Posh Corps (n.): Peace Corps programs that are perceived to be “cushier” than the stereotypical Peace Corps experience, i.e. including accommodations such as running water, plumbing, electricity, internet access, etc.
Here in PC Albania, we often joke about living in the “Posh Corps” whenever we’re out at a fancy café or hitting up the 3G on our mobile devices or enjoying the cool breeze of an AC unit in the summer. Part of it stems from a sort of irrational guilt; we know that in other Peace Corps countries, Volunteers are squatting in latrines or hand-washing their clothes until their knuckles are raw and killing their own dinner every night, so we’re made to feel as though we “should” be suffering more.
But what I often compare Albania to is a lead ornament painted over with gold leaf. Everything looks pretty and shiny on the surface–flat screen TVs in the bars for watching sports and news, women in glittering 5-inch heels, Benz’s and BMW’s (some of them acquired less than legally) zooming around town–but as soon as you chip the surface even a little bit, you can see the harsh reality underneath. Poor infrastructure. Gaping holes in the sidewalks, half-demolished buildings, feral street animals. Corruption. Institutionalized sexism. Widespread unemployment and poverty. Pessimism accompanied by a mentality resistant to change, consequences of the oppressive regime that this country suffered under for 50 years. The problems are less obvious than, say, your classic voluntourism destination.
I’m all too familiar with the challenges of serving here. But one of the many reasons I like being a Volunteer in Albania is that it’s not, say, like serving in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu–one of the most isolated and resource-challenged posts–where my PCV friend Molly serves. I’d like to think that I’d be capable of serving under conditions like that, but here I don’t have to. I have a western toilet that works most of the time, I have water (although it is not potable) unless the reservoir on the roof runs out, the power outages in Kavaja are short when they do occur, and I have internet! (Commence streaming ALL THE MOVIES.) And while I understand that it’s much tougher to live in other parts of the world, I can appreciate that but at the same time be grateful for the resources that I do have here.
Albania is an up-and-coming nation. I know everyone likes to say that about their host country, but I really do believe that it’s true. This becomes more apparent to me as I continue working with the youth here, readying to take over as the rising generation. Albania is an open country now, a place that is still struggling to throw off the chains of the effects of communism and isolation, but a country I have witnessed getting better avash, avash, slowly, slowly. I hope that sometime soon Albania will not need Peace Corps anymore–that’s the goal of every PC program.
So the “problems” we PCVs have here might seem silly to some. They’re not quite #FirstWorldProblems, but not quite “real” problems either. (Well, some of them aren’t.) I hope you enjoy some of the ridiculous things I’ve had the pleasure of complaining about over the past 16 months:
- My internet is being weird today.
- They only have the fake Nutella at the store.
- My washing machine is wobbly.
- The fan is too loud.
- I have to go to the capital to get peanut butter.
- This $1 lipstick I bought doesn’t match my outfit.
- My mattress sucks.
- They don’t have blueberry tea at this café. Let’s go to the one across the street.
- I was Skype-ing with my puppy and the call got dropped.
- We had to pay $4 for chairs at the beach.
- The waiter won’t give me the wi-fi password.
- Cherries aren’t in season anymore.
- My laptop broke. What am I supposed to do all day?!
- My neighbors give me too much food.
- Her wedding dress is tacky.
- I have to wait for the water to heat up before I can take a shower.
- The fruit lady didn’t give me a free apple.
- I lost my bathroom slippers.
- I dropped my socks on the ground while I was hanging up laundry.
- My students made fun of me today.
- I can’t text people outside Vodafone Club.
- Nobody in my host family speaks English.
- Everyone thinks I am from England when I wear a backpack.
- I just want a real cheeseburger.
- I’m tired.
The struggle is real.