While I Was Away

I feel the need to explain why I have been absent for this latest stretch of time. I had promised myself that I would get back on the blog writing horse but several aspects of service had been doing a great job of knocking me off the beast time and time again. But I made it back on!

The Setup

I had been in Albania for 9 months…Without a break. In nine months my constant tumble-cycle setting of life was wearing me down and had me more than a little frayed around the edges. There’s only so many ‘neser’s that one American can take before she needs to go to a place that offers ‘tani.’ All of the conflicts and small issues that build up to become a mountain from the mole hills had turned me into a grump. A huge grump actually. I had been getting short with people, I’d lost my motivation, and most importantly, I couldn’t see my site as anything positive.

I didn’t do this 9 month stint of servitude intentionally. I had, in fact, attempted to take a few days off in September. It was going to be a cheese-filled, stress reducing extravaganza with friends. It was going to be a lovely 4 day break to reinvigorate my motivation and also fully immerse myself in a group of people who might move cheese as much as I do. I’m still convinced I would have met the man or cheese of my dreams there; however because of a rule hidden in the Peace Corps rule book that trip was never realized. And perhaps, delayed destine. All of this could have financially crippled me but thanks to the magic of Albanian kindness I didn’t have to eat the plane tickets I’d purchased in earnest. (thank you wonderful blue-panorama call center employee, you are shining example of the kindness of Albanians).

So after the cheese debacle I was beaten but not broken and I proceeded to plot along my service. The newness of school starting presented several opportunities that offered energy and motivation (though I would be remise in not mentioning that none of these opportunities happened anywhere near or around the time I would have taken for said cheese extravaganza-not bitter, just heartbroken). All of this sustained me until November.

The chill

Between the months of November and December several things happened that turned me into a near grinch level grump. First it got cold. Not just drink a hot coco in bed cold. I mean the kind of insidious cold that climbs inside of you and sucks the motivation and happiness out of you. It’s the kind of cold that can only be achieved living in a cement Apartment building that faces north/west and is snuggled up against a steep wall of earth that becomes mountains. Then it began to rain. When t wasn’t raining the kids of my town had all managed to accumulate an arsenal of firecrackers that sounded like the heaviest of gunfire and took jojy in setting them off from the hours of 4pm to the darkest early hours. And on top of all this my eager and motivated high-schoolers disappeared to study for exams and to begin to prepare for the upcoming holidays. It was bleak.

And then, a ray of light; a glimmer of hope in this rainy, explosive, deeply cold world; my leave request was approved! Not he cheese one mind you, but the one that would send me rocketing through the air to one of my favorite places in all the world! I was getting out of Albania and flying to Sweden for christmas!!!!!!

Yes, I know I just spent a good 500 words complaining about the dark and the cold but Sweden is always bright to me since it holds within it so many wonderful people I know and love.

The Upswing

As soon as  stepped on the plane in Tirana I could feel the months of stress, frustration, and grungy build-up of Albanian bureaucratic road blocks beginning to dissolve in the lowlight of the cabin. As the plane took off I felt a renewed sense of purpose, the sudden lurch into the air matched my change in mood and I felt weightless and energized.

As I made my way via planes, trains, and automobiles, I could feel myself coming back to the mindset I had had prior to my 9 month internment into Albania. I was constantly making connections, thinking about the future, and this time with renewed spirit and positivity. It felt as though my brain been in a fog and the cool, crisp Scandinavian air had at long last freed me.

I went skiing, met my friends’ family, petted well taken-care-of dogs, ate sushi, went for drinks with girls at night, planned trips with scheduled transportation you could set your clock to; it was the much-needed break I had been in search of.

Lessons Learned

  1. Never underestimate the power of a break. I came home slightly begrudgingly (let’s face it I’d stay in the snow forever if you let me), but with so much more purpose and vigor.  Everyday since I’ve been back I have had energy and a readiness to greet the day that I couldn’t have dreamed of a month ago.
  2. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you need to take some time off. I for sure did a lot of blaming instead of addressing the fact that I needed to take some time for myself.
  3. My brain works best when it’s happy. Ideas and plans filled my head the whole time I was away for opportunities for my community. Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean you stop being a Peace Corps Volunteer.
  4. I’ve learned a lot of Shqip since eI’ve been in Albania. So many times on my vacation I wanted to say something to someone and I realized I couldn’t in their language but I could in Albanian. That was a bitter-sweet realization; one language at a time!
  5. I really missed dogs. Like, a lot. While on my vacation every dog I saw sent me into a complete fangirl level reaction. And when I got to pet a dog, I think I was more pleased than the dog to get to tousle their fur, and scratch behind their ears.

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