Monday, December 22, 2008

December blues

December has actually been a pretty busy month for me here, which is why I haven't updated so much since Thanksgiving . . .

In addition to IST (which was a really long week away from my town), things have really started to pick up on the work fronts. At my office we have finally started to have focus group discussions with the community- we will have more than 40 meetings before February in order to get ideas from the community on priorities for projects. This will all end with a big meeting in which we will hammer out a project plan for the next three years based on what we have been told in these community meetings. We are meeting with kids and adults and some of their responses are great. I love it when the kids in the villages start talking about people respecting their rights and living in a clean village after 5 or 10 years. I think that they have a good idea of where they want to be in the future, but maybe not how to get there. One of the biggest challenges with coming in to these communities is that there is often still the mentality that "someone else" (governement, the US, NGOs, everyone else) is responsible for change. This is really hard when you are coming in with an organization like World Vision- there are big expecations for everything to get better right away. I'm a little bit afraid that anything we do will not be enough (because there is so many things) because people will say "why didn't YOU do this, this, this and this!"

Other than that, I've been working with 8 girls on getting ready for a Model United Nations conference coming up in February. We are Burkina Faso (which if you don't know is a small, really poor country in West Africa). I'm pretty sure that none of these girls had ever heard of BF before (I had to look it up on a map). Additionally, they have very little experiance doing internet research, have never heard of Robert's Rules of Order and are scared to speak in front of people. But we are getting along slowly, slowly.

This week, I'm going to travel down to Gjirokaster to spend Christmas with my friends Chris and Courtney and some other Southern volunteers. This will be my first trip down to the South and I'm really excited. I'm not excited about the 12-14 hours that I will have to spend on the road to get down there . . .

Anyway, I hope that your holiday season is full of friends, family, light and love!

See you next year!

PC Acronym Fun

Last week, all of the PCVs of G11 were in Elbasan for our LR/IST. This was the first time that all of G11 has been together since PST. This is also the first time that G11.5 joined us. We have a really cohesive group and have only had one person ET so far, so almost everyone was there (we missed you Paul, I hope you had a good trip home!). The first three days were IST on technical skills- this was run by the PTO and PMs. The days included SaSe sessions (where we talked about our recent EAP test), KSA sessions and idea sharing. I think we might have even discussed our RVID and PACA tools too! Also, the PCMO was on hand to give us HPV, HepA, HepB and TBI shots. My arm still hurts!

The second three days is LR run by the LC and LCFs. Although I have seen a few of the LCFs since training, there were a couple that I hadn’t seen, so that was nice. We had the opportunity to have a LPI if we want, but I didn't. I was satisfied with my I-M level after PST.

Some of us were really not happy about having the IST in Elbasan (our training site) especially since G10 have had trainings in Durres, Fushe Kruja, Korca and Pogradec and I bet they will have a cool COS but this is our second conference (out of two so far) being held at the same hotel in Elbasan! Also, in the past the IST and LR have been held separately and this year they decided to combine the two to cut costs. They have promised that we will have a great site for our MSC- I’m thinking somewhere on the beach . . .

The best part about Elbasan, actually, was that there was a brand new grocery store built across the street from the hotel. It had chocolate chips, powdered sugar, chickpeas, Parmesan cheese and other goodies. My plans for next week include cookies and falafel. Yum!

Ok, so if you understood any of that, you just might be a PCV (or RPCV). If you didn’t understand any of that don’t worry, there is a glossary following- and don’t even get me started on World Vision acronyms!


COS- Close of Service (refers both to the conference and the actual date of departure)
EAP- Emergency Action Plan
ET- Early Termination, when a PCV leaves the country before COS
G10- Group 10, arrived in Albania March 2007
G11- Group 11, arrived in Albania March 2008
G11.5- Consists of 8 transfers from Georgia, arrived in Albania August 2008
IST- In Service Training
KSA- Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes
LC- Language Coordinator
LCF- Language and Cultural Facilitators
LPI- Language Proficiency Interview
LR- Language Refresher
MSC- Mid-Service Conference
PACA- Participatory Analysis for Community Action
PCMO- Peace Corps Medical Officer
PCV- Peace Corps Volunteer
PM- Program Manager
PST- Pre-Service Training
PTO- Program/Training Officer
RPCV- Returned Peace Corps Volunteer
RVID- Roles of Volunteers in Development
SaSe- Safety and Security

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving part dy (two)

As if one Thanksgiving wasn't enough to be thankful for, the weekend included several other great activities and a whole second Thanksgiving dinner. I'm not even sure how I'm able to walk right now . . . I ate so much I should be rolling down the street.

So on Friday (after some well deserved sleeping in and chilling and leftovers) Chris, Courtney and I met up with some other volunteers to go out on the town. It seems, that it is not just Thanksgiving, but also a holiday here too . . . actually it is two holidays and rather big one's at that. Nov. 28 and 29 are Albanian Independence Day and Albanian Liberation Day respectively, so there was a lot going on in Tirana this weekend. We wandered downtown where we found a carnival set up in the roundabout by the University. There were rides, games and a stage and even cotton candy! Although carnival rides always make me a little nervous (how can we be sure they put it together all right?) we braved one ride (because, again, my theory is that it is more fun if you are in actual danger of dying). It was fun, but maybe just a little bit too long. Joe was really lucky in the fact that I was able to hold it in and I did not puke on him (it was really close though). After seeing what the carnival could offer (not that much really) we decided to continue our evening with some bowling. This for me was the real highlight of the evening. Not because I am any good at bowling, but because deep down in my heart, I really love it! I got a strike on my first frame and then things went down from there, but it was a lot of fun.

On Saturday, I went up to Rreshen, a city in the north about the same size as Peshkopi (and actually rather close if there was a road that connected the towns through the mountains, but there's not). A previous PCV there had started a theater program with the English students and Sarah, in my group, has continued it. The students did a performance (in English) of A Christmas Carol. They did a really good job- the language was pretty difficult, but it was mostly understandable and some of the kids were very good actors. It was really nice to be able to be there for Sarah and the other Rreshen volunteers as they celebrated this success.

On Sunday, I traveled up to Puke for my second Thanksgiving. Unlike the last time I actually got sick going up the mountain (puked on my way to Puke, if you will). Luckily, after a bit I felt much better, because Karen had some food for us! Karen is the chef du jour of G11. I think that she missed her calling as a master cook, but that we are all the better for it. I honestly didn't think it would be possible to cook too much food for 14 people, but somehow she managed it. And it was good. We had all the fixins for thanksgiving and then some (and this time even sweet potatoes!). And I went home with two plates of leftovers.

This year I have a lot to be thankful for . . .

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rooster of the Sea

Albanian language note: the word for turkey is gjell deti which translates literally as "rooster of the sea." My linguistic theory for this is that because turkeys are native to North America and were not brought to Europe until after the colonization of the New World (they ate the national bird!), the best way for the Albanians to describe them was that they were like roosters, but came from boats- hence rooster of the sea. Anyway, the good news is, there are turkeys here, so Thanksgiving here can be a success . . .

This is my third Thanksgiving outside of the United States. The first was my senior year in high school when I was on an exchange in Israel. We were speaking at a school and I'm not sure if it was a nice thought or just a coincidence but I think they gave us turkey sandwiches for lunch. After lunch all of the Americans (there were 24 of us I think) went around and said what we were thankful for and a few people who had never really been away from home started to cry. I think that the Israelis were mostly confused . . .

My second Thanksgiving away was when I was on study abroad in Prague. If I remember right, all of the Colorado students (there were about 10 of us) went to dinner with our American professor to a restaurant that someone told us had turkey. I think I had the chicken.
For this Thanksgiving, it has been a tradition in PC Albania for the families at the American Embassy to invite volunteers to their homes for dinner, so many volunteers came to Tirana to get an American style homecooked meal. A few of us convinced our Program and Training Officer, Jan, to let us invade her apartment and cook ourselves and do a Gray's Anatomy marathon. Jan is one of my favorite people in Albania. She is an RPCV in Jamaica and then Lesotho and has a background in training and counseling. She reminds me of some of the best parts of my mother and Lola (one of my second mothers). When I sprained my ankle she was nice enough to let me stay with her and she has been a big support to me since I arrived. Jan has managed to go through life without ever cooking Thanksgiving dinner, this year is no exception. Eight of us are cooking at Jan's house today. We have (almost) every t-day staple: turkey, pie (apple and pumpkin), mashed potatoes, veggies, rolls, even a can of cranberries. The only thing that we don't have is sweet potatoes, but I think that we will get by.

Although it would have been nice to go to a swank embassy house today, I'm really glad that I'm here with lots of friends and that I could contribute my expert pie making skills (plus veggie peeling and chopping) to the meal. Even though my family is far away, I feel happy and thankful today. I'm surrounded by loving friends and we have a bountiful meal.

