Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trinity East meets Albania

So….the Peace Corps has this really cool program called WORLD WISE SCHOOLS. It’s a correspondence program between Volunteers and Classrooms in the United States. Essentially, volunteers link with a teacher in the States and share our experiences. And our lives can relate back to classroom curriculum such as different cultures, geography, foreign languages and so on. Its pretty exciting to share your story with a room full of eager and interested students!

I’m lucky this year to have recently connected with Ms. Shaw at Trinity East (Windsor for those of us who remember the good ol’ days.) Ms. Shaw is the teacher of a 4th grade classroom in Washington PA... my hometown. And my very favorite part of all this….Auggie Towers, my very smart, very thoughtful, very funny and all-around very awesome Godson. His sister, Lucie and brother, Danny are pretty fantastic too! I love you guys! And miss you everyday!

Here we all are together, just goofing around a few days before I was leavin’ on a jetplane

The link included is the "Introduction video" I sent, along with a letter to Ms. Shaw's the class.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH3_ZsjnAyA. (I'm so annoyed b/c I can't figure out how to include this link without YOU needing to copy/paste. 20-somethings and unders everywhere are laughing at me. Whatever. Go to the site. Its cute. I promise.)

And throughout the rest of the school year, I’ll have the chance to answer their questions about learning how to speak Shqip, buying my groceries, Albanian history, Albanian landscape and most importantly… how I survive without a TV!

If you know a teacher in the States who’d be interested in this program, please let me know. I'm loving this opportunity for cultural exchange. And well…..after living for 8 months in Albania, I certainly have stories to tell!

Peace, Love and 4th Grade

Lil’ More Salt N’ Pep Love

It probably comes to little surprise that I’ve made reference to these fine women of Hip Hop on more than one occasion. As a teen-ager in the 90s…Salt, Pepa and Spinderella were the staple of any good party or after-football dance. Push it, Shoop, Let’s talk about Sex… and I’d be remiss if I didn't take a minute or two and give much respect to....to the song that's made a difference in my world..... Whatta Man collabo with En Vogue.

So… when my young beau suggested that we dress as Salt N Pepa for Halloween….I was elated. You read that right, I said beau. It's true, I’ve cozied up to a fellow volunteer. No, we’re not FB official. I just prefer the non-cyber public displays of affection. Anyway, back to the subject at hand… our couples’ Halloween costumes.

Or should I say costumes gone awry. My young lover is from “the streets” as he likes to say. To which I like to say “I didn’t realize Connecticut was so ghetto.” (In such instances, my wit is underappreciated.) But …perhaps, his gangsta upbringing can be responsible for why I heard “Salt N’ PepA” and built my costume around the idea of 90’s hip-hop, Cheryl Wray, aka Salt. Mama was looking FLY in her baggy jeans!

Therefore, you can imagine my dismay when he showed up in all black, wearing a foil “screw top” hat and a large Letter P taped to his chest. That outfit earned him a hearty WTF?!

“I’m Pepper. You were supposed to be Salt, as in....shakers. Salt AND Pepper. Why are YOU dressed like T-Boz?!”

Oh no he di-ent just suggest I was a member of TLC. Straight up disrespectful.

Well… what could we do? We were already late for the party! Some fellow PCV’s had te nerve to cry foul… “You pre-planned that.... didn’t you?” Killjoys. All I will say is this…h I planned to be “Salt.” He planned to be pepper. And the result was a mis-communication. But it didn't hamper our good time, and I wouldn't have changed a thing about our Halloween night. Although I have to wonder.... why he didn't catch it when I asked to borrow his jeans for my costume???

Peace, Love and a Mighty Good Man

Ahh Pushim.... Push-im Real Good!

One of my favorite Albanian words: Pushim. Not only because it so easily fits into my favorite Salt n’ Pepa’s, Push it, but also for its actual meaning. Pushim is Vacation. Pushim is a Holiday. Pushim is a Day Off from Work. Pushim is a coffee break. So when it all boils down…Pushim is everything that’s right with the world!

So…let me break down some of the various pushims I’ve enjoyed during my service thus far: (Although adding “s” is not how we make things plural here in Albania. If I wanted to be true to the Shqip form, it would be pushimet…. Unless it was in the indefinite form which would be pushime. Crystal clear, right?)

Vacations: July and August are peak vacation months in Albania. Not a big surprise,

that pretty much goes for the rest of the Northern Hemisphere too! And during that time, work comes to all but a screeching halt! Most higher ranking staff take 2-3 weeks off at a time. While the cats away, the mice certainly don’t work on budgets or statistical analysis! So… during the summer months, I took advantage of a little vacation time myself…taking a dip in the Adriatic outside of Lezhe, sliding around on the cobblestone streets of Gjirokaster, Cheers-ing “Gezuar” at the Korce Beerfest, riding on a lackof-speed boat to the island on Lake Prespa and capturing mountain peak views in Bajrum Curri.

Holidays: There’s Nevrusi….where Albanians celebrate by baking a coin into their savory dinner pie. The one who gets the piece with the coin has good luck for the year ahead. But don’t ask me what the actual days is supposed to symbolize. I’ll learn next year! And there’s a Big Bajram…and a regular Bajram. I don’t know the difference. We celebrate a day for Mother Teresa. Both November 28th and 29th are Independence Days. (I think from two different empires…Roman and Ottoman, maybe?) Eh…I’ll tell you in a few weeks! And I’m sure there are more to come! And Christmas is Krishtelindje or Birth of Christ. There are Muslim and Orthodox religions here. And my favorite part is that….GET THIS….they co-exist in perfect harmony. (Hey rest of the world…there’s something you could learn here!)

Days Off: Like in the US, my “work” is Monday-Friday. But since I’ve taken on some projects outside of my host agency, Bashkia Elbasan (Municipality of Elbasan), I often find myself working on the evenings and weekends too. But its not work like drudgery… these are all projects that I’m excited about. And as a PCV…we’re “on duty” 24-7.

Coffee Breaks: Albanians favorite past-time. Well…maybe a close 2nd to weddings. I’ve told you before…they LOOOOOVE their weddings! But a coffee pushim is a great way to spend time with colleagues and learning about their lives and families. And while most businesses and organizations are trying to deter too many coffee pushims in order to boost productivity, sometimes its just necessary to step away for a caffeine jolt. And you know for me that’s some high voltage!

So... by now, you can probably see why I’m digging this pushim concept! You might have to wait a whole year to take another vacation. And in the US…there’s a pretty decent Holiday drought after Easter….especially when it comes early. And the work week? Well…everybody’s working for the weekend! But here in Albania….you never need wait too long to have another pushim. And that’s a beautiful thing!

Peace, Love and Gimme a Break!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Surviving Syd

My mom and I have an amazing relationship and every single day, I know just how blessed I am to be her daughter. That being said….she (Syd) and I also have what I’ve come to call… our “togetherness shelf life.” As I came into my adulthood, we found that spending more than 5-7 days together could bring about such negative side effects as headaches, irritability, thoughts of suicide and most significant, the need to emphasize that I am perfectly capable of deciding if I need to take a jacket or not!

And yet, I was a little sad when I realized my mom’s September visit to Albania would be only for 1 week. Surely it would go by too quickly! How would we see everything, meet everyone in just one week?

During her visit, I had the opportunity to play tour guide and translator. Hey, after 6 months, I can actually speak this Shqip! Frankly, my ego may be over-inflated since compared to Syd I’m damn near fluent! (In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king!) And I was also able to introduce her to many of the people who’ve become fixtures in my Albanian life… and fixtures in my heart. And just as you might imagine, they were as wonderful and welcoming to her, as they’ve been to me.

Zyri, my landlady, was amazing, taking my mom and I for a day trip around Lake Ohrid. We stopped for a coffee in Tushemisht, a small village on the border of Macedonia that was the
former communist dictator’s private lands. It was breath-taking but just another example of a needle-in-a-haystack destination that tells a great story. If only more tourists were lured here! Three women on a road trip, you can imagine the conversations… travel, food, men we love and men who make us crazy! What a hoot! Following our day together, Zyri and her Mama Lumi also hosted us to a traditional Elbasan breakfast with bugace (fried bread stuffed inside a roll of bread) petulla (think doughnuts or Indian fry bread) and home-made djath and mjalt (cheese and honey). Tasty, but it sure wasn’t part of the Atkins diet!

Visiting my host family was the chance for my two Moms to meet and to have an atypical tourist experience. It is in the villages where tradition runs deep. We were welcomed with hugs, kisses and more hugs and had the chance to tour the fields of the farm. The grape vines, the 4 o’clocks, the chickens, the freshness of products –so much of my host family’s life reminded Syd of her childhood… her mom and grandmother. Our Slovenian heritage seems to resonate here. And although we see the similarities…don’t dare suggest that the Balkan countries are the same! What we see as subtle differences are huge points of pride and identity for the Albanian people.

Diamanta and Mayor Sejdini, My “bosses” at the bashkia. The Mayor invited Diamanta, Syd and me to have coffee….in his office! This was quite a treat for us. But as Diamanta helped with translations, he confessed that Syd was volunteer Mom he’d ever met. He was so touched that she chose to visit Elbasan. Like others before, they showered my mom with gifts traditional of Elbasan and Albania. She was going to need another suitcase!

And finally…Vjollca, my language instructor and friend! We met… of course over coffee and talked about life in America and Albania. My mom was instantly connected to Vjollca, they bonded over “The Prophet” and other great books. My mom is making up a spare bedroom just in case V ever gets a visa to the States! Plus, Vjollca took us for my first Albanian haircut….success! Oh and of course Syd met the other PCV’s here…but we’re Americans, how boring. ;)

So in just one week…we accomplished a lot. But there’s still much I wish I could have shared with Syd. The week did go by too quickly, but all things considered, the timing was just right. I was reaching my limit on the “are you sure?’s” and the “wouldn’t it be better if’s.” Syd just can’t help herself. Of course, it was still a teary good-bye for me. Our togetherness shelf-life only approached its expiration date. Syd left me wishing we had just one more day….rather than wishing I could find a rope to strangle her. Serenity Now. (That one’s for you, Ry!)

