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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Despite it’s proud ancient history, Lezhe sometimes has the feel of being a new city.

This new-ness is largely due to the fact that the entire old city was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1970s. Since that time, several waves of new development have brought a hurried and varied selection of architectural styles to town, creating an eclectic mix of haphazard design. Somehow, it all works together.

Given this new development, Lezha has it all – from communist-block apartment buildings to Illyrian castles to 1970s cement sculptured façades to coffee bars with soccer ball themed entrances. In this first of a series of posts, I’ll give you a glimpse at my favorites from the architectural mix that I call home.

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Brian’s Bar // This football-themed bar takes the sport and Brian (a soccer star) seriously. It has a soccer-ball entrance and peace-sign hand chairs inside, wallpaper that says “Brian’s” in every font and color imaginable, larger than life photos of Brian in action and even a trophy case displaying his shoes.

Shtëpia e Mlikajve // This Ottoman era home is the only remaining one in a neighborhood where they used to be common. It survived the earthquake and was briefly the city museum. Now it lies empty.

The Public Library (Biblioteka e Qytetit të Lezhës) // My home for my current SPA project, this 70s-era building is bright bright pink and has some wonderful geometric features. I used the line patterns around the windows on the second floor in the logo I designed for them (bottom right of this poster).

More to come!

Albania as a country takes their holidays seriously. I know I’ll never have as many days off as I have here in a country that observes Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox holidays as well as other state and international celebrations.

However, even for Albanians March is a holiday-heavy month. This year I had the advantage of knowing what to expect when, the day before women’s day, my counterpart said “Laura, you need to wear a dress tomorrow – we’re going to dance.” And, I had the opportunity to spend the days off with some of my favorite people here in Albania, enjoying the early spring weather.

Dita e Grave // International Women’s Day – March 8th  //  Celebrated with the women I work with at the Bashkia with a day dancing at a lokal by the beach and with a dinner with the women from the American School in Lezhe.

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Dita e Veres  //  Summer Day – March 14th  //  Dita e Veres is a distinctly Albanian holiday, involving traditions of making sugar cookies and tying friendship bracelets around your friends’ wrists (why, I don’t know). It’s usually done up most in Elbasan, but I celebrated with some pals from work, again at the beach.

St. Patrick’s Day – March 17th  //  Ok. Not Albanian at all. But we Americans celebrated with a night out in Tirana and green dye for our brews

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…and for this week’s Novruz – March 22nd, I will be at my counterpart Yllka’s house teaching her how to make brownies and eating lunch together.

All examples of cultural exchange at it’s best!

Yesterday the new group of volunteers arrived in Albania and were escorted to Elbasan for training. Surprisingly, this doesn’t make me really feel anything….in fact, it is so removed from my experience here (I will likely only meet a few of these volunteers and will leave before they swear in), that I almost forgot about it entirely.

A much more momentous occasion (for me) is coming up tomorrow, but I feel a similar disconnect to it as well. March 17th is not only St. Patrick’s Day, but the day that marks my group’s two-year in Albania anniversary. Somehow, it doesn’t seem that important. I feel so comfortable here and am spending time thinking about my departure that my only thought about two years is that it seems short to me…though I do feel like it’s been a while when I think about the fact that before I left the US the Ipad did not exist and Obama was a relatively “new” president.

 

Here in Albania (well, at least in Lezhe) it finally feels like Spring. I’m sure there are cold snaps to come and much of the country is still melting out from the snow of three weeks ago, but, for me, life is comfortable again and I’m enjoying the change in the weather.

This photo is from the first real warm day, Feb. 28th, on a small beach north of Shengjin spending the day on the sand with friends. Thanks to Adam for passing it along!

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, which in Albania means an excuse for all the women in my office to get real dressed up, get their hair done, go out to lunch at a place by the beach and DANCE!

Naturally, I’m excited.

Last year I loved this opportunity to bond with the women I work with and celebrate our lives together, but this time around I see it more as the first (of many, I hope!) farewell fests for me in Albania. AND, this year I get to double dip, as I’ve been invited to an evening soiree at the new American School in town. They will be two very different parties, but both part of a tradition I love here that I hope to bring back and share with my friends and family at home.

So – gezuar dita e grave to all the lovely ladies in my life! I wish I could be with all of you tomorrow!

A few weeks ago I went on a long day hike with Kim and Jeff near Gramsh to a help Jeff photograph a local tourist site for a website he’s been working on. Our destination: a rickety bridge across the entrance of one of Albania’s beautiful canyons. Too bad the water was cold and conditions were snowy, or we could have swum into and explored the canyon within.