I hope that your Thanksgiving (wherever you are) is as good and fulfilling as mine. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Feeding my Pyromania

By the way, I’m a pyromaniac. I love fire. I was the Girl Scout that always volunteered to light the campfire. I have the (slightly dangerous) habit of sticking my fingers into candle wax (especially if I’ve had a drink or two). So maybe giving me a wood stove as the main means of heating my home is not a good idea. Or maybe it is cause it is nice and warm and Fire! Fire!

I am perfecting my fire lighting skills- I have been lighting fires outside for years. But lighting a fire in a stove (is it bigger than a breadbox? No, it’s exactly the same size as a breadbox!) is a little bit more challenging. It is hard to light the kindling (that’s the small stuff) for long enough to get a big log going (luckily, my landlord had been nice enough to provide me with a bucket full of small pieces of wood and egg cartons to get things going). And once it is going, you can only really fit one log in a time, so you have to watch it closely to put a new log in just as the old log is still burning a bit . . . My skills are improving- from 12 matches and a half an hour of frustration the first night to a one match perfect fire last night! Anyway, one thing the wood stove provides (besides lovely warmth) is endless entertainment- I can stare at the fire for hours. Ok, so maybe the wood stove is dangerous . . .

Anyway, winter has definitely arrived. We finally had our first snow on Saturday and this is a picture of the thermometer INSIDE my kitchen this morning . . .

Monday, November 10, 2008

I think I’m a humanist

I had a religious revelation today in a WV training. Once again the training was about religion and once again it was mostly in Albanian, but the important thing was that I was able to put into words (and write quickly) what I believe while sitting there kind of listening to someone talk about the importance of Christianity in the work of WV, maybe not exactly what I was supposed to get from the training, but anyway, here it is:

I believe in people as teachers. And I don’t believe in God.

This is a hard thing to say. In our society, having a religion (any one, it doesn’t really matter) is kind of an expected thing. Maybe you don’t go to church (or mosque or temple or whatever), but you are still expected to have some sort of faith. But why? So let’s go back a few thousand years (or maybe longer) and think about some things. Imagine if you will, you are an ancient man and things are going pretty good for you. You’ve had a good hunting season, the crops aren’t doing too badly and suddenly you have a little bit of time on your hands. You start thinking. You look up at the sky and wonder why it is that pretty color of blue. You can make blue dye by smashing some pretty blue flowers. Maybe someone much bigger than you smashed some really big flowers and made the sky blue. And so, gods are born. Gods (with the s and the little g) were invented by people who had the ability to communicate and the brainpower to wonder. When they ran into things they couldn’t explain, they invented gods to explain them. I have a feeling that the questions start simple, like a child asks, “why does it rain?” or “where do babies come from?” These gods, for the most part, took the form of people and sometimes or animals (or often people that could change into animals or had animal traits). At some point, instead of all of these different gods with different jobs, some people started to combine everything into one all-powerful super God, who controls everything that can’t be explained.

Ok, so that makes some sense, explain things you don’t understand, one person easier than many, my God is better than your god etc. but then we get science. We (humans that is) are still trying to explain things that we don’t understand, but now instead of making up stories about beings controlling things, we can use scientific inquiry to try to see what is really going on. Why is the sky blue? . . . How did human beings come to be? Evolution from single celled organisms taking millions of years. Does science have all the answers? No not yet, but for me, I believe (there’s that word again) in science more than religion. I can do an experiment to test a scientific theory. I can’t do an experiment to test God.

But religion isn’t just about God. At some point (or maybe it has always been this way) religion became about two things: explaining the world and teaching lessons and values. In modern times, the lessons and values are taught through people and books (Jesus, the Bible). And here is where I think that religion still has a place. Jesus was a good guy. Maybe even the best guy. He was smart; I’m betting he was charismatic, he really knew how to talk to the people. He was only 33 and had a severely devoted following. I don’t have to believe in God to agree with most of what Jesus said (love thy neighbor, golden rule, etc.). So I can look at him (along with Mohammed, Buddha, Augustine, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King etc) as great people that have something to teach me about how to live.

So that’s where I am now. It’s funny really; Albania is the only country ever to declare itself Atheist. Religion here is an interesting topic- most of the people are not religious and it is hard to pin down beliefs from most people. That being said, it is the Christians here that have made me think about and reconsider my religious position (of course this is something that I have been contemplating and thinking about for a very long time). Maybe it is just that I have the time and space to think about some of these things I am finally coming to some conclusions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A bright new day

It was about 5:00 in the morning here when I got the message from my mom telling me that Obama had won (and also that Colorado had picked up a Democratic Senate seat with Mark Udall). I turned on the tv and watched as the President-elect took the stage and acknowledged his victory. The victory was clear: no hanging chads, no confusion- he had nearly 100 more electoral votes than he needed to win. As he spoke to a cheering crowd in Chicago and millions (or even billions) of people across the US and around the world, the sun rose in Albania- the beginning of a bright new day.

Today is a historic day that could barely be dreamed of when my parents were my age. Barack Obama woke something up in America that had been sleeping when he called for change. He got people out of their seats and out of their homes and into the streets and polling places. He told us that change was possible if we worked together and I believe him. Yes We Can.

I have a feeling that this will be one of the defining moments of our generation- like the moon landing and Kennedy’s assassination was for my parents. Many years from now my kids will ask, “Where were you on 9/11?” and then, “Where were you when Obama was elected?”

For the first time in nearly eight years, I was really proud of my county. And for the first time in nearly eight months, I really wanted to be home.

I’m proud of my country. I wish that I were there to celebrate with my family and friends. At the same time, I’m glad that I am here; working to help people that need me and showing this little corner of the world that there are Americans out there that believe in change- believe in peace, believe in development, believe in the power of people. Today showed the world that a lot more Americans think this way too and that tomorrow will be another bright new day.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I have wood

Get your head out of the gutter. Really, there is no way to talk about this without it sounding dirty. But here, in the cold rural mountains of Albania, wood is not dirty- it is important and helpful and keeps me warm all winter long (ok, that sounded dirty too!). Anyway, I am now the proud owner of two square meters of wood. This wood, now stacked below my stairs, will probably last me about half of the winter (depending on how cold it is, how much I am traveling and how much of a wimp I am). I could only buy two meters now because this is all that I can store and keep dry under my stairs. You can tell that winter is coming here because of all of the woodpiles outside of just about every building. Apparently, last year at this time they had already had their first snowstorm, so maybe this will actually be a mild winter (or maybe it will be much worse later on). The weather here has actually been pretty nice for the past few weeks- foggy mornings, sunny days, and chilly evenings. Down in Tirana and near the coast, the weather last week was still really nice, with temps in the 60s or 70s (still t-shirt weather in Durres last weekend). The biggest problem I am facing, like in the summer with no air conditioners, is that the buildings are not well insulated, so it is often colder inside than it is outside right now. But that will soon change and I’m prepared: I have a whole lot of wood.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why Sarah Palin scares the heck out of me

This has been a strange election cycle for me. Being far away has its good and bad points- on the one hand, I am not being bombarded by election news 24 hours a day, on the other hand, it is a bit of a challenge for me to feel really informed about what is going on and I usually don’t hear the news for a few days after it has happened.

I was able to participate in the Colorado caucus (and cast my vote for Hillary Clinton) before I left. Even though I supported Hillary, I was only a little bit disappointed when Obama was chosen as the nominee and quickly changed camps (I don’t really have that whole Hillary-anger that I heard about). I think that Barak has proven himself as a good candidate and has the potential to be a great president.

The convention in which Obama was officially chosen was, of course, in Denver, my hometown. It was strange to see the attention given to my city when I am so far away. Because of my limited internet access (so much to download, so little time!), I didn’t watch the speech, but did hear about it and read about it online. Annoyingly, I lost CNN right before the Olympics and it has not come back for the election, so I have to piece news together from what I can get online, Newsweek (free delivery of which has now been stopped- anyone want to buy me a subscription of Newsweek for Christmas?), and the internet. Here is what I know:

Sarah Palin scares the hell out me and not in that cute pit-bull wearing lipstick kind of way.

Or at least what her nomination for Vice-President represents to the country scares the hell out of me. I’ll be honest, in the past, I have expressed some amount of admiration for John McCain. Not enough admiration to actually vote for him, but in the 2000 election, I considered him the least repugnant of the Republican candidates; he was more independent, more center leaning and not such a dumbass as W. Bush. In 2008, this is no longer the case and his selection of Mrs. Palin epitomizes his shift in my mind from “not so bad” to “very, very scary.”

