The first few weeks of school have been a whirlwind. First my school was/is undergoing renovations and has been since mid-summer. This is great, except that the school was in no way ready to have children attending a day before we were set to start school. The Albanian workers must have kicked it into high gear that last day to quickly paint, spackle, lay tile, and god knows what else to make it first day ready. Honestly I was certain we would have to go to the high school for the first week or two because the week before school was to start the teachers met in the school and it was a construction zone. I came, dressed in my business casual, to the school and had to step over power cords, jump over the fresh tile to the new stone stairs that were covered in the dust of wall compound and had copious new paint drips that paid homage to all the new colorful walls we have in the school. I was bewildered. this would be something that would strike fear, anger, and productivity into the hearts of the teachers and workers alike in the US, but all I saw as I walked the halls of the school was a calm, knowing composure that only Albanians have mastered. I truly hope to one day possess the serenity of the Albanians during times like this.
Somehow, to my delight and dismay, on Monday morning of September 11th the school was opened up to the students of Çorovodë. In typical Albanian fashion we first had a dance party where the children and some of the teachers line danced around to traditional music while dressed in their best clothes. I would have been so much more game to go to all my first day of school’s had I had this to look forward to. The Principle gave a small speech and the parents of the younger children were gathered around with bouquets of flowers to give to the Teachers. The whole scene felt surreal.
But then I had to pee. As I approached the bathrooms I wondered with a mix of curiosity and dread if the bathrooms would be completed. I had never ventured to the bathrooms last year, opting rather to wait until I got home. This as you can imagine required some serious planning and, on a few occasions, a good excuse to run home. My reticence to use the schools facilities had many layers to it. First, I still have a little bit of a fear of using a turkish toilet. they’re not THAAAAT hard to use I just am more American that I like to admit sometimes. And I live in constant fear that I won’t learn to flush them… Also, I knew from experience that school bathrooms in any country aren’t the cleanest and it felt weird using the same bathroom as the students. I really miss the Faculty/staff bathrooms of the United States. I like them. It makes the line between student and teacher so clear. But that’s the least of my worries here in Albania. Walking into these new bathroom I was happily surprised that the bathrooms had been completed and the toilets had been upgraded to western toilets! There wasn’t any toilet paper, par for the course here in Albania, but what concerned me was the lack of soap. As I approached the sinks There was an obvious, and indisputably necessary component of the bathrooms missing. Where in the wide world was the soap????
I looked for signs that the soap dispensers were coming but just hadn’t made the cut for the first day of school preparations but there was nothing. So I asked my counterpart why there wasn’t any soap in the bathrooms. I have been told that flu season is rather harsh in Albania, and I would love for Çorovodë to be proactive and prevent as much disease as possible. She agreed that this was a question we should bring up to the Director (principle) of the school. We walked in and she asked for me in Shqip. The answer she relayed to me was this, ‘we can’t have soap in the bathrooms because the students will slip on the soap and fall.’ I had no idea this was such an epidemic in the Balkan countries; to the extent that they would opt to go without soap altogether leaving the children and community of their town open to the spread of all manner of bacteria and viruses.
I plan to ask the office of education about this matter and in the mean time I will be creating a hand washing lesson to teach in all the classes.
*The case remains open and will continue to be investigated until the soap is located and brought to the schools of Çorovodë to be used as designed.
**rigorous research will go into the statistics for soap-related bathroom injuries.