cigarettes, to talking. And if I’m scared because some thoughts have come back – the same which casually slipped in my rucksack – I go out of the room and always find someone who can make me smile.

I really like the work at the center, I like being there, feeling useful someway. It ‘hard to understand so many things, contradictions, it is difficult to understand cultural differences about the “disability” topic, to understand why there are still special schools, marginalization. To understand why so many things do not work. And you would want to do more. But one has to start from somewhere, and I’m happy to be here, at least to try. To see, to do, to stand. To be.

And now, with my new Albanian guitar, I want to write new music, music that will carry the name of this time and of this moon. Chiara

Quasi un mese…

E’ passato quasi un mese dal mio arrivo a Tirana. Se ripenso a come mi sentivo prima di partire…con molti dubbi…mi troverò bene?Sarò in gradi di lavorare con i bambini? Nel giro di poco i dubbi se ne sono andati.

Catapultata in questa città così diversa e affascinante, ho conosciuto bellissime persone…tutte diverse,con storie e passioni diverse.

Dopo i primi giorni introduttivi di training abbiamo visitato la scuola e il centro dove avremmo lavorato come volontari i due mesi seguenti. Il primo impatto è stato strano. Vedere tanti bambini in palestra…chi giocava con la palla, chi faceva rotolare la ruota della macchina e chi se ne stava semplicemente in un angolo. Appena ci hanno visti però, siamo stati accolti da saluti, strette di mano e abbracci.

Ho passato la prima settimana alla “Luigj Gurakuqi” e ogni giorno che passava le cose iniziavano a prendere forma. Dopo un iniziale imbarazzo e senso di inadeguatezza ho iniziato a prendere confidenza con i bambini e ragazzi. Abbiamo iniziato a organizzare giochi, momenti di disegno e danza. Abbiamo anche giocato in giardino. Partita di calcio. Si formano le squadre, tutto pronto…fischio di inizio e…via si gioca! E così le nostre mattine volano via, tra musica…balli e sorrisi…

