Saturday, January 16, 2016

Staying "plugged in" with my PC experience and Albania

Hi All,

I hope this post finds you all doing well and having enjoyed a wonderful holiday season.  Now for 2016!!

I've communicated with most of you about how I am "sharing" my experiences here in Albania.  For now it is much easier and faster for me to "post" in Facebook.  So you can follow what I am doing by "friend-ing me" on my Albanian Facebook.  My Albanian Facebook is "Deb Ne Shqiperi" - which means "Deb in Albania."  You can look back through the photos and postings to see what's going on.

Also, If you did sign up for this blog, you will automatically be updated when I post something in the future.

Two other volunteers are posting different types of updates and if you are interested in hearing different perspectives, you can subscribe to their blogs.

For in depth perspective on different facets on life/history/challenges in Albania you can subscribe to

This stands for "Eagle Eye" and the double-headed eagle is the flag symbol for Albania. Sue Weiss is my colleague serving in the capital, Tirana and her assignment is at USAID (more like a regular job than many of us).  She has a long career in Marketing and is an exceptional writer who loves doing research (which you will see/notice when you read her blogs).

The other blog I can share with you is from my BFF in the Peace Corp, Alison Bregstein.  Alison is a New Yorker and has a NY wit and perspective on her PC journey.  She posts several times a month. Her assignment is in the Regional Development Agency (another NGO) in the south of Albania.  She is who I went to Paris with for Xmas and NYE (and a short trip to Italy).

Her blog is:

I wish you all a wonderful year!  And big thanks to everyone who has sent emails, cards, care packages and supportive thoughts!  This has been an amazing 10 months (already) filled with culture, special moments, hard days, learning, helping others, making friends, surviving the elements (heat and bitter damp cold, seasonal food living, etc.

My work in the local government is less specifically defined as they  (the Mayor and his Bashkia staff) find their way through all the territorial reforms and organizational changes.  My Bashkia building is being remodeled so I work out of my house and through "coffee" meetings.  I continue to meet different people from other organizations (NGO's and such) and find ways to do what I'm passionate about "helping people be the best they can be."  This year, I hope to pull together a meeting (jointly with my Mayor) which includes all the organizations and people doing work in my town, Vau Dejes.  By having them present their "2016 overview" to each other, we hope to see overlap, combine efforts and more effectively support the work being done to help the citizens of Vau Dejes.

I feel your love and support from afar.  Take good care and I will continue to be in touch over time.  Facebook will give you the "photo blog" of my journey.

Lots of love and peace in these challenging times in the USA.

Friday, August 7, 2015

HOTTEST SUMMER EVER! Official Bashkia Assignment has begun / Initial Mayoral Priorities - Schools/Bathrooms, Bashkia

I sent some of you part (last part) of this update manually - I have added in some more "color" and moved things around.  :-) The new information is first.  I will add more photos at a later date.

<SIDE NOTES: it continues to be blazing hot and humid here! Imagine living in DC or New York in the summer with no AC, almost ever! The humidity makes it crazy hot and the buildings heat up and don't cool down at night (I think the low quality cement used during the Communist Era heats up and holds the heat.  And in the winter,it holds the bitter, damp cold and is often colder inside - its really something to behold)!  

My apartment is usually 85-95 degrees every night - I've learned to sleep less and function more slowly.  My office in the Bashkia is now called the "hot box" as it is on the sunny side of the building. Even with a fan blowing on me and my counterpart (it heats up to 105+ degrees and the fan feels like a constant blow dryer), its a challenge to concentrate some days.  We bring frozen bottles of water to work each day to stay hydrated and I tell myself I'm "developing a new skill of surviving in conditions in which most of the world lives"!  Its certainly not the Palo Alto perfection climate I am used to!

The new mayor, Zef, told me I can sit in his AC (air conditioned) office whenever he isn't there (he has a second office in Bushat where he used to be mayor of a small village/komuna). "Premium" already! (Inside joke).  I haven't used it yet as I really don't want to separate myself from everyone else working here.  And I also want to see if I can adjust over time (little by little).  I have found that if I can get one hour of AC, my body can handle the rest of the extreme heat for 24 hours, then I need another break of "cooling core body temperature." 

My site mate, Sarah and I travel 30 minutes by furgon to Shkoder 3 times a week to sit in an air-conditioned bar,cafe called Exalco.  We are now on a first-name basis with the staff and they laugh when they see us walk in. They are totally on to us "the Americans need their AC!"  I now schedule my "coffee" meetings with other NGO people there as it is both a nice spot and the AC is da best!!! 

