Of course, it must be duly noted that each volunteering experience is different, for each person, for each project, location and timespan. In the past, I've had a double bed and a kitchen in an apartment, to then sharing a bed in a static caravan and having meals cooked for us. It's always different, but that's something to embrace. I encourage people to go and volunteer abroad; it has the benefits of low expense, good karma and skill improvement.
There is no rooster to wake me in the mornings here in Shkoder, Albania, but there are crickets and frogs who do their equal best to contribute to the morning chorus. Generally, the sun rising over the mountains hits the west wall of my tent and I am up and moving. I do some stretches and appreciate the view from my tent porch; river, lake, mountains and trees. Here is my accommodation, more than comfortable; I have a bed and a fan and I sleep well, though aside from sleep, I don't spend much time in here. (I like the sheets, okay?)
After my eyes are wide and receiving the sunlight, I head to the camp-site restaurant for breakfast, where I am beamed with smiles and greetings by the family who run the catering. The three sisters sit and chat with me whilst I drink tea and eat toast. They all speak English to different extents, and so we have friendships on different levels of understanding.
Then, I head to the beach of the campsite and swim or sunbathe. Sometimes I go for a bike ride into the city and walk around the shops, stopping for coffee or to dip into shops, or to visit a castle. I haven't encountered many people in the urban areas who can speak English, so it sometimes takes a fair deal of pointing and miming to buy anything. This I find fun. The beach is my true calling though. Currently I am at a state where my dark tan allures campers to believe I am Albanian. I have heard 'Wow, you speak great English' far too many times. It is gratifying to know I have mastered my own language. Currently reading 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance' by Robert Pirsig, and 'The Drifters' by James Michener. The former is awful (truly one of the wort books I've ever read), but I hate to leave a book unfinished, and so persevere.
In the garden, I feed my baby turtle, who is named 'Django'. He is quite shy, but surprisingly fast and I made him a home out of a disused freezer compartment. There is also 'Nacho' who is a rather disagreeable chap, and chooses to hiss at me and urinate when I pick him up.
Django above, Nacho below (tantrum mode).
Between four and five, I begin work, which is enjoyable, communicative and allows me to sit between the bathrooms and the pitches, which means I have conversations with as many campers as possible. I welcome new arrivals through the gates and register them with us, explain everything they need to hear, and point them towards the bar, as the most frequently asked question is 'Can I get a cold beer here?'.
With the generous allowance I am gifted for food and drink, I have three meals a day with enough to spare for a drink or two in the evenings. I usually opt for a brandy and coke, or a local beer. The food is great here, I feel blessed to be cooked for and fed so well, with organic ingredients and fresh cuisine. On a busy night I will try and help ladies in the kitchen by drying dishes, and I laugh along with their jokes that I do not understand. The humour and good atmosphere is always evident.
After dinner, we don't expect many more people to turn up, so I can stay in the restaurant or sit on the beach and watch the spectacular sunsets, or get comfortable in reception and zone into a book. The shift ends when Noc turns up; the security guy. We sit and chat for a bit and he swears lots and tells me about when he lived illegally in Stoke and we laugh and discuss Albanian women. Afterwards, I sleep.
The gift of volunteering abroad with services like WWOOF and Helpx, is that you choose the surroundings you plan to immerse yourself in. If you want to be miles from civilization void of electricity and wi-fi, you can find it, if you want to make beds in a hostel and be surrounded by other volunteers, you can find that too. I wanted to volunteer in tourism, somewhere hot, clean, and unknown to me. I also get a great family vibe here, and it's well known that in Albania family is the most important thing, so it's great to feel involved, and whether it's like a brother or a nephew, it doesn't matter, everyone here has respect for each other and a smile to share. I remind myself every morning what life is like in England and I would choose this a thousand times over. The benefit isn't just for me though, I wanted to help somewhere that wanted help. My wonderful hosts, Niko and Faye, wanted an English speaker to help with reception because the increase in business demanded it. I like to think I build little friendships with the campers, and in fact, I've already been invited to Rotterdam, Basel and Corsica in the future! Remember, whether it is a business, a farm, an eco-project or house sitting, you are a guest, and manners are pivotal.
The blog is now read by more than just the people who know me, so it makes sense to include a little bio here.
'An Englishman is never at home unless he is abroad'.
Well, firstly, my name is Joseph Kennedy. During the next twelve months I will finish university with a degree in Creative Writing and Journalism (success permitting). The things I truly enjoy are reading, writing, debating and womanising. I was born in Northampton, England, but have lived in Preston for three years. When my studies are done, I am planning to cycle around Europe, working during the respectful seasons and building up a network of travellers. Though a somewhat nomadic plan, the end destination is always going to be France, I wish to settle over the channel and master the beautiful tongue!