This is What We Was When We Was Them

Around the start of my second year in Albania I got see what I was like when I was still new. It wasn’t pretty.

For reasons I don’t remember, my friend Eddie and I were walking from the bus station past the Hotel Arberia, which was the hotel we stayed at upon our arrival in Tirana and which frequently served as our home-away-from hour Albanian homes. As we walked past, we stumbled across the fresh-faced and still foolishly hopeful faces of the members of Albania 002 unloading their stuff from vans and moving into their rooms. (They’d eventually be assigned host families, but for at least one night, they belonged to the Arberia.)

We immediately introduced ourselves and got a surprising amount of dirty looks. This was probably because 1) we were haggard old vets full of venom and cynicism; 2) they were in denial about what they were about experience; 3) being new, they already knew it all; 4) they were business advising volunteers meaning they really did think they knew it all and Albania was finally getting real help and 5) at least one of us old vets tended to be an asshole (hint, not Eddie).

Our main job that day was to tell them they’d just missed afternoon water and wouldn’t have running water again until around 2-3 a.m.

Later, as Albania 002 settled in, the best of them were a lot of fun to be around, but the worst were always convinced they were the real volunteers and we were just riff-raff that blew in from Italy. My favorite moment involved having drinks with a couple members of 002. One of them was pontificating about how some business volunteer in Russia had complained that although he was an experienced businessman, the Russians had him making copies.

My friend Robert said something to the effect of “What’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t he make copies? He’s there to do what the Russians want him to do.” I thought the guy from 002 was going to burst into flames.

In the mean time I was also thinking “They have access to a copier? Cool.”

Now, of course, I understand how lucky we were to have been part of Albania 001. Even though we were the experiment, we got to be the experts without anyone else around to burst our inflated delusionary bubbles. If we’d been Albania 002, we’d have probably been jerks too. Or at least I would have.

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