Published: June 12th 2012June 6th 2012
I cannot even begin to describe the experience I am having. I arrived in Albania two days ago (without my luggage of course), and I was in culture shock from the moment I stepped off the plane. It is so different here. When I arrived I was bombarded with cab drivers tugging at my bags and pleading with me in Albanian to choose their cab. Driving into the city, all I could think to myself was "what the hell did I get myself into this time?" The poverty and filth is overwhelming.
I arrived at the HDC (Human Rights in Democracy Center, (http://www.hrdc.al/index.php?lang=en
) where I will be working and researching throughout the course of my stay. Everyone was very welcoming and excited that I was here. When I got to my apartment I was exhausted, yet stayed up most of the night because I could hear people screaming and crying in the streets.
I was picked up in the morning by two Albanian women I did not know, but were friends of my boss. They took me and bought me a blackberry so that I can always reach someone, and then took me to exchange money. After that, I arrived at the center and we took a cab to Kamza where one of our other offices are located.
Driving into Kamza I was speechless and wanted to run back to America as fast as I could. The rivers are filled with abundant amounts of clothes and trash, they produce a pungent odor, and people just lay next to them in the hot summer heat. I would say 50% of the buildings are not finished and homeless people (children included) live in the infrastructure. You can see them attempting to (wash?) their clothes in the dirty rivers and some of them just sit on the side of the road and stare at you as you drive by. There are large holes filled with trash that the children climb in and out of, and stray animals are everywhere.
When we got to Kamza we did a seminar for local nurses and physicians on how to accurately care for, and record information on domestic violence and trafficking victims. Albania is under watch by the UN because they provide hardly any statistics on these cases, which fails to meet their international obligations. Even the doctors smelled of filth during the seminar.
After returning to Tirana, I finished up at the office (and my luggage finally arrived). There is a girl my age who works for the HDC named Gemma and she speaks some English. She has been wonderful and texts me to see if I get home okay every night. She is thrilled that I have agreed to help her with her English while I am here. I think the biggest reality check for me was when Gemma (a graduated masters student) told me she makes very good money for an Albanian and is very lucky. "120 American dollars" she said, in which i responded "a week?" she just looked at me like I was out of my mind and said "no, $120 a month". The price of things here is about the same as in America (I bought a box of cereal for 400 Lek/$4.00 and a coffee costs about 2-3 American dollars).
In retrospect, I feel ashamed that people like Gemma work so hard and good money for them is $120 a month, when I can make that in one night waiting tables back in the states. In a way seeing such poverty makes you feel guilty for all the things that we take for granted back home; a nice home, food on the table every night, going out to lunch a few times a week, getting a manicure, going on vacations. All of those things seem selfish in a place where most people live on less than $4 a day.
Gemma greeted me outside my apartment door at 8am to walk me to work each day this week. An hour and twenty minute walk later, we get to the office. I'm assuming my clothes will be too big for me when I get home with almost 3 hours of walking every day.
Next week, I have interviews set up with women who have been trafficked and victims of domestic violence, and they have provided me a translator to conduct the interview. I will also be attending 2 seminars with the local police, that aims at training them on how to properly deal with these women.
It is only the first week that I am here, and although I am more than overwhelmed (I have already tried booking a ticket home twice), I know that this will be a valuable learning experience for me, and that I have to stick it out.
I will try to write again next week.
Thinking of everyone back home,