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.