Francesca

5.30 pm

IMG_0754

A cup of boiling coffee by my side, my Albanian language notebook close to the eye, I’m lying down on the carpet at the background sounds of the Albanian-speaking volunteers sitting in front of me in the hostel hall of Don Bosco, Tirana, Albania. This place has managed to become, in less a month, a sort of home, to me: I suddenly realized it yesterday evening, coming back from a weekend-lasting tour in Montenegro (which was amazing beyond any expectations, by the way) and had the clear and neat impression, bright as an epiphany, that I had missed Tirana in those three days of travel. It made me pretty upset, in a certain way: how is it possible to feel nostalgic for a place that you don’t even know well yet, as if you were already intimately connected with it, to feel a subtle homely, pleasant sensation when stepping on the shady paths that lead you back to a place which, actually, is still new and alien? The first time I walked back alone from the city centre to the hostel – I was coming back from a nicely odd Sunday excursion in the Daiti mountains – it was already dark and I was freezing because of all the cold absorbed up on the cliffs. I could not remember the way – I have serious difficulties with roads – so I just kept on asking everybody the right direction to Don Bosco; when I finally recognized some landmarks and felt that I was close, I started asking for the name of the hostel – or at least that which I thought was its name, MyHostel – to men sitting outside the bars: they did not know. Nobody seemed to know, actually. It made me feel so proudly corageous to walk through the winding alleys of the neighbourhood, in the capital suburbs of a country that people ignorantly judge as sinister and dangerous (as often repeated in the volunteers’ witnesses posted on this blog, too) with no means of communication with the world outside other than my poor two-sentence-vast Albanian repertoire; in the end I managed to find the door I had been looking for so desperately – I am not that complete disaster at reaching destinations safe and sound, after all – but the point I wanted to stress out is not the feeling of warmth and protection that invaded me once I arrived: it is the huge difference between what I felt then – the strangeness, the foreignness of the avenues, the fear at every road-crossing, with plenty of threatening cars apparently blind to red streetlights – and the sense of familiarity and domesticity that I feel now, when walking through main streets and shortcuts, or taking the bus to work, or eavesdropping the turbo-folk speakers reverberating out of the cars’ windows and the intercity van drivers’ loud “SHKODER!” and “DURES!”, or asking the woman in the cafè round the corner for a cafè e madhe and grasping the cup with a smiling faleminderit, chatting in an extemporary new slang, half-italian half-albanian, with the old cappuccino-drinker sitting at the nearby table, whose sport seemingly is that of filling the coffers of national tobacconists by dint of smoking, or hearing the taximen yelling at passers-by…or many more things that I usually spend my time doing here and which have already become precious ritual moments to me. This is not a all-good-and beautiful experience, of course. There are conflicts and even fights from time to time (it is not easy for everyone to spend twenty four hours per day in a shared environment) and the work is tough. Kids at school are hard to handle. Many of them seem simply non-responding to any type of stimulation, others are actually responding, but in nervous and aggressive ways. There are some who stand or sit alone on the class benches, with swinging heads, as if the entire world was an uncontrollable bubble which it is better to ignore, and you, new and inexperienced volunteer, with no clues at all on how to cope with mental disabilities, are there still, initially unable to do a movement without wondering “What th f*** am I doing here?”, tense and nervous and stiff as hell, because you feel so wrong and useless. It may happen to be hit by a heavy ball strongly kicked by some teenager directly on your forehead, leaving a two-week-lasting mark, on the first day of your arrival – as it personally occurred to me – or to assist to unexpected clashes among the same kids you naively thought to be flawless, disembodied angels; you may happen to watch, still and astonished, a girl casually laughing after being violently hit by a ball on her teeth, as if she could not feel any pain, or perhaps anything at all. It feels bad, then. It feels unfair, unacceptable. Too much pain, too much void. It feels impossible, unreal, you yourself start feeling someway unreal ‘cause you’re stuck there, talking your couple of basic phrases and trying to involve kids in dances and games and at the same time holding the tears which threaten to flow out from your eyelids at any moment. But after the first couple of days, you start recognizing faces and remembering names. You start feeling a soft sunshine spreading inside your chest when a kid spells your name or hugs you so close that blood circulation is temporarily blocked. You even have moments of pure amusement, dancing disco hits – ‘cause Penguin Dance mp3 file doesn’t work – with excited teenagers in shiny sunglasses, repeating “I am boss” with ghetto-style hand jestures and adorable confident grins, or playing football in totally disorganized teams, or clapping hands in front of an histrionic child who keeps on banging Turkish Marshallas with his stentorian voice and comparing you to Aurella Goça in response to your shameful singing efforts. I don’t really know how to express what’s that which happens here. Too many things, so brand new to become potentially disturbing soon, occur at the same time, too many impressions stain the same paper sheet and you find yourself constantly amazed and sensitive as if your soul was enveloped in crystal skin. Then, as always, the ways in which moments are experiences vary according to personal factors; there are some of us definitely escaping something they need to stay far from, at least for the moment; there are those who are in confusion about so many things that Tirana’ chaos seems peaceful in comparison; there are those who don’t know what to do with themselves and have just grabbed this occasion to be put in a ruled context with responsibilities to face and instructions to respect, because if they hadn’t them they would be as lost as ships in a flash-green thunderstorm – please forgive the poor metaphor. There is me, here, with such messy rumours in my head from which a lullaby’s sweetly emerging, rocking me, softening the beats, licking my hair as a mommy cat, making me rest, peaceful, anew.

Home is where the heart is

So here I am.

Writing on a small balcony in this chaotic, messy and lively city.

It takes time to get used to ruins, everywhere. To the pollution, the noises, the sound of the car horn, it keeps going on for hours.

It takes time to get used to live with other 11 people or sometimes more. We don’t know each other, we are just strangers joint together by some weird and unknown selections.

12 lives brought abroad, our eyes full of curiosity, our feet ready to walk unknown roads, our hands ready to applause the kids in the school.

It takes time to learn a new language, to communicate in a restaurant when you don’t speak a word of Albanese and the waiter doesn’t speak a word of English. So at the end you get a soup instead of beans, chicken instead of vegetables, a huge amount of sauces instead of a nice and fresh salad. Whatever.

It takes time to smile seeing those kids in a sad and ugly school. They’re dirty, sometimes they stinks. But no, I don’t care, I can go home and stop thinking about it. Or maybe not.

It takes time to realise that something happened. The time passes, slowly. I’m on a noisy bus heading somewhere and suddenly you guys are not strangers anymore.

Suddenly I recognize those smiles, I know when my roommates are happy, when Chiara is sad, when Teo is annoyed. I start to remember the name of the kids, I feel like I realy wanna go to see them. I feel like finally I can’t wait to see their smiles.

Because you don’t know what they’ve been through.

I don’t know the story of anyone in this project and they don’t know mine.

But we live this experience together every day, standing side by side, sharing our laugh, our angry faces and our silences.

Out of the time, out of the usual space, totally out of our comfort zone.

But yesterday, after a long trip out of the country, I said I was happy to go back. To go back “home”.

Home is where the heart is, they say.

So today, you all guys, are my home.

