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.)