that's our james

Disclaimer: This is my blog. No one else's. This is what I think about stuff. If others think the same thing, it's up to them to express it. The sole purpose of my writings is to keep my friends and family informed. My opinions are just that, opinions so don't get to worked up if something offends you. Thanks.

23 September 2006


Finally, I have added more photos to my flickr page. I still have more waiting to load but the power will be cut in about 15 minutes and it has taken an hour to load the ones I did today. I guess I should have maybe gotten up before 9 and started the process before 11.
The photos are not yet organized but I hope to work on that next weekend.

22 September 2006

Guide to Turkish toilets…

As I have mentioned before, one of the differences between life in America and life in Albania is the presence of Turkish toilets. A Turkish toilet is a bit of mystery to me. From what I can tell, it consists of basin set into the floor with a large whole offset from the center of the basin. In the whole one can see standing water beyond which I am guessing is a great abyss that I hope to never explore. Usually the basin has a slotted area along the side or toward the front (see picture). These areas are, I believe, where your feet are suppose to be. For you see, a Turkish toilet, being basically just a whole in the floor is lacking a “seat.” Therefore the user must provide his or her own seat by simply working those leg muscles and squatting. The technique regarding positioning and other elements are varied and dependent upon concerns I would rather not discuss. If you really want to know just ask and I can provide you with complete instructions.

Step One: Taking Care of Business
Approach the toilet with caution because it can be a crafty and vile creature. Once the environment is deemed safe, place feet on said rest with your back facing the wall/whole. Lower yourself into a squatting position and then do your thing.

Step Two: Paper and Plastic
As for personal cleaning, you have two options. You can choose to clean yourself with a pitcher of water. If several splashes of water don’t quite do the trick, other devices may be utilized. I believe the primary tool is the hand as I have noticed a lack of toilet paper in almost all cafés and some private residences. This brings us to your other option, good ol’ TP. However I must caution you that the toilet paper can not be placed in the Turkish toilet as it will clog. As on volunteer learned after living in his new apartment. The other residents came knocking on his door informing him that their toilets were backing up. He is now known as the guy the clog all the toilets in the building. Great first impression I’d say. Since the toilet itself is not a disposal option, you will find a small trash can with lid of some form for discarding of tissue.

Step Three: Clean Up Aisle Two
Last but definitely not the least significant is the “flushing” of the Turkish toilet. Since a tank holding an adequate amount of water to remove certain undesirables is not part of the composition of a Turkish toilet, flushing falls short of its full potential. Usually a pitcher of water is used to clean the basin and to add more water to the dark whole. I am not sure of the protocol for the amount of water to use and the exact goals. You see, I have developed my own flushing technique. I am fortunate in that my Turkish toilet has a large area. The secret though is a plunger. You place the plunger over the whole and form a seal by pressing down. Next you take a large bucket of water and while holding the plunger with one hand and dumping the bucket with the other, you fill the basin with water. Quickly remove the plunger and the water rush down the whole thus flushing the contents of the whole/pipe out to sewer land. In my case that’s the river but I’ll save that for later.

Water Two...

You are aware of my problems with my lack of water or more specifically my lack of water pressure. Worry not for Necessity just gave birth to a wonderful and oh so cute little Invention. David, my American missionary friend, suggested I try using a cloths pin to hold up the plunger knob thing on the faucet. All the plumbers reading my blog (do I have any plumbers reading my blog? Kristy ask Greg what that’s called :) ) do we have a name for that thing? The result was glorious. Assuming I fill my reservoir, I can now take a shower without either holding the shower head and/or the knob. Granted it’s no high pressure massage but I’m not high maintenance. I’ll take what I can get. Perhaps you noticed the yellow string. That’s my dental floss. I tried to tie the knob to a nearby shower shelf. No luck. I’m no MacGyver but I try. I was going to fashion something out of a small piece of folded paper but David’s cloths pin works quite well. So now I can always be so fresh and so clean, clean.

20 September 2006

Snail mail and care packages...

Now that you have purchased the perfect birthday card for me, you still have to address it and get it the mail. Let me help you there. Instead of having you search through your address book, I thought I'd give you my mailing address:
James Williams
Bashkia Berat
Lagja "28 Nentori"
Bulevardi "Republika"

If you have already sent your various mailings or packages to my other address. No worries. I still live there. I might be moving the first of November but that's for a later post.


My first wedding...

