Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Taco movie party

Some volunteers live in towns that are frequented by lots of visitors . . . other volunteers, foreign guests, couch surfers etc. Peshkopi is not one of those towns. I rarely get visitors and almost never have people (besides Kenji) over to my house. So it was kind of nice this week to be able to play hostess. We had two young Korean girls visiting the World Vision office (South Korea is our Support Office- they raise the money for all the programs in two of the ten offices in Albania). Orgerti, from the Tirana office, jokingly suggested that we could all go to my house and watch movies and that I could cook for everyone. He was only joking, but I thought it was a great idea. I decided to make what is kind of becoming my specialty: chicken tacos. The night before I made about 30 tortillas (my tortillas get more round every time I make them) and then right after work I went home and cooked up chicken and made salsa. I also decided to make an apple pie since one of the Korean girls said that she loved American apple pie but could never find it in Seoul! (she had spent a year going to school in the States).

Everyone (the Koreans, Orgert, all my coworkers, and Kenji) came over and hung out while I finished making the pie. Orgert brought chestnuts that he roasted on top of my wood stove for an appetizer. When the pie was in the oven and everything for the tacos was ready, the Albanians were introduced to real American hospitality: serve yourself! In Albania it is very uncommon for the host not to get everything for the guests and even buffet style meals are uncommon. But I grew up in "serve yourself" household and I don't presume to know how you like your tacos! Even though they were a bit messy, everyone loved the tacos and the pie. After we finished eating we turned my living room into a movie theatre- borrowed the projector from the office and turned one of my couches around so that we could project the movie onto the wall. It was great!

Part of me is glad that I am not on the "beaten path" with people staying with me every week (I really do feel bad for the PCVs in Elbasan sometimes), but it was also nice to have people over. So if you feel like going off the beaten path, you are welcome to come up my way. I'll make some tacos and we can see if we can borrow the projector . . . and there will always be pie!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Using Algebra in Real Life

You know how when you are in high school you always ask, “when will I ever need to know this?” Well, I am happy to report that I used algebra in my normal every day life today. I was able to help a girl in my office figure out how much to pay a driver- I used an x and everything. I still don’t think that I will ever use calculus . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2009

One year and counting . . .

First, I just wanted to send a shout out to all my G11 homies and say happy anniversary!

What a difference a year makes?

I’m not really sure . . .

I have been here for a year. I’m the type of person that likes to reflect (can’t you tell) and I usually do some sort of reflecting on big dates- New Years, birthdays, anniversaries of things. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year and where I am, what I’ve learned, how things have gone etc. For some reason I’m having trouble summing up the year. The first thing to do is to look back and see what my goals and expectations were for this year. The problem with this is that I was pretty vague in my goals and expectations (they were not SMART). Things like “learn about a new culture” and “integrate my self into my community.” While these goals have lots of touchy feely appeal, they are not really that specific. What does it mean to be integrated? Does it mean that I know people and feel comfortable in town? Or does it mean that I feel useful in my work? Or maybe does it mean that I understand things around me? It could mean all or none of these things and more. Learning about a new culture . . . I know more about Albania than I did a year ago, but do I know everything? No, of course not. I learn new things every day.

As far as projects go, I don’t think that I’ve been able to accomplish much this year, but I’m also not surprised. One of the first things we heard (and heard over and over and over) in training was that we would probably spend most of the first year doing IRB (Intentional Relationship Building- getting lots of coffee) and figuring things out and not much time actually “working”. What I have accomplished: working with a team of 7 girls for 5 months and taking them to the MUN conference; support on English skills, facilitation, computer usage and personal support to the employees in the World Vision Diber office; lots of meetings about starting a radio station, without much success yet.

Personally, my goals were a little bit clearer. I wanted to see how I did living alone, learn to knit and cook more. Check, check and check. Living alone has been hard (when I say alone, I really mean alone and far away from everyone that has every known me before) but made easier by the ability to communicate often with my friends and family back home and by a great support system in Peace Corps. In some ways, living alone (really alone) was a bit of a challenge that I gave myself. I needed to see if I could do it. But living alone also focuses for me the importance of a community and makes me realize how important my community at home is and how wonderful they are. The truth is this really sets off the “integrate into community” goal; because I know what it is like to really be a member of a community I realize that I am not really integrated into the community here. I was talking the other day with Kenji about this. He has been here a year longer than I have and is getting ready to leave in a few months. When I asked him whether or not he felt like he was integrated into the community, he answered that he felt like he had a place in the community, that he felt comfortable here and that he usually felt useful. Even if I don't feel completely integrated into my community in my town, I have found a great community with the other volunteers. Something that you should know about PC Albania Group 11- we really like each other. We like hanging out together, we like having parties, we like traveling to see each other all over the country. I'm really lucky to have found a bunch of great people that I can rely on to help me through my rough times and celebrate the good times. I hope that the other volunteers that I have met here will continue to be a part of my life for a long time once we go our separate ways next year.