Peace, Love and “Mom… Alright! I Got iI!”

Friday, September 30, 2011

A doni ju te pi kafe?

“Do you want to drink a coffee?”

Seems harmless enough, right? Well... not for me! While some girls can’t hold their booze, I can’t hold my caffeine. It’s embarrassing really. Within an hour or so… those around me are subject to rapid-fire questioning: Whatareyoudoing? Wannadosomething? Letsdosomething. Whatshouldwedo? Whereshouldwego? Letsdosomethingfun. Whatdoyouthinkwecoulddothatisfun? Whatareyouthinking? Some of you out there have been subjected to this, for which I apologize. But in Albania…coffee SIMPLY IS culture. And finding decaf is “needle in a haystack” difficult… Shume e veshtire!

I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker. I figured if I was going to start it would have been in college – late nights finishing a presentation or cramming for a final. My first attempt was a convenience store-machine Vanilla cappuccino from RJ Profits (Shout out to Pollack Halls at Penn State) when I was writing a history paper due the following day. It was 9pm. The caffeine took hold around 10:30 and with it came boundless inspiration. I knocked out the paper by 1am feeling pretty proud. This coffee thing might have some merit! However… at 5am, as I lied awake, toes wiggling, staring at the ceiling from my loft bed (Shout out Sara McFadden) I started to have 2nd thoughts about this magical drink.

But I’m convinced, if you took coffee away from Albania… life would stop. Similar to most Americans, Albanians are like zombie’s before their morning coffee. Mid-morning coffee breaks boost employee morale (although not necessarily productivity,) encourage business negotiations and help to seal deals. In the afternoon, friends meet for coffee to gossip/vent/bej llaka llaka about their days. Want to watch the big soccer match/ndeshje e futboll? Meet me at the café! And if you’ve got your eye on a young lady prospect…inviting her to coffee shows you are ready for a serious commitment. (if that’s not a reason to be wary of coffee, I don’t know WHAT is!) Once engaged, a young woman is often scrutinized in her attention to detail during “coffee service” with her soon-to-be In-Laws. Again, coffee IS culture.

The mode of choice: kafe turk apo kafe espres. Turkish or Espresso. Sometimes with a little steamed milk, most always with sugar! And they may be tiny in stature, they make up for it in punch! Average costs range from 50-80 cents in US dollars. It might sound like a bargain, but drink 5 in one day and you’re creeping on Starbucks-level investments. “To-go: is extremely rare – no grabbing a cuppa Joe on your way into work. And to the disappointment of many volunteers… no Dunkin Donut franchises are in the works YET!

My Albanian friends, who’ve now seen some of coffee’s effects on me (speed talking above and beyond my natural gift for gab, dancing around the office conference table, etc) have started to let me off the hook. Now, its becoming acceptable to order an uje me gas/sparkling water while they sip macchiatos. From time to time…I dabble. And every time… the result is the same. Today, I met a friend for coffee at 1:30pm. It’s now 2:00am and I credit the caffeine, still coursing through my veins, for inspiring this post. But when I crash, rendered useless for much of tomorrow…will it have been worth it? Well… I had a great time with a new friend, so Yes, absolutely!/Po, sigurisht! Thank you, Elda… see you again soon!

Peace, Love and Decaf

PS: Dear Chai Tea lattes, Don’t worry, you are and will always be my favorite drug-of-choice. I miss you and eagerly await our 2013 reunion.

PPS: Oh, and some of the men, in the evenings will drink kafe me bisht/coffee with "a tail" meaning raki. Think of it like a coffee with a moonshine chaser. That'll put hair on your chest!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yoga, Gender and Balance. Where my Boys at?

Gender Development and Equality is a main focus in many Peace Corps countries and Albania is no different. Although technology and cyber infrastructure have brought Albania into the modern world, strict gender roles still exist...think pre-women's lib style stuff. I can get into this more in a another post. However, our GAD (Gender and Development) Committee asked me to write an article for their September newsletter.... Yoga and Gender? Hey guys...when is the last time you struck a downward dog pose? Here in... please enjoy the newfound benefits Yoga brings to life in Albania!

September is National Yoga Awareness Month! (D’oh! If you were as unaware as I was…mark your 2012 Calendar now!) For the newbies: Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India, whose goal is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. (Thank you Wikipedia!)

Historically, yoga was developed by and for male bodies, and often draws on the language of male experience. Think WARRIOR poses. And yet you’ll typically find that less than 20% of participants in the U.S. are men. So as we work on developing gender equality here in Albania, let us not forget that our own gender balance is often as shaky as a first-timer attempting Tree Pose. (what’s that I hear? Crickets? Well…my attempt at a yogi joke. Whatever.)

So….I could drone on and on about yoga’s benefits – flexibility, balance, strength – and how they are not uniquely masculine or feminine, but rather human. About how poses and meditation bring a clarity of mind and spirit that cultivates an empowered self, yatta yatta.
But, I doubt this same tired message will do much to change the opinions of those “yet enlightened.” And truthfully, to reap the benefits of yoga takes time and we all know that most men are far too impatient for that! (Yes, I am keenly aware of the sweeping generalization.) So rather, allow me to offer some more immediate or practical reasons that you may find yoga valuable:

• Yogi Squat pose will improve your Turkish toilet experiences.

• Several studies suggest yoga improves sexual performance…I’m just sayin’….Pse Jo?

• Yoga poses and stretching can help eliminate/minimize aches and pains often blamed on the typical Albanian Divan turned Crevat(fancy style futon).

• Breathe of Fire is a natural way to warm yourself from the inside-out on those blustery Dimer days. Are you listening Bajram Curri(a chilly northern town)?

• Too much fasule(a popular bean dish)? Plow pose provides a natural and comfortable exit strategy for your most gassy aftermath.

I’ll leave you to consider these points…and just maybe, we’ll improve that 20% male participation statistic se bashke. Regardless of gender, yoga is a personal journey and I hope to see you along the way. Namaste*.

*My instructor’s translation: From the place I know to be divine within me, I bow to honor the place I know to be divine within you. Sa bukur, huh? (Beautiful, huh?)

Peace, Love and Downward Dogs

Monday, September 19, 2011

Not Intentionally Withholding

(unlike Lucille Bluth who gets off on that kind of thing.)

Anyway...My apologies for the blog neglect. But I've got some good nuggets brewing. As a teaser, in coming editions you'll find 1)inspiration from Salt n' Pepa's "Push it", 2) Surviving Syd ;) and 3) Unanticipated benefits of Yoga in Albania.

I'm giddy with anticipation.

Peace, Love and Procrastination

Friday, August 5, 2011

Kamper or Kardashian

There’s this unwritten expectation that Peace Corps Volunteers really like to camp/kamp in Shqip. I’ve failed miserably at living up to this expectation. And despite some gentle ridicule from fellow volunteers, I am perfectly comfortable with such failure. Let’s put it this way, if the 10-point camping-comfort scale, with 1 being the Kardashian sisters and 10 being Bear Grylls, I’d likely score somewhere around a 3.2.

It’s a tough score to calculate because I’m not much of girly-girl. From time to time, I happily go without make-up (but never without my Neutrogena SPF moisturizer). And both in the US and Albania, I have practiced the art of No-Shower-Sundays. But my disinterest in eating scorpions, beetles or partially digested berries found in some fresh antelope feces while sleeping on wet rock in a bat-infested cave has me teetering (although painfully) on the Kourtney/Kim/Khloe end of the spectrum.

With further consideration, it is not the camping I dislike, but rather all the required gear and effort that turns me off. (oh, how my commitment issue rears its ugly head again.)

GEAR: Tent, Tent footprint, Tent rain cover, tent stakes, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, flashlight/headlamp, lantern, swiss army knife and/or leatherman, mess kit, canteen/flask, cooler, matches, flint, kindling, firewood, freeze-dried foods, clif bars (gross), hiking boots, backpack, water bottles, compass, first aid, bug spray, bear spray…..OY! Exhausted yet? I am, and I haven’t even started on clothing or toiletries. Are there any sherpas in the Balkans?

EFFORT: Let’s really take it back. First, you have to commit to the idea of becoming a camper b/c aforementioned gear ain’t cheap. So homegirl/boy needs to start scrimping to save the necessary fundage for the gear investment. Which could require such sacrifices as buying Wet’nWild polish over OPI or going with the “well” instead of Grey Goose. Choices like these have me questioning the integrity of these so-called “campers.” Plus, it’s physically grueling, so you’d better get that lard ass to the nearest gym and work on the ole BMI before hitting the trail!

Once the gear and physical fitness are acquired there are still many TO-DO’s. You have to decide where to go, make a grocery list, do the grocery shopping (which is actually one of my very favorite things to do. I’m serious; I love comparative price-checking.) pack and determine transportation to the trailhead. Sometimes that a few hours in itself….and then you have to start HIKING! So now you have to map out a route to a campsite, expend energy hiking (I can think of a few preferred alternative ways of expending energy… hey oh!), and maybe even bushwhack your way through some unruly flora/fauna.

Upon arrival at the campsite, you have to clear the ground of thorny vegetation, pitch your tent (if you’ve ever been in earshot of H.Lee Dunn pitching a tent, you want to wash your OWN mouth out with soap!), unroll sleeping bags, prepare a fire pit, dig a poop-hole and pre-plan anti-bear attack food storage. Maybe you get a little time to enjoy the nature surrounding your campsite. If you are lucky, a stream, waterfall or view of a snow-capped peak. Sounds nice. (Nicer, if you get flown in via chopper!) But before long, all that energy you spent has your stomach growling and its time to cook. Likely you are too hungry and impatient to cook with any creativity or standards, so meal preparation suffers. You close your day with a few campfire sing-alongs, maybe shots of vodka (the shitty kind since you just had to have those top-of-the-line binoculars), a stumbling walk through newly spun spiderwebs just to pee in private and before you know it... time for bed. Or should I say, time for ground.