One thing about McCain that I liked, was that he seemed to not really get along with the evangelical far right of his party. He has been known to speak critically of people like Pat Robertson and Colorado’s own James Dobson. He seemed to be a conservative in the old sense of the word- small government, low taxes, get out of my business- and his own religious beliefs (unlike the attention given to Obama’s Christianity and the fear that he might actually be Muslim, oh the humanity!) have pretty much been out of the spotlight. But in this election, he has worked harder and harder to try to court the terrifying right and convince them that he is a worthy follow up to the born again president they helped elect twice.

And Sarah Palin is a big part of that. She is young, inexperienced and a woman. These things can be seen as plus or minus for her depending on your perspective, but what is clear: she is a Christian. And not just a Christian, but an evangelical, the end is coming, speak in tongues type of Christian. I don’t personally have anything against Christians (even crazy fundamentalist ones) as long as they don’t have a problem with me and let me live my life. The problem is, of course, that many of these types of Christians are not happy to let me live my life and instead want to impose their values on me. So putting Sarah Palin one heartbeat away from the presidency scares the shit out of me.

Ok, so that’s my gut reaction. Rationally, I also don’t like Sarah Palin because I don’t think that she is the best person for the job. I honestly think that I might be a more qualified candidate for national office than she is. I am also young (ok, too young to be president yet), inexperienced and a woman. I at least have had a passport since I was 12. Sure, I’ve never been governor of a very sparsely populated state, but I have met some actual Israelis and Palestinians (in Israel even). I honestly don’t know if the rumors about her low SAT score are true, but if they are- I got a 1300. Not that I want to be vice-president, I’m just saying.

Luckily, I was in Tirana last week when my absentee ballot arrived, so I was able to vote and send it back quickly and you better believe that I didn’t send back a vote for the hockey mom.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Friend Turi

This is my friend Turi. Turi owns a café on the Boulevard, the main drag of Peshkopi. Turi’s café has fake fur leopard print chairs. Turi likes Americans, especially Peace Corps Volunteers. Turi makes it a point to get to know all of the PCVs that come into town. He has been friends with Mike, Josh, Colleen and Brenda and of course is now friends with Kenji and me. Turi likes Jews; when he found out that I was Jewish, he got very excited. I think I may be the first Jew that Turi has ever met. Turi thinks that Jews are all very rich and powerful and therefore I must be rich and powerful; he hopes that I will introduce him to some of my Jewish people. If Turi lived in America, he would be Republican. Turi likes John McCain and loves Sarah Palin. Turi does not think that Barak Obama would win in Albania because he is black. Turi does not think that Barak Obama will win in America because he is black. Turi occasionally says something borderline offensive that I don’t understand and Kenji has to translate for me. Kenji and I are not sure whether Turi really believes all of the slightly offensive things that he says or if he just says them to get Kenji to have that “I can’t believe you just said that” look on his face. We have plans to have dinner again on Nov. 5th (the day after the election). If McCain wins, we buy. Turi had better get ready to buy dinner. :)

Friday, October 24, 2008

It’s like crack

Hello, my name is becca and I am an internet-aholic. I didn’t even realize the extent of my addiction until I started to go into withdrawal. For most people, being addicted to the internet is not a big problem. It is safer than cigarettes, cheaper than gambling, easier to get access to than drugs. Most people probably don’t even know the extent of their addiction because of the simple fact that they never have to go without it. I knew when I signed up for the Peace Corps, that my access to internet would probably be limited. I understood that and I was ok with it. When I got here, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that internet access in parts of the country is actually not bad, and for the first three months I was lulled into security by a free wireless connection twice a week (thanks Kendra!) and a good internet café in an emergency. When I got to site I was told not to worry- dial-up, slow but serviceable. And then near the end of August, the dial-up went from slow to impossibly slow (I’m talking a full 5 minutes for a page to load). Only html, no pictures, no skype, no chat.

This week I’m in Tirana, the capital. Tirana has good things: Chinese food, variety of cheese, 24 hour electricity, movie theatres. Oh yeah, and internet. Wireless, DSL, cable. Beautiful. And now I realize my addiction, because it is all I can think about. When the internet it close, all I can think is where I’ll get my next fix. Can I download a new podcast here? Is this fast enough to handle video? Did someone write on my wall? Have I checked my e-mail for the fourth time today!

There are rumors that there will be DSL in Peshkopi soon. I know that this should not be my priority, but my addiction is real and I need it. The first step is just admitting you have a problem.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Let’s talk about Sex . . . and AIDS . . . and God?

I mentioned briefly in my last post about the workshop in which I participated in Tirana last week. This training was given by World Vision staff and was geared towards leaders of faith-based organizations (churches) in the area. The training, about how these FBOs can help the fight against HIV/AIDS was an interesting case study for me about working with or for an organization like World Vision. WV is Christian. I am not. I have what I generally call a “complicated” religious background and a (sometimes even to me) confusing belief system.

The history- my father is a Jew from Wyoming (pretty much the only one), my mother is non-denominational Christian that grew up in several different churches across Middle America (Utah, Missouri, Wyoming etc). They met in college while my mother was involved in the UCCF (United Christian Campus Fellowship) and my dad was involved in the Jewish group on campus. After their marriage (which I’m sure disappointed all of their parents) they pretty much stopped actively practicing either religion. During my childhood, we never were members of either a church or a synagogue, and celebrated all the major holidays in a pretty non-religious manner (Christmas Tree/ Chanukah bush, Easter egg hunt/ Passover Seder at a friends house). Unlike most people I know, my parents never TOLD me to believe ANYTHING. What they did tell me was the stories and the history of their families and of their different religions, but pretty much left it up to me to decide what seemed right. And here is maybe where it gets complicated- if no one tells you what to believe, then how do you know what you believe? I always gravitated a little bit more towards my Jewish side. Maybe because it was more exotic (not very many other Jews in my mostly Hispanic high school). Maybe because it seemed a bit more rational (I never really bought that whole died on the cross for our sins and then resurrected bit, but I could buy that we are still waiting for something). I respect Christians and their beliefs, but so far, I haven’t been able to go right ahead and accept Jesus into my heart. But even to call myself Jewish, I would have to believe in God . . . and that is where I get a bit stuck. I just don’t know. I’ve never seen any real proof that the big G-O-D exists, but I haven’t seen any proof to the contrary either. I guess that’s where the whole idea of belief comes in. You have to believe, without seeing or knowing or understanding, that there is this higher power out there controlling things. And I’m not sure.

And so here I am, in a mostly Muslim country, that was once the only officially Atheist country in the world, working with a Christian organization in a training with church members talking about sex, condoms and HIV/AIDS in a Christian context. And I feel a bit confused.

First, working with World Vision. Actually, as I have gotten to know people and the organization over the past four months, I’ll say this. I have great respect for the organization as a Christian organization that uses Christian values to help people, but doesn’t impose those values on the people that it helps. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started, but I was afraid of preaching to the children or evangelizing to the community and (at least in Albania) this is not present at all. In fact, I find that WV takes all the things that I tend to agree with in Christianity (which are also present in Judaism and Islam) like help your neighbor, the golden rule, protect the helpless, thou shalt not kill etc. and applies them to development. Additionally, they have a good process for sustainable development that focuses on local input and participation; small-scale local projects that actually help people and eventual power transfer to local groups.

So, they are doing this campaign to get churches and FBOs to help spread the message and demystify some things about HIV/AIDS prevention. Growing up in a society (and family) in which talking about sex and sexual health was encouraged I feel lucky to not be (very) embarrassed by all of this talk. Talking about these issues at all is a bit hard for many people. It gets harder when you are talking to religious people and even harder when you are talking to religious people in the incredibly traditional society of Albania. In most of Albanian society (Muslim, Christian or Atheist- it doesn’t matter), sex, talk about sex, talk about sexually transmitted diseases, and even sometimes just talking to someone of the opposite sex that’s not a member of your family is all pretty taboo here. So talking to church leaders about condom use . . . what does the Bible say about condoms anyway? And this is where it gets tricky to be a Christian organization. I don’t think that the Bible says anything about condoms, but certainly the Pope has said a lot. HIV is a special case however and a lot of Christians around the world have come to the conclusion that condom use to prevent the spread of this deadly, incurable disease is not only appropriate but also necessary. I’m glad the WV is one of these groups of Christians. That still doesn't mean that I like to go into a workshop and start praying, but anyway . . .

I don’t think that this will be the last time over the next few years in which my religious identity will be challenged or confused, but I’ll figure it out and do the best that I can.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Comprehension test

This week felt like a long Albanian language comprhension test. I use my Shqip everyday for basic everyday type things, but this week I came to Tirana to participate in a workshop on HIV/AIDS being held by World Vision. Since the workshop was for Albanian churches and there were only 3 Americans participating (me, one other PCV and a missionary who has lived here for 11 years), most of the content was in Albanian. I think I did pretty well for comprehension, especially on the technical parts (many of the words are actually the same) and I was able to participate in some of the discussions. Where I got lost the most was when we started to talk about things having to do with the religious aspects. As I'm not particularly Christian, I tend to zone out when people are talking about the Bible anyway (even in English). So when everyone was talking about the Bible in Albanian, I kind of got lost. This training brought up some other issues about being a non-Christian working with a Christian organization, but I think I will leave that for another post.

