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!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Thumb Rings in Shqip = “Single and Ready to Mingle” T-shirts

Dear Thumb Ring,
It’s not you… it’s me.  Things change.  People change.  You’ve got this whole new identity…and I’m just not ready to join you.  This is all moving too fast for me.  I can’t ask you to be something you’re not… but we’re not on the same page anymore.  We’ve had some good times, you and me.  Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much if I hadn’t just found you again, tucked away in that crusty old pocket of Melia’s gym bag with old gum wrappers and a bobbie pin. OMG!  Packing for this new adventure and there you were, wrapped around me and it was like you’d never left!  My heart skipped a beat, we just fit and you brought me such comfort.  I thought you’d be with me through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, squat toilets and sleeping bags.  But now…it’s like I don’t even know you anymore.  Maybe there’s hope for us in the future, but don’t let this create false hope, at least for the time being, it’s time to say Mirupafshim*.  I won’t soon forget you. 
Melia’s Left Thumb

“Hold up!  Wait a minute! Stop the presses!   What did you say?” 
This was my frantic reaction when my host sister Jirina told me that a thumb ring indicated I was “single and looking.” (Well as frantic as one can be when requiring the use of an English-Shqip dictionary and some serious pantomime action.)  Actually, I think the word she pointed to in the dictionary was “in active search of.”  And considering this culture is ALLLL ABOUT weddings and marriage and babies, it was all I could do not to find the nearest blow torch and burn into oblivion this beast of burden!  Thumbs Down!

Let me just put this into perspective.  I’ve not met one Albanian, woman, man or child, who has not asked me if I am married.  Secondarily, in a 15 minute walk from my house there are at least two gimungous (I’m tired of ginormous…so that’s a hybrid of gigantic and humungous…it’ll catch on.  Use it.) bridal gown shops.  The population of my village is 1600.  Granted the two shops serve another neighboring town…but you get the idea, right?  Being married is a big deal….NOT TO THIS CAT, IT ISN’T! 

Now, I’ve yet to confirm this rural legend of thumb rings as true public broadcasts of desperation to wed and procreate.  Jirina is 17, so there’s a chance that this is high-school folklore and nothing else.  But for now…I’m not taking any chances!  The ring is off… the language barrier is sending enough mixed messages, I don’t need a piece of jewelry to make things worse!  And of course, I’ve begun to wonder how many mamas in the village have already seen my ring and started polling neighboring towns for eligible bachelors.  Of course, single ,30-something Albanians…  something about a needle in a haystack comes to mind.   Matchmaker, matchmaker you know that I’m….still very young….please, take your time.  (Tip of the Hat to Fiddler on the Roof!) and by “take your time,” I mean… fugettaboutit.

So, I am whole-heartedly asking that my fellow thumb-ring soul sisters from our sweet Public Market adventure forgive my temporary thumb bling hiatus?  Somie, Little H, Rob to the Bob, Me-Shell-Ay and Missy-moo… rest assured, I don’t need a ring to be reminded of you! 

Peace and Love
*If you were unable to figure out the translation of this word from the context of the letter, please consider yourself a first-rate dumbass.  However, since some first-rate dumbasses have squirmed their way into my foolish heart….Mirupafshim means goodbye.

The Rooster Crows At Dawn (Yea, my Gomar it does!)

It’s been one week since I arrived with my host family in Bishqem, Albania(if you’ve already begun singing the Bare Naked Ladies song, you will be assessed a $1 Nerd-Alert fee.  I’ll collect in June 2013.  And yes, I charge interest. How else will I pay my mortgage when I get back?*) So anyway….adjusting to the life of a Peace Corps Trainee has been eye-opening to say the least.

Not only am I in a new country.  Not only are my closest friends in Albania people that I met less than 2 weeks ago.  But….here’s the real kicker, I live on a farm!  A FARM!  Chickens, turkey, cows and me with my iPod and flat-iron!  One of these things is not like the other!

I’ve been fortunate to have been placed with a very warm and welcoming host family…the Kateshi Familje.  They are patient with my language skills considering my only capacity is to smile and nod like a bobble-head on the dashboard of our neighbors’ horse drawn carriage .  I have the Albanian/Shqip skills of a zygote.  On my self-assessment, I made my Week Two skill development target as reaching the embryonic stage!  Knock on wood for me….please/ju lutem!  Oh…and maybe by then, I’ll also have the words to explain why they see me knocking on wood all throughout their home.  For now, they look at me like I have 4 heads.  Or maybe it’s just hard to focus on my solitary head with all that bobbling?!

Did I happen to mention that “Yes” is a head SHAKE and “No” is a head NOD?  An awareness that only comes back to me once I’m mid nod/shake and have to change the movement!  Oy…does anyone know the Shqip word for CHIROPRACTOR?  Paging Dr. Bennett…

Now for those of you who grew up on a farm (do I even know anyone other than my DAD who grew up on  a farm???) this De-Bunked Assumption may come as no surprise.  But for this suburbanite, city-slickin’ desert dweller…I was always taught that the Rooster Crows At Dawn.  Ummm…after these 7 days, I feel that I can, with expert confidence…call BULLSHIT. 

This is not to say that dawn doesn’t bring its fair share of “cock-a-doodle doos.”  It does.  But so does every other waking moment after dawn and well into the afternoon, evening and night fall.  Seriously…its 4pm and just as I type this paragraph there have been a minimum of 6 rooster calls and no signs of letting up! So why were we taught in grade school that a rooster was like a farmer’s morning alarm clock?  Now…I’ve never been much of a conspiracy theorist….but something smells rotten in the state of Denmark!  I find myself questioning everything!  Did the mouse really, in fact eat the cheese?  Does the farmer even live near the dell?  WTF?  My world has flipped turned upside down!  (Actually with Phoenix 9 hours behind now…that’s a literal AND figurative flip.)

So…what should you, all my loyal reader**, take away from this post?  Simple….don’t believe everything you learn in Kindergarten.  And for God’s sake, if you were fished-in to that “All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten” book about 15 years back….get off your lazy gomar, head straight to your nearest public library and start expanding your horizons!

Peace and Love.

*Allow me to pay deference to Bare Naked Ladies, a band that I do thoroughly enjoy. However really?!?…ONE WEEK left something to be desired.  I’m down with Brian Wilson, The Old Apartment and certainly $1,000,000.  Any band that can work Kraft Mac-n-Cheese into song lyrics will forever hold a place in my heart!

**not a typo…not yet convinced I’ll be developing a readership yet.  That would be arrogant. And I’m far too smart and pretty and popular and important  ;-) to be considered arrogant.  And thanks reader….you know who you are.