It's being said this is the hottest summer on record in Albania.  Even going to the beach, you feel like you are baking from the inside out.  

We did get to the beach 2 times - its about one hour away.  When my Albanian friend, Pranvera offers to take us, we drop everything to go!  The beaches are so crowded in July and August and the water is almost too warm - but once you swim out past everyone (and sometimes little pieces of trash), the "sea" feels like a little slice of heaven. What's cool about the beach vibe is that everyone goes, all ages.  All body types, all together and it oozes family and tradition.  You can sometimes hear foreign languages as Albania is a great vacation bargain for people and with its bountiful fruits and veggies, its a hidden gem.  

On to Peace Corps "business"...


There is a new partnership between Peace Corps and (you will hear more detail about that in the future). High level, this will allow PCV's (Peace Corps Volunteers) to submit applications to get funds for redoing bathrooms in schools (which are in horrific condition if working at all).  This will be a major project which I will describe in another posting.

In parallel, the new mayor is revamping the work style of the Bashkia employees and also the building (which is a very traditional Communist Era building).  There are bars on a lot of the windows (which my 10th grade tutor told me yesterday were installed because there were robberies of the computer equipment, etc).  It really doesn't feel like a place citizens would look forward to coming to.  

Up to this point, I have been meeting regularly with the incumbent Vice Mayor (he speaks English AND has AC lol).  After talking a lot about his family and his life, I shared with him about my background, how I though I might be able to help, etc.  When I first met with the new Mayor, Zef, it was obvious that the Vice Mayor had updated him as he immediately began asking for my opinion on everything, even when I wasn't' ready to give one yet.  We quickly established rapport (mind you, this is all with his 28 year old assistant translating all our communication AND enthusiasm)!  We are off to a great start.

Leftover from Communist Era (dictate, control and no personal ownership) the Albania culture has evolved to one of "avash, avash" (slowly, slowly).  It's very challenging to get things done and there is often a lack of drive and motivation to push hard to drive results, pretty much the opposite of Silicon Valley and America in general.  I find my new mayor the opposite of this.  He is a big man with a commanding presence.  He moves quickly, speaks strongly (probably intimidates many) and really wants to get results which benefit the citizens, the communities and most importantly, the children and girls.

It's so exciting to see and be part of these potential big changes.  

I sent the note below to my Peace Corps leadership this week to keep them posted on what's happening in our larger Bashkia (the new municipality after the territorial reform election in June) (shockingly, so quickly)!

Begin forwarded message:
Date: August 4, 2015 at 10:21:19 AM GMT+2

Subject: New Mayor GSD "Getting Stuff Done"

After only 4 days on the job, the new Mayor, Zef Hila, is delivering! I'm sharing this information to validate that there are Albanians who can make things happen quickly!

Last Friday, Zef took Sarah and me to 6 schools and we looked at over 60 bathrooms. Before we set out, we walked the entire property of the Bashkia where he laid out his vision. He would tear down walls, get rid of the window bars, fix bathrooms and overall conditions to create a new, open work space on the first floor (Phase 1). Bashkia employees responsible for providing services will sit in this open area being available to serve the citizens of Vau Dejës in a new, collaborative way (versus single/silo offices).

Today construction began - see below.

While we are now dealing with extreme heat AND dust, it great to see the work commence and how it's getting everyone to "step up their game."

Zef doesn't speak English but his assistant does and this is already proving to be a developing team. He invited Sarah to be part of the school bathrooms initiative and is asking for our opinions on everything.

Keep you posted. It's going to be so exciting to see what can be accomplished with his leadership balanced with realistic timeframes.

Have a great day!

Debbie :-)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

July Update - Heat, House guests, Art and Trash / Phase 3 Training is completer!

Hi All (I sent this manually to many of you already!  I'm going to try and use my blog again as I have access to a very old computer in the Bashkia (local municipality).

Well - I had my first guests to my Vau Dejës apartment (my permanent  site). On the left is Vjollca who was one of the language instructors. On the right is Jessica who is a 22 year old PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer - that's what we call ourselves - "PCV's"). I have one double fold out and one twin fold out - it worked out pretty well.

