It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that I spent a good portion of my Peace Corps experience preventing myself from being kicked out of the Peace Corps.
Granted, my charming personality didn’t help things much and neither did my tendency to blather on and on about things (more on all that in another post). Mix all that with shocking levels of bad people skills and obliviousness and, well, I didn’t win many friends or influence many people, except to have them avoid me at all costs.
The first time I knew something was afoot was when I applied for the equivalent of a grant to help partially fund a trip out of Albania. I’d been helping out the local branch of the Open Society Fund for Albania (a George Soros joint) and they’d invited us to some shindig or other in Hungary. This request led to a long, well conversation is too weak but argument is too strong, so perhaps bitchfest would be more accurate. Our country director, let’s call her Bitchy (I normally use another word that rhymes with punt, but I’ll refrain from mentioning it, sort of–see, told you I had a charming personality) recited a litany of Peace Corps crimes I’d committed–and there were many–and I argued, er, bitched back.
Eventually I paid for the trip myself (and never went to the conference) and all that went away, until the the end of my first school year. At that point, Bitchy Punt (her full name) approached me–and in all fairness, she was quite nice and genuine–and asked me to leave Tirana. She said she’d mistakenly allowed a huge chunk of Albania 001 to be clumped together in the center of the country rather than spread out around it. She gestured to a large map of Albania with all our faces pinned to it. (Still one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.) She asked me to move down South to Gjirokaster on the Albania/Greece border.
She paid for me to travel down there and look around and I will say it was a beautiful town. It’s old quarter may be one of the most beautiful places in Albania. Also, because it was within an hour of a national border, I could leave Albania at my leisure without needing any kind of special permission or official leave. Also, there was another volunteer there who could show me the ropes. I did consider it, but I realized 1) all my friends were in the North 2) you can only look at pretty buildings for so long before going insane 3) I didn’t have the money to zip back and forth across the border enough to actually enjoy being able to do it.
I told Bitchy Punt I was happy where I was and didn’t want to move. She more or less crossed her arms and went “Hmmm” which is Peace Corps speak for “We’ll see about that.”
A week later, Peace Corps staffers, US and Albanian, were in my school passing out surveys about me to my students and conducting short interviews with them. This freaked out my students who said it was just like the old ways under the old communist government.
A few days later I was “invited” back to Bitchy Punt’s office. At that point she basically said “I’m not asking; I’m telling” and told me if I refused orders I would be kicked out of the Peace Corps. (And you thought the name Bitchy Punt was just me being an obnoxious punt.) She also praised me for getting such positive evaluations from my students. At that point I went “Hmmm” which is Dwayne speak for, well, use your imagination and as many bad words as you can think of.
I consulted with some friends, both in Albania and in the USA, and they encouraged me to find a compromise. The compromise was that I would move an hour or so away to Elbasan, which had lost its volunteers for various complicated reasons, but I could still teach two days a week in Tirana. The Peace Corps would pay for the travel and the hotel and Bitchy Punt could move the pin with my face on it a little bit away from the capital.
Elbasan was nice enough, and the university was nice too, but I didn’t really know anybody there and it never felt like home. I had a much better time teaching in Tirana. That said, I lost out on being the gathering place for my friends who were left to wander the cold nights in search of warmth and cheap food in Tirana.
The move to Elbasan would eventually give Bitchy Punt the chance to get rid of me, but that’s another post.