Kim was brave enough to make it across first – step by step. Not as rickety as it looks, but the wood does creak ominously.

What none of us could figure out was – where does this bridge go to? It seems to be in the middle of nowhere, and not convenient to anyone as the river is easily fordable (well…we did get a little wet) just downstream. Also – one side is a basic dead end into a forbidding uphill slope. A man we encountered on our hike back to the road claimed his village was up that hill….but it seems that no one uses the bridge to get there anymore. Seems like it would be great to jump off of for a summer swim….

Just another day in the life of helping develop tourism resources in Albania.

Albania, for those who visit for a few days or stay for more than two years, is notably a place of polar extremes. It’s a culture where intense wealth and poverty exist side by side; where the work pace is excruciatingly slow at times and yet then when things get done, they get done FAST; and where a visiting PCV’s life is one day fantastic and the next depressing and lonely.

These days, I’ve noticed the polarities in my own life pick up as the season is changing. And, frankly, it’s hard to keep up with the sudden changes. I knew this year would be full of rrëmujë, but it’s all hitting me at once.

Before the COS conference I was in winter/hibernation mode. Not a lot was happening at work, and I spent a lot of time out of site for various reasons. However, since the COS conference, I’ve been thrown suddenly into “holy-moly-I-only-have-9-weeks-left” mode as the countdown to May 18th approaches and the list of things I have to/want to complete before that time only grows. Plus, the weather’s nice now and who wants to write a description of service when I could be out having coffees with friends?

So, I consider myself these days to be in not-quite-RPCV limbo mode. I’m making lists, finishing up projects, and desperately trying to winnow down the amount of stuff I have accumulated over the past few years (please, please don’t send me anything!). But, I’m also looking forward to a great last few months here….and am glad to be “home” finally after so much time away to enjoy them!

This poster I designed advertising the culminating celebration event of my current USAID funded project is at the printer this weekend and we’re getting ready to launch our book drive in late March. Thanks to all who have helped make this project a success thus far!

Muaj i hapur per librin = Open month of books (the one month book drive)

This past week PC Albania’s Group 13 gathered in Korçe (one week late because of the snow!) to have our Close of Service (COS) conference. This was a time when we not only talked all about the mountains of paperwork required to become a “returned peace corps volunteer”, but we also spent a lot of time circle dancing, gezuar-ing and generally celebrating each other and our time in Albania together. It is the last time we will all be together before we start to trickle back to the US or elsewhere throughout the spring and summer.

In between final language interviews, practice job interviews and endless sessions about health insurance and readjustment, I helped my friend Kim lead a silly COS Albanian Olympics session which had everyone laughing.

The six events we designed encouraged all of the group to test how “Albanian” we’ve become through completing certain tasks. The contestants channeled their inner gjysha and gjyshi (grandmother and grandpa) through racing to peel and cut an apple in their hand and correctly identify two different varieties of raki. A trivia round and popular song identification (“sing the chorus!”) tested the group’s pop culture knowledge, while an ongoing turkish toilet squat contest was an endurance feat for all involved. Congrats to Susan and Aimee who maintained the position for well over an hour (!). Finally, a multi-part “çun-a-ton” gave representatives from each team the chance to emulate young men or “çuns” through demonstrating their sunflower seed spitting, strutting and whistling capabilities.

All in all I think everyone had a great time. The hour definitely gave us all a chance to celebrate our time in Albania and make a few fun memories laughing at just how silly we’ve felt throughout our service because of cultural differences. Much of what made the olympics fun/funny was the fact that we all know what a çun is, have all heard that song on a furgon a million times and have the chorus memorized, and have all had a mishap or five involving a Turkish toilet.

The rest of the conference included several discussions about the reverse culture shock we will all inevitably experience returning home. We rehearsed our “elevator speeches” and heard stories from staff who are RPCVs themselves. I know that it will be difficult to relate what exactly I have been living through here in Albania with those back at home, even though I am so fortunate that so many of you have had the chance to come visit and see for yourself. And, during the olympics, it really hit me that the room was full of the only american-albanian-americans that really get even a piece of the experience.

Thank you, G13. I am so lucky to be here with you all!

I have a new hobby – searching for plane tickets online. 

I booked my flight back to the states this week (!). July 23rd I am actually coming home….28 months later.

However, in between then and my COS date of May 18th I’ll be bouncing around Europe and Turkey a bit with Adam. How to do this most efficiently/costly is becoming a bit of a game. A fun way to spend the time….and my cash in lieu funding.