Of course, other than the 100 degree daily temps and 90s at night, we had a nice slumber party! I have fans in both rooms! And I haven't been "under the covers" for weeks!! Two showers a day are required!! Lol

July will NOT be the month for visiting! I'm waiting to see how September and October roll out!!

I met them in Shkoder (can't say "picked up" since I don't have a car :-) ) - had lunch and it was so hot, we nixed walking around and went to a bar (that's pretty much what they call every establishment which serves coffee AND alcohol - of which there are thousands) - few have AC but this one does! There we chilled down our core bodies and caught up.

Before they arrived (very early that morning) Sarah (my 21 year old site mate) and I took a furgon into Shkoder to go pick up my new painting and get 3 amazing care packages at the post office. I had said I wanted to get one memorable piece of art from Albania to make my apartment really feel like my new home and I believed I had found it.

I was introduced to Rron Qena by another PCV. Rron is an Albanian born and raised in Kosovo (there are many Albanians in Kosovo, another reason why Albanians love Americans so much - helped save Kosovo under Clinton).

Shkoder is the center of art culture for Albania. Rron comes here to sell his work and be inspired. He was just wrapping up 2 months here and packing up his work to go do a show in Belgrade and also return to Kosovo. He had 3 very different paintings I was interested in (if curious, you can see more of his work by looking him up on Facebook - Rron Qena, artist). He sold his first painting at 16. His father was an artist.

I'm going to help Rron redo his bio (helped bring the price down - love bartering and negotiating). Sarah was cracking up when she saw me go into "business mode" - I don't have to pull it out that often any more.

I chose this one because of the colors and because it is about Shkoder - the lake, the river, bicycles, growing energy...

After some challenges getting Euros (banks were closed for Muslim holiday), I was able to make it work and we picked up the painting at the hostel where he was staying (side note - while we were having a post-purchase "coffee" / water on my part), we watched several couples and singles arrive with backpacks and asking for confirmation that they were in the right place. I had a moment and smiled to myself that I did the same kind of travel 25-30 years ago... Prices are a bit higher now (12 euros for a bed and bathroom down the hall). I must say its fascinating to have the perspective about time and choices, etc. And I'm not a "Lonely Planet" troubadour any more - but as a PCV, I know how to enjoy the simple things and fully appreciate the luxury we have in the US.

Well - you are updated on the present moment/s, and I promise I will get back to my blog soon. I realized I don't look forward to opening my computer and writing with it as its on its last legs (cursor jumps around, letters erase, etc) - you know it's bad if I'm typing this on my phone!! I will have the first U.S. visitor bring me a new, light tablet, probably in the fall.

It's ridiculously hot, fruits and veggies are abundant, work is super slow in the Bashkia (local municipality office) until the election results are confirmed and new people in place. In the mean time we received "train-the-trainer" lessons on facilitating Youth Employability sessions in our sites.

We also have been introduced and encouraged to work in our local schools on a new initiative to update school toilets (they are horrific) partnering with a California based org called Water Charity - I will soon begin researching the needs and feasibility in our local school to see if there is a match (in order to get the funds, the community must fund 25% of the costs whether through labor or materials, etc).

I'm also helping people with job stuff (resumes, interviewing, job searches) while continuing 1-1's with Albanians who I've previously met. It's so motivating to see them explore self-awareness, new communication styles and how to more effectively influence within the work environment.

Everyday I look from my Communist Era balcony, see the tall Catholic Church tower, hear the bells sing, listen to stray dogs and roaming chickens in the street while I marvel at the daily cultural life I'm living. I know one day soon, things will shift again and more of my time will be focused on helping develop new skills of the people with whom I work and inspiration through "giving back" will be a cornerstone. Peace Corps is about developing skills and building capacity of the people in our host countries (Goal 1). At the same time we are chartered with educating Albanians on our culture (Goal 2) and absorbing/participating/learning Albanian culture and sharing it with all of you (Goal 3).

It's challenging, eye-opening, fun, rewarding, frustrating at times, and always an adventure. Albania has so much potential and beauty while difficult/hard economic issues, horrific and little waste management, a weak, inconsistent tax "system" (I use that term loosely), and lingering corruption, it could be overwhelming to see how to respond to it all.

 The PC approach keeps a focus on the people and developing trust, individual impact and educating, empowering and inspiring the youth of Albania as they ARE the future leaders and change-agents. Our work requires resiliency, an open perspective, courage and heart.

