Saturday, February 28, 2009

MUN awsomeness

I was in Tirana this week for the Model United Nations conference. Three days long, 15 schools, 150 students- it's a big deal! I'm really proud of the 7 girls that I brought to the conference. They have worked really hard for the past four months learning all about issues like global warming and human trafficking and the position of Burkina Faso (that's a small country in West Africa). Most of them did not have any idea how to do research on the Internet and I think they all had never heard of Burkina Faso before! They represented themselves, their school, Peshkopi, and Burkina Faso very well.

I'm really glad that I participated in this project. MUN was one of the best parts of my high school experience and I love that I was able to share this with some great kids. The best part has maybe been when one of my girls told me that she is now much more interested in politics and that maybe she would like to try to be a diplomat! She is a super intelligent, sharp girl and I can totally see her as the next Albanian ambassador to . . . someplace!

My big role in the conference (besides calming my girls down) was to design the "crisis situation" that we introduced on the last day. We decided to have one big event that would be dealt with in all three of the councils (Security Council, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council) and after much deliberation with the other volunteers (our big chance to debate), we decided on the not very likely (but theoretically plausible) major flood of the Nile River. Was it caused by global warming? Thousands of refugees! The kids did a great job of handling the situation and really impressed me with their collaboration. Also I need to give a big shout out to all the other PCVs for helping out with the crisis (not to mention all the other great things that they did at the conference and before).

The conference wasn't perfect, but I know that my kids learned a lot, I learned a lot and I'm already thinking about how we can make it even better next year . . .

PS- my computer cord arrived in the mail just hours before I was supposed to leave for Tirana. I literally was jumping up and down in the post office I was so excited. I think I'll bring the post office ladies some candy next week to show my appreciation for always dealing my crazy self . . .

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Where does my food come from?

Inspired by my good friend Nichole's blog here, in which she talks about all those things that you are not supposed to talk about at dinner (politics, religion etc), I decided to get a little bit deeper on my own blog. One of Nichole's major missions over the past few years has been working with a group in Florida that is working to improve working conditions and wages for the farm workers in America (mostly very low paid, migrant or illegal- sometimes near slave conditions) called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Nichole's thoughts about where her food is coming from have made me think about this as well.

So let's talk about the economy of Albania and where my food comes from.

Albania's economy is a really interesting case. During communism, the dictator set up a system of almost total isolation. Most of the factories were built with help from the Russians or the Chinese, but by the 1980s relations with both of these powers had been severed. At the end of communism in the early 1990s there was a severe crisis in which many of the factories were looted and destroyed. Still around the country you see empty, torn out, non-functional factories acting as a reminder of what used to be produced. That is not to say that the factories were all that great either- mostly built in the post-war period, by the 90s they were mostly inefficient and out of date. Agriculture production was also very inefficient and out of date in the communist period and after communism ended chaos ensued in the agricultural fields as well. The collective farms of the communist time were split up, but even now nearly 20 years later, there are major issues over property ownership and the small, family plots now used by most of the farmers are inefficient. In the past 20 years investment has entered the country in many forms. Some of this money has been put to good use, but a disturbing amount of it gets lost in the shuffle as corruption at all levels is a major problem.

Although the Albanian economy seems to be strengthening all the time, I still think that it is defined mostly by two main factors: emigration and imports. Except for a few exceptions (mainly fresh food like produce, dairy and milk products), Albanian's economy is highly external to the country itself. After the end of communism, there were massive population shifts within the country to the cities. This was followed by massive exodus from the country of most working age men that could get out (mostly to Greece and Italy, but many to Western Europe and the US also). Almost every family has at least one person living abroad and this forms a large part of the economy through remittances (money sent home). Because of these two factors, the Albanian economy actually exists in large part outside of Albania. Local people can make money in importing, distribution and sales (there are lots of small family owned shops, but that might be another conversation), but the real money is in the manufacture of things, which is done largely outside of the country.

