Thursday, July 30, 2009

Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople (and wasn’t it once Byzantium?)

I was sad to leave the conference in Ohrid early, but I was excited to get on with the rest of my trip. I headed north to meet up with Meredith, Melissa and Amanda, Macedonian PCVs to begin our adventure. The bus wasn’t very crowded, so we were able to spread out a little bit and we might have been able to sleep, if only we didn’t stop so much. I have never been on a bus that made so many pit stops. We had two borders to cross (and we had to get out of the bus twice at the Bulgarian-Turkish border) and we stopped at least 4 additional times. Every time we stopped, we all got off the bus and ran to the bathroom (whether we had to go or not) because we were not sure if we would stop again (but oh, we did!). Just before the Turkish border checkpoint, we stopped at a huge duty free mall that also had a food court. For some reason, Popeye’s Chicken sounded really good at 3:00 in the morning. We ordered our chicken but the order was taking forever- we almost had to leave without it as the bus driver was walking around trying to collect everyone and get out onto the bus. Finally at the last minute our food was ready and we ran out onto the bus just in time.

We arrived in Istanbul around 8:00 and after finding our hostel and dropping off our bags we walked around and got a feel for the city. In the afternoon we decided to clean off the travel dust and road weariness with a Turkish bath, possibly the best idea ever. Seriously, the baths are amazing. The whole thing was bit confusing (how does this work exactly?) the next time I go (and oh, yeah, there WILL be a next time) I think I will feel a little bit more comfortable because I’ll have a better idea of what is going on. Basically, you go into a big hot room with a stone floor, lay down and get all sweaty, and then someone comes and scrubs you down with a scubby cloth mit (layers and layers of skin and grime and grossness) and then soaps you up and give you a massage and then rinses you off with cool water. Heaven.

After we were all clean and shiny we went and took a nap (much needed) and then sat in a park and listened to a pops orchestra. Basically a perfect Turkish evening; tomorrow-another busy day with all the big sites: Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Bosporus boat . . .

Monday, July 27, 2009

Conference Crasher

When Jennifer (one of the wonderful social studies teachers at DCIS- my alma mater and former workplace) told me that she was coming to Macedonia for a conference, I made it a point to arrange my vacation time to see her. I didn’t really plan on it, but I have ended up being a Conference Crasher. When I showed up on Friday afternoon, I had already arranged for a hostel bed that night and left my stuff at the hostel, but once I was at the conference hotel, Jen made it clear that I was a welcome crasher- with a free bed, free food and lots of social studies teachers from all over the world, right on the beautiful lake Ohrid . . .

As a Peace Corps Volunteer you know I’m never one to pass up free anything, but I’m also not someone that likes to impose on anyone. But seriously, the teachers at this conference have welcomed me with open arms and lots of questions about my work. I feel like maybe this is a little bit of a taste of what it might be like when I go back to the States and have to field a million questions from people about my service. Some people think I’m a little bit crazy to be using my vacation time to go to an educational conference, but honestly, in addition to meeting a ton of awesome teachers and hanging out with Jennifer, maybe most importantly, I’m learning about and hoping to take the program called “Deliberating in a Democracy” back to Albania to use at least with my MUN team, but hopefully with the whole advanced English class at the foreign language high school. Part of the program is an exchange online and through video chats between the schools in the US and the schools in Europe and even though Albania is not officially participating, I’m hoping to hook up some students with some kids in Jen’s classes at DCIS as well. I still have no idea if it will work, but I would also like to figure out a way to do a cultural exchange trip between the two schools at some point as well.

And then there is the best part of the vacation- hanging out with Jen, her telling me about all the things that I’ve missed since I left Denver almost a year and half ago. From gossip to politics and hiring and firings, it is just nice to talk to someone that knows people that I know and places that I know about. No to mention being able to sing, “If I Had a Wagon (I would go to Colorado)” on the mini-bus back to the hotel . . . and actually have someone sing along with you . . .

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Why modern technology should make life easier but doesn't

What did we do before cell phones? No, really, that's a serious question because I don't remember. So a story of missed connections (and lost luggage):

My friend Jennifer came to Macedonia for a conference and so I decided to go on across the border to meet her. Our fist connection was mostly without incident (except that she was a few hours late in arriving and her luggage was lost who knows where). I came to her hotel, when she wasn't there I waited in the lobby and read a book. But then we planned on meeting up again in the morning and this time we decided to rely on modern technology. Instead of setting a time and place to meet, we said "We'll text." When I hadn't heard from her for about two hours after when I expected to get the message and two of my texts went unanswered, I decided to go ahead and take the bus the 15 minutes to her hotel. Of course about the minute I got to her hotel I finally got the text from her saying that they were downtown! (I'm pretty sure we must have passed each other on the road, but who would ever know!) This whole thing may have been avoided if we had actually tried to make more concrete plans like "meet you at the post office at 10."