Sara

UNË E DUA SHQIPËRINË :)

 

 

ozlem

 

I know my beginning sentence will be so cliche but my all EVS friends and their families felt the same while coming Albania. When ı decided to make EVS, all my family was so respectful to my decision but after they learned that ı found a project in Albania and all my family started writing conspiracy theories :) Cause you know when look from outside, Albania unfortunately is so famous with its mafia so they were so worried for this reason. But after ı came there and ı observed that this is not like we guess.

Good impression was started by our coordinator Ira, she helped me so much from all online platforms before going there. She made me calm and answered my all anxious questions like a my older sister. Great Albanian politeness kept going in the airport. One of our mentors came to the airport for just  taking me. By the help of a mentor from Tirana, we arrived to city center and every buildings ı observe were so strange, different. Imposing of communist regime upon the country was so obvious. Especially in first sight, ı loved so much The Albanian Mosaics on National Historical Museum. And after we had waited the bus for arriving the home and ı saw that public transportation vehicles were so ancient and neglected than Turkey. We were staying in student zone and it was a giant advantage for us. Always funny, crowded, energic etc. When we arrived home, all people were so gentle and warm to me but despite this ı was so indecisive what ı will do. I was afraid of being adapted to the home. We were so crowded; we had to share common ares and most particularly ıt was a big chaos for us in morning showers :) Living with 13 people wasn’t easy, and supposed to be responsible and sensitive to each others. And we are Turk, German and Italian cooperation. 3 different nations, 3 different mentality, perspective; in first time understanding each other wasn’t easy. After negotiation and some briefing by our coordinators ı had to confess ı was mindful cause of that how ı can approach to disabled children. The rest of my past life ı had been never spend my time with them, this idea made me so streched; but after visiting schools all negative notions about this just became pufff..:) They were looking us with just unexpected love. They need just help and love from us. We played games, made gym, draw and painted pictures. That was so productive and teachable for them. But if ı have to mention about schools and teachers; schools were so different than same examples in Turkey. They were so old and neglected; and teachers looked so hard-pressed; so we came to children like fresh breath, a friend, a sister-brother. Most of the teachers and of course also children didn’t know English; in this point we need the contribution of our local volunteers, they always altruistically helped us for translation. But ı had to confess ı found pleasure in school presentations. I liked to make expressions to everyone who want to join Beyond Barriers, it was great missions for us; because some of them had no idea about EVS or our organisation. Talking about this and observeing their reactions about this project were good for us.

Of course while doing these activities, we had a lot of spare time, we tried to evaluate our times with visiting every place we can go. Firstly, we discovered Tirana, and after we went to Pogradec, Kruje, Shkodra, Durres, Vlore and we had chance to pass another countries and cities like Ohrid(Macedonia), Ulcinj(Montenegro). And somewhere we had to hitchhike just for adventure :) And as soon as we said that we are Turk, all citizens in Balkans not just Albania became so happy and they started to talk about Ottoman civilization and our common history. And this made my all Turk friends and me so prideful with my ancestors. Cause there is a word in Turkey about Ottoman Empire: ”You can eradicate the state which came there with swords but if a state like Ottoman Empire came there with just ‘Selam’, you can say to them just ‘Selamun Aleykum'; so you can’t eradicate this empire from hearts easily. I saw that this word is % 100 percent correct, all people talked about our ancestors with a proud; we observed a lot of historical artifacts from Ottoman Empire like Ethem Bey Mosque. All people liked talking with us about İstanbul, Ottoman Empire, Turkish soup operas and their stars :)

I hadn’t enogh brave for say goodbye to our children in schools cause they alwys hugged me in all oppurtunity so ı couldn’t handle it again in last time. But ı will always remember them with a big smile on my face. Özlem ,who go to Tirana, is totaly different form coming back to Turkey version of Özlem. It add me great experience, memories, people and foods of course how can ı forget. I have still carry them on my body ;( Trilece, Sufllaqe, Ice-creams in all corner of Tirana, Byreks- Dhale combinations etc. :)

Albania, Albanian people will always great folder on my brain and in my all chance ı will find a way to come back there for seeing my friends. I create a idea about Balkans, which is the geography of my grandparents, with this EVS. Thanks to everybody for my experience. I started out to Tirana for helping children but this project didn’t consist of just helpin them. It help to us for enlarging our visions, opening sensations. If ı had a oppurtunity again, ı will choose Albania again and again. Thanks to everyone who had contributing efforts for the children for the project. Ana, Ira, Eni and all other heroes our mentors, local volunteers thanks for everthing. Falemenderit shume :*

Özlem Sudan,

Turkey