Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kam bere ski!

Being from Colorado, naturally I grew up on skis. Not to say that I am particularly good, but I do love a good ski. When a PCV down in Korca posted on his blog about going skiing in Albania, I decided that I just had to do it. I recruited my new friend Garrett (here in Albania on a study grant from Harvard) to come. He was super excited too- he's a long time East Coast skier and happens to also be one quarter Korcar (his grandfather was born in Korca and emigrated to the US). I knew I would have to wait until after the MUN as all my weekends were full until then, but I also knew I couldn't wait too long as spring has started to creep even into cold Peshkopi . . .

It turns out that we made a perfect plan. It was probably the last weekend that skiing could happen (and even by the end of the day it was starting to get a bit mushy) and it was an absolutely beautiful day. We rode up Mike's doctor friend Izufi, who along with 4 other semi-retired and retired men and their families run the little ski hill. There was the doctor, the professor, the coach and the commissar and they were all great. Based on Mike's referral they treated us like one of the gang. We arrived up at the ski hill at about 10AM and got started right away. It seems that they have pulled together a rather impressive collection of ski clothes, ski boots and skis, you just might have to search a bit to find something that fits. In all honesty, the skis and boots that I got were not really in any worse shape than I would expect to find at most rental places in the states (ok, a little be worse shape, but serviceable for sure). The ski hill is just that, a hill. They have rigged up two rope tows- one for the beginers on the little bunny slope and one that goes to the top of a pretty steep hill. The hardest part for sure is staying on the rope tow. Gloves or no gloves, your grip slips a lot and your arms start to burn about half-way up . . .

I was able to get up to the top only twice- once holding the rope, the second time using a canvas strap wrapped around my waist to grip the rope (much easier, but more dangerous). The view from the top of the hill was gorgeous, with the whole valley and the Prespa/Ohrid Lakes in the distance. The skiing itself was as to be expected- not exactly fresh powder like I'm used to in Colorado. I did a nice faceplant on my first run down, but I'll go ahead and blame that on the skis . . .

In the afternoon (after way too much food, of course!) we convinced the doctor's son to drive us into the village of Dardhe about 5km away. The village is exactly what you would expect a perfect Albanian mountain village to be. There have been recent efforts to get tourists to come to the village, including a new hotel and plans for another ski hill (there are signs for this ski hill, but it does not actually exist yet). We were invited in to the home of some of the villagers for a coffee (that turned out to be a raki) before we headed back up the hill. By this time (and a few shots of raki later) both Garrett and I were pretty exhausted, so we found a ride back to town. The rest of the family stayed for dinner and maybe some night skiing . . .

It was maybe one of the more perfect days I've had in Albania (except maybe the wipeout). Good food, good people, good fun and skiing- what else could you ask for?

For more pictures and a video of me crashing, check out

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MUN all over again

I love MUN. It was one of my favorite activities in high school, it was one of my favorite things to help with after high school, and it has been one of my favorite things that I've worked on in Albania. When I found out that Albania had an MUN program that PC was a partner on, I was the first to sign up. After the MUN last year, I was asked to help organize some things for this year's conference. When Dylan arrived, he showed interest in working with the Peshkopi team, since he had experience doing Model Arab League in college. This worked out great for the both of us- he would be the main person on the team and I would spend most of my time working with the steering committee actually planning the conference and all of the things that led up to it like teacher training.

I knew that organizing a big event like this would be a challenge, but I'm not sure that I really anticipated how much of a challenge it would be. First, since I live 5 hours away in Peshkopi, I was not actually present for the steering committee meetings and mostly only communicated by e-mail and phone with the program director. In a face-to-face, sit-down-and-talk-about-it over-coffee culture like Albania this made things difficult. Second, I think I under estimated the bureaucratic hoop jumping that takes place to get a conference like this organized, especially working with an organization like the UNDP. The project was funded jointly by the UN and the American Embassy, but the UN can't disperse funds so a local partner NGO was needed to help with the actual management of the conference. Unfortunately, the process for finding and accepting a partner NGO took a long time (way too long) and so everything was delayed. We started the process in October with the planning of the training of teachers (TOT) but we didn't have a partner until February and therefore we didn't get money out to teams until that point. This delayed everything and meant that teachers and volunteers were paying out of pocket for things like copies and internet time for no reason (the money was there, we just couldn't get to it). When they finally did get the partner on board, everything had to be rushed and when you start with a mad dash and scramble and everything being late, there is good indications that things will continue in that way. To be honest, Mjaft! (the Albanian NGO that became the partner- means Enough!) did a mostly good job once they were in place and I don't envy the amount of scrambling at the end that they had to do to get everything done, but I can see that the whole process would have been about 700% times smoother if they had been able to start working with us in October or November instead of February. As it was we had to postpone one of the mini-conferences (regional meetings with 3-5 schools to practice before the big event) because the money hadn't been transferred yet and the teams couldn't afford to travel. My major stress over the past few months has been my sort of helplessness about the whole thing- as I was the one that the PCVs were most regularly talking to about issues they would talk to me (or complain to me) a lot about things like money or lack of information but unfortunately I had no control over these things and usually unable to help except to hassle other people higher up.

Somehow though, it did seem to mostly come together in the end, even if things were a bit crazed. The thing is really that that is usually how it works here (and sometimes in America too), things are rushed, thrown together and put to the last minute, but it works out. Mostly, I am really proud of the students. This year I got to know a lot more of the students as I had met them all at the mini-conferences and had a more direct relationship with many of them (read: they came to me for help with things because I looked like I might be somewhat in charge). This is great because these kids are truly the future of Albania and now since I'm friends with all of them on facebook, I'll know when one of them gets elected to Parliament or becomes the Ambassador to Egypt.

My work with this project isn't completely done yet. With a firm belief that we don't need to reinvent the wheel every year, I am going to work in the next few months to put together a resource kit and handbook for running the MUN. I hope that the MUN will continue for many years to come and I am sure that with such devoted and motivated teachers, students and PCVs it will just keep getting better.
Me and Dylan with the Peshkopi team and the Egyptian Ambassador to Albania

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Group Hug!

Last week Group 11 and 11.5 (plus Chuck) gathered together for the last time at our COS conference. Over the next few months, we will all start the process of finishing our service and starting in May, we will, a few at a time, leave Albania. The COS (Close of Service) conference seemed to fulfill two main purposes- give us lots of information about the next few months and the COS process and give us a time to get together one last time and be a group. From the start, our conference seemed to be a bit cursed, but only for the staff. On the first day we found out that our PCMO (medical officer) had broken his leg, our AO (administrative officer) had a death in her family and our SSO (saftey and security) got food poisoning! Luckily nothing else went wrong and after some schedule shuffling, we carried on with the conference.
In so many ways it is kind of incredible to me that I have only known the people in my group for about two years. Even though I have tried to stay in touch with people back home, in truth it is these people, people that were total strangers to me a few years ago, that I turn to the most right now. On the one hand it seems like I have been here forever, but on the other, looking back at pictures from staging and training, it seems like such a short time ago. And it is so strange to think that in a few months we will all be headed our seperate ways. Many group members will be returning to the states to go to grad school. A few have jobs lined up. A couple are planning on staying on in Albania for a while longer, either with Peace Corps or with other organizations. There are one or two others like me that will travel for a period of time before going home. A few have no real plans yet (except maybe to crash on Patricia's couch). It was great to find out what everyone else is doing and nice to know that I am not the only one without a real plan for the future.