My second challenge for comprehension was a film. One of the biggest test for how well you understand a language is being able to understand movies. Verdict when I tried to watch a Spanish movie with Albanian subtitles? Kuptova! (I understood). I was able to follow much more of the story from the subtitles than from the speaking, which says to me that my Albanian is officially better than my Spanish. Between the two languages I was able to get not only the main idea of the movie, but also actually understand most of the story (I missed a few character points that I was able to look up later online). So overall, I think that this week I passed the test!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

London part two- new friends

Museum, museum, castle, park, church, museum, church . . . While there is a lot of great things to see in London, I think I realized this week how much I don’t really like to travel alone. On the one hand, it is nice because you get to make your own schedule, see what you really want, spend as much time as you’d like staring at one thing in the museum . . . on the other hand, it’s nice to have someone to talk to about all the great things you are seeing. Luckily for me on this trip, I had a lot of great people to meet up with and talk to (although not sightsee with L). First, there is Diana and Adrian, the couchsurfer couple that I stayed with. Couchsurfing is a great website for budget and adventure travelers (like me) that would rather stay with real people than pay for a hotel room. On the other side, you can open up your home to people passing through and help them out while meeting new people. The concept is great and so far I’ve had good luck with it (except the mishap in Manchester, but that worked out for the best- me sleeping on the tour bus). The couple that I stayed with in London was great. They are vegetarian cyclists getting ready to embark on bike trip from India to the UK. They were great hosts and it was great to get to know them a little bit. Much better (and of course cheaper) than staying in a hotel or hostel.

Next, on Thursday night I went outside London to visit Kris and Alison, the British cyclists that I met in Albania on the 4th of July. They successfully completed their trek to Istanbul and raised 3,500 £ (about $7000) for Cancer Research. I enjoyed a lovely dinner with them and discussed Kris’s upcoming trip to the US- cycling from San Francisco to Miami.

My other new friends are Blerta, the sister of one of my Albanian friends that lives in London and Louisa, my cousin-in-law (my brother-in-law’s cousin). Blerta epitomized the Albanian ex-pat community with the question “why do you live in Albania?” Albanians I’ve met often have very contradictory feelings about their country- on the one hand people will say things like “Albania is the best place in the world, the best people!” and then in the next sentence, “Why do live in Albania, American (UK, Italy, Germany etc) is so much better!” Anyway, Blerta is great- free, independent and excentric- I don’t think I could picture her coming back to Peshkopi, getting married and having a bunch of kids . . .

Louisa was also a fantastic person to meet in London. First cousin of my sister’s husband on his mother’s side, she is part of the family that I have never met before. She met my sister a few years ago when they were both visiting family in Jordan at the same time. Also quintessentially a Londoner, she is miles away from the traditional family in Jerusalem. We had a great evening of eating and smoking nargila (hooka) with her Egyptian boyfriend.

Honestly, the British museum is great, seeing a Midsummer’s Night Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe was wonderful, shopping in Notting Hill was fun, but the best part of my trip was meeting these new people (well, that and the super fast trains, buses, and underground . . . I miss schedules!). And after a crazy week of non-stop action, I was actually a little bit glad to get home to the slow life back in Albania (and after traveling for 18 hours- I was ready for a good sleep.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

London Part one- Hanging out with rock stars

So, why are you in London? Well, I know these guys in a band . . .

Totally worth it. First, I love the Flobots, second, I love London. I knew I would love London. There is so much to see that it is a bit overwhelming at time, but it is great. I don't think it would even be possible to get bored here. So anyway, I booked a ticket and came. Ta-da! London. The first two days of my trip were very Flobots centered. When I arrived in London, I hopped directly on a train to Manchester for the first of their two Britain shows. When I got to Manchester I ran into a bit of a problem when the girl I was supposed to stay with never came and got me from the train station. No problem, I went to the show and met up with the band and they made sure I was taken care of- sleeping on the tour bus! They were great enough to clear out a bed for me and let me ride with them back to London. Sleeping on a tour bus with a rock band. How cool is that? When we got to London, we just kind of hung out for the day while they got ready for their show that night. I found the girl that I was supposed to stay with in London (no miscommunication this time, no problems, great person) and got settled. I then met up with my friend Ria at the show. The last time I saw Ria, in fact, was at the Flobots show in Denver 6 months ago on the day before I left for Albania. She lives in Northern Ireland, but met up with some of her friends from Uni (that's British for University) for the concert. It was great to see her and get to spend some time with her and her friends. Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend too much time with the band after the London show (they had to go do press interviews and who knows what else the next day), but at least I did get some face time on the bus and two awesome shows. Too bad it will probably be another two years before I get to see them again . . .unless their tour comes to Albania :).

Performing "Rise" in London

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm going to London! I'm so excited. To get ready for my trip, I decided that I needed to save money (translate- not travel), so I haven't been out of Peshkopi for almost a month and I am ready to go! It is amazing how cheaply you can live here when you don't go anywhere. You know, when I'm home I go weeks and even months without going anywhere special and I'm fine, but I think that I would be a little (or more than a little) stir crazy without traveling here. I have also been battling with super slow dial up internet for the past few weeks, so coming to Tirana for a day before I leave has given me time to get some things done. I also have been able to meet and hang out with the new volunteers that were transfered here after they were evacuated from Georgia. They are pretty cool crew and I commend them for coming here. After they were evacuated they spent almost a month in a hotel in Armenia and then came here and are now living in another hotel while they get a quick and dirty intro to Albania (5 weeks of language as opposed to our 12). Ok, so I'm off, my next post will be from the UK! Yeah!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wake up call

So the other night I woke up at about 3:30 to strange drumming outside my house. I listened as it got closer, seemed to pass directly under my window and then moved off into the distance. I thought I might just be imagining it or that there was just some crazy guy drumming in the early morning hours (they have much less respect for noise restrictions here).

But then I heard it again a few nights later.

And then I heard it again last night. I have formulated a theory: it is a Ramadan wake up call. Peshkopi is theoretically 98% Muslim. This doesn’t appear to mean too much around here, religion not really being a very dominant force in life in Albania. I very rarely see any covered women or any other clear signs of the religion here, although the mosque does do the call to prayer 5 times a day. Right now happens to be the holy month of fasting- Ramadan. During Ramadan, faithful followers fast during the day. This means that in order to eat breakfast, they have to get up to eat well before the sun. So my theory is that the drummer is someone going around town in order to wake people up before sunrise-kind of like a town crier, errr drummer or a communal alarm clock (because apparently the normal in the bedroom type alarm clocks are not reliable???). Ok, so that’s my theory.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A dip

So there is this thing that they show us in training about cultural adjustment. Basically you are on a bit of a roller coaster ride- you have an initial “up” time when things are exciting and new and then things can get a little bit hard as you start to miss home and then hopefully you start to hit a stride and get used to things and like your surroundings and then maybe you have a setback, etc. Well right now, I think I’m in a dip. The excitement and newness of things is starting to wear off and I’ve been feeling a bit sad lately. It is nothing specific- work is slow, money is tight, travel is expensive, internet access is spotty, I lost my CNN. I’m goint to London in a few weeks for my first “vacation.” My good friends the Flobots (you may have heard them on the radio, they’re famous now I hear) are doing a European tour and I decided to bite the bullet and spend way too much money to go see them. It was a really hard choice- the ticket alone was more money than I am making in a month here. But I felt like I need to take my mother’s constant advice “take the trip.” I always regret when I don’t go somewhere and almost never regret it when I do. Anyway, so I’m in the process of making plans for my week in the UK (which is more of a challenge than it should be with my slow internet) and if anyone has any advice on what I just must see and do or has some wonderful old friend that you think I might be able to crash with. . . let me know. Hopefully a week away will get me recharged and I’ll be on the upswing of the curve before I know it.

In the meantime, something that might cheer me up is news from home- letters, packages or just a quick e-mail are appreciated. Let me know what' s going on in your neck of the woods (and I reward all letters with return postcards :).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Small bits

I lost my CNN. I have cable TV from my landlord and for some reason or another every so often some of the channels change. First I lost Digiplus, a channel that showed mostly American tv shows and Spanish/Portuguese/Italian soap operas. That was sad, but the real blow came when last week CNN World became a German channel that has infomercials during the day and poker tournaments at night. I still have one movie channel showing mostly bad action (Jean Claude van Dam, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan etc.) but occasionally gems like all three Terminators and the original Superman movies. This is a real blow because it comes at the same time that we are also loosing our Newsweek service. For the past 25 years or so, Newsweek has provided free weekly copies to all PCVs. They have decided that the expense of this service is too great and that most volunteers now have access to other sources of news (like the internet). That’s all well and good, but when I am working with dial-up and have to do a lot of other things on line it is often hard to sift through news (and it takes forever to load and my internet is expensive). Should I write a letter to my congressman?