One last story to further illustrate one of the challenges along with how to make a difference... After our final Phase 3 training, those of us in COD (Community and Organizational Development) were invited for 3 more days of training in the capital of Tirana. It was hosted by USAID. The course was Advanced Participation Methods (Consensus Workshop, Focused Discussions, and Action Planning). Great refresher for me/some new techniques, and a chance to share 30 years of experience learning and developing all of these.

After it was over, I headed across town to get on a bus for the two hour ride home. It was one of the worst buses I've been on and with only 2 windows open and pushing 95 degrees, I knew I was in for a memorable ride!

After pressing the bus driver, he released one of the "reserved" seats by the window to me. I needed that window seat badly as I had picked up a virus going around the PCV circle (luckily I didn't get strep like many others) and I couldn't breathe well. For 2 hours I let the hot, dusty wind rip on my face while I tried not to "smell" the bus! (All the while smiling inside, as this is what gives color to the day and a reminder to what a great life I've had).

The "money/taker" sat down next to me and sat with his legs wide open pushing into my space - so I twisted to position myself to almost be leaning out the window. At the same time, the bus driver was finishing his final smoke sitting right underneath the No Smoking sign (gotta love it). I coughed to breathe and hoped the trip would begin soon  while in my mind I kept chanting " I receive what I need, I receive what I need" followed by - "I can do anything for 2 hours!" LOL

Once we settled into the ride, made 5 or 6 stops to pick up people standing out on the road's edge to head north, the whipping wind and dust sand-papering my face with Tirana-traffic-fumes fading, I actually got  sleepy, relaxed and stopped replying to text messages as a way to cope with it all. I began to "enjoy the ride" as many say...

Then we made a full stop at a gas station. As it turned out, not for gas, but 4 or so people got off to get water! Hmmm... On the road again. Two of the group were the young man and young woman in front of me and the money/taker. (Up to this point my only words of conversation to all of them was "Pershendetje" (greetings) and "Shumë vap" (it's very warm")

They finished their waters and the girl in front of me throws her bottle out the window. I "air gasped" and said a big "No" inside. Then the guy sitting next to her does the same. Then the money-taker reaches across me and does the same plus some paper trash. I froze. I felt all my upbringing of picking up trash days, picking up wrappers walking around the lake at Pinecrest, encouraging others not to leave trash behind, always making sure I threw away my empty popcorn bucket after the movie was over (pet peeve btw - why can't people throw out their own trash), suddenly flash before my eyes. I knew I didn't have enough vocabulary to explain why not to do that or really even question the philosophy of it all AND I was too sick to talk without a coughing fit. I calmed my instincts, acknowledged why we take care of the planet and knew that in 27 months I wouldn't be able to FIX it and would accept trash on the side of the road is a part of life here (mind you families clean and mop their homes daily, wipe down cabinets weekly and majority of people have spotless homes).

Could it be behavior passed down after communism fell and there was no infrastructure/labor to pick up trash, or that so many years of isolation, "taking care of the planet" wasn't part of the culture??? I recognized I wouldn't have answers that would allow me to find solutions. There will and have been beach clean up days with kids and adults along with educational sessions on environment and personal responsibility.

In that moment I felt I my service purpose recommitted to 1-1 discussions, group coffees with curious dialogue and "help me understand why..." in order to tackle the big issues in a way that might influence thinking and maybe ultimately change.

This story illustrates why it's important to discuss, not judge; influence through questions not "authoritative" directives, and the expression "avash, avash" might actually make a good forehead tattoo! (Humor always helps me in these situations.

Albania has multi-level challenges with gender, economics, and how to get things done. We are here to help, guide and most importantly educate where appropriate. We don't have all the answers nor do we want to own "fixing it" for them. We want to empower the people, expand their thinking in a way which increases accountability and turns their deep love for family and America into an energy source for developing new skills which allow them to improve life in Albania .

Many layers to all people and situations. I will do my best in sharing their culture along with positive progress. (Side note - I did get on the case of my Albanian friend and her brother for doing the same thing out the car window coming back from the beach. They laughed. I told them - you might want to take care of Albania for your children.  It's yet to be seen if their behavior will change).

That's all for now. We are on this journey together.

