Nora | My Work | 28/6/17

Miresevini to my first blog post, and mirupafshim to my time in Tirana! Welcome to my first blog post, and goodbye to my time in Tirana.

Yes, that’s right; it’s nearing the end of my last week as an intern with the National Coastal Agency, and this is just the first post I’ve written. To clarify, we just managed to get this page back up and running, just in time for me to hop on a plane back to Detroit and say goodbye to Tirana.

I have been in Albania for 6.5 weeks now, and I have traveled all over the southern part of the country and I know almost too much about trash. My project with the NCA is to develop and implement an adequate waste management system for the village of Nivicë in southern Albania, as the NCA is in the middle of developing the village for sustainable tourism. But you can’t have tourists coming into a village and seeing trash scattered all over the otherwise idyllic mountainside. Hence my work.

I’ve Googled a lot and read a lot of articles, and my mind has expanded exponentially with information about rural waste management, environmental effects of waste dumping, and how to compost. It’s very interesting; I’m passionate about the health of the environment, and my project is relevant to keeping our planet healthy for generations to come. Now, at the end of my internship, I have an 18-page project proposal and a PowerPoint presentation to show for my time here, and I would say that my seven weeks with the NCA have not been for naught.

The best part about my work, however, is the fact that I don’t have to do it in an office, and I don’t. Instead, my boss, Auron, head of the agency, has taken me from the city to the coast, to the mountains, to the rivers and valleys in between. I am not an office girl, and I don’t like sitting at my computer for hours every day. I didn’t know what to expect from my internship when I got here, and now, looking back at my time here, I am more than happy with my experience traveling Albania — for work! — from the eyes of a local.

A few pictures:

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Theater in Butrint National Park

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Skanderbeg Square at sunset

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Bora in the mountains of Nivicë

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View from a mosque in southern Albania

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Private beach in Saranda

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Sunset view from the mountains in Saranda

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Adriatic Sea in Dhermi

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On the road to Dhermi

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Beach in Orikum

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T.C.’s Stream of Conciousness #1

So, I’ve officially been living in Albania for a week, and the one week anniversary of my first step into this office is today, fittingly, on the 4th of July. (Uhm, queue the fireworks?) No long weekend for us, and no barbecue smoke and sparkler dust to inhale in the streets of Tirana. (Do I really miss my neighbors abusing explosives and lighting their yards on fire? Yeah, I really do.) Amanda and I are both wearing red, white, and blue today to celebrate, but all in all it’s just another day at the office.

My first week in Tirana has flown by, but in a sense, I’ve felt that it has dragged on for ages. I’ve never experienced jetlag on this level before; Albania is 6 hours ahead of Michigan, so as I’m writing this post in the early afternoon heat, my pals back home are still drooling into their pillows while they sleep. It took me at least a couple of days to acclimate to the new time zone, especially after being awake for almost 40 straight hours during my travels from Detroit, to Rome, to Tirana. Who thought it would be a good idea to explore Rome for 6 hours after a 9 hour red-eye flight? This gal. And guess what, it was a good idea—I got to see the city, eat some good vegan food (ridiculously overpriced good vegan food, but I hadn’t eaten in 12 hours) and I didn’t even miss my plane to Tirana. Travel. Win.

The days here are long, hot, and humid. And with no wi-fi in our apartment, we’re forced to go outside and explore. (Not that I mind, of course) There’s literally thousands of things to do in Tirana. Want to be a café rat and try every variation of espresso there is? Well, you’re in luck, because there’s a coffee shop on every block. Want to become a yoga master and do some meditating? Good thing there’s a yoga studio right downtown that offers classes 6 days a week. Want to be a wanderer and just see where your feet take you? Put a pin on your apartment on Google maps, and get going! I’ve gotten lost here more times than I can count, but around every corner has been a new discovery to be made…

 

That being said, I’m horrible at following my own advice. My main pastimes while here have been downloading shows on Netflix to watch back in the comfort of our air-conditioned apartment, and eating fruits bought from the local produce stand. I’ve made next to no progress in my Albanian skills, and it’s beginning to cause problems for me. The other day, I almost left a cashier with and extra $40 because I didn’t understand what amount she was telling me to pay, so I just shoved a bill at her and turned to walk away. I only realized my mistake when one of my fellow interns, who speaks Albanian, alerted me to the fact that the woman was yelling at me to come back so that she could give me the proper change amount. So, the situation could have gone a lot better (I left with my change in my hand and my head hung in shame), but at least she didn’t attempt to rip me off. Luckily for me, most Albanians are incredibly friendly and helpful.

