Saturday, April 26, 2008



This dish, similar to spanikopita, can be made with cheese, spinach, beans, tomatoes and onions, eggs or meat. Basically any sort of savory filling can be added. You can buy store bought phyllo dough, or make your own simple dough from scratch (of course all of the Albanians make it from scratch!)

Basic Phyllo Dough Recipe (dough-brum):

2 1/2 cups bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon white vinegar

Sift flour and salt and make a well.
Mix remaining ingredients and pour in well. Work into dough. Knead 10 minutes. Cover with a damp towel. Set aside 20 minutes.

Split the dough into 14 roughly equal sized balls. Roll out slowly (slowly-ngadalë) one by one on a board covered with starch or flour (starch-niseshte) until very thin. The way my host does this is by using a very thin wooden dowel. As she rolls out the dough, she rolls the dough onto the dowel in order to transfer the dough to the pan. This part takes a lot of practice, don’t worry if the dough tears a bit, just patch it back together and keep layering! Layer (peta- layer of dough) the first 7 in a large round shallow pan, putting a layer of melted butter or oil in between each layer. After 7 layers, put in the filling and then continue to layer the remaining dough. Pour the remaining oil or butter onto the top (you can also pour milk on top). Cut into pieces before placing in the oven. Cook at 200 degrees C (about 400 F) for 45 min. or until golden brown.

Të bëfte mirë! (Bon Appetite!)

(thank you to Burbuqe for showing me this process and allowing me to take her picture and also to Courtney and Mrs. Çepa for additional information!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Getting nauseous on the way to Puke and other stories from the north-

This weekend I traveled up to a town in northern Albania called Pukë (pronounced pooka). Even though it doesn’t have the best name, it is a really a nice place. I traveled with 13 other volunteers to Tirana (the capital) and then we split up and went off to several cities in the north. This was the first time that any of us had been to Tirana since we got to Albania. The best thing about Tirana: grocery stores with specialty items (cheddar cheese, honey nut cherrios, tampons, etc.). In fact we actually missed our bus because Winifred (our guide through Tirana/ a current volunteer) wanted to stop and buy cheese. We got to the bus and were told that the bus had just left. Luckily there was someone there that was able to call the bus driver and ask him to wait on the road. After running through a muddy road we caught up with the bus. The road to Pukë was not the worst that I had ever been on . . . it did at least have guard rails. Karen (my site mate and traveling partner) is afraid of heights, so ever time we went around a sharp curve she cringed. In Pukë we met Jennie and Dan, the volunteers that live there. Jennie is an English teacher and Dan works with the local government. Both of them have several secondary projects in the city. We spent some time with Jennie in one of her classes and visited Dan at city hall, but mostly had a lot of coffee with people. The best part of being in Puke was home cooking a meal. Not that my host mom isn’t a good cook, but sometimes you want something a little bit different. Karen made this wonderful orange chicken and zucchini patties. I think that Albanians would think we were crazy if we made orange chicken for them.-Jennie at the overlook near Puke. Big mountains in the distance-

In the morning, we had to get up at 5 am to catch the bus out of Puke. On Tuesdays, there are actually two busses out of Puke at 5 am –one to Tirana and one to Laç, another city in the north. Laç has a church on a mountain that is built over a cave. If you rub your head in the cave it is supposed to cure your ailments. People have been rubbing their head in the cave and being cured for thousands of years and then the Christians built the church over it. The church is dedicated to St. Anthony and the 13 Tuesdays leading up to his saint day on June 13th, people make a pilgrammage up the mountain to the church (and the cave). So we decided to make our way to Laç and make the journey up the hill. It was beautiful and it was nice- until it started raining. Of course, my umbrella was in my backpack---- in the apartment---- at the bottom of the hill. So we got a little wet, but we did make it up the mountain and saw the church (but couldn’t make it inside- too many people) and then slid back down (oh, my thighs!!).
-The church on the hill with a line of people leading up to it-

The real adventure of the volunteer visit was learning more about Albanian public transportation. We rode on two buses and three furgons (mini-busses) and only almost died three times. Luckily I can sleep on buses . . . and thank god for Dramamine!

Albanian for the day- Çfare është, është (what is, is) a motto that I'm trying to live by!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Town of Cerrik

Community map drawn by Chris (with input and coloring from Karen, Leslie, Becca and Courtney)

I live in Cerrik. It is a small town, but defiantly not a village. It has two elementary schools, a high school (which they call a gymnasium- this created a lot of confusion for us in the first few days. High school students are also called gymnasts, which was hilarious to me when I figured that out) and a college. We have our language classes in the elementary schools that is right off of the main square. What we have been able to guess about the town from various conversations we have had is that it was a communist planned town and therefore has a main square and is laid out in a rather organized way around the square. I live in an apartment building that I thought must have been built in the communist era, but someone told us was actually built rather recently. Most of the streets have stone sidewalks and trees, although many of the trees are young, as if they were planted only in the past few years, making me think that at some point the trees were cut down or pulled up and that these are replacements.

When you walk through the park during the day, you see many men sitting on the benches loudly playing dominos or chess. From about 5pm to dark the streets fill with men walking. They come from the villages and the town and walk up and down the streets in groups. Women walk too, but away from the main square. By dark, you don’t see many women out in the streets.

On one side of the park there is a pazar set up every morning that sells household products and clothes, although most anything that you need can be purchased any time from any one of several local duqans (pronounced duchan- the q makes a soft ch sound) or corner stores. There are many restaurants and cafes, some that only serve drinks and no food. The locals seem to know by unspoken rule which cafes are open to both men and women and which cafes only cater to the men. As a stranger in the town, it is hard to know which places it is acceptable for me to go. Mostly, we stick to the internet café- the staff is friendly, the coffee is cheap and the chairs are comfy. The places that it is clear that no women ever go are the billard halls and the bingo parlor. In the US, bingo is a game played mostly by little old ladies- here it is the opposite. There is a cinema, but it doesn’t appear that it has been in use for years.

When the weather is nice, the streets are full of children playing. Jump rope, hide and seek and whatever games that kids make up. When we walk through the street as a group, children run up to us to ask our names and say hello. We had one incident with a little boy that ran up and started to kick several of us when we were sitting in the park. The other children around us chased him off and called him keq (bad- once again the q is a ch so pronounce kech).

There are a lot of things that we can identify as assets in the community, but also a lot of needs. There is a lot of pollution (much like all of Albania), but at least in the city limits there are not many unfinished or half-built abandoned buildings that can be found in the surrounding area. There are a lot of kids, but they don't seem to have a lot of activities outside of school, especially for the girls. The local government seems to be well organized, but there is not much communication between the town and the people. We will only be in this site for three months, but I hope that we can accomplish some good here. . .

Me in front of my apartment building (I live on the top floor)

View from my window

Next installment- cooking: Albania style.