So, back to the main question- where does my food come from? I've found over the past few months a wonderful abundance of locally grown produce. The only things that I see that are obviously imported fruit and vegetable wise are bananas. Because of Albania's temperate and widely varied climate, many other things can be grown here easily, even citrus fruits. This means that there are some constant staples (tomatoes, onions, apples) that may be local or imported and many locally grown seasonal additions. After being here nearly a year, I can tell you when the season for most fruits is here (Cherries- June, Pomegranates- October, Persimmons- November). I have been told that much of the produce that is available here in this part of the country is actually imported from Macedonia (I am very close to the border), which depending on your definition (many people go by 200 miles) is still considered "local" food. Other than this and a few select products, almost everything else that I buy is imported (mostly from Former Yugoslavia Greece, Turkey, or Italy- notice the connection, this is where most of the young men go to work).

Anyway, this is something that I have been thinking about a lot here. There will probably be more to come . . .

Thanks to Courtney for the picture of the Elbasan veggie market.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Plot me uje

This morning as I headed to the office I could immediately tell that something was wrong as I saw my coworkers sweeping piles of water out the front door. It looks like one of the taps in the bathroom is broken and as we were all in Tirana for the past two days, when the water came on, it came on hard! The whole office was flooded with about 6 centimeters of water- enough to get all the computers sitting on the floor wet (even though when the office flooded last summer we put the computers off the floor slightly with styrofoam). So, we spent the morning sweeping out the water, sorting out the computers and cords and hoping for the best. Hopefully, the computers will dry out with little damage. In the meantime, since my computer is still out of commision (why is it that when I am waiting for a package it seems to take forever- it has been three weeks and it is killing me! Must be something about a watched pot doesn't boil . . . ) I am at the office of another NGO where they have graciously allowed me to use the internet for a few minutes (the local internet cafe is also not working now as there are power cuts and they don't have a generator).

Isn't it a bit ironic that I didn't have running water for most of the month of January (I have it now, thank God!), and now what is causeing problems is too much water!

This is not really what I wanted to come back to from my first weekend out of town in 6 weeks. On the bright side, I had a great weekend with friends down in Berat and got to see a movie in Tirana. The next few weeks promise to be very busy with the Model United Nations conference coming up next week, a training for Outdoor Ambassadors the week after and a big meeting with community members here to finish the Design process for the World Vision project somewhere in between.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

life goes on without me . . .

This is a music video that I am in that was filmed about a year and a half ago. They just recently finished it and released it with a big concert (that I of course could not go to). For some reason seeing this video made me think a lot about all the things that I am not doing in Denver right now. I am at that age (mid 20s) where it seems like everyone I know is starting to get married and have babies. I have missed at least two weddings and one birth already and will miss at least three weddings and two births in the upcoming year. I'm not sure why the Hot IQs made me start thinking about this- maybe because the video was filmed so long ago and so many things have changed since then, maybe because I just found out that one of the band members is getting married this year . . .

and life goes on . . .

look for me in the red party scene- I couldn't see myself, but I was there . . .

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

laptop withdrawl

So my computer is having issues. Or rather my computer plug is having issues making the rest of computer just not work at all. This little piece of metal and plastic makes such a difference . . .

Anyway, so for the past two weeks or so, I have not been able to use my laptop. For the most part, it is just an annoyance more than a real problem. Luckily, I am able to use the internet on computers in the World Vision office. So, I am able to check my e-mail, write blogs etc. The big problem is that I tend to do a lot of things off-line at home and then bring my computer in (such as writing blogs). Also, (and this is the part that makes me feel the most like a spoiled brat) I like to watch tv shows and movies at home on my computer, and I like to download podcasts with news and other stuff. Without my laptop I can't do either of these things and it makes me just feel annoyed.

Without the movies and tv shows on my computer, I have been reading and watching Albanian tv more. I am lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it) to have a tv and a hook-up to my neighbors satellite. I don't have a lot of channels and occasionally for what seems like no reason at all my channels will change. What I have: 4 or 5 Italian channels- these would be great if I spoke Italian, but as it is I don't and they are really annoying because although they have a lot of shows and movies that I would like to watch, they are all dubbed! So I can't watch them at all without being bothered by the fact that I can't speak Italian (btw a lot of Albanians learn Italian at a young age by watching programs on tv). 1 French channel (same problem as the Italian channels). 2 German channels- one a German shopping/random other stuff channel (occasionally they have poker tournaments?) and EuroSport a German sports channel- I watch this sometimes if it is a sport I like, cause it doesn't really matter what language sports are in, but I don't really like watching most sports, so . . .

