Albania is a strange country. You really have to come here to see it and live it in order to understand the complexities that make up this crazy little place.
You see, from a distance Albania seems to be doing fine. On the surface, it’s making progress. It’s developing. It’s moving forward. But when you look behind the scenes, it’s still broken. Corruption undermines all the good intentions and makes change almost impossible. The lack of rule of law, police, and a justice system makes it incredibly difficult to enforce new laws and efforts to make this place better.
Why am I talking about this now? Well, my second year as a PCV in Albania is getting underway as the school year here is about to start. And you know what that means? That’s right, time to think about life after Peace Corps. Not the answer you were expecting? Good! It’s not the answer I want to give. I wish I could be as gung-ho about my community and serving this country as I was when I first got here, but time changes a person. And realizing that I just have 9 short months left in this wonderful, terrible, crazy, mixed-up place is hard to believe. So what’s next? That’s a damn good question.
In a few weeks I’ll be taking the GRE and writing graduate school applications, then spending my lonely winter nights crossing my fingers and toes and praying to every god out there that someone accepts me. So in the meantime, that leaves me with a near impossible question to answer. What to write about in my grad school essay. I know, I know, there are starving people in Africa (and down the street from my house) but all I can think about is framing my Peace Corps service into an 500-1000 word essay that makes me sound humble yet motivated and an excellent candidate for a masters degree.
It may not seem that hard to you, but I swear it’s maybe the hardest thing I’ve had to do. How can you possibly summarize the most life-changing experience you’ve ever had in just 500 words? While managing to explain you goals for the future and the details of the university that will make it all come to fruition? You can’t, that’s how. It’s impossible to put the feelings and faces and warm fuzzy moments into words that admissions committees will be able to grasp. Like most other things in life, you have to see it to believe.
So I find myself walking down the street and stumbling upon these great analogies for Albania all around me that would make amazing grad school essays symbolize this country and my experience here. Nothing life changing yet. But instead, I leave you with these pictures that for me, really hit home.
These houses have been in ruins for quite sometime, but no one seems to mind or to have any plans to turn it into something new. So people continue to walk by on the main street, totally ignorant of the destruction that lays behind the freshly painted exterior. Just like so many institutions and systems in Albania that seem normal and functioning on the surface, until you dig a little deeper and find garbage and ruin. They continue to put up pretty buildings and smooth over the trash dumps, but as soon as they turn their back its all destroyed once again. And it will continue to function in that way until someone fixes the real problems and doesn’t just slap on a band-aid.
And if a picture is worth 1000 words maybe I can just turn this in for my essay? Wish me luck.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”