Happy (and blazing hot) July!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

June 23 2015 - Catching up with Deb Ne Shqiperi (Deb in Albania)


I know it's been two months since I last updated my blog.  I lost my hard drive (on my quickly again laptop), it took some time to get it diagnosed and fixed.  I lost all my historical information and decided it was just another way the universe was unburdening me of my old life and documents!! My refurbished computer is limping along with older software and a cursor that loves to jump around randomly, but it keeps me in the game for the basic presentation development, etc.  The first person who comes to see me (probably in October) will be bringing me a new tablet with the latest and greatest!

In the mean time, a lot has happened...

On April 24th, I found out my permanent site and official assignment.  My assignment is to work in the local municipality (called a "bashkia") in the Northern town of Vau i Dejes.  My primary role will be to work with the local government to help them with any needs assessments, team development, write grants for funding projects, 1-1 development and coaching, etc.

On May 11th, I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV's) along with 52 other joyous Americans. The ceremony was special with two of our PCV's giving a speech in Shqip (Albanian) and traditional music being performed by another PCV and a local Albanian.  Our host families all attended and we each took them out for a little snack afterwards.  My host mom, Nyshi, had crepes for the first time!  She works every day and ALL day in the farm so she RARELY gets to the city of Elbasan and certainly doesn't go out for meals.  It was so great to see the delight on her face as she dug into her banana/nutella crepe!!

After a short Counterpart Conference (where we met our contacts for our official assignments in our permanent sites) my site mate, Sarah and I were driven in a World Vision SUV to our new home of Vau Dejes.

We were now beginning our 5 weeks of Phase 2 of training.  This Phase was for us to integrate into our sites by getting settled in our apartments, learn the community, where our work sites are, where to buy food, get items for our apartments, post- office, health center, where to get furgons (mini vans) to travel everywhere, where we could eat out, etc...

I am going to share a bunch of photos with some notes to get you all caught up and a few notes.  Later I will get back to reflecting and sharing cultural  high points as I am back in my village and traveling to Elbasan every day for my final 3 weeks of training (language and technical).  Then I will head back to Vau Dejes and get started on understanding my role as it relates to the Bashkia post-elections, new mayor, new council members, etc (local elections were on Sunday, June 21).

Enjoy the views...

Site Assignment of Vau i Dejes - WOO HOO! That's me with the Country Director and then our training manager, Genti.  It was a very happy day for everyone! After two crazy months of intense training, we all knew where we would be spending 2 years!  Now it was time to do some research on the location...

I'm having some problems with the application and getting the photos to load so I will publish and add more photos and notes soon! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19 - Community Project, Preso's, Language Adventure,Baby Goats


It's Sunday at the "gas station café" and time to blog a bit.  It's been an action-packed week, of course with the usual language training and regular Friday sector training, safety and security sessions, AND we did our Community Project and Language Simulation Stations (more on that later) AND our team cooked dinner for our village mate's 58th Bday.  Needless to say, it's our one "relax" day and we are all very tired but completely filled with joy and gratitude that we made it through another week! 

We remind ourselves we are here to help others and that at the end of the day, it's not about us, but how we can help this gorgeous, welcoming, culturally deep, and "developing" country.  We have such a range of ages in our large group of 54 "trainees." (we get sworn in as volunteers in less than a month). The "yungins" definitely have the energy to both study those extra two hours a day AND enjoy beers AND play sports, etc. As one continues to evolve, it becomes about balance and being present to each moment.  It's all good and such a wonderful experience to get to reflect on the different stages in life and see one's own life through the lens of someone experiencing things for the first time (this must be what it's like to have kids :-) - and I'm old enough to be the parent of many of in our group!

Quick review on this week, I was down for 2 days with the cold/flu that has been rampant in my village and among our group for weeks.  My village mate, Mitesh was an angel and rode a bike to the pharmacy in the next town to get  the meds prescribed by the PC Medical Office (great service by phone)!  Everyone in my household was hacking and stuffy and it was an interesting feeling to realize that I had medicine and they did not (can't share nasal sprays :-)).  Each day brings a new reminder of how much we have and what we don't think twice about (the access to medical services, how to limit the spread of germs <every one eats out of the same salad bowl with their own forks>, and the choice to rest versus having to work 12 hours on the farm...

Enough perspective... now for pure productivity... We did our Community Project this week. Our small group of 5 in Bishqem decided we wanted to keep it simple (the real goal was to both do something to have a cultural exchange along with exposure of what it takes to get something accomplished within the Albanian structures). We have a grade school right next to the health center (which houses our freezing language room).  We arranged to do a small break out session with the 3rd/4th grade and teach them a song/s that would hopefully inspire them to learn more English. 

