On the last day of 2018, I ended my year with one final adventure! I’d been meaning to try the farm-to-table restaurant in Ballaban, Ferma Grand Albanik, ever since it opened last summer, but for whatever reason, I kept putting off the trip.
Because my friend Sara was in town for the holidays, we decided to spend her vacation trying something new! We were chilly as we left our warm houses and set off into the cold afternoon, hopping from furgon to furgon and finally reaching the village of Ballaban, which is located about 20 minutes away from Kelcyre.
When we arrived in the village, we learned that it would cost 700 leke for a one-way trip to the restaurant, and we were both unwilling to pay such a high price for a short journey.
Getting back on the horse is an important skill to learn during Peace Corps service. Projects rarely go right the first time, but eventually with enough time and persistence, things have a way of working themselves out.
That was definitely the case with the Permet Youth Council.
When I first arrived at site last year, I was overwhelmed by the amount of projects that the previous Community and Organization Development volunteer had completed. A Model UN team? Check. A grant project to rehabilitate a bathroom in a village school? Check. A workshop with female entrepreneurs? Check. A Youth Council? Check, yet again.
So I decided to tackle the first thing that looked even remotely achievable. A Youth Council. How hard could it be to wrangle up a few students, have them do simple volunteer projects, and take a few photos? The answer, as I soon learned, was very.
My first attempt at a Youth Council was a failure, plain and simple. Last November, I gathered together an initial group of 10 students that whittled down to just 2 by the end of December. We had a few meetings and began planning a project, but it never came to fruition because it was too ambitious (a TEDx event at the local high school) for my level of experience (which was low) and the students’ buy in (which was also low).
I love Albanian food. I love the warm, comforting stews, the soft, dense breads, and the simple but delicious cheeses. Maybe my Iowa palette’s to blame, but I also love the lack of heavy spices and complex flavors.
Here in Albania, no one does traditional, Albanian food quite like the members of the Slow Food organization, which is an international grassroots movement to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat.
December 10th is Slow Food International’s Terra Madre Day, and it celebrates the day the organization was founded. In 1986, protesters in Italy rallied against the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome, demanding “slow food” to counter the growing fast food invasion into Italian culture.
Here in Albania, the Slow Food movement has three main components.
The Convivia – groups of like-minded businesses and restaurants that share the Slow Food philosophy of local, traditional cooking (including chapters in Elbasan, Fishta, Gjirokaster, Korca, Permet, Sofra e Kelmendit, and Tirana)
The Presidia – an international database that catalogs native breeds and local plant varieties to preserve unique traditional processing methods
The Chefs’ Alliance – a network of chefs that defend food biodiversity across the world
I never quite know how to begin my hiking stories anymore because I feel like I’ve said everything I want to say about walking in nature. How many ways can I describe the grueling trek uphill, the exhilaration at the peak, and the drudgery of returning down the mountain?
Still, each trip is special in its own way – the people, the weather, the places are all different, even if the other parts of the equation remain the same. And today’s hike was unique in that it was a winter expedition with a new group of people.
Hiking to the Summit of Mount Postenan
The series of events that led to my 8-hour, 23-kilometer trek to Mount Postenan actually began a few months ago. After a meeting with local NGO Cesvi and new tourism nonprofit Vjosa Explorers, my counterparts and I decided to apply for a Friends of Albania grant to mark a new trail in the Permet mountains.
Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! I can hardly believe that my two years of service are coming to an end. I blinked, and all of a sudden it’s my final holiday season in Albania!
This year, my friend Stephanie invited me to Thanksgiving in Berat! She had decided to organize an event with her Albanian counterparts and students from a local culinary institute, and she needed all volunteer hands on deck for the activity!
Stephanie’s idea was simple but ambitious. On Thanksgiving day, seven American volunteers and expats would gather in Berat and teach young Albanian culinary students how to make traditional Thanksgiving dishes, culminating in a huge feast! There were a lot of moving parts to the event, including securing the venue, organizing the students and volunteers, and gathering all the ingredients, but throughout it all, Stephanie was a ray of sunshine in the gloomy autumn weather.
I also had the opportunity to bring along one of my friends from Permet to the activity! Flora, a representative of Slow Food Albania (who you might recognize from my Home is Albania video), came all the way to Berat with me to meet with the burgeoning Slow Food group in Stephanie’s community and speak to the culinary students about the Slow Food movement. It was her first time in the city, and we had fun exploring the pedonale and admiring the old, Ottoman houses despite the drizzling rain.
Even though we’d worked together before, I’d have said that Flora and I were acquaintances as she boarded the bus and we set out for Berat. But after 24 hours of traveling and activities, I think we’ve definitely become friends.
So without further ado, here’s the full story of my very Peace Corps Thanksgiving!