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.