 

Now, it’s only my first week. Did I expect to be fluent in Albanian and a total Tirana expert by this time in my internship? Hell no. I don’t think I could be either of those things even if I spent a year here, let alone 8 weeks. So, from here on out, I’ll just take it a day at a time. I’m beginning to realize that not everything has to be so fast-paced and spur-of-the-moment, and nothing happens instantly. There have been, and there will continue to be, situations in which I am uncomfortable; situations that make me think: “man, I wish I were home right now.” But, there are also times when the beauty of this experience catches me off guard, and I think “of course I’m here right now, there’s no place I’d rather be.”

A. West, ’17 – My First Week

Let me start with saying this: Tirana is magnificent. If not for the city itself, but for the community I’ve already found between dusty alleyways and spray paint art. Besides going to work every morning, which as been a new and interesting feeling in and of itself, I’ve discovered the city in other ways. For one, in the first week I found a TaeKwonDo school to train with. The school is run by as woman named Master Ola, and I fight the men in the school, all of whom are ninja-level quick and already great in their own right. I’m getting beaten up quite a bit, but if I wasn’t then I wouldn’t be learning nearly as much. Even though I can’t speak Albanian (yet), that doesn’t stop me from making friends with the locals. And as the old saying goes, a smile is universal.

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My first day was last Friday, and as soon as we started I knew it was going to be a tough practice. In combination with the new Albanian heat my body has yet to adjust to, the stuffiness of the room, and the workout itself, I was sweating bullets within 5 minutes.

On the bright side, I never slipped on my own sweat, so I’d say the day was a success.

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On Wednesday and Thursday, I got to experience a new side of Albania not yet seen by outsiders. I’m telling you, “The grass is greener on the other side.” mentality really does apply here, because where I went was a remote village five hours outside of Tirana. The town is called Nivicë, and is one of the villages along the route I am working on to connect mountainous and coastal tourism.

While I was there I taught English in an old schoolhouse, picked cherries and stargazed at night. I had the opportunity to become friends with some of the architecture interns, and we went exploring on Wednesday.

As we walked along a hidden stream nestled between the mountains, a backdrop of castle ruins and the bluest sky you’ve ever seen by our side, I just remember thinking, ‘this can not be real.’ This was my job, for pete’s sake, and I was spending it traversing the mountains with strangers-quickly-turned-friends.

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If someone told me a year ago I’d be here, hiking a mountain in middle-of-know-where Albania, I wouldn’t believe them. I was the shy, school-oriented type growing up. I consistently skipped sleepovers to study. I didn’t make friends, let alone talk to, random people I met on the street.

Now I can go anywhere in the world and make friends with just about anyone, regardless of language, age, background or social standing.

That, my friends, is the beauty of travel.

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The schoolhouse where we taught English to the men in the village.

 

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The hidden stream we found.

As night approached in Nivicë the local students and I laughed together and I got to try traditional Albanian cuisine. They were kind enough to switch to English for me. There was no wifi, and we had to kill about five poisonous scorpions in the house where we ate and slept. True to an old Albanian superstition, scorpions come out before a rain, and the next day thunder clouds rolled in.

All in all, my first week in Albania was a huge success. I ran into a woman on the street who tried to help me find the TaeKwonDo school, only to find out she teaches Albanian and English and offered to teach me for free. I love the TaeKwonDo school I found, as well as the city and Nivicë. I didn’t die by scorpion sting, which is more than anyone could have hoped for.

Until next time, mirupafshim (goodbye)

-Amanda West, National Coastal Agency Intern 2017