February 26, 2006: Headlines: COS - Albania: The Daily Item: Teri MacBride's 2 1/2 years in Albania with the Peace Corps was, she says, something she'll never forget

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Albania: Peace Corps Albania : The Peace Corps in Albania: February 26, 2006: Headlines: COS - Albania: The Daily Item: Teri MacBride's 2 1/2 years in Albania with the Peace Corps was, she says, something she'll never forget

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Teri MacBride's 2 1/2 years in Albania with the Peace Corps was, she says, something she'll never forget

Teri MacBride's 2 1/2 years in Albania with the Peace Corps was, she says, something she'll never forget

"I was fortunate to be in Albania where they love Americans. It wasn't unusual to be kissed on the cheek by a little old lady. The people were so generous to me. They treated me very well," said Ms. MacBride, who returned to the Valley last winter.

Teri MacBride's 2 1/2 years in Albania with the Peace Corps was, she says, something she'll never forget

Work in Albania rewarding, Valley woman says
By Karen Blackledge
The Daily Item

LEWISBURG Teri MacBride's 2 1/2 years in Albania with the Peace Corps was, she says, something she'll never forget.

Especially the time she was offered the head of a sheep as an honored guest at a family's table on St. Lazarus Day.

"I picked around it," the Lewisburg resident said. "They wanted me to eat the eyes. I didn't."

She lived and worked in Pogradec, a city with a population of 40,000 on the eastern border of the former Yugoslavia.

"It was the toughest thing I ever experienced," she said, "but the best experience of my life."

She worked in an impoverished area where the unemployment rate was about 40 percent. The area is 70 percent Muslim and about 20 percent Orthodox Christians, she said.

"I never met anyone there who prayed five times a day," she said. Albania, which had been ruled by a dictator Enver Hoxha for nearly 40 years, "had been called the North Korea of Europe," she said.

As for its scenery, it has been called the Switzerland of eastern Europe.

"I was fortunate to be in Albania where they love Americans. It wasn't unusual to be kissed on the cheek by a little old lady. The people were so generous to me. They treated me very well," said Ms. MacBride, who returned to the Valley last winter.

This is a country that until 1991 had only 10 cars, she said, and where people traveled by train, horse cart or walked. Albania today has a population of more than 3.5 million, but only 148,000 passenger cars.

She was among 32 people in a group that initially underwent language and cultural training. She lived with families for three months during the training and then with a family for six months while in her assigned city. For the remaining 18 months, she lived in an apartment building.

"I felt very safe," she said.

In the city, residents endure regular power cuts three times a day. It was cold with snow-capped mountains surrounding the city four months of the year.

"I did laundry by hand and cleaned without a vacuum. The key to success was to get a routine," she said.

At night, she slept with five hot-water bottles to keep warm. While working, she wore her coat all the time because there is no central heating. She took her own paper and pens to assist her counterpart, who was a director of economic development and who spoke only Albanian and Russian.

"We did promotions to bring people to the city. We translated hotel menus into English, aiming at Albania, Macedonians, Greeks and traveling Europeans," she said.

She helped organize a wine-day festival that turned out to be quite fun and a tourist event.

"I tried to get the people to cooperate and speak with one voice and to prioritize," she said.

An example was getting youths to clean up along a lake shore.

"You start small," she said. "I couldn't bring them a new landfill or a new road."

She worked with the water company to insert notices in bills to ask customers to close their taps so they didn't waste water. She got the city mayor to do television spots about it.

"We had to find money to do these public spots," she said.

"I met some incredible people despite facing poverty and unemployment. The people are very family oriented."

She applied for and won a $30,000 grant through the Democracy Commission Small Grants to train people as objective observers at public schools. They inspected items such as toilets, roofs and playgrounds and submitted a report to the schools. Through the grant, they were able to pay an engineer to do cost estimates. The group made a proposal to the city on which schools should receive money.

"We got local businesses to contribute and repaired one elementary school and used some of the grant for that. It was a good democracy-building project," she said.

As for food, she ate beans and lentils. While at the market, she expected the butcher to ask her what cut of meat she wanted. Instead, he asked how much and chopped it off for her.

"I ate a lot of lamb and goat," she said.

"I was incredibly fortunate to have this sabbatical in mid-career," said Ms. MacBride who began working in January as executive director in economic development marketing at the state Department of Community and Economic Development, Harrisburg.

"I learned more than I could possibly have taught anybody. I will never forget my experiences," she said. "Not a day goes by that I don't think of how difficult it is there."

nE-mail comments to kblackledge@dailyitem.com.

When this story was posted in March 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Daily Item

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