Monday, September 17, 2012

Plans, and Then, Reality

I had all of these grand plans to blog about our No Plane-ia to Albania trip. Then we got to Albania, I had a short week of getting moved in, and then I started work (two days earlier than planned). Then, a week later, the bunnies came pouring in and the first week of school went by in a flash. Now I find myself in my third week of work, my second with my students, and here, once again- I am not blogging about our trip. I have not blogged very much at all.

I'm not really sure what is behind my stubborn refusal to just log in and bang out something, anything, but I think it's because I feel like I'm behind on work, and back tracking and doing moving to Albania posts feels like a homework assignment for which I'm past due. I have so many other obligations right now- work, sleeping, eating, filling out paperwork so I can actually stay here, opening bank accounts, and learning my students' names- that I just can't stand to think that I have even one more thing I have to do. On top of that, there is a lot of turmoil in my personal life (which I'm choosing not to go into here, mostly because I just don't want to talk about, and also because I want this blog to be more of a travel/info blog than a personal journal type blog) so when I have a free minute I sometimes sit and stare at a wall and think totally emo thoughts. If I'm feeling really super overwhelmed about life and how much it can suck sometimes when it comes to people you love, I cry.

See? That's totally depressing. Who wants to read about some random chick in Albania crying? I'm just going to go full on ramble blog in 3, 2, 1....

So far work is going well and reminds me of a mix between my public school experiences in Colorado and my ESL language school experiences in Japan. I have 12 gremlins in my care and keeping, and I'm not just saying this because their parents might find my blog: they are totally adorable. I was nervous about teaching primary because I hadn't done so in 6 years (since the Japan gig) and my most recent teaching experience was with my kick ass high school students in Colorado. Going from discussions about news articles and science fiction short stories to singing ABC's and helping little ones navigate the intricacies of a pencil was a 180, but I think it was what I needed this year. They already love me way more than I think I deserve, they call me "Ms. Cor-tuh-nee" with such a sweet over enunciation of syllables, and they hug me on the regular. It's a pretty sweet way to make a living. I'm using a lot of Whole Brain Teaching** techniques, and it's been great fun to teach them all the "games" we play in class, which are really just ways Ms. Cortney uses to control the herd (shhhh, don't tell them that Class-Yes is not really a super fun game of mimicking words).

Work being wonderful has a lot to do with my fantastic co-workers. Some names you'll probably see again and again on this blog are: Jeff, Scott, Tiara, Kevin, and Adam, among others. They are seriously great people with whom I am lucky to have an easy rapport. Jeff is my boss, and he is the hardest working man in school business (name that reference). My director is also amazing and he and Jeff have been really kind to me with all the family tragedy awful that has gone on this summer. I know that if I need anything, I need but ask, and they'll do their level best to help me. It helps immensely to have that security.

Tirana itself has been so much better than I expected. Albania is a developing country, but Tirana has all the creature comforts of civilization I need, so I can't complain. I'm wracking my brain to think of anything I want to have/want to do here that I can't have/do, and seriously all I can come up with is that there is no Mexican or Indian food, which is a statement that could honestly be true of many cities in the good ol' U.S. of A.

More seriously, here are the main cons of Tirana (they don't really bother me, just keepin' it real):

1. The traffic is Traffic laws are mere suggestions, and those suggestions apparently haven't been given to 80% of the driving population. Lanes are just ground decorations, stop lights are pretty lights, crosswalks mean nothing, and horns are liberally and frequently used (often to chastise the rare driver who does something legal, like, say, allow a group of pedestrians to actually use the crosswalk). When you want to cross the street, you don't wait on the sidewalk for a car to stop. You kind of.. smoodge out into traffic, and once you're in front of the cars they will (theoretically) stop for you then. It's this side eyed, slanting walk dance with traffic where you stare hard and then just step out into a sea of traffic, praying that said traffic will part like the Red Sea as you perch in between lanes. Honestly, everyone does it, so I'm sure it's safe (said the lemming)....

2. Air pollution. Let's talk about how everyone wants to get all "Regulations ruin our life!", shall we? Let me just say, come spend a week in Tirana with tailpipes belching black dust in your face and you will change your tune no matter what Ayn Rand and her rabid contingent might say. The mountains are gorgeous, but they are often misty with smog. There is a fine layer of grime- diesel particulates, anyone?- on everything. Some days, as I walk to work with a bouquet of pollutants assaulting my nose, I mutter a quick apology to my lungs as they work with the silt I'm pumping through them.

3. Trash. Yesterday, I saw a well dressed young gentleman purchase an ice cream cone (the kind that are wrapped). He then proceeded to unwrap said ice cream cone and drop flutters of paper on the ground as he walked. He left in his wake no less than 6 scraps of sticky trash on the sidewalk. Mind you, many places are spotless, but there are also a lot of vacant fields with more trash than grass. Dropping one's trash on the ground is a-okay, and recycling is just not done. On top of that, it is virtually impossible to refuse a plastic bag here- even when you emphatically say "Skaproblem" (no problem/don't worry about it) vendors will take your items and drop them in a plastic bag. These bags then end up dotting the vacant lots. Ah, the life cycle of plastic.

Even these big three, though, are not deal breakers at all. I make note of them to be accurate in my depiction of Tirana, but they don't keep me up at night, and even though I cross a huge round about twice each day on my walk to and from work through a nasty knot of aggressive cars, buses, and motorcycles, even the traffic is more comical than anything else. I've heard it said that Albania is the South America of Europe, which is a strange and strangely perfect description. Bobby and I thought it looked like Lima when we first arrived, and my co-worker Tiara said it reminded her of Honduras. It is much, much more developed and filled with modern conveniences than I was expecting, our standard of living here is great, and I have no worries at all about spending the next 10 months of my life here. Tirana feels like home already- a smog filled, kinda trashy, crazy traffic-y home.

**I must say this- I find a lot, a LOT of the Whole Brain Teaching methods inane, controlling, and frankly, creepy as all hell. When it comes to teaching content, I find them over simplistic and I think they squash creative thinking, plus I think if you tried that with a group of high school students they would do it (maybe) but they'd hate you (definitely). However, I love a lot, a LOT of their techniques for classroom management in the lower grades. I just wanted to clear that up because if you Google "Whole Brain Teaching" the videos are sometimes kind of terrifying/depressing. I pick and choose, and I'm picky with what I pick...when I'm... picking. Okay, I'm out.

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