Two years seems like a long time when you sign up; it feels like a long time when you are starting. When I think about it though, two years is really not long enough. Because of what I have been able to get done in the past year, I realize that there will be a lot that I won’t be able to get to in the next year. I know that this sounds negative, but I don’t think that it is. I don’t mean it that way. I wish that I could come into a town and start a project this minute, but it just doesn’t work that way. I have ideas and I hope that I can at least get them started. Kenji’s plani i madh (big idea) was to start a radio station. I don’t think that this will be realized before he leaves in three months. It may not even happen before I leave in a year and three months. But he has planted the idea and hopefully it will not die when he leaves. I am starting to have my own big ideas- a youth center in my town. If I can get the ball rolling, start the first meetings, get the idea into other people’s heads then I can come back and visit in 5 years and see the youth center that I helped to start . . .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An epic journey?

I’ve been thinking about a big trip. It is something that has always been something that I have thought about doing- taking 6 months or a year or two years and just going where I can. In addition to planting the seed of Peace Corps in me as a child, I grew up hearing stories about my parent’s epic journey around the world. When they finished PC in 1974, they took their readjustment allowance and the cash-in-lieu payment instead of a ticket back to Wyoming, shipped all the stuff that they wanted to keep back to my dad’s mom and left the Philippines with two backpacks. They traveled for about 9 months all through Asia and then through Europe. They missed Albania since it was still closed by the paranoid communist dictator, but they hit some places that are now completely inaccessible to tourists like Afghanistan (they have some amazing pictures of the giant Buddhas that were blown up by the Taliban). I grew up hearing stories about things like the bus full of Australians that they traveled across most of Asia with and seeing the collected artifacts and pictures that fill our house. At every party, I usually hear my mom start at least one sentence with something like, “When we were in Nepal . . .”

This week I read a book called Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Goldman Gelman (highly recommended). The author basically dropped her life at age 48 and started to travel. She learned Spanish and Indonesian and lived with amazing people all around the world. She had the advantage of being able to live off of the royalties of her many successful children’s books and found material to write more books along the way. I enjoyed her stories and her self-reflection about her life, her choices and her travel. And the book really got me thinking about my own wandering ways . . .

I have been in Albania for exactly a year this week. I have another year and some months to go in my service and then I have to figure some things out. Because of the nature of PC as a limited engagement, you tend to come in thinking about the next step almost from the first day. Go home? Travel more? Try to find a job here? Go back to school? These are all attractive options to me in some way. I think that I most pulled either in the direction of Denver or traveling. It really depends on the day. I really miss home (more than I thought I would I think) but a big part of me thinks that if I go straight there that I will regret not traveling more- I mean I’m already half a world away, I might as well get as much out of it I can. Most days, I want to keep traveling, at least for a little while.

My first thought is money. For all intensive purposes, I’m broke. Unlike the female nomad I do not have many successful children’s books to live off of. What I have, like my parents, is the PC readjustment allowance and cash-in-lieu of a ticket home. Unfortunately for me, the readjustment allowance has not increased significantly since my parent’s day and the several thousand dollars that I will get will probably not get me quite as far as it did them.

The next thought in my mind is mode of travel. I don’t mean bus, train or plane, I mean approach to travel. Last year I read another travel book called A year in the world by Frances Mayes- the author of “Under the Tuscan Sun” (PS- I don’t recommend it, I didn’t really like the book). Her way of traveling was completely different from the female nomad’s. She tended to take long vacations to off the beaten path, but still kind of glamorous locations, rent a house or stay in beautiful bed and breakfasts and eat at 5 star restaurants. If I had the money, then maybe this would be the way to travel, but even then, I’m not sure that I would. At this point in my life, I only how to travel one-way, and that’s cheaply. The female nomad inspires me by her traveling style- she chooses a destination and then figures it out as she goes along. She meets people on busses, in hotels, in the airport terminal. She trust perfect strangers to get her where she needs to be, to help her find her way and to take her into their homes. She goes to the really off the beaten path places where most tourists would never even think of trying to go. And when she gets there, she settles into a village or town and makes connections with people in amazing ways. I think what she has done (and I assume is still doing) is beautiful, but frankly it scares me. I have a hard time approaching strangers, a hard time asking for help and a hard time traveling without a plan. I also am nervous to travel alone. The book calmed some of my lone-travel fears by reinforcing what I have always heard but never quite experienced- you meet people on the road. I have never traveled for a long period of time by myself (I’ve only taken short trips alone- I don’t count PC, I have never really been alone here after the first days of training . . .).

My dream trip right now would be something like this: travel over land through the parts of Europe I haven’t been to yet (Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine) maybe take some time in the Baltic States or up to Norway (I have a good friend living in Oslo) and then to Russia. Visit both St. Petersburg and Moscow and maybe take and intensive Russian class. From there, on to Asia; by what route I’m not sure yet- maybe the Trans-Siberian railway, maybe down through the Stans (but not the currently scary ones like Afghanistan). I would love to go to India, Nepal, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and maybe more, maybe ending up in the Philippines . . .

Almost like the trip my parent’s took, in reverse.

I have a year or so more to think about it. I welcome your thoughts . . .