Maybe you sleep well, maybe you don’t. Regardless….in the morning ( bright and early since tents don’t have black-out blinds) you get to do it all over again. But this time, in reverse! OK. I’m definitely missing something.

Soo... Here’s the thing, I’m perfectly capable of going without many of life’s creature comforts. And I do envy those who revel in nature and the camping experience. With what I’ve seen of Albania, both with my own eyes and through photos, the idea does become a little more enticing. This is a beautiful country with undiscovered territories and countless picturesque scenes from shorelines to mountaintops. But you know I’m still crossing my fingers for an easy alternative!

Those times when I do reluctantly choose to go camping… upon return, all I can think about is getting to the Spa. Which brings me to my dearest Nicole Rosalina, to whom I dedicate this post. On occasion, she and I have enjoyed OPI pedicures while consuming copious Grey Goose Cosmos or some other trendy and pretentious cocktail and leafing through US Weekly Magazines. It was from Darling Nicki that I adopted my preferred style of "roughing it": sleeping on the mattress pad because your sheets were still in the dryer and you were too tired to wait 10 more minutes or just too lazye to actually MAKE your bed. Kampers... we are NOT!

Peace, Love and Hotel Rooms

PS: If you are wondering how a non-camper such as myself compiled the information and opinions herein, I give an experiential shout out to the WashPa Camping Group, with whom I spent several summers in Deep Creek or Swallow Falls (sounds so much dirtier as an adult!) I will also credit REI.com with some helpful nuggets. However I am compelled to draw attention to the following bulleted selling point for an REI tent:

-Mood-elevating colors create a pleasant interior even when the weather outside is less than perfect.

Really REI? Really!?! Although this IS a trick an honorary Kardashian like me would totally fall for… I doubt any self-respecting camper gives a shit. Come on. One more thing… I have sent two nights in this very tent in Gjirokaster, Albania. The tent was set up in the foyer of a fellow volunteer’s home. Again, modified “roughin it.” And although I had a great visit…I do not attribute my enhanced mood to the colors.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Truth Lies Within

Recently, I was lucky to be invited by Sergio, a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Volunteer, to participate in his English Camp. This was a morning program for Albanian children/teens that were learning the language. But it also provided an opportunity for Education Majors at the University to gain some classroom experience. During one of my visits, the “teacher-in-training” shared a story about an old man who wanted to teach his lazy sons a lesson about hard work. In so doing, he told a lie. If you’re interested in the parable, visit http://anustoriesforchildren.blogspot.com/2010/07/hidden-treasure.html. (sorry, the link feature's being a pain in the ass at the moment.)

The young teacher had students practice diction by reading aloud, answer comprehension questions and then she lead a more philosophical discussion. Have you ever told a lie? When, if ever, is it OK to lie? Are there times when you should lie? The children’s answers were diverse and brought thoughtful justifications. Not to mention, pretty impressive English skills for these “beginner-intermediates!” As you’d imagine, they talked of occasions where the truth is black and white, as well as those that called for shades of grey. Their rhetoric made me think of debates I’ve entertained about the value of stretching the truth vs. brutal honesty (Hey, what’s up, Levi?).

All that being said, let me share some (essentially harmless) fibs, misrepresentations, half-truths and/or omissions that I’ve experienced during my service so far. Aside: Isn’t it fascinating how many softer words we use to buffer the intensity of the word LIE? Anyway, here goes:

• Stickers on the back of furgons or busses that say “air-conditioned” and often have snowflakes to further entice a rider. I’ve discovered that such stickers should lead you to believe that not only is there no A/C on the vehicle, but the windows are sealed shut, so don’t assume you’ll even enjoy a hot breeze!

150 Leke sandwich. UGH! I already told you about being over-charged for my sandwich in Voskopoja! But clearly, I’m still a little peeved! A 50% MARK-UP! What about my ill-fitting wardrobe makes you think I’m a well-off American? Oh right…the part where I’m American. Whatever, that doesn’t make it right!

The meeting will start at 11.  OK, so it’s well-understood that Albanian meeting times are merely suggestions. This is something I can deal with. But I’m still trying to find the right period of lateness that doesn’t cause me to sit idle, but to be early enough to beat the last attendee. It’s a delicate dance.

• A furgon driver yelling, “Tiranë, gati!” Essentially, this means he’s READY to leave. Furgons are the mini-buses we use for city-to-city travel. The fiscally aware driver knows he gets more bang for his furgon buck if he leaves with a full load (8-10 people). So yelling GATI leads the gullible rider (guilty as charged) to assume he’s nearly full and will be departing shortly. NOT SO! In fact, there were only 3 others on the furgon I chose this morning and so we waited for about 25 minutes before heading out of Elbasan. GATI he was most certainly not.

Live and learn. And then discover that it usually takes several go-rounds to actually learn. E.G. That furgon I was “fished-into” this morning ... yea, about the 4th time I’ve been duped. Çfarë mund të bëj?/ What can I do? This is life in Albania. Should become jaded and less trusting? Or maybe I should just accept that it’s gonna be a while, turn on my iPod and enjoy another segment of “Wait, wait! Don’t tell me!” Thank you NPR Podcasts! I think I’m getting more NPR in Albania than I did in the States! NOW THAT’S THE TRUTH!

Peace, Love and Little White Lies

PS...there's a really great Freakanomics Podcast about "Faking It" that delves into the lies we ALL (yea, I said it.) tell everyday. It's worth a listen, if you are remotely interested.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Baited, Switched then Hooked

The Bait. A Facebook Invitation to help Eric, a fellow volunteer at his organization’s Summer Camp. It went down like this:

The camp would host approximately 75 children. With the organization’s staff, the adult to child ratio was already 1:6. Our role as PCVs would be to add support and maybe even develop some fun activities for the kids. Volunteers will be active, but also given some free time as well. OK, this sounds pretty good so far. Of course, I like kids and my schedule at the Bashkia was lean enough at the time to allow for a few days out of the office. My food and lodging would be paid for by the host organization and I’d just need to pay for my transportation to and from the camp. Getting better, I can save a few days worth of $Lëkë. Oh….and did I mention this camp was going to be at the beach/plazh?!? No Kidding! This camp was in Southern Albania, more precisely Borsh, a beach-front village/fshat on the Ionian Sea! (not far from Sarande, which is more likely to produce Google results. Do it and be jealous!)

Yes, please! Po, Ti Lutëm! Where do I sign up? Count me in! Clearly….I was totally and utterly FISHED-IN. In the days leading up to the camp, I sent some activity ideas to Eric (Shout Out to Childsplay and Tempe Leadership for in idea bank of awesome options!) and he developed a schedule utilizing many of them. I was so pleased to be playing an active role.

The Switch. What’s that expression? All that glitters is not gold. Which is why in instances such as this, I should remember that I’m a commitment-phobe for a reason! Do a little fact finding, test-drive that used Yugo, ask for a gelato sample before mixing Pistachio with Fruits of the Forest. The following details in the fabric were the things that made me panic (tip of the hat to one Mr. Jason Mraz):

• The only daily bus from Elbasan to Sarande leaves at 6AM. But in the summers, it can fill up, so best to get there by 5am to ensure you have a seat. Nuk jam një përsona e mëngjës. I am not a morning person.
• The 1.5 hour bus-ride from Sarande to Borsh induced motion sickness and therefore vomiting in no less than 67% of the participating children. And only 42% of them had plastic bags. Very little ventilation. (Think of Chunk’s story from Goonies about the massive ripple effect.)
• For fear of giving away the punchline, I previously elected to not use quotation marks around the word “lodging.” Now, perhaps watching too many American Summer Camp-type movies, deluded me enough to envision rustic log cabins. Stupid, yes I know! Tents, outhouses and public showers.
• Bugs. Mosquitos, Wasps, and other unidentified flying insects (more found inside our tents than outside, of course). During my recruitment interview with Lassana, I distinctly remember rating enormous insects as HIGH on the discomfort scale.
OK, so truthfully, I am perfectly capable of dealing with each of these little facets of Summer Camp. But, would I have been so Gung Ho about volunteering had I known better in advance? I like to think that I’d have been as eager to volunteer, but really, its difficult to say. That was A LOT of VOMIT.

And the Hook. What I can tell you now is this… if there’s a call for volunteers again next year, my response will surely be…. Yes, please! Po, Ti Lutëm! Where do I sign up? Count me in! Clearly….I am totally and utterly FISHED-IN.

During my time at the camp, I fell madly in love with no less than every child. Collecting rocks from the sea, playing Frisbee, Mother May I, creating secret handshakes, paper maché masks, untying human knots, falling asleep to the croaking frogs, sharing stories and dreams for the future… every moment was a gift! There’s something incredibly overwhelming when you recognize the power of encouraging words, or even simply listening* to a child’s story. Most of the children at this camp come from disadvantaged families, families where Mom and Dad’s only focus is survival. Attention, praise and affection for their children are all distant 2nds to putting food on the table. So our simple and sincere “bravo’s” and “shumë mirë’s/very good’s” and hugs and kisses on the foreheads brought an outpouring of love in return. One night, during a particularly gratifying round of hugs, one girl held on a little longer and whispered to me “Te dua shumë.” And while I unsuccessfully fought back tears, I responded with “Te dua gjithmonë.” And I always will. Thank you Eric for including me, I'll never forget it!

Peace, Love and Barfbags

*One boy came for a walk with me along the beach. And I was thinking, oh shit, how am I going to keep conversation going? Turns out, I never needed to….he did all the talking! My job was to keep him going with “the occasional “mmhmm,” “po…po” or “vertet?” All he needed was an audience and it was my absolute honor.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Eternal Damnation, Po apo Jo?

