Sunday, May 27, 2012

Frustration Stinks. Do Something.

My dear Albanian neighbors and friends (near and far),

Allow me to express my great respect and appreciation for your kindness, generosity and hospitality.  Let me to say “Thank You” for helping me to integrate into your community, work among you and to encourage your youth to become confident and skilled leaders of the future.  And let me share in your frustration with the country’s challenges as you continue your development as a democratic nation.  I understand that programs and systems are not yet adequate to serve all your needs.   I understand why some days it feels like nothing will ever change.   But today, I have living proof that CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
A story:
A young woman stepped out of her apartment for a morning walk.  Immediately, the pungent odor of dog poop hit her in the face and seconds later, she discovered the source… a nasty mound, sitting on the stairway landing.  “Gross!” she thought as she passed, holding her breath and swatting away the flies that were buzzing around.  “The owner of that dog should clean that up!”

Some time later, returning from her walk, and having stopped at a market, the young woman climbed her stairs and was met again by the increasingly foul stench from the doggie pile-o-poo.  As she passed, she leaned away from the smell, but there was no escaping it and she had to stifle her gag reflex.  Not wanting the stink to infiltrate her groceries, the girl quickly entered her apartment, again thinking, “That is just disgusting!”  And she started to wonder…  Who’s dog was to blame for this offense?  Did any of her neighbors even own a dog?  Perhaps this was the mark of a street dog?  Regardless, she was steadfast, “Someone really needs to clean that up!”

Later that day, the young woman stepped out from her apartment again… it was still there, and potent as ever and she was frustrated.  How long would she have to wait for someone to clean up?  Until the evening?  Tomorrow?  Until it had become petrified shit?  She was so frustrated that she made a decision. I’m not willing to wait any longer.  She walked back inside, grabbed 3 plastic bags (tripling up for safety and the sheer ick-factor), and then literally took the matter into her own hands. 

Even though it was gross…  even though it wasn’t her dog or her mess… Even though others could have done the same thing… SHE DID IT!  She took that steaming sack of wretched animal feces and delivered it straight to the dumpster.  When she came back, the smell was nearly gone.  And she felt good.  Because she didn’t have to deal with it any longer.  And the young woman felt good because she knew she’d relieved her neighbors of the same unpleasant experience.  And she felt good because… SHE HAD NEVER DONE THAT BEFORE.

So as you can see… change can and does HAPPEN.  That young woman (notice how I keep using the adjective!) was ME.  And the story is true.  (You can even ask my mom!)  Never before in my life, have I ever WILLINGLY picked up dog crap!  But today, it was necessary and important... and so I did.  

And if I can change, and do just one little thing for my neighbors… think of the magnitude of change that will come when each Albanian does SOMETHING within their power to do something for their neighbors, their city, their country?  And not because its easy or popular… Or not because it’s their  job…   Or not because they’ll get public recognition… Just because they are not willing to wait any longer for something to change!   That day is coming and I just can’t wait!  (which is exactly the reason why I am here.)

So there you have it… the proof that change is possible.  It is within each of you.  Do something, anything. Don't wait, start today.  There will always be challenges and frustrations.  There will always be greater need than we can accommodate.  There will always be injustice.  But we must never stop ourselves from doing THOSE things that ARE within our power to bring change. 

Peace, Love and Extra Plastic Baggies

Monday, May 21, 2012

Smart Mob: Let’s Do It

While watching the Modern Family episode where Mitchell cheats on Cam in “the worst way…. Cheating with choreography”, I thought, “Hells Yes!…Albania needs a Flash Mob!”  I started asking around with some of my other G14 volunteers and the resounding response was….Pse Jo? Le te bejme!  Why not!? Let’s do it. 

Yes, these fellow volunteers just happen to be gregarious extroverts (not at all like me) who were lured by a love for performance and limelight.  But we also realized the potential for using our attention-whore-like attributes to raise awareness for a relevant cause, issue or organization in Albania.  Thus turning a flash mob into a “Smart Mob.” Ok, seriously….Let’s do it!  (I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that everytime I read those words, I hear Tone Loc’s scratchy “Let’s Do It” as the prelude to Wild Thing. More 90s Hip Hop playing a role in everyday Albanian life)

In a matter of days consisting of emails, brainstorming and “what-if?” “planning and BAM!: a committee was formed, project plan was designed and an NGO partner, Green Line Albania, was secured… their motto: Let’s Do It, Albania!  No, I’m not even shitting you!  Indeed, the stars were aligned! 

Green Line Albania, part of the civil society movement World Cleanup 2012, graciously accepted our PCV proposal to promote their initiative, "Ta Pastrojmë Shqipërinë në një Ditë" (To Clean Albania in One Day) via an Earth Day Smart Mob!  And the ball was rolling.  Vazhdojme!

It took weeks of dedicated coordination, strategy, a fair amount of silliness and… if I’m being honest, a shqip-ton of anxiety… came to fruition on Sunday, April 22nd, Earth Day in Tirana’s Parku Rinia/Youth Park.  Need proof?  

Just watch our video: I'd like to draw special attention to the early part of the dance where a plak/old man (also known as gjysh/grandpa) walks directly in front of our dancers!  Hilarious!  Even better....he just cops a squat on one of the benches nearby and is in the thick of the mob as more and more people join!

Over 120 Smart Mob participants (more than half were Albanian nationals!) launched a surprise performance, wearing “Clean Albania in One Day” T-shirts, carrying Let’s Do It logo signs and boasting a very public and positive statement about community activism.  Through the breadth of PCV outreach, 34 communities from across the country were represented in this event.  Eight weeks of planning, an 18-member committee, countless emails and phone calls… all for only a 5-minute Smart Mob Performance.  Was it worth it? 

Meledina Rrustemaj, a teenage participant from Koplik, a small northern town, remarked, “I had an unforgettable experience...  These American volunteers have opened doors and opportunities that support our lives, and our world.”  Yeah… was ABSOLUTELY worth it!  And finally, giving immeasureable credit, where credit is due….Shume Faleminderit to the Smart Mob Committee!  We certainly DID IT!

Oh...and since our Smart Mob is a promotional gig....please watch the video, share the video, add it to your Facebook etc.!  We want this thing viral!  Sure, if you have contacts in Albania, they are our preferred audience, but hey....we'll take what we can get!

Peace, Love and a 5, 6, 7, 8!

PS.  Jam dakord me Kaem / I agree with Cam...cheating with choreography really is the worst kind!  Cheating with karaoke is a close 2nd.  And its possible I've been found guilty of both.