We created posters and then led them in the standard "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" song and dance.  After several rounds of that, we led them in the Hokey Pokey.  They were so cute and were in a big circle and we started off all holding hands.  They laughed, participated with some initial hesitancy and high-fived us as we finished.  We got great feedback and we felt we had success over all. Mostly, we were silly and got to feel the smiles of their darling faces. (I will provide photos later as my village mate, Jackie, took all the photos and video and I need to get it from her).

We also had our language Simulation Stations Day in Elbasan (the larger city). We had an assignment sheet and walked around the city in smaller groups of 7-8 and had to engage, speaking Shqip (Albanian).  We met with kids at a music school and then a high school.  We went to an open market and then the castle.  We had specific questions we were encouraged to ask and then document.  At the end of it all, we stood up as a group and presented our results or told the story of the conversations (which included the simple/difficult task of asking for directions - LOL - I barely understood the person I asked)!  I had success at the market and was able to ask what the word for zucchini is in Shqip (kungull) and then ask for the price and then buy some!!! I may survive in this country on my own, yet!!!

Great news - the sun was shining this week and I think spring is really here!  Things are blooming, the grass and fields sparkle and new life is seen everywhere in the village.  Baby chicks are being born daily.  And for my host family, the Mecja's, 2 baby goats were born.  It brought tears to my eyes to see these 2 darling babies.  Their hair is so soft and I was shocked at how big they seemed (unfortunately they were born during the day while I was at school).  My host mom, Nyshi, delivered them with no help from a vet or anything!  WOW! (her husband is in Greece working).  My village mates came to look and touch these baby goats - it made all our daily challenges melt away!!  I hope the video will attach and you will get to see a little of what I saw this week.

We also did short preso's (presentations/"preso" is a word I learned at Tellme and I just love using it!) for demonstrating and practicing our facilitation and training skills as we will all be doing this in our assignments.  We were supposed to talk about something we could teach others and we only had 10 minutes.  PC has a format and learning process they want us to follow, so we had guidelines to utilize. I did my "preso" on "Quick Tips for an Effective Group Meeting." I had a few short slides (PowerPoint meets Albania)!! What was super cool was the person right before me is a bit of a yogi and he taught us how to do "alternate nostril breathing" technique for stress reduction.  This was perfect as where our group presented, the office was up the  "fun" 4 flights of stairs... Great way to slow down heart rate and depleted lungs!!! (Note: my yoga teacher taught me this several years ago and we had practiced it last year at chant camp but I had forgotten about it).  I think it could be useful in my first meeting with some high level Bashkia official!! :-)

This week ended on a high note with our dinner party for Megan's birthday.  We shopped in Elbasan and cooked it at her host family's house.  We made chili (Albanian style) and an "American salad, Debbie style)/lots of chopped items.  We found avocados and it was so fantastic to have it in the salad.  We played music, danced and spoke "Shqiplish!"- which is broken Shqip (Albanian) and English mixed in (which is how I speak mostly at this stage)!! Lots of fun was had by all and since it was next door to my house, there were no issues with staying out past dark.  When I did get home the door was locked and I had a short moment of "oh, no" but Nyshi leaned over the balcony and told me "the door is open" (in Shqip, of course) and I said "no, it's not" - it turned out it was locked! We had a good laugh and soon I was back in my cozy "burrito" bed... AND WOO HOO - the first night without the orange sweatshirt and other layers!!! I guess spring, really is here!  (I'm still a bit hesitant about sleeping without my "Darn Tough" socks but tonight I think I will give it a whirl)!!!

Okay, my precious circle... I must sign off and will load photos later.  I hope you are all doing well.  And thank you for sending the detailed notes and emails, they warm my heart and remind me of why I am doing this - for Albania, for all of us and as the next step in Debbie's life journey.  And thank you to Ann, Maureen, Steph T, Patty, Sue Fialer for sending actual cards!!! I cried!  It takes 3-4 weeks for mail to arrive FYI

We find out on Friday where our permanent site assignments will be... so much buzz is happening around it for many and on Friday, we were reminded (and coached) that we all signed a contract to serve wherever, under hardship, if necessary AND to not get caught up in "at the beach, in a city, with a BFF, or somewhere not cold LOL - COLD is not considered a hardship :-)) - It was really good for many to hear this and remember why they joined the Peace Corps.  All along, I've said, I will go where asked.  It will be exciting to hear and know where "home" will be soon.  Keep you all posted.

xoxo  :-)



Sunday, April 12, 2015

End of Week 4!!!

