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Monthly Archives: July 2010

So far this week has been the busiest so far for work. As of now, two months into my service, I really feel like I have a great network of contacts throughout the Lezhe community. Yesterday I participated in a best practices conference put on with the cooperation of 16 different municipalities in northern albania by a swiss NGO, Jen and I started an English conversation group for a few high school girls, plans for the camp are progressing quickly, and I am working on redesigning the Bashkia’s bi/tri-monthly report to the public and making it into something useful and bukur (beautiful). Flashback to CavDaily days…

A highlight of the best practices conference yesterday was at the end, after a few prizes had been awarded in certain categories, when two traditionally dressed Lezheans walked up to the front of the room full of mayors and local government employees and started dancing and singing to a song called “Shega Lezheana” (celebrates the Shega or pomegrates that Lezha is famous for and that are almost ripe!). It was priceless – just when I almost forgot that I was in Albania because of the punctuality and proffesionality of the foreign-run conference, there was a circle dancing opportunity. I wish I had a photograph of the swiss ambassador at the front of the room with the dancers…she looked quite out of her element.

Anyway – I just uploaded a bunch more photos to Picasa. Links are up on the photos page! Enjoy.

One of my supervisors, Pjeter, with the Lezhe display about our recycling program (which actually does not recycle anything, but that's a story for another time)

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Here in Lezhë today is our first semi-rainy day in a month, and it feels amazing. For example, I don’t remember the last time I wore long pants. In the midst of all the heat, the last few weeks have been full of visitors and a bit of travel and a LOT of time spent lying on the tile floor with frozen water bottles to try and feel some relief from the temperature. Trust me, on a super hot day it feels amazing: )

Cate McLean, one of my roommates from college was here for a few days last week. It was great to show her around and see Lezhë through a fresh pair of eyes. Even though I haven’t really been here for too long, there are some things I definitely am getting used to and don’t think about as “albanianisms” anymore. After a few days she took off for the north to such classy destinations as Croatia and eventually England, but not without braving the beach at Shengjin and getting to check out our castle.

Amid the sweat, wet and heat, work for most PCVs has recently died down to a trickle. In August the entire country goes on “pushim” (vacation) and the beaches around Lezhë are daily packed with more and more sunburned people. However, for me it seems that work has just started to pick up. While my counterpart, Yllka was gone on her honeymoon I started working with a few guys in the Bashkia’s development and waste management departments on some IT projects and presentations for a local government best-practices competition sponsored by the Swiss Intercooperation. Then, my counterpart came back from her honeymoon last week and we have started to finalize plans for her big summer project – a camp for children living in poverty in Lezhë. All of a sudden I am busy and find myself thinking back to various camp experiences of my own and comparing them to what I know about camps here.

Planning for this summer camp has been a long and frustrating process. I came in in the middle of things in late May and thought that pretty much all the details had been worked out already. Boy was I wrong. In May I understood that my responsibility would be to help Yllka plan and then work at the camp itself as a counselor-type with a few other PCVs….and this is basically correct. However, the planning stage has been more of a complicated process for all involved than it would have been in the US.

My counterpart Yllka is working with a partner organization from the UK that owns the property where the camp will take place. What she has done so far has been to identify eligible kids and convince their parents that this camp is a good idea (not a small feat because it is very difficult to convince families that don’t have much to trust their local government office enough to let them take their kids away for a week) as well as communicate to the partner organization when and how the kids will arrive. At the beginning of the summer we were planning on having two one-week camps – one in July and one in August.

In true Albanian fashion, this plan soon changed. Sometime in mid-June we discovered that the camp in July would not be able to happen since we did not have enough kids signed up (only 20-some) and the partner organization had way more demand for their facility than they ever thought they would – summer camps are a new thing here in Albania and are gaining popularity quickly. When given the opportunity to take a paying camp customer (such as an international NGO), they went for it and cancelled our camp. After changing the date once, parents kept coming into our office full of questions and concerns for Yllka. It was a mess, but the dust settled and we started planning in earnest for the camp in August.

