Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mt Rainier in Albania

How small is the world? This painting spiffs up my room. Look closely and you will recognize Reflection Lake at Mount Rainier. Imagine the language challenge I have had trying to explain glacier, autumn, snow and interpretive ranger in Shqip!

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Seven days in Shushice, Albania

I am waiting for my laundry to finish washing so I can hang it on the line before I head to the café to use the wifi. That is a sentence that would never have entered my writing before Albania. Here are a few more. I am living with a host family comprised of a butcher, his wife two adult sons a fiancée of another son and the wife and baby of a fourth son. Did you lose count? So have I. Who lives where does not matter much in a town where everyone is a cousin, sister or brother of everyone else.

Religion was outlawed in Albania in the 60s. Shushice is a predominantly Muslim community but you must pay careful attention if you want to hear the call to prayer. It is not entirely clear if the mosque is ever actually open or if the call is automated. Today is Sunday though there is no way to differentiate today form any other day of the week. My American bias surprises me. I keep thinking this should not be a work day, café day or otherwise regular day. The only difference between Sunday and any other day in Albania is that the banks are closed. But then the banks are closed randomly so that isn’t really that relevant.

I did get up and go for a run this morning. The roads here are similar to poorly maintained forest service roads in the US. All the miles of trail running experience have come in handy here. I went out at 8 am and I guess that the entire town knew I was running by 8:15. There are no secrets in Shushice.

I carefully brought my fuzzy mukluk slippers because I knew the floors would be tile and cold. Sliippers are left outside the entrance where one switches to outdoor shoes. One of my mukluks went missing yesterday and we are all assuming kittens are being birthed in that cozy space.

Seattle to Shushice in less than 365 days

So why did I sell everything and join the Peace Corps you ask? Because I didn’t want to be on the path I was traveling. A year ago I had just taken delivery of my custom Lexus hybrid. I left for a trekking trip in Nepal a week later. I would like to claim that the contrast between my wealth and the world’s poverty immediately drove me to abandon a life of affluence but that would not be the truth. I am not that quick.
I came home from Nepal to a company conference call assuring us that “the rumors are not true. We are not facing bankruptcy.” So I knew the end was near and I would need to find a new job. This was my break point. The idea of finding yet another job in the biotech industry made me sad. Researching development, tracking success records, selling myself, was all more than I could face. I had always taken pride in being of service to my client base. I went far beyond my job description to do what I could to support the medical community in the Pacific Northwest. Changes in law and medicine had made journal clubs, informational meetings and revenue sharing nearly impossible. I was being less useful every month.
So rather than just do something I sat there. And I sat and I sat. Service, travel, useful purpose = Peace Corps. I checked with the kids, quite certain they would not want be to be so far away for so long. They were thrilled and wanted to know when they could come visit. So I applied, was nominated and then began the infamous Peace Corps waiting game. Timeline from nomination to departure averages 12 months.
On November 5, Peace Corps formally invited me to serve in Ukraine leaving March 24. I promptly accepted. Within the week my house was on the market. Protests erupted in Kiev in late November and Peace Corps assured us departure was still on time. My obsessive email checking switched from wanting my invitation to wondering if we would actually be going to Ukraine.
February 24 Peace Corps released a statement saying that all current volunteers had been safely evacuated from Ukraine. The next day Peace Corps canceled the March 24 departure. Then began a new rollercoaster ride. Peace Corps invited me to Macedonia but I would not leave until September 11, six months away. I had quit my job, sold the house and yet here I was.
March 5 Peace Corps called an apologized. They could not send me to Macedonia but could I go to Albania on March 17, twelve days? I immediately accepted and began all the work that I had not completed when Ukraine canceled.
I flew to DC on March 14 to hang out with Willy for the weekend. We ran the E Course at Quanticao which was great fun. Willy is a fine young man and I am so proud to claim him as my son. I got a full tour of Quanitico and made sure to eat lots.
Monday March 17 I reported to Peace Corps staging in DC. The next day I and 42 other trainees left for Tirana Albania. We arrived here on Wednesday. Saturday we moved to our host families and began intensive language training. Shqip klase. Katter ora dit. Albanian classes four hours every day.