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