You know you are in trouble (I’m talking about After-Life trouble) when you find yourself asking… Now, this John the Baptist guy…what was he known for? I kid, I kid/Shaka Shaka. In fact, I remember a thing or two about him and his bad-ass baptizing ways. Isn’t it ironic that when you get dunked in a pool now the guy is considered a bully, but back then he absolved you of original sin? Anyway, I was knocked down a few pegs, dumb-founded even, on a recent visit to Voskopoja, a small tourist town in southeaster Albania. Voskopoja is known for its mountain views, Orthodox frescos and beautiful historic monasteries.

Each year on June 24th, this sleepy little village’s population explodes as Albanians, Greeks and tourists from all over (like a few PCV Americans) attend an annual festival for John the Baptist. I can’t tell you much more about the history of the festival because 1) my Shqip skills have not extended into faith-based vocabulary and 2) I feared that speaking with the priest would only illuminate my cavalier opinions on organized religion. But I was just taken aback by how much I either didn’t remember from my days at Sunday school or that I just never learned. As I looked upon all the incredible, ancient, hand-painted frescos of the monastery, I realized… I don’t know Jack. (OK, the 9584th time I’ve come to that realization). Essentially, in the monastery, my bumbling idiot ass went something like this:

“Ok, so that one, beard, great abs, kind eyes….that’s Jesus.”

“Oh, here’s one! Woman with a baby and skin like porcelain…that’s Mary.”
“And who do we have here, Father Time? No? Hmpf. Errrr… you guys wanna hit the beer garden?”

As I write, I imagine my more devout Christian friends are cringing. And for that I apologize, but also request… pray for me? ;) I don’t intend to be disrespectful. I do value Christianity and believe that my up-bringing associated with the church provided the guiding principles for my life choices. But the thing is, I just wonder… when the time comes for salvation…what’s more important, being able to identify the characters in the stories, or to have lived a life of humility, honor and grace? (hey…we are all works in progress!) Since we’ll likely never truly know the answer to that, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Oh shit… luck associated with the Devil, isn’t it? Well, then I’ll go with Hope…there’s that Faith, Hope and Love trifecta that sounds pretty significant! Regardless of my understanding of the scriptures, I still found our visit to Voskopoja to be absolutely amazing. Drinking in the experience, there was evidence of the Divine everywhere. Every mountain top, stream and tree. Every smile from a stranger. Every warm embrace among friends. Every time a child erupted in laughter. Now that’s where I find faith.

Peace, Love and Hope that Salvation is graded on a Curve

PS. Although I have to wonder… in a place where faith weighs so heavily, how is it that the kebab vendor charged me $150 Leke when he charged all my friends only $100 Leke. That’s a 50% mark-up. Judas!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Every now and then I fall apart.

You probably already know this, but I don’t like Mathematics. My distaste for the subject was only cemented Freshmen year after two semesters of barely passing grades in Calculus. (Thank you Mom and Dad for understanding!) That was also right around the time I gave up on the idea of Med school. No big loss, I only wanted to be a doctor because of ER. That’s when Clooney was still on. And that was a LONG ASS time ago.

Which brings me to my story. Despite my anti-aging success with Neutrogena, I’m still 10-12 years older than 85% of my fellow PCVs. (How many plugs does a girl have to make to get some product!?) Truth be told, most of the time, I don’t really feel differences between us. In part, because the experience of moving to a foreign country among a bunch of strangers is a great equalizer. In part because I’m continually impressed by their ambition, courage and tenacity that surpasses my own. And in part because I’m hip, I’m cool*, I can hang….or so I delude myself.

But from time to time, there are subtle reminders. Most often related to music. You’ve all been there. A great song comes on and someone says, “This song reminds me of grade school” when you are thinking “This song reminds me of my college boyfriend.” Oo… ouch. But at least in that case you can filter...keep your thoughts on the DL. However, it’s much more difficult to lay low when you are moved by those 4 magical words… Turn Around, Bright Eyes. And that’s when my youthful castle crumbled beneath me.

I was with my training site mates at Agroni’s Restaurant when Total Eclipse of the Heart began to play. The first note hit me and I couldn’t contain myself… in my mind, Agron’s turned into the Annual Mingioni Memorial Day Picnic/Karaoke Party. And if I do say so myself….I NAILED it!

I may have had a glass or two of wine… its difficult to say. Mid-way through my soulful rendition, it was becoming apparent that my sitemates weren’t becoming my back-up singers,as one would naturally expect. (sans Laurie who joins me in the 30's!) But for the rest of them….WTF is wrong with these guys?

Yeeeaaaaa… it’s about how they didn’t know the song. Or at least not well enough to sing along. I was dumbfounded! So I promptly dug out my iPod to discover that Bonnie Tyler released her chart-topper in 1983. At this point, I was a wee bit fired up at their ignorance and yelled… “this song was out in 1983….at least SOME of you were born by then!” To which they responded…..”Ummm, no Melia, we weren’t.” And again…. THIS IS WHY I HATE MATH!

So…I face the cold hard truth. I’m old. But actually, I’m diggin’ it. What else is there to do? You can’t stop time. But you can enjoy every step of the way, and that’s exactly what I am doing. And I’ll say that my training mates, (those young bitches) are truly the best. Now that we at our own sites, I miss them daily. But my heart is warm each time I look at my Bishqem/Pajove Superlative Honor: “Most likely to translate all late 70’s/early 80’s songs into Shqip before the end of service.” Well deserved, of course. I’d better get busy!

Peace, Love and Powderkegs

PS: Memorial Day 2013… get yourself to Upton Circle and Harm me with Harmony.

*Who picked up on the Dr. Evil reference? Scott, if you are reading… that one was for you!

Boys will be Boys

There have been many moments in life where I’ve thought….Oh, I wish there was someone here with me for this. For example…I wish someone had been in the car with me that one time (yes, it was only one time) that I drove away from the gas pump without removing the nozzle from my gas tank. No…those pictures you saw online were NOT PhotoShopped. It happens. Even to smart(ish) people! And its pretty embarrassing, but more so hilarious and I was sad to not share that with someone!

And yesterday, I had another moment where I really just needed somebody, ANYBODY to have been seeing what I was seeing! I was heading to lunch on the Boulevard of Elbasan (AKA the Xhiro). I’m walking toward a wedding dress shop (only because they are unavoidable) and when, what to my wondering eyes should appear???

A little boy, maybe 5 or 6, peeking under the dress on display. Now, some may call that peaking early. Hey Oh! Anyway, I imagine he was disappointed when he realized the mannequin was not anatomically correct. And equally disappointed when his mortified mother snatched him away. But this kid was on a mission! Not two seconds after she let go of his arm, he moved on to the next gown clad mannequin and felt her up! And this kid was good….it was as if there target and he hit the bullseye! All I could do was laugh. Alone. (heavy sigh.)

Part of me wanted to console the Mom and just say… “I wish I could tell you he’ll grow out of it. But it’s doubtful.” And then I thought of all my friends who have boys and just laughed in the delight that you’ll be swatting your sons’ hand away from mannequin breasts for years. Soak it up because that’s the good stuff! Much love and respect to Moms out there. And a special shout out to my Danny Boy because… well, Boys will be boys. Love you, buddy!

Peace, Love and Curiosity

Lost in Translation, Part Dy

So just a quick humbling story! I’ve been working with three interns, economics students from a local University. I mentor each of them in grant and proposal writing(fascinating, of course.) Sometimes we work in English, other times, we work in Shqip. Fortunately, I have a great colleague who helps me translate documents to use in our sessions.

So the other day, he’s helping me translate from English into Shqip. So he speaks, and I type. It’s a great way for me to practice listening skills. And I was doing GREAT! So great, in fact that I was typing every single thing he said…including “hapësirë.” That’s essentially the word in Shqip for space… as in hit the space bar. And all along I was just thinking…wow, this “hapësirë” sure is a common word, I should probably ask what it means. Do’h!

Peace, Love and Spacebars.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lost in Translation

I imagine it will come as no big surprise that sometimes our American expressions/shprehje don’t make much sense in Shqip when it is a literal translation. And vice versa, of course/sigurisht! In my first week of volunteer service at the Bashkia Elbasan, I’ve discovered just how often I used expressions to communicate. The following are only a few examples that earned me cocked heads, questionable stares and some “Çfarë?’s…What’s or Huh’s?”:
• You are rubbing off on me.
• Let’s take the bull by the horns.
• I’m just been flying by the seat of my pants. (This one was exacerbated by my wearing of a dress that day. And then, my first attempts at clarification of shooting from the hip or winging it did little to help!)

And now, the flip side:
• As mish, as peshk. LITERAL: Not meat, not fish. FIGURATIVE…eh, today I’m neither good nor bad. It has other neither/nor meanings too, but that is the simplest.
• Bën një urimë në ujë. LITERAL: To make a hole in water. FIGURATIVE…wasted effort. I see it as the Shqip version of “herding cats!”
• Fishkelle fort. LITERAL: Whistle hard or strongly. FIGURATIVE: Getting nowhere!

Thanks to some kind-hearted Shqiptare souls, other pearls of wisdom…or rather advice on words to avoid, have come along the way! The English sounds of “car” and “peach” refer to anatomy. Use your imaginations! So saying to someone… “Watch out for this car!” is either ridiculously alarming or a REALLY bad pick-up line! Oh, so the word for car is makine. I’m running some drills on that vocab right there! Also, I was recently told that when I say, “I’m excited about that” it is perceived as “that turns me on.” So, yea….um, I’m regretting telling people about how excited I am to work with them. No wonder everyone is so nice! Do’h! Luckily, I value laughing at myself over embarrassment. Besides, all I can do is to keep learning.

Another thing that keeps me laughing is even with experienced translators….sometimes things just seem a little misunderstood. Take this advertisement for a rental car company* not far from my house. Whoa! Really? I mean…if this doesn’t make you want to rent a car…..I don’t know what would! Hey Oh! I remember my first time, and it was actually pretty awkward. First of all, I wasn’t old enough to do it legally and since my parents were across the country, my uncle had to give permission. YES…I AM, IN FACT, TALKING ABOUT MY FIRST CAR RENTAL! What were YOU thinking??? (well, to appease some dirty minds out there, THAT first was pretty awkward too.) And well... whether it was awkward or fantastic, whether it blew your mind or your gasket, whether it cost you some money or some integrity, whether it was simple or complicated, the truth is….Ju nuk harroni asnjëherë me pare juaj/†You never forget your first!