I’ve always loved the spring. Here, the spring seemed to pass by too quickly with rainy days and then all of a sudden it was June 1st and hot. Usually I like the summer- in Denver the summer is hot, but with beautiful cooling thunderstorms in the afternoons. Here, it was just hot. I’m thinking that I will like the fall here. Today, when I woke up it was pleasantly foggy. I’m looking forward to getting my wood stove running and snuggling with a hot cup of tea and a good book. I’m a little worried about winter . . . nothing seems to be insulated for the snows that they tell me will come.

The Georgians are coming. You may have seen in coverage of the conflict in the Republic of Georgia that all of the Peace Corps Volunteers stationed there were evacuated. I think that many of them will return to the US and a few of them may try to return to Georgia to help with relief, but some of them are choosing to be reassigned. Albania has offered to take in 12 volunteers. They are scheduled to arrive next week. I’m not sure what I would do in their situation- they were almost done with training and learning one obscure language (Georgian is in fact even more obscure than Albanian- it isn’t even the same language family as we are) and now they have to go through weeks more training in a new obscure language and get used to a new strange culture, all after having been through what I imagine was a very scary experience. I wish them luck and want them to know that when they arrive, the volunteers and staff here will do whatever we can to the transition smooth. Welcome to Albania!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This time we had marshmallows

I went camping with a group of about 20 volunteers in the mountains near Puke this weekend. Karen, our designated G11 master cook, made hobo packets (meat and veggies wrapped in foil and placed in the fire) plus franks and beans (that were good even if the beans were hard!) and two kinds of pasta salad. When we finished even the pot of hard beans, Karen declared that we were all way too easy to please and that she should not try to work so hard in the future. I don’t believe her- I think that she will continue to cook incredible food (and I hope that I get to be around to have some of it!). The best part of the evening was when Jenny, who just returned from a trip to the States to have her wisdom teeth out, pulled out three bags of marshmallows and a box of graham crackers! We roasted up the ‘mallos and introduced some Albanian guests to the magic that is S’mores!

In the morning (after a very early rise- thank you Karen for the alarm, ha!), we hiked back down to town and had a visit with the Puke girl’s friend Peperimi. He is an “alpinist,” as well as a beekeeper and a funeral director and was part of the first Albanian expedition to the Himalayas. He has a passion for showing the beauty of the Albanian Alps and is working hard for the Puke Eco-tourism Association. In the summer he takes groups camping and hiking and in the winter he does snowshoeing and alpine skiing. I think that at some point (if he can get enough money) he would like to build a lift and open up a ski area.

I think that the area around Puke (and Peshkopi too) has great potential for outdoor recreation activities. Coming from Colorado, where most of our economy comes from summer and winter recreation tourism, I see a great potential for development of an industry here. The wilderness is mostly untouched, mostly because for a long time it has been inaccessible and isolated. The roads are getting better, however, and environmental dangers are looming. There is a huge problem with trash all around the country and the mountains are no exception. In a recent trip into the mountains near Peshkopi, a friend of mine witnessed clear cutting of the forests (for fire wood) in what was supposed to be a protected area. The central government has not done much to protect or promote these areas and so it falls on local associations and individuals. The biggest challenge that I see currently is a lack of access and ease for outsiders (this is a problem in the whole country). There are no established hiking, biking or ski trails and there are no campgrounds or services for outdoor travelers. Many of the Albanians I speak to about this think that there is no market for this kind of travel because they would much rather spend their time at the beach in a nice hotel (people think we are nuts for sleeping outside on the ground), but believe me, I know people that love the outdoors and I think that my philosophy is “if you build it (and advertise that you built it), they will come.” I just don’t really know how to build it here . . .


August is wedding season. All of the young men come home from working abroad to find themselves a pretty young wife . . .

I attended my first Albanian wedding celebration last week. The Albanian wedding is actually a nearly weeklong celebration with complicated rituals. There seems to be a combination of old Albanian traditions combined with new Western traditions. There are generally two separate (large) parties for the bride’s family and then the groom’s family and then possible several smaller parties. The bride’s party is first (usually on Wednesday or Saturday night). Some members of the groom’s family (but not his parents) come and dance and then leave. The next morning, the groom drives across town with a caravan of friends and family and “kidnaps” the bride. The groom’s car is decorated and the caravan honks loudly so that the whole town can celebrate the wedding. In the past, this was done on horseback, and instead of honking, the escorts shot guns off into the air, so every time I hear the honking and am annoyed with the noise, I’m just grateful that they don’t use the guns anymore. That evening, the groom’s family hosts the main party. Again, members of the bride’s family come and dance and then leave. From this point on the bride lives with her husband (if he is the youngest, they stay with his parents). Most brides have adopted the Western “white dress” and may even do a more Western ceremony or combined party.

We were invited to one of the smaller party for friends and extended family. It was sort of like a combination bridal shower/ bachelorette party as it was only for people that know the bride, and the groom wasn’t even there. Even so, the bride dressed in an elaborate white dress and then changed into an equally elaborate red dress (I don’t know the significance of the red dress, if there is one). We danced (mostly in the traditional Albanian circle dance style) late into the night.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Three Olympic sports I didn’t know existed:
synchronized diving
pistol shooting
handball (kind of like soccer except all you use are your hands)

I’ve been watching the Olympics this week in three different languages (none of them English)- Albanian, German and Italian. I like the German channel the best because there is one announcer that gets really excited at the end of every race and starts yelling, especially if it is a German team winning, but sometimes even when it’s not.

Besides the Olympics, the best part of my week was riding back to Peshkopi in a car (yeah for no bus!) and stopping on the side of the road to pick fresh wild blackberries. Yum!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

This is not a vacation-

Although it feels a bit like one right now. There is not much going on in August in Albania except pushim (vacations) and dasme (weddings). Summer in general is a pretty slow time for people in Albania. There are often power cuts during the day and in the afternoon without an air conditioner it gets too hot to do much of anything (although Peshkopi is not nearly so bad as the rest of the country). In June and July, I had a lot of work to do because my office was preparing a huge assessment report about the region. I was able to contribute with something that I am good at- editing in English. The report was very well researched by my coworkers and it really helped me get to know more about the situation and needs here. I also did private tutoring sessions with two of the girls in my office (trade off of English for Shqip). Outside of the office, I started working on a project with Kenji. Working with a local NGO, he had the idea to start a community radio station. Once we get money to purchase the equipment, it will be run mostly by students at the two high schools here in town. Both the assessment report and a grant application for the radio station were done at the end of July and now . . . not much to do for a while. I will have more work starting in September- school will be starting and I plan to work with Kenji on some things like a Model United Nations club, maybe an English conversation group and the radio station. Also starting in September, the next phase of the project with World Vision will start and we will be having community meetings and writing a project plan.

Most volunteers take advantage of this time to do a little bit of traveling. Last week I had my very first houseguests when Denise and Julie (Group 10) came through town on the last legs of their grand northern tour. Since we don’t get too many visitors up here (something about 5 hours on a bumpy bus discourages people- I don’t understand!), we tried to make them feel welcome. When they got off the furgon from Kukes (4 hours, not paved, bumpy but beautiful I hear), we had dinner ready and fresh warm cookies. We spent the next day showing them around Peshkopi including a walk to the Llixa (hot springs).

When our guests were getting ready to leave, Kenji and I started to feel lonely, so we decided to leave with them! We got on a bus headed towards our friends in Rubik and Reshen, the last towns on their tour. Now, I have always had a bit of a problem with motion sickness, but so far I’ve been doing pretty good here in Al. I’ve been taking pills to help me get through the trips and practicing zen-like breathing and mind clearing to not get sick. So far it had been working- until I got on the Puke Bus (not to be confused with the Puke bus- which actually takes you to the town of Puke). We were surrounded by sick children and about halfway through the trip I lost my zen-like concentration and my breakfast. I think that my amount of road sickness is directly proportional to the size of the vehicle- car, furgon, bus= sick, sicker, sickest. I think that I will probably avoid the bus if I can for a while (even though it is cheaper and has more comfortable seats).

Anyway, the long weekend was spent in Reshen, then to the beach near Lezhe (just like a real Albanian), before heading down to Elbasan for one of my language teacher’s wedding. I am back home now, but I expect to take a few more trips this month and enjoy Albania while I don’t have too much going on!

