I have taken to comparing my Peace Corps Training experience with my host family in Bishqem to a 10 week long camping trip. And for good reason. For the first few weeks it was so frigid, even inside my house (beautifully constructed out of concrete, only the most porous building material possible), so I slept in my sleeping bag under as many blankets as I could scrounge up.
If I ask for a glass of milk in the morning, I just have to wait for my host mother to go out to the cow and milk it for me. And if we’re lucky enough to have eggs with dinner its because I went to the chicken coup with my host sister and gathered them.
There is rarely enough water pressure to take a proper shower, and the water is only hot at night so if I want to shower in the morning I usually fill my water filter the night before then dump it over my head the next morning. Quite an excellent way to start the day if I do say so myself.
9 times out of 10 I’m squatting over a whole in the ground to pee. And if I’m lucky enough to find a western toilet, I can’t flush the toilette paper (if there is any available) for fear of overflowing the pipes. So instead we just put all the toilet paper in a bin next to the toilet and run for it as we flush (skip washing your hands and go straight for the hand sanitizer because there is no soap and definitely no paper towels).
We do have electricity like most modern campsites, but it’s unreliable and often flickers or goes out for hours on end. That, and most of the outlets in my room are loose so if I need to charge my cell phone I have to stand by the plug and press the chord into the wall for hours on end until there is enough of a charge to last me until tomorrow. Thank goodness I don’t need to be anywhere quickly most days of the week.
There is also just as much to entertain you here as a typical campsite. That being nothing. So I spend most of my days off wandering through the hills finding new paths to hike or reading an entire book a day while sitting on the patio waiting for dinner since the last thing I had to look forward to was waiting for lunch (what I wouldn’t give for playdo and coloring books like my mom used to bring on camping trips). I do really wish we could have campfires out here because that would at least give us something to do after the sun goes down and we wouldn’t have to go to bed out of boredom. Can you imagine the pure ecstasy of introducing s’mores to this country? Hold me back.
But there is just as much natural beauty and serenity in Bishqem as you would find at any campground as well. The people are so at peace and content; everyone says hello (or rather Përshëdetije) as you walk by. There are definitely more farm animals and people on horseback than cars. And the moment I feel myself start to get sick of this or frustrated, I just have to step outside and look around. I can breathe in deeply without inhaling car exhaust or smog. There are mountains for miles in every direction and blooming gardens all around. Bishqem is an amazing place to be, don’t get me wrong. I’m just happy that the end of my 10 week camping trip is in sight. Shkoder here I come!
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”