Peace, Love and "Come again?"

*OK…so I can’t take credit for the discovery of this little nugget of pure joy! Kudos to Kristine and Vjollca for calling my attention to it during our blvd xhiro!
†Special shout-out to J. Matty and any of my other “firsts” out there!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shameless Plug!

Sometime around 2003 or so….my mom and I got into a major disagreement. Over a long-distance call she started with a phrase that never sits well with me. And that is, “You might not like what I have to say, but I’m going to say it anyway.” Note to mothers everywhere: This is a shitty way to deliver bad news, I’d much rather be taken by surprise than to start off annoyed knowing that I’m only going to become more irritated. Anyway, at the ripe age of 26 she starts laying into me about how the Arizona desert air is drying out my skin and that she thinks I should really start committing to a daily (and nightly) routine of moisturizers and anti-wrinkle creams. Two of my least favorite words, SHOULD and COMMIT, in the same breathe no less! WTF, was she trying to kill me? Admittedly, I am moderately vain. So the mire suggestion that I was on a downhill slide to Old Hagsville had me racing to the closest mirror. I remember it like it was yesterday… the apartment with Helen on Becker Lane (Shea and 96th for AZ reference). I was shume merzis/very annoyed and had stopped listening as she went on and on(the apple falls not far from the tree!) But I do recall her saying, “Someday, you will thank me for this.”

Well….the day has come. Although my pride didn’t allow me to acknowledge the value of her Should-ing all over me, I did choose to up the ante on my daily routine/rutina e përditshme of skin care. And here in Albania, my efforts are often rewarded! It’s not uncommon for people to assume I’m younger. And my favorite is when they assume I just haven’t learned my Shqip numbers yet and correct me. “Jo, jo… ti je njëzet e katër/No, you are twenty-four.” Thank You! You just gave me a bonus DECADE! I realize that it is very possible that they are just blowing smoke up my... chimney….but I don’t care!

So…allow me to give credit where credit is due*. While Courtney Cox and Madonna may choose pricier serums, peels and products, my Fountain of Youth can be purchased at your neighborhood CVS, Walgreens or Target! The weapon of choice is Neutrogena! And the preferred trifecta includes “Healthy Skin Anti-wrinkle, Anti-blemish Cleanser,” “Oil-free Moisture, SPF 15,” and “Healthy Skin Anti-wrinkle Cream, Original formula, SPF 15.” You’ve not let me down yet! And if any Neutrogena VIPs out there will be in the vicinity of Albania in the next 2 years, you can sleep on my couch if you transport some product! Scratch that, I’ll give you my bed! Oh…and while you’re at it… I’ve wanted to be friends with Jennifer Garner ever since “Alias.†” Since she’s one of your spokesmodels, can you hook me up? Thanks. I’ll pay it forward and I make a pretty good friend. References available upon request.

Peace, Love and SPF

*Additional Credit goes to my dad for his baby-face DNA and my mom, because Yes…I’m thanking you for it.
†I have some old Halloween pictures as evidence.

When I couldn’t sleep… (Warning…this will get sappy)

…as a little girl, my mom would always say “Count all the things for which you are thankful.” (actually she’d say count everything you are thankful for….but she also told me never to end a sentence in a preposition. So I modified!) Since I was never the most patient child, I’d outfox her and report back…”I’m done! I’m thankful for everything and everyone!” She told me that was cheating. And she’s right…I cheated myself from recognizing just how loved, lucky and fortunate I am. Most of you know that I’ve been feeling pretty well blessed over the past several months and it all was illuminated around the time I received my Invitation to serve in Peace Corps Albania. I continue to seek opportunities to express just how honored I am that you are in my life.

This past Thursday, at the Peace Corps Albania Group 14 official Swearing-In Ceremony, I was overwhelmed with gratitude again, making an oath to my country and to myself. So just in case I’ve missed somethings or someones….today, I’m counting and I am thankful for:
• Getting goosebumps when I hear the Star-spangled Banner
• My familje pritese, the Kateshi’s for their hospitality, patience and humor
• Fellow PCVs who value relationships, integrity and hope
• Dad, for teaching me the importance of frugality
• Mom, for teaching me the importance of kindness
• Ryan, for helping me expand Steeler Nation into Steeler WORLD…Yinz better believe it!
• PST Staff who worked their tails off to keep us safe, healthy, educated, informed and ready for the next steps. (Now you can finally exhale! You did it!)
• Fields of wildflowers with Tom Petty singing in my head like a soundtrack to life
• Childsplay and Oh! The Places You Will Go!
• The Ganman for furnishing me with great Flashlights (they are handy!)
• Ornela and Vjollca for helping me mesoj Shqip/learn Albanian
• Bashkia colleagues who will help me while I help them!
• Letters, emails, FB posts and phone calls from home…and to home
• Small World Moments like Kristine, the Johnson Family and my Landlady
• My REI Backpack and all its snaps…Thank you AZ crew!
• Yoga practice inspired by Leah
• “my little lotus flower” and other Demmer pearls that stay with me
• Site mates who check in, go out and enjoy akullore/ice cream
• My westward walk to work each day that has me walking toward home
• The scent of Orange Blossoms
• Subtle reminders of Finding Joy….everywhere
• Each of you reading this…especially those of you who know just how much I cherish our friendship. Give me time….and I will get your shout out in here too! LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Peace, Love and Still Counting

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

April, Come She Will…

And Shi continues through May in Albania! “Shi” is the Shqip word for rain. After 10 years of desert dwelling in the Valley of the Sun, this SHE is not happy with all the damn SHI! However, I will give my umbrella (çader) a much deserved 2nd place award for valuable packed items…and that’s a close second to my mummy bag! Additionally, a cyber-high-five and warm, loving hug to my mom who harped on me to rain-proof my jackets, bags and shoes. Did I say harped? I meant to say thoughtfully encouraged. ;)

Regardless of umbrellas and water-proofing….this shi sucks. And then if you add the erë (wind that is ironically pronounced air), it really blows. There’s one for you, Monty! But seriously folks….it rains buckets here! On more than one occasion the puddles have been reminiscent of the Elmhurst Swim Club. Not to be outdone, the impromptu rivers that run in the streets could put Indian Bend Wash to shame!

Now, the windows in my room face the East….so I’m in the mornings, upon waking, I can tell if it’s a Lovely (Sa bukur) Day or a pending Shi storm. Just call me Joe Denardo, Scene McLaughlin or Meteo-Bob. Anyway, waking to grey clouds this A.M. had me merzita (annoyed) to begin with and then….the worst thing you can imagine happened:

I went to get my shoes that were outside…ugh. What LUCK! They were square under the shelter of the awning. Fabulous! But then as I took one step out to just lean and grab them, it happened. I stepped on a soaking wet area rug. And I was wearing socks. THAT’S RIGHT….wet socks. Shume keq. Shume shume keq. (very bad. Very very bad.) I mean, come on! Can you think of ANYTHING worse!?!

So at this point, I can imagine those of you who live in Washington (that includes PA, DC and the State of) shaking your acclimated-to-rainy-weather heads at me! “Tisk, tisk Melia…you ain’t made of sugar and you aren’t going to melt!” To which I will counter with my momma taught me Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice…that’s what little girls are made of! To which you may counter… “oh…you haven’t been a little girl by SEVERAL definitions in years” Touché. I know when I’ve been beat.

Now, more importantly…did anybody out there catch the musical reference of this blog? Bonus Points* for those of you who recognize the Simon and Garfunkel (or as I prefer, G-funk) title. Alternative blog titles inspired my music that were considered but eliminated included:
• Rihanna’s Under my Umbrella, ella ella, eh…. (side note, Albanians are very phonetic and call her Ree-Haw-na. Cute and endearing!)
• Hall & Oates She’s Gone….but SHI is NOT GONE! Shi seems to be sticking around for a while!
• Eurythmics… falling on my head like a memory….

So what’s a girl to do? For now, I’ll just revert back to the good ole days….”Shi, shi, go away and send me a Bill Wither’s style “Lovely Day!” Just one look at you, and the world’s alright with me. Just one look at you, and I know its gonna be….a Lovely Day!

Peace, Love and Clear Skies

*Bonus Points!? What’s this? Does Melia have a Point System? I wonder what the prizes could be! I wonder if I’m winning! Well Kids, there’s only one way to find out! Keep reading and earning. Maybe you’ll get a special Shqiplish Decoder Ring. Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!

Wishing for a Power Outage

I live with 17-year old twins. They wake up very early…even on Sundays. (Less you forget we live on farm and there’s work to be done.) Like all 17-year olds, my host twins like listening to music….and they prefer Albanian folk music. I don’t yet love this music. And just like all 17-year olds, they prefer their Albanian folk music loud. Loud enough to be heard out in the fields as they ho. Ho! Their only source of music is the TV which is located in the room right below my bedroom. Sa fati! How Lucky!

It’s 8:30am and I’ve woken to a mean clarinet and a man pseudo yodeling with a strange vibrato-like style. (Music extraordinaires should forgive my gross mis-nomenclature of vocal expression. Please?) But here’s the thing. My alarm was set for 9am. Now, if you know me….you know that my very favorite kind of sleep is Uninterrupted Sleep. So…in PC, we don’t always get the luxury of favorites. Ok, I’ll settle for waking early if I can easily fall back into dreamland! Foiled again. The volume JUST went up, again. BLERG!

