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 :-)

1 comment:

  1. Just amazing, Debbie, and so inspiring. It amuses me your roommates/cohorts are in their early 20's! Probably more the norm for PCVs, but I can't imagine them having half the focus and direction they need without your contribution of years of very relevant experience in coalition-building. You go, girl! (You have to tell me how to say that in Albanian!)
    As a trash Nazi myself, I get your frustration about the bottle tossers! It's not just in Albania though - annually I take a bag and walk up Bitney Springs road, picking up garbage. Most of it is CRV, and most of that is beer cans and bottles. (We can blame the open container law for that part.) Apathy exists everywhere...even with financial incentives to participate. But, obviously, it's by degrees. I'm sure I have no concept of how bad it is where you are, but I get frustrated too. I may have to get the Avash tattoo myself!