A quarter century came and went almost as fast as half-way to fifty – or maybe just as fast. Either way, I’m twenty-five now. I’m as close to fifty as I am to birth. It would be sobering if I cared to dwell on it. Instead, I’ll recap. My twenty-fifth birthday was supposed to be somewhat of a big deal. My host family had planned to make a bunch of food, dress me up from toe to head in traditional Albanian dress, and host a big party for me and my friends at the house. There was to be circle dancing, drinking, cake, singing, more dancing, and more drinking. Unfortunately, and I don’t mean unfortunately for me, my host father’s cousin was involved in a terrible accident a few days before and the party was canceled. All that is known is that he and his wife swerved off the road into a river. A search party was formed and in a few days they had recovered both bodies. It was a tragic affair. Although I had looked forward to dressing, dancing, and drinking like an Albanian, all was not lost – after all, I was still alive. It’s funny how death accentuates life.
Things ended up working out though, for me. My birthday fell on a hub day. Despite having to spend most of the day inside for language and technical sessions, everybody was together, and I was lucky to have received much more attention than I deserved. I got a card, a song, a few delicious chocolate cupcakes, and a few too many shots of raki. Of course, we saved the drinking part for after training. It was among the first beautiful days of many to come. The Volunteers and I drank and talked and basked in the warmly welcomed sun. Somehow I managed to make it back to Librazhd from Elbasan, sharing a few too many personal stories along the way of which I remember very little. After a few more drinks at a local bar, I stumbled off into the dark and found my way home. In an attempt to avoid my host family, I went straight to bed, where I collapsed fully clothed and remained until the following morning. My birthday was over, perhaps sooner than anticipated but not a moment sooner or later than I wanted. It was just right. It was nine o’clock in the evening.
I woke up to eleven missed calls and eight unread text messages. I would receive more as the day progressed. Although I had texted my host sister that I was home and in bed the previous evening, she had not relayed that message to my host mother, who took it upon herself to call Peace Corps staff in the middle of the night to say I had not come home. In my deep, alcohol induced sleep, I had missed the calls that would come and that came as a result of my host mother’s genuine concern for my safety. It was all cleared up by morning. But word had spread among the other Volunteers that I was lost and had not yet been found. I felt very cared for that morning and early afternoon.
In the days since, not much has happened. The days have gotten warmer. The sun stays out and the rain stays away. A few weeks ago I took a scheduled trip to Shengjin along the northern coast of Albania to visit a Volunteer from Group 15. I stayed there for four days. The ocean was beautiful. I got to shadow him at work and learn about what he does as a Volunteer. It was extremely helpful and informative, as well as a much needed break from the monotony of PST (Pre-Service Training). Also, he was very nice and paid my way while I was there. I’m extremely grateful for that. This past Sunday was somewhat noteworthy as well. The Volunteers from Pajove, Thane, and Bishem came to Librazhd for our first weekly “Sunday Funday”. Sunday is our only day off and we intend to capitalize on that from here on out. We hiked to an enormous tree atop a giant plateau. It took us just over two hours to reach our destination. The view from the tree was gorgeous, lending a nearly 360 degree view of Librazhd and the surrounding mountains. The tree itself was spectacular in its own right. I’ve posted pictures from my trip to Shengjin and from Sunday’s hike below, as well as a few miscellaneous ones.