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered such a dilemma and here are some previous cases:
• 11 Garner Court, State College PA, we had some unfortunate neighbors who enjoyed testing out their sub-woofers on week-nights around 1am.
• 6445 Maple Ave, Tempe AZ, Wednesdays was landscaping day….6:30am starts an hour and a half of leaf blowers. (remind me I have a bone to pick with the companies that manufacture leaf blowers.)
• 8635 E. Roosevelt, Scottsdale AZ there were Penny and Nickel, my neighbor’s spunky dogs (cocker spaniel and mutt respectively) who’d bark incessantly for a good hour each morning after their owner would leave.

Is this karma? In a former life…was I the P.I.T.A*? Did I keep some young, well-intended

woman from her 8+ hours of REM/beauty sleep? Well…whatever it is, it drives me bonkers! But I also don’t have the balls to actually ever address the situation directly. Instead, I just try to block the sound with my pillow. FAIL. Hope for the offender to realize…oh, someone could be trying to sleep. Denied. So… what has two thumbs and is wishing for a power outage? THIS GIRL!

Awww…hell. I’m awake now. If you can’t beat ‘em.... Besides, I could never stay mad at two music-lovin’ 17-year olds! I may as well, get up and join ‘em for some circle dancing and ho-ing….IN THE FIELDS! Well, Mirëmëngjes/Good Morning to you!

Peace, Love and Clarinets.

*Pain In The Ass
And as a side note…..If you’re looking for a taste of Albanian Folk Music, check iTunes and YouTube. Surely you’ll find something interesting. Hopa Hopa!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Totally Off My Radar

A belated Feliz Cinco De Mayo to all my friends who either:
-are of Mexican descent,
-enjoy Mexican Food,
-enjoy Margaritas,
-know the difference between the Mexican and Mexican't,
-found a great excuse to start their weekends early!

This day flew right by me, and strangely enough, this Cince de Mayo, festival of cervezas y nachos is not highly recognized in Albania. I'll add that to my to-do list for next year! Salud!

Shiny Things

We’ve all known those people who we love and respect and appreciate, but might be a beer short of a 6-pack. These are the dear folks who are also often distracted by shiny things. HRC-eene. If you’re not sure that you know one of these people… Ask yourself this… would they be fished in by the popular, “Hey Look… Monkeys!” technique? ;) And truth be told, I will self identify as the occasional Shiny Thing Girl. Please refer to Appendix A: Melia’s Shiny Things* before judging me too harshly. You may find we are more alike than you think!

Well, today, I come to the defense of all the Shiny Thing People in the world. As I was feeding 60 or so of the baby turkey, I discovered that Shiny things don’t DISTRACT us, rather they ATTRACT us. It has nothing to do with attention span, or intelligence or a lack of commitment to a specific task at hand… it is our animal instinct. The evidence lies herein.

Baby Turkey (or is it Turkeys, Turkies, Turkeez, Turks?) are fed this yellow mushy stuff made of ground corn and eggs (yes, eggs…a bit cannibalistic, but whatevs.) We hand-feed these little fellas because its important for them to grow big and strong... Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we’ll be living on Easy Street! So anyway, we mash a golf-ball sized ball of this mush in our hands and then hold it down for the babies to peck away. And they LOVE the shit! Sometimes they miss and get a finger nail or meaty part of a fingerprint. But for now, their little beaks aren’t strong enough to do any real damage.

And sometimes, these little guys stray from the mush and come around my hand and start pecking away at my ring. It’s not a little distraction where they realize,” oh, that’s not food!” No no, it’s an attraction and they’ll keep pecking, they can’t stop…something about that SHINE just keeps them mesmerized. I actually had to take it off to ensure a few of them DID get to eat. So there you have it….our friends who love SHINY THINGS can’t control their instincts. They are just like Turkey!

Then again, I’ve heard that Turkey are known to drown themselves by looking up when it rains. And now I fear I’ve done more damage than good. Well shit. Kjo është jetë/This is life. Oh…and I have a hazy memory of being told not to go snorkeling in a shiny bathing suit as to not ATTRACT barracuda. So there’s that.

Peace, Love and Hey, Look…MONKEYS!

*Appendix A: Melia’s Shiny Things
Although not proud, the following non-all-inclusive list consists of things that have distracted the author from conversations, meeting deadlines, walking, chewing food, etc:
• A Tray-full of Z’s Chambord Margaritas
• Whale’s Tails (thong panties breaching the waistline of a girl’s pants)
• Butterflies (awwww….)
• Hot guys, which is an alternate list in itself.
• Douche-B’s dressed in Ed Hardy, Affliction, Head-to-Toe Leather, etc.
• Cute Old Couples
• Enormous Jugs on either gender
• Sizzling Fajita Platters
• Drunk girls… Bonus SHINE if they are crying.
• There are several more, but since I respect your time and patience, I’ll stop at thi…Wait a sec… is that at Mullet!?!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Drekë: All that and a Bag of Flips!

Pluto Flips, that is! The perfect appetizer for today’s Drekë/Lunch! Essentially, these magical Pluto Flips are cheese puffs…but the advantage of this Albanian version is that your fingers don’t turn radioactive orange…and they have PLUTO on the bag! Mickey Mouse’s pet dog! A mouse with a pet dog? Vertet?!? Who knew! Not sure if Mr. Wally Diz is privy to this flagrant use of Pluto’s image, but what the hell….I’m not terribly concerned with copyright laws* at this stage of my life.

So here’s the back story: Today I visited the market to buy supplies for a dessert I am making for my host family. And since I slept through breakfast (you can take the girl out of America….), I was getting a little hungry. Scratch that…I was a lot hungry, STARVING if you will! And lunch in Albania is a late lunch…2pm-ish, so I needed to take matters into my own hands and fast! In addition to the necessary embëlsirë ingredients, I snagged myself an Albeni candy bar (think Twix, but ½ the price and about ¼ the flavor. What can I say, Peace Corps is all about sacrifice) and a bag of my new favorite cheesy snack, Pluto Flips.

Some of the other volunteers have scoffed at my liking of these highly processed Flips. Then again, these are the types of people who prefer Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. So their organic sensibilities just don’t jive with my cravings for food-like products that smell like chemicals. Hey... you could always find a brick of Velveeta in Mom’s fridge in my younger years and I think we all know that’s NOT ACTUALLY CHEESE. Anyway, it should come as no surprise that I would opt for the Cheese/ Djath flavor and shy away from the Ketchup flavor. Something about that just doesn’t sit well with me. To-may-toe, Ta-mah-toe.

On my walk home, I HOUSED the entire 480kcal† of Flips in a matter of moments. I didn’t formally clock it, but I’d guess somewhere between 60 and 142 seconds. I’m pretty sure there was Flip cheese residue all over my face as I greeted my fellow Bishqem village people. “Mirë dita and a Y-M-C-A back atcha!” I bet they were thinking…. “My my, doesn’t that darling American Girl just love her Pluto Flips!” Or more likely, they though…. “We have the freshest ,most delicious and healthy produce right here in our gardens and your dumb ass walked to the store for THAT CRAP? Stupid American.”

Despite my fervor with the Flips, I was still hungry and put away the Albeni Bar with one swift shove down the gullet. Within minutes I was home and Uh…oh! it was early lunch/drekën herët at the Kateshi home/stepia. So now, on top of my gluttonous snacks came sausage, a fried egg, cheese, yogurt and some bread! That’s right, all that and a bag of Flips. It didn’t take long, but I was STUFFED. (a sweet and loving acknowledgement to my Gramma J who was always either “starved” or “stuffed.” Like her, I also am often willing to have, “just a bite.”) U ngopa. I'm full.

Peace, Love and Pluto Flips

*Copyright Law execption…I am still personally invested in the copyright stuff happening at Childsplay b/c the intellectuall property at that place is hands-down, priceless! Intrigued? Visit www.childsplayaz.org and be amazed!

Zbavitemi Se Bashku

For those of you thinking….WTF? That little tongue twister translates to A Play Day Together. And it’s the name of the Community Project my fellow trainees developed for Pajove and Bishqem, Shqiperia. Our goal was to create an event that would create an equal playing field for both boys and girls.

In most Albanian villages, there is an apparent lack of gender integration. And I’m not talking about how the girls play on one side of the playground and the boys on the other….more like the boys play outside and the girls are nowhere to be found…often because they are at home helping their mothers in the garden or housework. The disparity between the genders runs deep and is entrenched in a long and honored tradition.

So our event was designed to bring boys and girls together for pure and simple FUN…and in doing so, we may have had a little ourselves too!

We expected about 50 kids and were totally overwhelmed with the turnout. And frankly, it didn’t take long for the boys and girls to be playing side-by-side! I met some really amazing kids and fell in love with all of them. It was AWESOME and breaks down like this:

• 5 Weeks
• 8 Motivated Peace Corps Trainees
• 2 English-Shqip Translators (Thank you, Ornela and Vjollca!)
• 4 Activities: Tug-o-War, Sack races, Three-legged Race and Ultimate Frisbee
• 140 Manpower Hours: planning, marketing, design, execution
• 125+ Kids, ages 6ish-16ish
• Immeasurable pride and satisfaction

Did you find me? I’m in the back right corner holding up a little munchkin! Unfortunately, this picture doesn’t capture the handful of boys who tore their shirts off. And I realized that no matter the age, no matter the group…there are going to be boys who tear their shirts off. Clearly these guys will grow up to be the ones who rip off their shirts in bars or at parties and start fights with the phrases “You wanna go? You wanna piece-a me?” I also realized that every group of kids everywhere has a Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” See the lower left corner. And without fail…I always love the Ralphie! Every group also has Do-Gooders, Athletes, Pranksters and Sweethearts. So the lesson here….people are the same where ever you go. (hey, that should be a song!) And there’s something very comforting in that… I like it! Me Pëlqen!

However….following the event, our stats started to look a little different:
• 8 thirsty Peace Corps Trainees
• 1 Club Saliu
• 33 Beers
• 52 Cards for “Kings”
• Too many “I Never’s”
• Immeasurable laughter…both WITH and AT each other!

No photo evidence of that… ;) Thank you Brenna, Ian, Tous, Lenae, Alex and Claurey ;). Cheers to us!

