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.