Sitting in our favorite "gas station, café, bar and supermarket" - using wifi ("Wee-fee in Shqip/Albanian")... We try to get here at least 1-2x per week, have a boronce tea or bodin (bottle) of uje (water).  I, of course, am emailing you all (now trying to become savvy on blog posting) downloading some mindless TV programs to clear my brain for a few moments, and soaking up some local culture...

Our usual "language and then COD (Community and Organizational Development) training was shortened because of our site visits to existing volunteers.  I'm still reveling in the beautiful castle I walked up to and all around... I was incorrect in telling you that it was 15th Century - parts of it were but it was originally build 400BC!!! It has tunnels as a way to get down to the city to secretly get provisions when they were under siege and running out of water and food! It was a great way to get in some culture and exercise.  When we were at the very top, we could hear a Muslim chant from way down below.

This shortened week we had some people come to speak with us again. This time it was a Director from the Ministry of Urban Development. He gave us an overview of the history of "urbanism" and now what's called Urban Development.  He talked about all the challenges with property ownership (there was none during communism/45 years) and now all the housing that was built with no standards, lack of ownership rights, etc.  There are some big challenges ahead and minimal revenue generated by almost zero % property taxes and non-payment (still a lot to learn about that).  He also talked about all the tourism initiatives on the radar and all the planning, fund development, execution and follow-up that is targeted for the next 5 years.  Many PC volunteers will be assigned to some of these initiatives.  Not surprising, a lot of the focus is on the coastal/beach cities along with some historical sites. Two existing PC volunteers also presented and shared their challenges in the tourism space and advice on how to make an impact (even to showing people how to use basic Google). Often the volunteers become IT and power point trainers and even build mobile apps (I can't wait to see what new techie skill I develop while here! LOL)

I got my first Albanian cold (I'm almost the last person to catch it in our village and PC group).  Interestingly, not as bad as at home (phew)!  And I'm convinced all the oxygen sessions in the hyperbaric chamber definitely boosted my immune system :-)

I bought my first bottle of wine this week (and my host sister was home from university and made pizza that was divine).  It was a Syrah-Cab Sav from Macedonia and cost just under $5!!! The wild thing is that here they keep the open bottle of wine (with cork in) in the cupboard for weeks (hence why I thought it would be good to get a fresh bottle).  And we only drink a small glass or two (probably less that 1 CA glass!)!  We still have beer occasionally when we are in wifi, etc - it's mild and drinkable.  I still can't believe I'm having a glass of beer or two... MY how things change.

Crazy as it might sound, I've settled into the routine of 2 showers a week, the damp, damp cold and eating last night's leftover salad with my breakie of boiled egg, cucumber, tomato and fresh goat cheese... The evening meals are mostly Gjelle (stew/soup) with meat probably 2x per week. I get my salate gjeshille (green salad) every night!!! - that makes me so happy.  When I was in Kuchove, Kelsey made me a green drink one morning with her juicer - I can see one in my future, some day!

I hope you are all well... let me know your questions and I will do my best to answer them. In 2 weeks - we find out our permanent site assignments.  And then we have swearing in on May 11th.  We are all buzzing with potential excitement about where we will be serving for the next 2 years.

Pray for warm weather - we are ready!!!

PS - in the photos below - that was my bed in Kuchove (actually very comfy)! And that is a quintessential Albanian couple sightseeing at the castle...
I hope the uploaded video allows you to hear the Muslim chant in the background (listen in a quiet space)  - let me know if it worked - I'm still so new to all these tools!  (My blog consultant, Jo, is encouraging me to play around with everything and I'm being patient and "getting it!" - I'm so grateful she helped me get started!)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

In Kuchove with Kelsey!

I just spent 3-1/2 days with Kelsey in Kuchove. She is just finishing up her first year as a volunteer in the COD (Community and Organizational Development- same as what sector I will be in).

It was such a nice break from intense language and meaty technical training. We visited the beautiful town of Berat and walked up a long, steep cobblestone street and path to a 15th century castle. If you do come to Albania - it's a must-see city with stunning mountains in the background.

More later as I have to catch my minibus back to Elbasan and then a furgon back to Bishqem - my first solo adventure!