Then, yesterday, we encountered even more stressful problems. At the last minute (the camp is supposed to start on August 1 and we have 60 kids signed up), the director of the camp facility invited us out to the space to have a look and get to know the area before the kids come. He also used the opportunity to let us know that he had double booked the week we were promised with another camp group (he originally thought there would be few enough kids that the two camps would be able to happen at the same time no problem) and that we could not have the camp at that time. Come to find out later that the real reason we could not share the camp with this other, paying, organization is that they did not want their kids sharing the camp space with kids who are Roma or lower-income. So, our camp is now only going to be four days and was moved to another week in August. I found it infuriating that after all the planning and months of collaboration, this only came up now at the last minute AND that because of the camp director’s misguided assumptions and a bit of a language barrier between him and my Albanian counterpart, we now have to scramble and let the parents know and hope that they will still let their kids come. I am just happy that the camp will happen at all.

So starting the 5th of August I will be hanging out at camp for a few days…should be an interesting and stressful and fun and crazy and shqip-tastic experience. I’m excited about the fact that the site has both a climbing wall and a pool…these are some lucky kids…!

Walking home the other evening with a friend, he pointed out an uncovered manhole right in my path. Looking up to say thank you I noticed a broken toilet sitting in the middle of the sidewalk and said in response, “look out for the toilet.” We both laughed as we came to the conclusion that if it were not for the manhole, we would not have said anything about the toilet and barely would have noticed its conspicuous presence. It’s just one of those things we are used to about Albania – you never know what to expect and so you expect everything.

Often it’s slightly comical to think about the overwhelming amount of incidences besides disappearing into a manhole that may threaten the life of an Albanian PCV over the course of two years. For example, the earthquakes that we talked about in warden training are a real threat here in the Balkans. Other risks we joke about read like an Edward Gorey book: I could die from breathing toxic fumes from incessant trash burning, being blown up by an accidental misplacement of fishing dynamite while taking a dip in the river, getting hit by a crazy furgon driver while crossing the street, being in said crazy furgon when they drive off the road while the driver is texting and smoking a cigarette at the same time, contracting food poisoning or severe giardia, being consumed by a skin rash after swimming in the ocean nearby the deltas of several polluted rivers, suffering from a stomach ulcer from too much coffee drinking, sudden death from a brick dropped on my head by incessant construction happening everywhere, falling on wet marble or tile stairs when there is no railing and someone with a hose is watering the stairs, falling into a turkish/squat style toilet and cracking my head on the cement wall, suffering a heart attack induced by excess oil in the diet, lung cancer from breathing second hand smoke for two years, or gradually being poisoned by lead from drinking water laced with heavy metals. It’s definitely more of a life “on the edge” here in Albania…

a turk

While we may joke as PCVs about safety concerns to make light of the utter ridiculousness and irony of a Balkan lifestyle, I had a real eye-opening experience this week about a major safety threat for Albanian youth. I was helping out for a day at a summer camp at the beach for Roma children on Tuesday. At one point the kids were all in the water and the director turned to me and Leslie (fellow PCV) and asked us to come in to help keep an eye on the kids. At Shengjin, our local beach, it is very shallow (waist high) for about 50 meters out from the shore. I started talking to a group of girls, and was just swimming around a bit when they asked me:

“E di ti të notosh?” – do you know how to swim?

“Po,” I replied….”do you?”

“Jo!” and they giggled.

It really hit me then that I was standing in the middle of a group of 30 kids aged 5 to 18, all horsing around in the water and having a great time, who had grown up in a beach town without ever learning how to swim. I looked around at the packed beach – no lifeguards exist here in Albania – and wondered just how many people at the beach, adults and kids, do know how to swim.

Unfortunately, because of the lack of lifeguards, no swimming pools, and Peace Corps’ issues with liability I don’t think teaching youth swimming lessons will be a viable project for the next two years, but it is an idea I’d like to explore. Swimming and feeling comfortable in the water is definitely something I take for granted, and it really shocked me that so few Albanians (and pretty much all Albanians go to the beach for vacation) have this sense of security.

Besides having experiences that are gradually peeling away layers of my American cultural shell, this week I have been feeling a bit “merzit” (an Albanian word that means everything from bored to homesick to upset…they use it all.the.time.) for the US of A in the wake of the 4th of July. I had a great time camping at the beach in Divjak with some friends over the weekend, but it was not the festë e madh that it would have been in the states. However, the US embassy party is this weekend (we are celebrating the 4th on the 9th of July?) and should be a good reunion in Tirana with lots of PCV pals. In the mean time, work is picking up and I am enjoying following the end of the Kopa e Botës and the beginning of a drama-filled Tour de France and am eagerly anticipating my first out of country visitor – Cate McLean is coming in mid-July!