Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Close of Service
If one could die from overeating, I might not have survived my last two weeks in Korca. Friends and coworkers insisted on taking me out to eat before I left. This meant huge meals at lunch and dinner almost every day, and when I complained about my inability to keep up, they replied, “How about breakfast?” Also, I was trying to keep presents and keepsakes as light as possible, since I planned a bit of traveling before I got home. Ultimately, I had to mail a box home. It was a bit expensive, there is the possibility it will be rifled in transit and one risks life and limb in a post office line, but it was well worth it. Who would want to drag a chipped, plaster wall hanging of scenes of Korca, signed by the nurses at the public health department, among other souvenirs, through the great capitals of central Europe?
On Friday morning, I started walking with my backpack and bag toward the furgon stop for Elbasan. I walked past a neighbor who asked if he could come along. Then I visited the office of Dr. Isufi to say goodbye, and picked up more escorts. Then, Jani showed up on his bicycle, grabbed my backpack and rode away. At first I was pretty angry since I thought I would have to track him down to get my things, but Isuf explained that Jani just wanted to carry the bag for me and would meet us at the furgon stop. There were eight of us by the time we got there. They all wanted to take me to coffee. The last thing I wanted to do was to drink coffee before a 3 hour furgon ride, but Albanians have a deep seated need to buy you coffee as a gesture of friendship and respect and refusing this is a great personal affront. I solved this by having them buy each other coffee in my honor. This seemed to settle my social difficulty but left them to haggle with each other about who would get to pay. I have told several disbelieving Albanians that one of the differences between America and Albania is that in America, we argue about who has to pay.
In Elbasan, I stayed with a friend and fellow volunteer from our group. She and Catherine are especially close since they roomed together in many of the initial trainings. There were also a few other friends from our group there making connections for travel or presenting pre-service training sessions for the new group. We got to hang out together a bit and have dinner. The dinners were light since most of us were also visiting our host families in villages around Elbansan and had to recover from meals eaten there. It was very good to see them, share stories and exchange post-service plans and contact information.
I took a bus to Thane on Saturday to visit with the host families there for the last time before I left. I was also able to give my laptop to the older boy in my host family, as I had planned. He was thrilled to get it. I had him promise to help Catherine’s host family talk with her on Skype. We went over it together while his brother and cousins watched and his mother whipped up lunch. This was, of course, more than anyone could possibly eat with chicken, noodles, homemade bread, homemade yoghurt, hand churned butter, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes and scallions….
Early Monday morning, I caught the furgon to Tirana for processing out at the Peace Corps office. This involves three days of paper work, exams, and exit interviews with various staff. It seems I neglected to submit one of the required reports at some time along the way. I had not been notified about it. I might even have done it, but I had cleaned my computer of any extraneous files before giving it away and so I had to complete the report again. You can just imagine how thrilled I was at that prospect. I may have set a record for the most superficially completed government document, but, who reads that stuff, anyway.
The interviews covered a few routine areas. I was asked a few times if I had any suggestions. Being me, of course I do. I think it would be beneficial for the oldsters to have their own language group to improve language learning, since our style tends to differ significantly from the youngsters. I think a mentoring system would be more useful than volunteer visits during PST. This would entail having a successful volunteer in the same discipline visit the new volunteer in site for a week or so, to help solve initial problems and then keep in touch as an ongoing resource for the new volunteer as they settle into the new routines of work and life in Albania. I have a lot of suggestions for the Peace Corps in Washington about how they handle significant injuries. Their case management leaves a lot to be desired. That explains a lot of the bad press they have had recently. It is not only a disservice to the volunteers, but ends up producing worse outcomes and increased costs. I am willing to offer my personal expertise for improvement, but I doubt if it would be accepted. In any event, it is a separate matter than providing feedback to the country staff, which is quite apart from headquarters in DC.
I was also asked what accomplishment I was most proud of. That’s a hard one. I know I could have accomplished a lot more. But that is more of an epitaph than an answer. I did a lot of things. How useful they will prove to be, I don’t know. I ran into a few of the kids from my Life Skills classes a few days before I left. They told me how much they appreciated what I had taught. I had the same experience with the home care nurses. I am not sure that anything I did at my primary assignment at the health department will make much difference. The work most likely to make a difference is my work with Isufi and the Shoqata. He is already independently and appropriately using the equipment I brought back and trained him on. I am especially hopeful for the recent grant which will enable collaboration between therapists in Korce and therapists in Boise. It has surely been done before, but it has potential to improve services in Albania. It cost hardly anything to set up and our tests of the system went well. I have to pray some irreparable virus doesn’t consume his computer.
Another question was what I had gotten out of my experience. Again, I’m not sure what will prove significant. Certainly, I now know a lot more about Albania than I did before, which was mainly where to find it on a map (more than some of my friends who thought it was in Africa). I have lots of new friends, both Albanian and other volunteers. The main thing, though, I think I can best express by the analogy of a record needle stuck in a groove. Before I came here I was in a bit of a rut. A very pleasant rut to be sure, with good friends, a good job, a comfortable home and lots of fun activities to keep me occupied, but a rut, nonetheless. I think that spending two years in Albania has nudged the machinery. I am not sure what comes next, but I am looking forward to hearing how the record ends.
Just today, I had an email from a group of pilots from England who are planning an aviation adventure flying light aircraft along the Dalmatian coast. They had some questions about Albania. I really wish I were going to be here when they come through and would love to facilitate a landing at the grass strip near Korca. If I were here, I would organize a team to clean up the strip, put up a wind sock, mark the perimeter and welcome them properly. As it is, I gave them what limited information I have and referred them to the main, and only, airport in Tirana. I gave them the phone number of an Albanian who might help them. It is time for me to head for home.