During my 27 months as a PCV I’m really trying to take advantage of my vacation days and get out and see the world. Which is made easier by the fact that I live in Eastern Europe where a million little countries are all squished together. And the Balkan countries have quite a tumultuous history, which makes traveling between them even more interesting. Did you know that I’m not allowed to cross the border into Serbia from Kosovo after having a visa stamped in my passport from Albania? It’s like mini Israel up in here.
Anyway, I just got back from a much needed respite in Istanbul and Romania (a little reward to myself after making it through my first full school year as a teacher in Albania). In all honesty, I was little afraid to see the outside world for the first time in over a year. It can be overwhelming to be surrounded by all that noise, people, technology, opportunities, food, drinks, etc. Especially when you’re like me and have the willpower of a 2 year looking into a bowl of M&Ms. After 4 days of binge eating all the food I’d missed out on while living in Albania I woke up in the most excruciating pain of my life and couldn’t eat for the next 2 days. My poor stomach just wasn’t ready for the processed ,cheesy, creamy, meaty, deep fried goodness of modernity that I wanted to fill it with. I’ll skip the rest of the details for your sake. But lesson learned, I’ll tell you that much. I will now be fasting and detoxing for the next week.
So back to the Balkans, where I started this whole story. I was in Romania and it got me thinking. Just like Albania, Romania had a brutally long communist reign. And like Albania it has now come out the other side. But unlike Albania, it is on the fast track to EU membership and the last PCV group just left the country this spring. So how do you know when you’re country doesn’t need Peace Corps anymore? Here’s what I’ve come up with after some deep reflection.
You don’t need Peace Corps when…
1. You have a centralized transportation system that consists of more than men standing on the side of a street yelling their destination and pulling you into the back of their van to sit with the chickens as they speed down the road.
2. You have a metro. Period. End of sentence. What a freaking luxury that thing is. I’ll never complain about WMATA again I promise.
3. You have McDonald’s, Burger King (Burger Turk doesn’t count), Starbucks, Subway, Sbarros, or any other American fast food chain.
4. You have street signs. It’s amazing how much easier it is to travel when you know where you are.
5. Everyone speaks English (albeit broken English) from the random grandmas on the street to the store clerks and police officers and train ticket sales ladies.
6. You have paved streets. A few potholes are acceptable I suppose.
7. You have stoplights. And more than stoplights, you have the little “you can cross the street now” walking man lights to go with it.
8. All your grocery stores sell both produce and packaged/refrigerated goods.
9. You have constant electricity all day long (exceptions being during a thunderstorm, construction, or of course if you hit the switch).
10. Your airport has more than one terminal and more than one gate. Oh and more than one flight in/out each day.
I know that no matter where you are or what you do, someone always has it better and someone always has it worse. It’s all relative, right? But I’m having some serious jealous and envy issues of all the PCVs serving in countries with modern amenities. Oh the temptation. I love my Peace Corps service and I love Albania, but all I can say is thank god Romania ended its PC contract. That place is wonderful! Congrats to all the PCVs who helped make it that way. I can’t wait for people to say that about Albania in the future. Some day.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”