Sunday, August 3, 2008


I wake up and glance at the clock- 4:30. The silence around me is absolute. I lay with my eyes closed listening to the silence around me. “Allahu Akbar” The silence is broken by the early morning call to prayer coming from the mosque on the hill. When the call to prayer ends, there is silence again and I slip back into sleep.

A rooster crows far away. Another rooster closer to my house answers its call. They will continue this back and forth for several hours. The clock shows 6:15.

Cars slow down as they approach the curve in the road- just enough. A quick honk as they turn the corner announces their presence as they pick up speed below my window. Some trucks rumble by full of bricks or wood. Some cars speed by music flowing from their open windows. The cars create a constant background noise- like waves crashing on a shore.

The metal doors of the shop downstairs slide up to let me know that the business day has begun. The slide down again in the heat of the afternoon to let me know that it is time for a break.

At 7:00, I can hear a young cow tied to the tree in front of the butcher across the street. Either he doesn’t like to be tied up or he knows his fate. No matter the reason, he makes his displeasure known. By 9:00 the cries have stopped and I bet there is fresh meat in the butcher’s shop.

As the metal shaves metal I imagine the sparks flying orange in different directions. The construction of the new court building is almost complete and the workers start early in the morning on the finishing touches.

All the cars in the line repeat a long slow honk. The second car holds the bride and groom- it’s wedding season. In the first car, a man sits precariously on the edge of the window or (even better) stands through the sunroof, filming the bride and groom’s procession through the town.

The packs of dogs, now more wild than tame but still resembling the everyday Fido, bark as night falls. A ripple of barking travels from west to east as they carry messages on to their friends in the hills.

Different than the sound that any car makes, the horse draws a two-wheeled cart down the street. The sound of the horse’s hooves on asphalt is cheerful and light even though the burden it pulls is not.

As darkness falls, music pounds out of the street. The origin is unclear- maybe a café or the hotel. If this was not a nightly sound I would think that there was a party in the apartment block across the way. It’s late and I imagine the chairs empty on the street being moved by the music. I can’t hear the words; only feel the beat. As I fall asleep the music fades into my dreams.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Xhiro gets inverted

Albanian culture lesson- the xhiro (pronounced like giro). Xhiro, literally means to walk around. During the spring, summer and fall, everyone in every Albanian town walks around in the evening as a main source of entertainment. Usually this walking takes place on the main street of the town or in the town square. Often, the city government will block off traffic to the main xhiro street in the evening so that people can walk. People walk up and down the street, meeting neighbors, talking, stopping at cafes, etc. For the young, the xhiro turns into a sort of mating ritual- the young women wear their most scandalous outfits and strut to attract a good husband; the young men sit at cafes and watch the scantily clad women walk by. Every town is proud of their xhiro. Cerrik had a good xhiro because of the park. Elbasan’s xhiro is ok, made better by the recent completion of the renovation of the castle street. Peshkopi’s xhiro is nice because the Boulevard is so beautiful with the trees.

I have to say that the definition of xhiro was stretched to its limits last weekend in Durres (is it still walking around if you are upside down?).

Durres has kind of a double xhiro- there is the main street leading up to the mosque, but there is also the sea front. After 8 PM (when it is finally cool enough to go outside) both of these areas are packed with people. Some entrepreneurial souls have made the sea front into a sort of carnival, by setting up various rides along the way. There is a carousel and several inflatable bouncy castles and a flying Dumbo machine. And then there is the inverter. When we first came upon it, I didn’t really know what to think. It’s one of those rides in which you sit strapped in and swings back and forth until you are upside down. At one point you get stuck upside down for a few seconds. I’ve seen similar rides to this, but never this particular model (it kind of reminds me of a mix between the Avalanche (which I think is called something else now) and the Skyflyer at Elitch’s). Either way, I knew that riding of that thing in Albania, I was taking my life into my own hands. I was in!

Why are amusement parks and carnival rides scary? Well part of it is the stomach sinking feeling you get when you go upside down, but there is something else. I believe that the scariest (and usually most fun) rides are when you feel like you might actually die. This a theory that I developed during a visit to Lakeside- the other amusement park in Denver. Denver natives know all about both Elitch’s and Lakeside. When I was young, they were very similar in many ways- they were even rather close together (the old Elich’s was only about 15 blocks from Lakeside). They had basically the same rides- each with a good wooden roller coaster, ferris wheel, carrousel, tilt-a-wirl, etc. Elitch’s was always a little bit bigger and better, but not much. But then their fortunes changed. Elitch’s got a big infusion of money and started to build new rides and then eventually moved to their present downtown location- complete with three big metal upside down roller coasters and a water park. Lakeside has remained unchanged for years. A few years ago when I went to Lakeside for the first time in years for a fundraiser, I realized what I had been missing. Lakeside was great. I had the best time. It was old fashioned and a little run down, but Lakeside was awesome. Part of that fun factor was something that Elitch’s, with its fancy roller coasters and safety rules, lost a long time ago- fear. I never really felt afraid at Elitch’s (except that one time when the kid forgot to close the cage on the ride and me and Mae almost fell 50 feet to our death, but that’s another story). But at Lakeside, there was still that fear- that something would go wrong, that the seatbelt would brake, that the guy running the machine would be drunk (although after knowing a lot of people that worked at Elitch’s this was a problem there too, I’m sure) etc. There was the same fear on Saturday night on the seaside at Durres- I don’t know where the ride came from or what kind of maintenance has been done on it. So it was a matter of putting my faith in an Albanian ride owner, closing my eyes and going along for the ride. Xhiro- to the extreme.

Beam me up Scotty, I’m ready to nerd out

When Kenji told me last week that he was going to go to Durres for the weekend to watch Star Trek, I thought it sounded just nerdy enough to be fun, and hey, I hadn’t been to Durres yet. Before I could go, he asked that I prove my worthiness. After some Vulcan had signs and a few ST:TNG episode references, I was approved. I’m not afraid to admit it; I’ve been watching Star Trek my whole life. It’s my dad’s fault of course. When I was a kid, my dad worked kind of strange hours that meant that I didn’t see a lot of him during the week. During the week, my mom controlled the TV. But on Sunday, it was my dad- 60 minutes and Star Trek. I imagine that I have probably seen almost every episode of TNG and most of the first 5 or so seasons of DS9. After that, my TV interests changed a bit and I started in on Buffy and other such things, but 12-13 years of Star Trek made an impression. It means that I can at least keep up with the real nerds (Matt and Kenji). The weekend was fun- Matt N. made paper maché Klingon hats, Denise (the only non-Trekkie among us) made Romulan ale and French Toast (not Star Trek related, but really good anyway) and we watched several good episodes from the best of Picard set and the best of Q set. The only disappointment with the weekend was that somehow the best of Picard doesn’t include “Best of Both Worlds”- the one where Picard is assimilated by the Borg- and Kenji’s favorite episode. Looks like we are going to have to have another nerd fest soon . . .

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's the Cheese

In the words of Pat, a recent RPCV (returned Peace Corps Volunteer) that returned to the USA (and all the good cheese) last week:
"When the choice is between cheese and no cheese, the answer is always CHEESE. When the choice is between cheese and more cheese, the answer is always MORE CHEESE."

After being here for four months, when someone asks me what I miss the most about home, it’s the cheese. Ok, so maybe my family and friends and then the cheese. But I really miss the cheese. Cheese is not something that I have ever really thought about before; it has just always been a part of my life. When I was three, I threw a cheese sandwich across the room because it wasn’t made how I liked it. That’s how strongly I feel about cheese. I have been known to enjoy hunks of cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella, swiss and gouda all by themselves (or with the help of a cracker or two). My favorite kind of pizza: cheese. I always get extra cheese on my burritos at Chipotle. I’ve never met a macaroni and cheese that I didn’t like. Nachos. Quesadillas. Anyway, you get the idea.

The most common type of cheese here is djath i barth (white cheese), basically a really salty feta. The other kind of cheese is kaçkaval (no translation- pronounced kach-ka-val) which tries to describe any kind of cheese that isn’t white cheese. I think of it as catch for all, but it doesn’t even come close. I have found versions of kaçkaval that I don’t hate, but not yet any that I could say I truly like. Closer to the coast and in Tirana, you can find other kinds of cheese, including actual mozzarella for decent pizza, but in Peshkopi, no such luck. Even the “Mexican” food I had in Tirana was just ok, why? The cheese! (the salsa wasn’t very good either, but they did do good tortillas). Maybe it is because the cheese that they have here tends to be “fresh” and I actually tend to like some artificial cheeses better than natural ones (Tostitos queso sauce, Kraft in the blue box). Or maybe they just don’t have good cheese. Yeah, I think that’s it.

The point? Enjoy it while you’ve got it and sometimes the things you miss the most are the things you thought about the least . . . and send me some good cheese ☺ .