Peace, Love and Se Bashku-ness.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Word Association Game

You all know what I’m talking about, right? I say a word and then you say the first word that comes to your mind. Here are a few simple examples: Big: Small, Chips: Dip , Hall-n: Oates, (or if you lived at 231 Greenhill Drive, this next one might sound familiar) Jesus Christ: Sonovabitch. And so on and so forth. You get my drift.

So what do you think when I say PEACE CORPS? While I don’t presume to know all your answers, I’ll guess at a few:
• Tree Huggers
• Sacrifice
• Humanitarian work
• That scene from Airplane where he’s playing hoops and she’s burping Tupperware
• Flies on eyelashes (thinking about ya, Rosa!)

But did anyone say BUMPER CARS? No?? Well, that’s weird. After yesterday, I don’t know that I’ll ever think of Peace Corps without thinking about Bumper Cars. Who knew!?! Yea…that’s right, Bumper Cars are apparently pretty popular in Albania. Although, if it is only Albanians riding, there is much less bumping, and they just cruise. What’s the point of that? Well…God Bless America and our bumpin’ bumper car style! Being in a foreign country really DOES make me more patriotic!

The Group 13 volunteers who started their service last year coordinated a meet-n-greet event for us newbie 14ers. Those of us who wanted could go for a spin. Hands down, the best $100 Leke ($1 US) I’ve spent since landing in country. And that gave me not one, but TWO rides! Word! And from the way we were all tearing into each other… PEACEFULNESS would have been the LAST think you’d have thought of in word association. It was awesome! Unfortunately, you can’t tell from the pictures, but the flag on MY car said “SPEED.” You bet your sweet ass it did! Thank you Group 13 PCVs!

Peace, Love and Accelerator Pedals.

My Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds

I imagine several of you shrugging your shoulders and thinking, “Yea, so what else is new?” But…for me, it’s still fairly surprising when I recognize that I am indeed a hypocrite; call it naiveté or a lack of self-awareness or what have you. It’s silly; really, there’s evidence all around… e.g. I actually have a Justin Bieber song downloaded to my iTunes. But there’s something about Albania that brings some more significant hypocrisy into the limelight. The most recent and clearly most blatant example lies herein.

After about a month now living with my host family, I offered to prepare a dinner. So I came up with my grocery list in Shqip and we compared what my family had at home and what we’d need to buy:
• Pulë fileto/chicken breasts
• Djath/cheese, feta preferred
• Gjalp, pak/Butter, just a little bit!
• Qepë/green onions
• Bukë crumbs/Bread crumbs and yea…I don’t know the word for crumbs yet
• Salate jeshila/salad greens
• Lulështrydhe/strawberries
• Vaj dhe uthull/oil and vinegar
Side note: Who’s mouth is watering at the idea of feta-stuffed chicken over a strawberry and greens salad? Well…I can tell you, it is DELISH!

My host-sister, Jirina, and I were off to the market, strawberries and frozen chicken breasts were all we needed! (But since I’m an impulse buyer, we also got almonds, pretzel sticks and some chocolate to make desert! Jealous, much?) Back at home, we thawed the chicken breasts and I taught her how to prepare everything. Maybe on another occasion, I’ll explain my dumbass way of making bread crumbs. I’ll just say this…there are simpler ways and I am an idiot. But back to the story at hand….The oven we use for baking is actually outside the house in a smaller kuzhine/kitchen. This kuzhine is also where the mama hens and turkey are sitting on their eggs to hatch. (I’m pretty sure there’s a term for this, but I can’t remember it the moment. Please forgive me…the Shqip brain infusion is making my English go all wonky.)

So we walk into the kuzhine and what a lovely surprise!!! One of the mama hen’s babies have hatched so I went over to the crate where she and her 20…that’s right twenty/njezet baby chicks were peep, peep, peeping away! I preheated the oven to 350° and I ran back to the house for my camera. Jirina indulged me as I held a few of the chicks and cooed over them. I was instantly in love with all 20! I was happy as a school-girl and totally deluded! That is, until Jirina turned the camera to the meal I had just prepared and took a snap shot of the stuffed chicken breasts that were to be our dinner. Oh. Holy. Shitballs. My mind raced ahead a few months….oh this sweet little thing is going to be food!

I’d like to think I didn’t make the connection earlier since we had bought the chicken breasts from the market. But seriously, I was totally caught off guard! Well duh, Melia! Where do you think all the meat in the chicken soup/gjellë pulë had been coming from??? Well, of course I knew it was our chickens…but I still have yet to see one’s neck snapped, body de-feathered and gutted for the table. So I’m still removed from the steps between farmyard and dining room. Ignorance is Bliss.

So, will this recognition stop me from eating chicken or turkey or beef or even veal? Ummm….Nope! I can admit it. Does it make me a little sad? Sure, but being sad doesn’t stop a growling tummy and I already told ya… Feta-stuffed chicken is delicious! So, this is me…. a chick-loving, chicken-devouring hypocrite. But….based on some good advice I’ve received, I won’t be giving names any of those sweet little buggers. Well, that is, other than Senorita Polly McPeeps who I’ve smuggled into my bedroom! She’s going to love me forever.

Peace and Love

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Eat your heart out Howie Mandel

So, I wasn’t entirely shocked when I learned that there’s an Albanian Big Brother and a Dancing with the Stars Albania. (Nic….DWTS-A season is just beginning. I’ll keep you posted!) But the one that threw me was….Deal, or No Deal. Except, here in Shqiperia, its called Kutia Fundit. Hmmm… the error of my ways is suggesting that the name is the only exception.

There is one very obvious similarity…the premium ingredient for the perfect Deal or No Deal recipe. And that is the very necessary ,over-cheesed, over-scripted and over-comfortable with improve host! And while Mr. Kelli Demi isn’t as schnazzy a dresser as our Howie and doesn’t have the Mr. Clean glimmer of a BBC* dome, he is one HELL of a smooth criminal! I’m telling you…this guy could sell Ocean Front Property in Arizona. (Can I get a rebel yell? Kudos Mr. Straight.) Now, I rarely understand more than 2 words of every sentence, I can tell you that Demi’s posturing among the contestants is epic. He nearly dances with delight when he gets to sneak peek into the selected “briefcase” before revealing to them if they’ve made a colossal mistake. (that is…a more colossal mistake than agreeing to be on the show.) I thoroughly enjoy the piss-poor poker faces of the contestants who clearly want to rip out his tonsils as he drones on and on about the possible crushed dreams that come with revealing their choice.

So I mentioned “briefcases.” Here in Albania, we like to keep things simple... these TV producers know how to work on a budget! (a lesson some of our syndicates might consider.) Instead of the steel cases you are used to, imagine instead a cardboard box. Hey…don’t judge! They are printed cardboard boxes, not just your everyday old brown corrugated shipping/moving boxes. These things are pale blue and may have some design. Its hard to tell on our televisor. These boxes don’t need a latch and key….oh no! Rather in Shqiperia, we seal ours with a length of twine. The anticipation as they untie that twine is maddening!

And the mysterious “banker” in our cheesed-out US version is no where to be found. In Albania, our banker is just some regular guy sitting at a computer on a theatre balcony. I’m pretty sure he’s using Quickbooks to make his deal offers and although he’s given a microphone, he mostly just yells down to the stage.

What I love is that despite all the differences, it only took me about 15 seconds to say, “Hey! This is Deal or No Deal” the first time my family turned the channel to Kutia Fundit. OK….so after all that…I just referenced my translation dictionary and Kutia Fundit actually means, The Last Box. Of course it does. Life just keeps getting better!

Peace and Love

*BBC=Bald by Choice….which many of you know has always been a head-turner for yours truly. BBC is much better than BBN, Bald by Nature. I mean really…if the writing is on the wall, take action into your own hands and give yourself a pre-emptive buzz!

Three Nights in Fear

So this past weekend brought a new PC experience. Those of us in training were assigned cities, towns and villages across the country to visit. We’d stay with a current volunteer and get a taste of their personal and professional lives once we’re weaned off the Peace Corps’…..well, you get it. I’ll just say that we are very sheltered during our training. And for good reason, despite our overconfidence, we don’t yet know our gomars from a hole in the ground!

Getting to my visit included a bus ride like I’ve never had before. The bus had seats for about 24 people. When it arrived at my stop for pick-up, there were already 28 people inside. And there were 5 of us, all PC folk, who still needed to get on. One of our 5 was a current volunteer who knew how to sweet talk the driver. We climbed in…literally and then climbed over some Albanians and landed on the laps of our fellow PC trainees and volunteers who had snagged actual seats on the previous stops. Laps on top of laps….it was intimate. Was bound to go there eventually anyway, right? Kjo esthe Albania, kjo eshte jete. (this is Albania, this is life.) By the time arrived, my right leg was asleep from tootsies to ass cheek. Hmmm…do I want to use this as my standing anchor leg or landing leg with my first step? Luckily that painful tingle returned just in time to add pressure and weight!

I spent 4 days/3-nights (sounds like a AAA vacation package!) in lovely Fier, Albania. One of the 5 largest cities in Albania, Fier is in the Southwest (ish) of the country. I looked for some “I’ve Lived in Fier” t-shirts but no such luck. And frankly, I didn’t look all THAT hard. But I “hier” they are out there. (anyone had it with my puns yet? I’m just getting warmed up. Tell Monty that he’d better keep sharp!) Anyway, its about 25 kilometers from the Adriatic. No, I’ve not gone all metric yet, I just don’t know the conversion and that’s what I was told. Considering I know that a 5K is 3.1 miles, I surely could do the math. But I’ve always hated math.

