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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Last night after flying a roundabout route through Amsterdam I arrived in snowy Budapest in the wee hours. After a week of sunny Sicily, it was a bit of a shock to the system. Glad I brought my down jacket on this trip after all. After maneuvering on several public buses without knowing the first word of Hungarian and walking a few blocks around a train station in the dark I finally found my friend’s apartment only to learn that he was out in the cold looking for me and I was locked out in said cold. There was a bit of a miscommunication about where and when I would come in, and I missed the train he thought I was on. Oops! The unexpected joys of traveling to new places…and not knowing quite how to use my cellphone outside of Albania.

Though the cold is a switch, I’m excited to be here and catch a glimpse of Eastern Europe. A few PCV friends should arrive today and we’ll stay through new year’s.

Sicily was a warm and welcome break from Albania – wonderful food, great markets, fascinating norman/italian architecture that made me think of hours studying arch hist slides in college….and the beach. It was crazy to see people swimming in the ocean on Dec. 23rd. Though I owe the trip a bit more of a thought-out entry, some highlights included Lesley working the stick-shift fiat in and out of Palermo traffic like a pro, a day trip to Cefalu, wandering in the markets of the Ballaro by day and drinking there at outdoor bars by night, cooking delicious chicken parm and artichokes, midnight mass on Christmas Eve, people watching and sleeping in a bed with a down comforter.

Many more photos to come.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you a Happy New Year from Hungary!

Today we had a surprise 2 inches of snow here in Lezhe, something that happens only about once every winter. It was amazing to see my colleagues at the Bashkia out in the parking lot in their high heels chasing each other with snowballs. The media guy at the Bashkia even filmed the snow falling. I bet it will be on TV tonight.

 

See more photos here.

As of yet I haven’t really ventured outside Albania since I’ve been here except for a few days in Macedonia. I’m about to change that pattern with a two week jaunt to Sicily for Christmas and Budapest for New Years.

I’ll be sorry to miss New Year’s Eve in Albania – apparently it is a crazy time full of fireworks being shot off in the streets (that can actually be quite dangerous) and it is the biggest holiday by far for Albanians. However, I’m excited to get out, get warm and spend time with friends in different places.

I might be able to write a bit while I’m gone….but if not, I wish you all a warm and wonderful holiday wherever you are!

Winter has arrived here in Albania. Scary open flames of gas space heaters are everywhere at the office and it is freezing in my house. there’s no such thing as central heat here and all the homes are tile/cement without insulation. These days I am a fan of making fires and sleeping in my sleeping bag with three blankets over top – while wearing wool socks and a fleece.

Today it snowed a little in Lezhë, but the first real snow on the mountains around town came on Sunday night. I walked up above the castle yesterday morning to take this photo. Sun, snow and sea….all together.

 

So it ended up happening. Evacuation due to rising water….and poor drainage systems in northern Albania.

Last Saturday morning I got a call from the country director checking in on the flooding situation in Lezhë. We weren’t any wetter than usual following a few days of rain, and I told him there was no visible flooding. BUT because a few villages to the north (that are still in Lezhë district) were flooded and there were floods between here and Tirana AND the dirt dam just north of here could potentially break and flood the city….the PC decided to pull us in to Tirana for a few days along with all the Shkoder volunteers. After seeing how some of the surrounding areas were literally under water, I think it was probably a good decision to have us “evacuate” ourselves. I was pretty impressed by how the PC staff handled the whole situation – and, it’s only the beginning of a long and wet winter, so we’ll see what future floods may happen. Also – a lot of roads in the country were literally under water and several power stations were out, so I am glad I was not stranded without power and/or water as was the case for some volunteers.

In general it was nice to have a break and spend some time doing “city” things…like eating chinese food and bowling – both amazing when you haven’t had access to them in months and months. And there are lots of christmas/new year’s decorations up in Tirana, so I got a nice dose of holiday. Also – whenever you are in Tirana for an extended period of time as a PCV here, you get a chance to see a lot of people you haven’t seen in a while

On Tuesday morning, when we got the OK from the Embassy to return home and a briefing on how best to help with flood relief efforts, I stayed behind. My counterpart Yllka came into town and met me and we together started a 4 day project design and management conference hosted by Peace Corps in Tirana. We are trying to apply for a grant in January to re-do a school yard here in Lezhë. It was a great event, very well facilitated and I learned a ton. Together Yllka and I had a chance to start on our grant proposal and we got a lot done, but it was definitely a draining event…and thinking all day in two languages makes it even more exhausting. I was so happy to hop on the bus to Lezhë yesterday for the first time in a week…it may be cold and wet here, but i love coming home.

