June 9, 2013 by theloneblonde
It has officially been a week since I have moved to my permanent site of Skrapar, or really Corvode, which is a city located in the region of Berat but in the state of Skrapar (which alright may not actually exist anymore due to the redistricting of Albania, but trust me it is alive and well in the eyes of the locals). It’s a hard place to describe in words it’s different from any place I have ever lived or even visited. It is home to some of the most amazing locals, who are through a little confused as to why this blonde American girl is wandering around walking really fast with her backpack into the municipality on a daily basis.
The city itself is located, to an extent in the middle of nowhere, but it could not be more welcoming and it is already starting to feel like home. Even though it is 40 kilometers away from the nearest bigger city, it takes nearly two and a half hours to drive down a treacherous road that is unpaved and highly prone to landslides. Though the mountain pass in the shadow of some of the biggest mountains in the South of Albania, you pass through a few villages and many relics of the community history of the past. The city itself was once due to be the capitol of Albania if an invasion ever happened, as according to my counterpart. I have been informed that once you are here many people chose not to even leave, maybe due to the expence (it cost 300 leke to get to the next city, though less then 3 dollars, I am on a Peace Corps Budget). With only one road in and one road out it can seem like the end of the world. There are only a few buses and very few cars that make the journey but where the road ends the adventure really begins.
So far I am just known as “the other American,” partially because my name happens to be next to impossible to pronounce (all the sounds are there, and essentially it’s a conjugation of the word to pour plus the ending +er), and because I am the new American in town. I am always asked if I have a short name or a nickname that I go by, and well any ideas because other then Heater (which will not work out) or my middle name, Sue, it will just end up confusing everyone… hum.
I will for a considerable amount of time follow in the footsteps of the past volunteers who have treked the path before me to volunteer in my city. I am the first volunteer who will be working with the Bashkia, and they could not be more excited to have me there, and I have already begin to work on projects and collaborate to make this town a better place. I am still attempting to find my niche, but avash-avash (slowly-slowly), there are many things that we need and I am here to attempt to make them possible.
Working as a volunteer is almost unheard of to the locals. I get a lot of questions, many of which I struggle to answer because my Albanian is not the best but I am learning avash-avash. There are many people who will help me along the way.
In only one week I have not only started on projects that have been distant dreams of the bashkia. Promoting tourism and marketing of the city along with consolidating resources and working between offices, as well as getting to know the place. It will be a challenge, but this is what I signed up for! So far I have attended concerts, and countless coffees, traveled to some of the major natural wonders and I am re-learning how to cook from scratch, I even saw the Prime Minister who came to town for an election speech. I feel like I have been here a year and it has only been 8 days.
It’s hard to describe the feeling and emotions around town. The city itself was under a hash communist regime that promoted isolation for many years, and they are still trying to break down those barriers be it in planning, development, or even attitudes. But people seem to understand that I am here to help in anyway that I can to address the issues, break down barriers, and just be present. It means the world to everyone I have met that I am trying to learn Albanian, and work with the government to provide basic services and incremental upgrades that are desperately needed according to many. I have been called brave and courageous by my colleagues though they still think I am crazy for leaving my home in America to come to Albania and they are still working hard to find me a husband (the list of requirements is slowly getting longer).
More of less plan your vacations now, because this place is stunning. I am very lucky to live in a pretty awesome apartment, which I would like to describe as having been well lived. Two volunteers before me have lived here along with a family that now lives in Greece. All of which have left me very random items and trinkets from around the world. It really may be one of the best apartments I have lived in so far, though the cooking situation is a little something to be desired (I have a hot plate and a glorified easy bake oven). The views are unparalleled though that’s what you get for living on top of a mountain and on the sixth floor of a walk up built during the time of communism. My neighbors are amazing, and will essentially be my Albanian parents, they are now empty nesters and both of their children now live in Italy. Nana, my Albanian grandmother, always comes out to see me every time she hears my door open. So far we have a really hard time understanding each other, I know she likes to make jokes and she does not understand why I have such a hard name to pronounce.
The Canyons of Osumi, right up the road from here!
It is a very exciting time around here, and there will be plenty more to come. The elections are coming up in the end of the month and it is sure to be a contest worth contesting (maybe not the right words). But the town is literally painted red (and a little blue and pink) with election fever.
Next Post: A tour of my communist era apartment
Fields of Grapes for the local Raki
Home to Stunning Sunsets in the Valley