Do mё mungoni

I realize this has been a nearly inexcusable absence from the blog; it’s been a hectic, maddening, awesome, tearful last few weeks in Pёrmet.

Finishing projects (will post photos), starting new ones (I hope someone will send me photos of these someday, ha!), and saying goodbye to the place that’s been my home for two years has all been overwhelming.  I’ve packed my entire house back down to a few bags, had more turkish coffees than I can count, and yesterday I even crowned Ms. Teen Pёrmet in the Nonda vs. Meleqi competition (middle school face-off).  What a way to go, right?

I can’t express how lucky I have been to live here.  It’s amazing in so many ways, not the least of which is the kindness of the people.  In the last few days I’ve received more blessings from friends, neighbors, shop owners, elected officials, furgon drivers, teenage boys, old gjyshas and even dogs that I can’t see how it would be possible to not have a rrugё tё mbarё.  My bags are full of mountain tea, table clothes, knit stockings and raki, and I am full of great memories – but only kind of ready to come home.

O qyteti im, do mё mungoni

Today’s my last full day in Pёrmet, and probably my last blog from Albania…  Faleminderit for following my adventure, and shihemi next Saturday in America!

Happy Teachers’ Day!

Sort of letting my camera do the blogging lately…

Today -7 March- is Teachers’ Day, and tomorrow is Mothers Day (or just Women’s Day) here in Albania.  To celebrate, the bashkia put together a little ceremony complete with student songs; I thought you might want to have a look-see.  When I pan the crowd you can see some of the neighborhood hooligans, showing off their English for you (“HELLO!  HELLO!”).

I’m just proud they didn’t use profanities on camera…

(technical difficulties… video coming soon…)

Bukur Bunker

I was re-routed to Tirana after my C(lose) O(f) S(ervice) conference last week, thanks to some late-winter snow in Korça.  Pa problem!…I eventually made it back to Pёrmet with some coworkers.

Rather than deal with the unending construction along the most direct route, we decided to take the coastal road for a change.   On this rare sunny afternoon we went in search of an alleged monastery south of Dhёrmi, but instead came across a hard-to-access beach and (what else but) one of the many thousands and thousands of Enver Hoxha’s famous bunkers.

But I think if the communists assigned you to bunker duty, this wouldn’t be so bad – would it?

This Albanian Life

Act One: I’m from the government, I’m here to help.

I’ve been a little (a lot) sick lately – so rather than whine about it here, or try to come up with new content in a feverish haze, I’ve been trolling facebook for things to share.  Here’s a couple of fun photos:

Except the Albanian villagers that “rally around me” look nothing like that (wink wink).  And I do have a shower head, it’s just that I have to wedge myself between the sink and toilet to use it…….  If you think the CIA part is a joke, think again – there are actually people who won’t talk to me because they believe I’m a spy.  Right.  The CIA is really interested in what you’re doing sitting in a make-shift shed in small-town Albania selling tomatoes, drinking turkish coffee and smoking cigarettes all day long.  Right.

Which reminds me…

Slightly less accurate, but still entertaining to those of us living here.  The movie reference is Taken (2008), with Liam Neeson.

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Act Two: This Albanian Life meets This American Life (Rooster Facts)

If you’ve ever had those “I’m sick, I feel awful, I just need a good night of sleep…. and I can’t sleep!” nights, you’ll know what I’m taking about here.  I’ve been forced to choose between sleeping in my living room (warmer, slightly less comfortable couch, listen to dog that screech/barks from 12am-5am nonstop) or sleeping in my bedroom (colder, more comfortable bed, listen to rooster that crows indiscriminately 24 hours/day). Eventually I decided on the bedroom for many reasons, one of them being that I don’t mind the rooster so much.  Then I heard one of the funniest pieces This American Life has run in a long time: Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens.

Listen!  It’s hilarious!  There’s just one factual inaccuracy – this comedian mistakenly believes that only his rooster has a malfunctioning inner clock.  I’m here to tell you, folks… Rooster Fact: no rooster knows what time it is.  Rooster Fact: No rooster knows when the sun is rising.  Rooster Fact: Roosters don’t care.  Rooster Fact: Roosters just crow when they feel like it.  Having said that, I still prefer it to the screeching dog; it’s sort of quaint and pastoral.

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Act Three: It’s Aliiiiiiiiive!

They finally use the information board for it’s intended purpose.  I can go now.

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Act Four: Thanks

Thanks to Barbetta for sending warm jammies, and Melissa for sending a sick girl’s best friend: zebra snuggie.   And of course, thanks to my mom for always listening to me whimper about mild sickness.   The sun came out today and the birds are chirping (no, not just the rooster), so spring might even be around the corner…..  !

A Peace Corps Valentine

Today’s post comes from the National Peace Corps Association (original found here). It’s clever, it’s cute, and it’s totally true.   Pssst…. tё dua, dashur. 

Dinner and a movie? Nah... let's check out that legendary castle

So, enjoy:

It’s Valentine’s Day!  A day when we celebrate friendship, love, and romance. Through the years here at the National Peace Corps Association, we’ve heard countless stories of Peace Corps romance.  The couples that met at the airport on the way to training.  The couples that met while serving. The Peace Corps Volunteers that fell in love with a host country national.  And the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers that connected in the States, discovering that the shared bond of Peace Corps service was the spark that led to a relationship.