Well….no matter how far it was, I didn’t make it to the Adriatic. I’ll get there eventually and dip a toe into the salty sea waters. But I DID get a chance to see Apollonia. I made some crack about Prince and his Apollonia from Purple Rain and clearly dated myself. Not cool all you 20-somethings, not cool. But this one is an historic reserve from the 15th century (don’t hold me to this…but I’m close give or take a few thousand years either way!) with a monastery, acropolis, amphitheatre and some old cave systems. It was a beautiful spring day and I had great company….two other trainees in my Group 14 and two current volunteers who thankfully have actual skills in Shqip. (there’s hope for us yet!) Anyway…if you ever find yourself in Albania…I’d highly recommend the visit to Apollonia. It’s certainly worth the $300 Leke entry fee ($3 US)!

The volunteer I stayed with is working on a few different projects with various organizations. One is the Bashkia (municipality government) where she’s coordinated directory systems and helped to develop a One-Stop-Shop for citizens of Fier allowing for quicker answers to their questions while improving efficiencies in Bashkia operations. She’s also working with a colleague to develop a young girls program, inviting high school age girls to participate and talk about life’s interests, challenges and possibilities. No moss grows on this rolling stone! She certainly stays busy and taught me a lot. Thank you Susan!

Peace and Love.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Luv Me Mummy!

Oh Bloody Hell! Living in the Eastern Hemisphere has made me go all Madonna or Gwenyth Paltrow. No, no, I’ve not taken up a phony British accent. Not yet at least, but I wouldn’t rule it out for the right occasion. And while I do love my mom… she is not at all the subject of this post. But rather an equally important love… my mummy bag. (Sorry to disappoint if you were thinking I would reveal that I’d taken a Lover.)

I am in love with my mummy bag. Not only does it help to keep me warm at night, but it’s narrow form has me swaddled up like a baby (Hi Paz!) and I sleep like one too! You may be wondering why I need a sleeping bag to keep me warm at night. Does she sleep outside? Has she taken up camping? Did her host family boot her out because of TURP/shame? No, no, no….none of that! I am still in my lovely room at the Kateshi home! And other than getting home last Friday after dark… which had them very concerned (BTW, it was only 7:45pm) I believe they are very proud of having me in their home! And likewise…I’m proud to be a part of their family!

But homes in Albania are not constructed with insulation. Please don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. And I prefer leaving all the construction talk to the men in my life! Is that taking two giant steps backward for feminists all over the world? Oh well. There just isn’t insulation. Not in the homes, not in the office buildings, not in the schools. Sometimes its even warmer outside than it is inside. Again…this is a phenomenon I cannot explain, but I bet someone who knows anything about thermodynamics could have a field day (Nerd Alert!)

Sooo….once the sun goes down it makes for a cold night. My darling Mummy bag, my Silver Bullet L.L. Bean dream, my radiating cocoon….you remain my most valuable Albanian possession. But… I will say, there’s one downfall. When my alarm goes off in the morning, it’s a real bitch to get my arms out of the swaddling to turn it off. Rolling over isn’t terribly convenient either. But warmth and a good night’s sleep trumps ALL. Thanks Uncle Al! Peace and Love.

KFC ain’t got nothing on Mamaja ime!

Just wanting to give a shout out to my host mom, Razie (prounounced Razz-ee-ah) for making some of the best Fried Chicken I’ve ever had! You hearing that South Carolina? The gauntlet has been thrown. ;) And some French fries to boot! Plus one of her best friends came over to make a special yogurt recipe that included garlic, cucumbers, olive oil and sea salt. Oh. Em. Gee. It was delicious! Te lumeshin duart! That’s the Shqip phrase for “bless the hands that made this!” and is an uber-compliment. And Mamaja ime, Razie deserved every bit of praise! WORD. That meal is gonna require a little aerobic exercise to work off! No worries.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Endorsed by Cheney!

Dear beloved bleeding heart liberals…take a deep breath….exhale. Allow me a moment to explain. NO…I’m not talking about His Honorable former Vice President Dick Cheney. He has not endorsed me as a Peace Corps volunteer, nor as a regular ole’ American for that matter. Not that I’ve asked….I can’t really see why he wouldn’t…I’m quite nice when you get past my harsh, cruel exterior. I might have to lie about my political affiliation, but I’m always up for a challenge! Anyway…shall I get to the point?

Cheney, or as its spelled in Shqip, Qeni is the word for Dog. My host family has a dog who essentially acts as the farm’s police officer. If he has a name, I don’t know it. The idea of animals as pets is nearly completely foreign to Albanians. (Then again, I’m completely foreign to them too!) Anyway…Dick Qeni Kateshi, or DQK as I’ll refer to him from now on is no cuddly man’s best friend! He looks like a cutie! And sometimes his tail even wags suggesting playful delight, but take a few steps in his direction and he’s clearly sending a BTFU* message. I can just tell he’s thinking, “I could gnaw on that American femur for days and days.”

Everyday, when I come home DQK, who is on a short leash near the chicken coop, goes ape shit! Barking and jumping and making all kinds of noise. Seriously, the way he reacts would make you think I’m wielding a machete and have a peg leg, hook arm and bad teeth! (PS, I floss here more than I did in the US!) God forbid I want to sneak into the house to pee quickly without the very warm and well-intended barrage of questions about how my day went and what I’ve learned and if I want to eat….always always always asking if I’m ready to eat. (accepting all website links that offer deals on elastic waistband pants!)

SIDE NOTE: The pee-pee dance IS a universal form of non-verbal communication. Well, at least it is among the women who live in my host family! I’m grateful for these simple pleasures.

But today…the tides have turned. When I walked through the gates, DQK didn’t even make a fuss! I don’t know if it’s because he was exhausted after two days of rain or the fact that all members of my family greet me with kisses on both cheeks and often multiple times or if he’s just getting used to having me around. And I could CARE LESS! I’m just pretty stoked that DQK has finally accepted that I’m here and settling in to the whole fam damily. That’s right Albania…, just got my DQK endorsement. I HAVE ARRIVED!

Oh! Leigh….you’d have NO shortage of work here! I’ll make up a room for you once I get my own digs. You’d be rolling in Leke before you know it. Well…that or dog shit. But…it’s all about the experience!

*BTFU…Back The F %$@ Up!

Cancel my rush order on the Shake Weight!

Please tell me you’ve seen the commercials for the Shake Weight! And then, please tell me you think it looks as ridiculously suggestive as I do. I mean, come on phallic symbols! But leave it to late night phone order advertisements to prey on women’s insecurities. Actually, there’s a men’s version too…I’m not sure which one makes me more uncomfortable. Who were the Ad Execs who approved that spot!?!

So anyway, this one caught my attention….I believe I have inherited Grandma Dunn arms. If you had seen or known my Grandma Dunn, you’d recognize this was a strand of DNA I’d have rather avoided. And even though trainers always say…you can’t do “spot reduction” I’m still holding out for the chance that I could tone my arms in just 3 minutes per day. So when that Shake Weight commercial started to air, I’ll admit…I was tempted. Now, I didn’t pick up the phone to commit to three easy payments or anything (reminiscent of a certain Penn State roommate who ordered a 3-disc set of 80s love songs and then added the rush order. We love you Kim!) but I was intrigued. Certainly a cheaper version would come available at the As Seen On TV store.

But wait one second… I think I’ve found the alternative! Last night, my host brother was holding a large plastic jar and shaking it. After some stumbling through the Shqip, I realized he was making butter. Not the old-fashioned churning style…but in shake weight inspiring style! Well…hand it over, Antonini! I can work on that milk and fat and salt and whatever else goes into butter (not sure I really want to know). Well…he did and let me tell you, I shook the hell out of that butter….over head working my triceps….at chest level to work my back and shoulders… I would have made Jane Fonda, Denise Austin and Jillian from the Biggest Loser so proud! You don’t need all those gadgets and gym memberships, etc. to stay in shape…you just need to move to Albania and live on a farm. Soooo simple!

You had me at “Explosive”

OK, so before I launch into this next entry….does anyone else find it interesting that nearly 15 years later… quotes from Jerry Maguire are still recognized?  You may even find yourself saying…oh, it hasn’t been 15 years!  Hate to break it to you….but its about that long ago. I know because I can remember sitting and watching ole’ Tom, Cuba and Renee in my college boyfriend’s apartment during the summer of 1997.  It was on VHS.  Yikes.  Next thing you know I’ll be soaking my dentures!

Anyway… trumping the moment where Jerry comes home to the divorced women’s club and sweeps Renee Zellweger off her feet as he swallows his pride and puts his wife ahead of his career…yatta, yatta… is a special exchange with my own new crush.  I should clarify, its purely a professional crush….but nevertheless will surely bring me great joy.  Cupid doth shot his arrow again. 

Paula, our Albanian PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer).   Paula first turned my head when she used the phrase “pregnancy exposure” as if it were more like being in the sun too long or getting stung by a mosquito.  This was during her initial introduction to Group 14 when she spoke of our Medical Kit and other options that PC can provide to us when in need.  She’s a straight shooter and doesn’t get too hung up on super clinical jargon.  But don’t let that suggest she is anything less that incredibly professional.  She’s warm and attentive and has our best interest in mind always.    

So the pregnancy exposure had me giggling to myself.  But when she came for our 2nd session….focusing on health as it relates to food and water is where I totally fell for her!  First…she started the session with the musical video of “Everything Comes Down to Poo” from Scrubs.  I just love that Turk!   And anyone who knows me….knows that the topic of Poo itself is one that I can’t seem to get enough of.  (Hey Pdo…thinking of you, my GPIC!)  And while I’d seen this video a few years back (thank you, Somie!) the time has done nothing to depreciate its value.  This is grade A, top notch quality entertainment.  Scratch that!  INFOtainment. Google it…you’ll learn something!

 So the session is going great and with all the poo talk, I’m clearly on the edge of my seat.  I scanned the room to see if there were others who shared my fascination and was pleased to find…I AM NOT ALONE.  But my crush on PCMO Paula was official when she began talking about her time as the PCMO in Africa… think food borne illnesses.  Paula, with the casual tone and inflection you’d expect from someone talking about grocery shopping or some other daily grind activity, tells us of the volunteers who called with complaints of “explosive, super, mega blowout” shits.  Now THIS…..this is a woman I can respect!