Saturday, July 12, 2008

One month . . .
I have been at my site now for one month. Or rather, I have been a volunteer for one month but I’ve only actually spent two weeks at my site. Almost right away after getting here, I found myself traveling. I was invited by World Vision to attend a youth conference in Vlore, a lovely town on the coast. Hmmmm . . . free trip to the beach? Let me think . . . OK! The conference was about peer educating and about 150 kids from 5 cities came to get trained to be peer educators. There were no kids from my area because we haven’t actually started working with kids yet, but it was good to see what groups in other cities were doing. The other volunteers and I didn’t really have a lot to do except observe the conference (and help out when we could) and enjoy the beach. The beach was great. It was a rock beach and it was actually pretty clean (cleaner than I had expected). The beach we went to was a little bit south of the city. During communism, it was the private beach of the party bigwigs and in fact, Enver Hoxha’s (communist dictator) summer home is still there. It has basically been gutted and all that stands is a shell with a few walls. The walls that are left are covered with the most pornographic graffiti that I have ever seen. During communism, the whole area was off limits to the common folk, now all the teenage boys use parts of the house that hang over the sea as diving platforms.

The day I returned home from Vlore, I went into my office and my supervisor says, “Guess what, we’re going to Tirana on Wednesday!” So I had one full day in Peshkopi before going out on the road again. I was already planning to be in Tirana for the weekend, but this meant that I would get to spend two more days there and have my travel paid for. So on Wed. morning we got on the furgon to Tirana and endured the bumpiest ride I’ve had yet. On Friday evening I went up to Lezhe to visit some friends and have a 4th of July party, Albanian style. Winifred went a little wild with cooking: hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips (fresh), salad, and like 6 kinds of dessert (brownies, cookies, carrot cake and cheesecake- otherwise known as heaven). The best part of the party was probably our special guests- real live Brits! What better way to celebrate the end of British colonial rule in America than with actual British people! Kris and Alison are two lovely Brits that are bicycling across Europe from France to Istanbul. They happened to be in Lezhe trying to figure out how much Albanian money was worth and how much to take out the ATM and heard two volunteers walking down the street speaking English. The volunteers graciously helped them out and then invited them to come to our little British-bashing shindig. They hung out and ended up sleeping on the floor of Leslie’s house. In the morning they left for Tirana and the rest of their journey. They are doing the trip as a fundraiser for cancer research- check out their website for more info. Good luck guys!

The last part of my two weeks of travel was the US Embassy 4th of July party. This time, 4th of July the American way! The party was held at the Ambassadors recidence complex- The Ridge. The Ridge is like a little piece of America plopped down in the middle of Tirana. If you don’t look too far past the houses, you would think that you were in any American suburb- green lawns, split level houses, two car garages. The party itself was nice- bbq, beer, games for the kids, and my favorite part- apple pie. After the party, all the volunteers went out on the town in Tirana. Tirana actually has a pretty hopping night life- good bars, live music, fun atmosphere. We hung out with a few people from the embassy (mmmmm marines. . . ) and partied until the wee hours. At one bar we found a pretty good live band that played a pretty random mix of Albanian and English music. My favorite moment was when they played “La Bamba.” Now that’s a cultural exchange- a Mexican song played by a Kosovar band in a Tirana night club. Fun.

Anyway, after all my partying and traveling, I think that I’ll be sticking around Peshkopi for at least a few weeks now . . . or at least until I get invited to travel for free again!

PS- I now have very slow dial-up internet at home and work, which is fine for checking e-mails and posting, but sucks for uploading pictures, so bear with me a bit. I will upload pics when I have the chance or can get to a faster connection!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Have oven, will bake
One of the first necessary purchases for my new apartment was an oven. I have a gas burner and a wood stove, which is fine for some things (like making pasta and keeping my house warm), but I figured that if I wanted to bake cookies, I would need something else. Mike survived in this house for two years without an oven, but Mike obviously wasn’t a baker. So far, my strategy for buying things for my house goes like this: I have a craving and then I go buy everything that I will need to fulfill that craving. Last week it was pancakes. To make pancakes I needed: basic ingredients (milk, butter, sugar, etc), a frying pan, a spoon (for scooping) and a spatula (for flipping). Mike had a frying pan and spoon, but lacked the spatula. Yesterday I had a hankering for cinnamon buns. Supplies needed: ingredients, rolling pin, mixing bowl (this would have been nice for the pancakes too- I just used a pot), oh and of course and oven. This is my oven- it looks a little like a space ship, but it seems to work pretty well (although I have to guess on temps because it just has “warm” “hotter” and “hottest” settings. Oven thermometer might be nice- hint, hint mom). The oven also came equipped with a pan that fits nicely inside and when I bought it from the shop, the owner carried it two blocks home for me. And here are my cinnamon buns. Yum.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Exactly what I needed

Since I was in Tirana this week (more on that later) I decided to go and see a movie last night. I tried my hardest to convince everyone that I was with to come with me, but I was not going to be discouraged by the prospect of going alone. I wanted to see a movie and no one was going to stop me! It's not the first time that I've gone to a movie alone. It's not even the first time I've seen a movie alone in a foreign country. I don't really mind seeing movies alone, although I would of course rather see them with people. Mostly, I just want to be able to talk about the movie with people afterwards (and since no one else I know here has seen it yet, I won't be able to do that for several days). There are two theaters in Tirana. The one that I went to is the nicer, smaller theater inside the Sheraton hotel. The auditorium that I was in was tiny, only about 25 seats, but the seats were not just regular movie theater seats, but in fact easy chairs! It was definitely one of the most comfortable theaters I've ever been in.

The movie itself (Indiana Jones) was exactly what the film doctor ordered. Just enough silly and fun, almost believable (but not quite), Harrison Ford, good action, double crossing, bad accents and even aliens! I've been a bit disappointed with some recent similar style movies (particularly National Treasure- Nicholas Cage is no Harrison Ford, no way!), but the return of Indy was great and lived up to my action/adventure expectations (which are, truth be told, rather low- does it keep me entertained for two hours, did I laugh, smile and cringe a few times, did I leave the theater without a lot of lingering questions about the nonsensical plot?).

Anyway, I'm glad I finally saw a movie here and I enjoyed it, even if I was "All by Myself "(which actually came on the theater tunes while I was waiting . . . maybe they knew . . . )

I also got to eat Chinese food today in Tirana, which is another thing that was exactly what I needed. Sweet and sour . . .mmmmmmmmm.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Do you know the way to Peshkopi?

Me and Kenji:
I have finally arrived in my new home for the next two years- Peshkopi. After the swearing in ceremony, I spent the night in Elbasan and left for Tirana (with some other volunteers heading up north) on Saturday morning. The hardest part of my trip was actually getting all of my luggage across Elbasan to the bus stop, but luckily I had some help from another volunteer (which I returned by helping him carry his luggage). We found a furgon (the mini-busses that are the most common form of transportation here) that not only agreed to take 5 of us and all of our luggage to Tirana, but even across Tirana to the place where we would pick up the furgons going north (for a few extra dollars, of course!). This made the whole trip a lot easier, since normally the Elbasan furgons drop of on the complete other side of town and a taxi across the city is nearly as expensive as the trip all the way to Tirana! Once on a Peshkopi furgon, I made really good time getting here, only 4 and a half hours. The trip normally ranges from 4 to 6 hours, depending on the roadwork, the driver, and how many stops are made. I arrived with no problems and was able to get into my apartment and start settling in. Mike, the departing volunteer was still around for the weekend before he departed for a short trip through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary on his way back to the states. Having Mike around was great, as he helped me find my way around town and showed me some quirks of the apartment (taking a shower is a bit complicated) before he left. I have a feeling that I will continue to get questions about Mike for a while yet (Miku iku?- Mike’s gone?). Also waiting for me here is my new site mate, Kenji. Kenji is an English teacher who has been living here for a year. I think that we will get along great. We have already shared a pancake dinner (the first meal I cooked in my new kitchen) and are enjoying my movie collection. Kenji and Mike never really connected, so Kenji is happy to have someone new in town to hang out with.

On Monday, I started work. My primary position is with World Vision, a Christian NGO that does development work in many places around the world. The office in Peshkopi is brand new; it has only been open a few months. I am working with three young Albanian women and a French man. Eventually, the office here will do educational, health and community development activities in the area. Right now, they are just working on assessing the needs and feasibility of projects here. My main job is to build capacity within the office and help them write a major report (in English) about the needs of the area. I am helping with the English of the office team and just getting to know people in town and in the villages. In the coming months, as I meet people and assess the needs of the community, I will probably work on projects outside of my office as they come up. I already know that I will probably be helping out with a Model United Nations program in the fall and hopefully doing some women’s/girls empowerment programs. Peace Corps leaves things pretty open for us as long as we are working on something.