As the rain falls and falls and falls here in northern Albania, there is quite a lot of flooding in the area around shkoder, a city just to the north. All the pcvs there are high and dry, but it’s a pretty serious situation. About 1100 homes are flooded as well as the national highway. Just shows what living in a flood plain near several large rivers with huge erosion problems and a government that struggles to fix drainage issues during the dry season gets you… This same thing happened last January and all the pcvs in shkoder and lezhe were evacuated. For now that doesn’t seem likely, but I am very glad I live on a hill and own a pair of good gum boots.

Today, December 1 is the international day for AIDS awareness.In Lezhë we had another march down the main street and a few members of the Youth Parliament (Parliament Rrinore) prepared a video that showed in the Palati Kultures afterwards. I know a girl involved with the video effort – A few weeks ago she told me that she and some friends had been making this AIDS awareness video and when they needed money to pay a cameraman/editor, they created a project proposal and wrote letters and visited local businesses to raise funds. I was floored when I heard this because this kind of thing NEVER happens in Albania. Community fundraising at all is rare in a culture without a real philanthropic sector, much less community fundraising by youth for a project they took on outside of school without adult initiative. I was so impressed by their effort and ingenuity and needless to say, I was excited to see the film.

Seeing it in person more than exceeded my expectations. The film is about a half hour full of good acting and a solid story line about a boy who finds out he is HIV positive and how he struggles with the news. For me it really highlighted the cultural differences of dealing with AIDS here versus in the US. In America I think we tend to focus more on supporting the sick individual in the community and helping them get the help they need, whereas here the onset of HIV/AIDS carries a lot more shame and there are few options such as support groups or readily available treatments (though I realize in the US treatment is extremely difficult and expensive as well).

However different awareness and treatment may be in Albania, the film today showed the potential of the Lezhë youth community to create something meaningful on their own – and get a packed house full of community leaders and friends to support them. Today the theater where the film was screened had at least 350 people at standing room only – way to go, Parliament Rrinore and the pshychology club!

Thanksgiving and the fourth of july are pretty much my favorite holidays. Food, family, friends and Americana….what could be better? Here in Albania both have been very different than what I’m used to in the States. But it’s almost like because they are American holidays, we American ex-pats try and celebrate even more than normal.

In the past week I had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving twice, with three turkeys in all….and the overwhelming food and festivites more than made up for the fact that I was not actually at home (where is that these days, anyway?) with my family for the first time. Though I do miss my family. A Lot.

Bird #1:

happy tummies at Paul's house

On the actual day of Thanksgiving, around 40 PCVs including myself descended on Tirana to be hosted by several embassy and PC staff families for turkey dinners with all the trimmings. Embassy staff have access to things like cranberry sauce and stuffing mix and pumpkin, etc., and it’s been tradition for some time for a few families to share the wealth (thank you!). After watching a rousing PC vs. Marines/Embassy football game in the morning (which our team WON) that was muddy and broken up by a hailstorm (yes, hail…), I spent the rest of the day helping cook, catching up with family, pigging out and playing a wine-enhanced sleepily entertaining game of celebrity charades with a few friends at Paul’s house. Paul’s our new PC Admin Officer here and RPCV from Romania. Over the course of the evening I learned a lot about why dracula and skanderbeg are similar, what Halloween parties in Transylvania are like and that putting raki in white wine is not necessarily a good idea but it can be fun.

 

Nathan and Seth post-football/hail/mudslide

Birds #2 and #3:

Kyle, Jen and Bree playing dress up (thanks Jen for the photo)

On the Saturday following Turkey Day, I traveled to nearby Burrel for Thanksgiving #2. A few friends had killed two unsuspecting local birds the day before (I wasn’t there but I hear it was quite the bloody spectacle) and the three ladies who live in town hosted about 20 PCVs for a progressive dinner style, dress-as-pilgrims-and-Indians, completely un-politically correct Thanksgiving. It was a lot of fun and definitely delicious. Probably some of the best Turkey and stuffing I have ever tasted, and we even had byrek me kungull (pumpkin byrek) to top it all off.

The snow on the mountains around town (no snow near Lezhe yet) made it really feel like winter and got me in a holiday mood, though there is a distinct lack of the American Christmas advertising craze here. While I don’t miss the consumerism and black Friday madness of home, I do miss the decorations and the music (at least a little). Happy December, everybody!