Someone has to get the ball rolling, so below you can find some random thoughts on the first, slightly chaotic, week in Tirana, which is slowly coming to an end.
I arrived in Tirana on Monday evening and met all the volunteers: Lauren (our one and only lady), Gabo, Sander, LJ, Felipe, Joe, Chris and Simon. Hopefully you will hear from them later on. Actually that is everyone except Jon, whose flight with Albanian Airlines got cancelled L Fortunately, everyone else arrived on time and without problems. Can’t really say much more about the day other than I noticed are rooms, located within the Student City, are decent, that our mentor Olti is a fun guy to be around and that even nights in Tirana are pleasantly warm. I expected this, but I was still surprised how nice it is to sleep with an open window and enjoy the fresh summer night air – something I forgot about when living in London.
On Tuesday morning we went out with a volunteer from Beyond Barriers on a walk around the city. The first thing one notices is the searing heat: 30+ degrees Celsius in the shade and God knows how many in the sun. While it was a bit shocking at first, especially after spending the last month under the steel grey sky of London, I became accustomed to it quickly, mainly thanks to a gentle breeze which seems to start here around noon. The things that caught my eye, in order of appearance rather than importance: the American embassy and its Chinese Wall sized, err… wall, located right next to the Student City, a mysterious concrete pyramid, very lax attitude of Albanian drivers to traffic regulations, Lane river (which, no offence Albanian friends is a brook at best, I heard there is an actual river further north, but I haven’t seen it so far), for Albanians the default for coffee is espresso ( T.T I miss my lattes and cappuccinos, but this problem has been mostly solved by now, and yes I am mildly addicted to coffee), breathtaking mountains just a few kilometers away from the city (I was told by someone that those are just big hills and real mountains are further inland, but to someone used to the South of England and Northern Poland these are mountains). At some point we were joined by Enxhi and Jasmina, local volunteers, helping confused foreigners to find our way around Tirana. We received a quick introduction to the EVS program in the Beyond Barriers office and nurtured our slightly famished bodies with some rather nice pizza. The main point of the program was the welcome party in the evening, an opportunity to meet the people whom we are going to work with, including our second mentor – Holta. All I have to say is that the city in the evening is a great place to be and let us leave it there.
Wednesday started with us being 40 minutes late in the morning meeting since it turned out we don’t know our way around Tirana as well as we used to think. But all is well that ends well, so we somehow ended up at our destination. We had our first day of training and I started to form a slightly clearer picture of what we are going to do here. I missed the pre-departure training we had in UK and emails can only convey so much in the end. We were shown the canteen so finally the days of malnourishment have ended. Unfortunately, all of us are still at the stage of ordering things by pointing at stuff, but hopefully we will learn at least a bit of Albanian during the next few days.
On Thursday we managed to get to the office on time, but some unexpected visit by a rather relaxed official threw our schedule out the window. One can always improvise though so we managed to cram everything into two slightly shorter sessions. Second day of our training was actually a bit scary, but I’ll get to that later. Managed to find the artificial lake and the swimming pool is supposed to be close to it. I received an email from Max, who works for Asha Centre, with an offer to send me to Georgia for one week even though I only arrived in Albania four days ago. Crazy people work there.
Today is Friday and four of us went to see the school for the first time. The first impression, both when it comes to the children and to the building itself was actually far better than the rather grim picture that started forming in my mind during the training days. Having said that, we haven’t really spent that much time together with the kids and there will surely be some difficult moments in the coming weeks. I’m a bit apprehensive since I’ve never faced disabled kids for a prolonged period of time, but I try to stay positive and hope for the best. Though after the first Albanian class, I am in despair. This language is unique and hard and I really need to sit down with a text book to grasp the basics.
Tomorrow we are going to visit Berat and on Sunday I plan to go hiking to the top of the mountain so there should be some more actual content rather than padding. Once we start working with the kids on a regular basis time will fly.
PS Jasmina, if you get to read this I still want to borrow that book.