After the crazy roller coaster that is training, it has been nice to take it easy here for the past few days. Having my own space is great. Although it was very necessary for us to live in host families during training, I am happy that I didn’t have to live with another host family here. My apartment is great- it is only a two minute walk to my office, close to the center of town, right next to a mini-mart and two restaurants. I have a private house, which is rather uncommon (most people in town live in block apartments) and the family that I am renting the house from lives across the garden from me. Even though I have my own space, it is nice to have a family around just in case.

Ok, so if you made it all the way to the end of this, I’m guessing that you care about me, so I’m going to put my address here again:

Rebecca Lipman
Laggia “N. Rushiti”
Banesa 33 perballe Hotel Veri
Peshkopi, Albania

Now, after some experience with the Albanian postal service, I am quite convinced that a package or letter labeled: Rebecca Lipman, Peshkopi, Albania, would reach me. Unfortunately the US postal service doesn’t like to send things without addresses. They don’t tend to believe that the address doesn’t matter, since you have to go to the post office to pick things up anyway (there is no home delivery here) and that all is really required is a name and city. Anyway, send me stuff. Like peanut butter and parmesan cheese (send me an e-mail if you want a more detailed list). Letters or postcards can still be sent to Tirana:

Rebecca Lipman
Peace Corps Albania
PO Box 8180
Tirana, Albania

kisses from Albania-


Friday, June 13, 2008

Unë Jam Vullnetare

Cerrik crew at swearing in

I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! Today was the last day as a trainee and we swore in as PCVs. Everybody got all dressed up and we had a nice ceremony in a theater in Elbasan attended by our host families, Peace Corps staff and other dignitaries. The mayor of Elbasan came and the US Ambassador, John Withers, actually swore us in. By the way, I love the Ambassador. The best word that I can use to describe him is "jolly." He has this big toothy grin and always seems to be happy. The ceremony consisted of some remarks by our Country Director, the Mayor of Elbasan, the Ambassador, our Training Officer and best of all a speech (in Shqip) by Courtney and Greg, two volunteers. Before and after the ceremony, we all went a little bit picture crazy!

Following the ceremony (and some tearful goodbyes from host families) many of the volunteers went out to enjoy one last beer all together! In the afternoon, a few of us decided to journey out and find a place to dance. So we had our first experience with an Albanian disco. Ok, first, it was like 5 in the afternoon and we were almost the only ones there. I think that the people working there thought that we were nuts! Crazy Americans!

Anyway, we finished up the day by breaking in the kitchen of one of the volunteers that will be staying here in Elbasan and cooking dinner. After a few setbacks, they succeeded in making something that resembled baked spaghetti (someone called it spaghetti stew). Ok, here was the problem: at some point, the fuse with the stove on it blew (but we didn't know at the time) and so the pots of water on the stoves weren't heating. Someone came up with the idea of just putting the uncooked pasta into the sauce pot and sticking that in the oven (which we thought was still working). After this was done, someone figured out that the fuse had been blown all along and reset it. The pasta was already in the sauce, so there was nothing that we could do. Really it came out fine (I thought is tasted good) although it was a bit starchy. Anyway, it was filling!

So now that I'm actually a volunteer, what am I feeling? Scared to try to get all my bags through Tirana on mini-buses. A bit nervous for my move up to Peshkopi. Excited to get to work. Sad to be leaving the other volunteers.

Next stop, Peshkopi!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

When is a teacher more . . .

When is a teacher more than just a teacher?

When he is also a mentor, a good excuse, a grandfather, a pass signer, a drinking buddy, a lunch date, a driver, a host dad, a cheerleader, a love coach, a photographer, a colleague, a joker, a substitute, a father, a minister, a counselor, an adviser, a masseur, an editor, a father, and most of all- a teacher is more than just a teacher when he is a friend. Wee you will be missed.

Monday, June 9, 2008

She's Crafty

I have wanted to learn how to knit for a long time now, but I just never really got around to learning. Like playing the guitar, doing yoga or becoming a great chess player, knitting was always one of those things that I said I would do if I only had the time. Well, not I do have the time, so when the opportunity came up last week to learn how to knit, I jumped on the chance. I went out and bought myself some needles (shtizë) and a few balls of yarn and got underway. I’m not so good at it yet, I can only do basic knitting and purling, nothing fancy. My first project is a scarf for myself (I don’t want to subject anyone else to my work yet), but I should be able to make scarves for other people soon. My goal is to be able to do a hat by the end of the summer and maybe figure out how to do more complicated stuff by the end of the year (socks, gloves). The yarn that we have seen here is not generally that great (imported acrylic) which is kind of ironic given that you see sheep everywhere you go. So, in addition to postcards, if you tell me your favorite colors, you might just get a scarf or a hat coming your way soon . . . they say Albania has a long cold winter . . .

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On this day

On this day. . .

1 year ago today. . . I was in Maine surrounded by new friends (and Lola and Missy) at the GMC conference

3 years ago today. . . I was receiving my MA and my BA from DU

6 years ago today. . . I was writing a 24 page paper about human trafficking.

7 years ago today. . . I was welcoming the sun at Kurt's Opening Ceremonies of Summer, with some people that were soon to become my best friends.

10 years ago today. . . I was crying because people that I thought were my friends left me behind

14 years ago today. . . I was at a Colorado Rockies game

16 years ago today. . . I was sleeping on my living room floor

19 years ago today . . . I was roller skating at Skate City

21 years ago today . . . I was swimming at Celebrity Sports Center

23 years ago today. . . I was eating grape popsicles and falling off the swing set

26 years ago today. . . I was being born

and 39 years and one day ago, my parents were getting married.

So happy anniversary to my parents and thank you for 26 good years!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Flobots are famous. . .

Local Denver band the Flobots are blowing up around the country. . .

So, I have known a few of these guys for a long time and like Liz says here (you can also see their TV debut on Liz's site) it is a little weird, but also really awesome to see them start to be successful. Their first nationally released full length album comes out today, so if you don't already have it (way behind!) you should go out and buy it. It only makes me sad that I can't be there to celebrate the success of my friends, but I hope that they know that I am thinking of them often and I'm so proud.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Kickball in Albania

Many of you that have been following my life for a while know that two years ago I joined a kickball team in Denver two summers ago. We were called Science for the People, our uniforms were magenta and argyle and we were the worst team in the league. But we had a lot of fun. One thing that I am going to miss a lot this summer is going to be heading to Veterans Park, grabbing a few beers and playing kickball all afternoon. But not to worry, because there is kickball in Albania!!! Last weekend we had a party in Cerrik to celebrate all of the Gemini birthdays (including me). We ate lunch at our lokal (including a great chocolate cake baked by the girls in Shturmen) and headed over to the school and had a game of good old-fashioned American kickball. The ball wasn’t that great and my ankle kind of hurt, but it was fun anyway. If it weren’t for all of us being so spread out all over the country, I would suggest that we form a league. Hopefully we will be able to get together and play a few more times in the next two years . . .or I can introduce kickball to the Albanians in Peshkopi- I smell secondary project!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Birthday coming up. . . send me mail!

Site placement information:I have been assigned to a city in the northeast of Albania called Peshkopi. Peshkopi is a small city of about 20,000 people on the border of Macedonia. It is in the mountains and cold and snowy in the winter, but cool and beautiful in the summer. I will be working with an organization called World Vision, which is a large Christian international NGO based in the United States. I will be helping to set up a new office in Peshkopi as part of their Area Development Project. They do development work in many rural areas of Albania, particularly focusing on children. In addition to working with World Vision, I expect to work with other NGOs, the local government and schools on several as yet to be determined secondary projects. I have a site mate that has lived in Peshkopi for one year named Kenji and whom I have not yet met. I will meet him and see the city for the first time when I go on a site visit on May 29th.So now that I have that information, I also have an address where people can send me packages!

Rebecca Lipman
c/o: PShM attn: Mike DeCorte
L. Nazmi Rushiti
Rr "Tercillo Kardinali
Perballe Hotel Veri
Peshkopi, Shqiperi

Ok, I don't want to start begging or anything. . .

My birthday is coming up on June 3rd- to send me cards or other flat things (those CDs people owe me, hint, hint) you can continue to send mail to this address:

Rebecca Lipman
Korpusi i Paqes
PO Box 8180

If people were to send me packages. . .

books, movies, TV shows on DVD (Gilmore Girls 6&7, Buffy 3&5, Veronica Mars 1&2, Grey's Anatomy), granola/nutrigrain bars, good herbal tea, asian spices, soy sauce, mac and cheese, baking powder, ginger, allspice, fun stuff to keep me entertained, good stuff that you think you would want on your birthday far from home. . . Let me know if you have questions. And as always, if you send me something, I'll send you something back!

Love you all!!!! Ju dua, shume!