This is not the first time when I have relied more on technology than a clear plan to meet someone and have been let down. On the other hand being able to make last minute changes and make other great random connects because of technology is great. I guess the point is that I probably wouldn't want to give up my cell phone, computer etc, but maybe wish I relied on it a little bit less . . .

Luggage update- after two days of calling the airlines to try to locate the missing bags, they were finally found and delivered to the hotel on Sunday morning!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gearing up for summer vacation part 2. . .

Normally, taking off for a few weeks in the summer is no problem as not much work really gets done in the months of July and August anyway since most of the Albanians are off on vacation too. But in the World Vision office that I am working with, we have a lot to do, mostly because there was not a lot to do in May and June. We finished the main product of the past year- the Project Design Document (PDD) a detailed plan for the projects for the next three years- at the end of April and May and June were spent mostly in the process of hiring new staff. Only two of the four staff members were kept on for this next phase and 5 more staff members were hired. So now that the staff is complete, we have a lot to do to start implementing that big plan that we spent the last year working on.

The problem is of course, that I already had made plans to take a trip to Istanbul and Romania with a few other volunteers. It was originally planned for the end of August but was moved up due to various schedule conflicts. I almost canceled the trip (in fact I did cancel the trip and then uncanceled the trip), because this is just not that good of a time to go. But it is a better time to go than later when we are likely to have even more to do in the office, not to mention side projects that will really get going again when school starts like MUN and OA. Maybe I'm alone in this and no other PCVs end up with this dilema, but finding a balance between travel, vacationing and staying in site can be hard. I travel much, MUCH more than the average Albanian. Most of my friends and coworkers have not been to many places in their own country besides Tirana and maybe to Durres or Vlora for the beach in the summer. That being said, I generally feel justified with most of my travel. I usually take trips for work/training/meetings and will occasionally add a few days (the weekend) for fun (like my recent trip to the beach). I also feel justified in taking some vacation time and going out of the country. When else will I have the chance to take an overnight bus ride (rather than a plane trip) to Istanbul? Part of the great thing about being in a country like Albania is that it is right in the middle of a great region of the world with easy access to Greece, Italy, Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia etc.

But even with all this, I feel a little bit guilty about leaving right now. I know that if I were here for the next two weeks, I would have things to do, which has not always been the case over the past year (especially over the past two months when the office was basically closed). It's just too bad that I couldn't take this trip last August when I really didn't have anything to do yet . . . Oh well, anyway, I'm taking the trip and I'm going to have a great time and it will all be here when I get back . . .

First stop- Portillo in Macedonia! Can't wait to see you Jen!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Environmental Club Outing Foiled by Climate Change

For the second time in a row when we planned to have a hike with the kids participating in Outdoor Ambassadors (Ambasadores e Natyres) it rained. This summer is noticeably cooler and wetter than last summer, so much so that I am even hearing Albanians mention “Sa bie shi!” (How much rain!). While on one hand the rain is good (cools down the house, keeps the electricity going), it may be a sign of a larger change in the climate of the area . . . or it could just be a wet summer. Either way, we are talking about climate change in OA and we decided to try again on Sunday.

Luckily, Sunday lived up to its name and we had a wonderful piknik! Dylan and I met 8 students and with Vali (one of my new coworkers) we headed to Vali’s village about an hours walk away. From the village we went down to a beautiful spot along the river to relax, eat lunch and play in the water. Some members of Vali’s family and other kids from the nearby villages joined us along the way. I was particularly impressed by the innovative use of soda bottles as flotation devices by some of the village boys! All in all I think it was a most successful outing and all of the kids were asking when and where we would be going out again!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Life's a Beach

Summer in Albania means the beach.

Just because I live up in the mountains 5 hours away from the nearest ocean does not mean that there is still not a mad dash for the beach starting on the first of June. For many Albanians, this means beach vacations for much of the summer and for those people close to the sea, daily or weekly trips to the water. Up here in the mountains we don't have a seaside, but we do have a nice cold river and last week I made a trip there with some of my friends.

Since returning from my vacation with my parents, I have been settling back into life in Peshkopi. This summer I am planning on not traveling too much, but when my coworker offered me a free trip to the seaside for a three day training (and then the weekend) it was hard to pass up. So here I am relaxing . . .

Even though I'm glad I came and am having a lot of fun, I'm missing Peshkopi a little bit. Peshkopi is nice and cool and every time last summer I went to other parts of the country, I was relieved to come back to my nice cool apartment. I know that I complained a lot about the cold over the winter, but I think that in general I deal better with cold than I do with heat. Luckily, this summer has not been as hot (so far) as last summer. Cooler temperatures and more rain mean a few things- besides more comfort, it also means more electricity because most of the country gets power from hydroelectric dams. I think that I will be traveling again this summer anyway- in a few weeks I'm planning a trip down to Istanbul, but I know that I'll be happy when I get home . . .

Friday, July 3, 2009

MUN video

I don't talk in this, but I do show up for a few frames when my friend Tienmu is talking about the role of the PCVs in the project.