And then various Albanian channels including: news, cartoons, and a few regular networks with a mixture of programs. Also available- Big Brother Albania channel. Yes, there is an entire channel devoted to Big Brother. It's big here. And people watch it. . . all day long. The channels that I watch most often are the ones that have most of their content in English- DigiFilm and Junior TV. Now, on the satellite service there are 4 or 5 DigiFilm channels (basically HBO-type movie channels). I only get one DigiFilm 7- the action movie channel. Which means that occasionally there will be some lost gem like the whole Terminator trilogy or Superman 2 or Bond movies or a good recent action flick, but more often it is full of Jean Claude Van Dam and Bruce Lee movies that I never had an inclination to watch before . . . The other channel, Junior TV is basically the Disney Channel, full of the Olsen Twin movies, Hannah Montana and everything else rated PG or less. I watch this channel much more than I would care to admit, and even more embarrassing is how put out I get when one of the movies is dubbed (like SpyKids 2 the other day), and how I usually watch the dubbed movies anyway (at least they are dubbed in a language that I more or less understand). . .

My only hope is that the package from home with my new computer cord comes quickly. . .

Monday, February 2, 2009

25 things

This is something going round on facebook right now and actually I have been pretty fascinated to read lists of 25 random things by all my friends. Once I wrote my list, I kept thinking of other things to add and realized that my my blog readers might not all be my facebook friends and vice-versa, so it wouldn't hurt to post another list here . . .

1. I like making lists.
2. I have a teddy bear that I've had since I was 5 or 6 that sleeps on my bed every night with me named Fudge. She is a puppet and you can therefore stick your hand up her butt. I hate it when people violate her.
3. I like making myself pancakes because of all the food I can make here, pancakes taste the most like home.
4. There are a few things that are available in other towns but not in Peshkopi: Cheerios, 100% apple juice and Parmesan cheese- I always try to buy these things when I travel.
5. The name beccapiglet came from a drama class production of Winnie the Pooh in high school. I played Piglet.
6. I've always felt like taking showers was really overrated and it felt like just something else I had to do. Because of this, I generally only shower 2-3 times a week, but I have a new appreciation for how great a hot shower can be.
7. My favorite word in Albanian is lulestrudha. It means strawberry. This is also my favorite fruit (in English or Albanian).
8. All of the guys I've dated in recent memory were either musicians or movie theater projectionists. Or both.
9. I love watching movies on a big screen. I would consider working in a theater again for the free movies.
10. I like to hang out with really creative, talented people, because i think that maybe some of their creativity and talent will rub off on me. And they are generally interesting and cool.
11. I've had a savings account since I was a baby and a checking account since I was 12. I like to keep very careful track of my finances.
12. I played the flute from 3rd to 11th grade and was in marching band for three years in high school.
13. I've always wanted to learn how to play the guitar.
14. Peace Corps is easier than I thought it would be.
15. I sometimes worry that it is easy because I'm not trying hard enough.
16. I know more than 10 people named Rachel (or Rachael). A few years ago I started numbering them and often refer to them by number, as in "I'm hanging out with Rachel #2 this afternoon."
17. I hate doing dishes.
18. I don't mind doing my laundry by hand (or at least not nearly as much as I thought I might).
19. I have a complete weakness for teenage TV drama- Gilmore Girls, the OC, Veronica Mars and Gossip Girl especially.
20. I have had to buy the Princess Bride on DVD three times. It keeps getting lost, stolen or accidentally taken by my roommates when they move out.
21. I have mini-panic attacks when I have to make cold phone calls. I even get nervous when I call my friends or people that I know.
22. I love board games. Maybe my idea of a perfect evening is good food, friends and RISK, mahjong or settlers of catan.
23. I thought I was Filipino until I was about 5.
24. The ellipses and the parenthesis are my favorite punctuation; I overuse both.
25. I am usually just as happy to stay home alone as I would be going out, but I often feel like I should go out because I am probably missing something cool and I make myself feel guilty for staying home. What I really want is for people to stay home with me, so I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not going out.