Check out Part II, but don't waste your time with Part I.
We hopped on the bus from Tirana to Durres, a (pretty ugly) city right on the Adriatic, to meet our counterparts at a resort. It was a spectacular evening (after such a nasty day), and we had a few hours to bum around on the beach, change after a day of traveling, and get into general revelry and mischief.
Of course, that was short lived, and then it was time to meet the people with whom we were
stuck working with for the next two years. I
strangely got incredibly nervous – up til this point, everything was still, “I
only need to live here/work with this person/deal with this issue/etc. for the
next two months.” No longer. Whoever I was going to meet, I was going to have
to deal with for two years.
A gaggle of women came around the corner as all of us stood in a tight-night group of Americans. (Almost all the counterparts for Health Educators are women). One woman was trailing behind, a short, rotund little thing with elbows pumping in her eagerness to get to us. As the group slowed down, she barreled right through the mass hollering, “MERI? MERI? KU ESHTE MERI? A TI JE MERI? MERI!” (Mary? Where’s Mary? Are you Mary?)
Thus I met my counterpart, Lena.
The first thing she did was grab me in a bear hug, kiss me a few times, tell me repeatedly that I am a girl (it’s a theme here in Lushnje – they’re super excited to have a female volunteer again, and it’s like they think that by reminding me that I’m a girl, I’ll be a real girl..? I don’t know, it’s weird.), and grab my arm. “Hajde Meri, hajde hajde.” (Come along, Mary, come on).
This is what it looked like:
After a lovely stroll on the beach with Lena, telling her how old I am, that I’d only met Kerry Ann (a previous volunteer) once, how much I weigh, how much money I make, that no, I don’t know Kip (who I was replacing) well, what my parents do, how much money they make, Kip doesn’t have a phone right now so I can’t call him, how much my parents’ houses are worth, nope, still don’t know Kerry Ann, my entire dating history, HE DOESN’T HAVE A CELL PHONE RIGHT NOW, what I studied in school, I have no idea where Kip is right now, and NO, MY ANSWER IS STILL THE SAME, I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT KERRY ANN, we returned to the rest of the group for dinner.
Lena helped me eat mine. And Jill’s. She got our permission, first, but I was still kind of afraid she was going to eat me next.
Let’s put it this way: everything about Lena is voracious. She’s passionate in the extreme about her job (she’s also the secretary at the Red Cross in Lushnje), she loves passionately (me included, already), she talks passionately, she’s passionately political…and she will devour you if you get in her way.
This is going to be fun.