 Peace Corps is a life-changing experience that develops a unique set of skills and attributes.  So it goes without saying:  Returned Peace Corps Volunteers make GREAT dates.  And just to prove it, we’ve started a list.

 12 reasons to date a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer:

1.       We can woo you in multiple languages. Who else is going to whisper sweet nothings to you in everything from Albanian to Hausa to Quechua to Xhosa? That’s right. Only a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

2.       We’re pretty good dancers. Yeah, we don’t like to brag, but after 27 months in Latin America or Africa we know how to move it.

3.       We’ll eat anything. Seriously. No matter how bad your cooking, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers have had worse and will eat it with nary a blink. Sheep’s eyeball? Water buffalo gall bladder? Grasshoppers? Bush rat? Bring it.

4.       We know all about safe sex, thanks to our very thorough Peace Corps health training. In fact, there’s a chance that we’ve stood unblushingly in front of hundreds of villagers and demonstrated good condom technique with a large wooden phallus.

5.       We’ll kill spiders for you. Well, actually, we’ll nonchalantly scoop them up and put them out of sight. Same goes for mice, geckos, frogs, snakes. Critters don’t faze Returned Volunteers.

6.       We have great date ideas: wandering a street market, checking out a foreign film, taking in a world music concert, volunteering…. Romantic getaway? Our passport is updated and our suitcase is packed. With us, life is always an adventure.

7.       We like you for “you”… not your paycheck. Especially if we are freshly back from service, a local joint with “character” will win out over a pretentious eatery. Living in a group house? No problem. Does it have running hot water? What luxury!

8.       You won’t get lost when you’re with a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Navigating local markets on four continents, we’ve honed an uncanny sense of direction. Or else we’ll ask for directions. We’re not afraid to talk to “strangers.”

9.       Waiting for a late train or bus with us? Don’t worry. Been there, done that. We can share lots of funny stories about “the bus ride from hell” that will make the time go quickly and put it all into perspective.

10.   Our low-maintenance fashion style. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer guys are secure in their manhood and don’t mind rocking a sarong. Women often prefer flip flops to high heels. We don’t spend hours in front of a mirror getting ready to go out.

11.   Marry us, and you won’t just get one family — you’ll get two! When we refer to our “brother” or “mom,” you’ll want to be certain we’re talking about our American one or our Peace Corps one. You might even get two wedding ceremonies, one in the U.S. and one back in our Peace Corps country.

12.   And last but not least, we aren’t afraid to get dirty.

Mud bath at the local thermal waters

Quote of the Week: The Crones

I’m currently reading Chronicle in Stone, by the famous Albanian author Ismail Kadare.  Set in WWII Albania, it’s a coming of age story told from the perspective of a young boy in Gjirokastёr.  While I’m not sure if the book would be quite as magical for me had I not spent a large part of the last two years in Gjirokastёr – it’s wonderful nonetheless.  Today’s quote is a mental image for you – the old women of Albania.  I’ve been lucky enough to know some “crones” in my time.

“…The “old crones” were consulted.  These were aged women who could never be surprised or frightened by anything any more.  They had long since stopped going out of their houses, for they found the world boring.  To them even major events like epidemics, floods and wars were only repetitions of what they had seen before. 

…Granny Shano spent thirty-one years inside until one day she went out into the street a few yards in front of her house to assault an Italian officer who was making eyes at her great-granddaughter.  These crones were very robust, all nerve and bone, even though they ate very little and smoked and drank coffee all day long.  When Granny Shano grabbed the Italian officer by the ear, he let out a great yelp, drew his pistol, and rapped the old woman’s hand with the butt.  Not only did she refuse to let go, she punched him with her bony hands.  The crones had very little flesh on their bones, and few vulnerable spots.  Their bodies were like corpses ready for embalming, from which all innards likely to rot had already been removed.  Superfluous emotions like curiosity, fear and lust for gossip or excitement had been shed along with the useless flesh and excess fat.” 
 
 

Text of the week – I’ve been saving this one

I’ve been saving this gem of a text message for months:

“She has a motorcycle in her bathroom!”

To explain: as volunteers, we rent houses/apartments/rooms – and every volunteer’s living situation is different.   Cities differ, availability differs, landlords differ. In fact, Albania is plagued by the post-communist difficulties of sorting out property ownership – so renting is a really far-fetched concept for many folks.  Landlords who live in Tirana come to town and ask to share the house for a  few days while they’re on vacation (I’ll just stay in the spare bedroom, okay?), or ask to sub-let the space for a few weeks at a higher rental rate (can’t you just stay with some friends for a little while?), or leave personal possessions in the homes we rent (clothing – photos - motorcycles).  It’s just different.

Back in May, Aimee and I met in a nearby town to help a new volunteer move into her house; while I was still 15 minutes away by furgon, she sent this text message.  She does, in fact, have a motorcycle in her bathroom.

To be fair, it's a huge bathroom. Photo cred to Aimee D