Last week I attend my first Albanian wedding. Good Times.
The picture is of me taking part in the traditional circle dances done by Albanians. To my left is the groom Redi. These circle dances are not reserved only for weddings but form almost on their own and then take over the dance floor, or whatever space is available. It's quite fun.

Weddings here are much more involved. It's not a one day affair. I am still not sure what all is involved. There are separate parties for the bride and groom. The party together is the largest festivity. I'm not sure about this but depending on where the wedding taking place or the traditions observed by the families, there might be some ceremony when the groom comes to the house of his new bride to take her away from her family and to begin their life together. I am pretty sure I am missing lots of details and finer points. Sorry.

This particular wedding event was for the groom Redi. He works at the Bashkia. Last Thursday we all went to the restorant across from the castle and had a lunch with lots of eating, drinking, and dancing. Generally just a quality way to spend an afternoon of work.

19 September 2006

They say it's your birthday...

Do you have the sneaking suspcion that a very important date or event is forth coming?

Are you having trouble figuring out what exactly this date/event is?

Alas, let me put your troubled mind at ease.


You have just shy of two weeks to get those wonderful cards in the mail. And you're right, that will work out perfectly because it takes between a week or two to get snail mail. Don't procrastinate too long or you'll have to make it a belater card. Not that I would have a problem with that.
Remember I am HUGE fan of my birthday. I've been so distracted that it almost snuck up on me. Sadly I don't have any bday plans, other than decorating my room with all my newly received birthday cards/postcards/stationary/plain pieces of paper (preferably with something at least written on it).

All right, gotta go. I've got work to do. Don't laugh! It's true. I'll tell you more later.

15 September 2006

I Heart Peanut Butter...

That pretty much says it.
I really really really like peanut butter.

Why would I torture myself with talk of such a divine creation when I now reside in a country s'ka peanut butter? btw, s'ka is translated in this use as "There is no."

You see, last week I was visited by the Care Package Angle. Mona sent a few small things including one jar of JIF. Ah Heaven. I figure if I am careful and only share sparingly, I can make it last for a month. I would rather eat a PB and Banana sandwich like every day but I'll make do. Oh and though I am only sparingly sharing, I'm impressed that kind of almost selfless giving is still in me regarding PB.

James Trivia:
It's my personal theory that God made a deal with my mom. You see, I used to be pretty picky with food and everything else for that matter. But I loves me some Peanut Butter. I like it in all forms. Cheap, expensive, sweet, natural, salted, unsalted, whatever you got I will eat. To balance my preference for let's say more sophisticated things, God made me with a fondness for peanut butter that is hard to match.

Today as part of my lunch I had a banana with a teaspoon of PB.

Water One…

Jam merzit (I am annoyed, merzit also means bored so you have to know from context whether I am bored or annoyed but this is not about the language). I’m calling this Water One because I have a feeling that this is only the first of many water themed entries.

Let’s start off by saying that I really enjoy showers in the morning. Not only are they a good way to maintain certain levels of hygiene but a shower has the power to bring me back to life and helps start the day off right. Being in the Peace Corps, I knew I would have to make some adjustments. My showering is less frequent and I am more inclined to take a shower in the evenings when it’s convenient.

Last night when the water came back on around 9 p.m. and after finishing dinner at 9:45, I was too tired to take a shower. You see a shower isn’t a simple act of turning on the water. I have to first turn on the water heater and wait for about 20 minutes to ensure an adequate supply of hot water. Then the whole shower process can begin. Not feeling up to it, I decided to take my shower in the morning.

Sorry I have to leave my office because someone is smoking and the particular type of cigarette burns my nostrils. BRB. I’m back but now the other guy is smoking. I give up. Sorry nose and lungs.

A morning shower didn’t used to be much of a problem. However, lately the water has been turned off before 7:30 a.m. instead of the 8:00 or 8:15 which is a totally workable time for getting ready for work. Aware of my new water “schedule” I was prepared to wake up early to shower. I set my alarm for 6:00. I woke-up at 3:00 a.m. to go to the bathroom and the water was off. No worries. It’s normal to be turned off during the night. I return to bed and quickly fall back to sleep. It’s a gift I have. Give me five minutes and I’ll be sleeping like a baby. I wake at 6:00, find that I still don’t have water but that’s ok. I turn on the water heater to warm the water that is still in the tank and set my alarm for 6:30. Soon enough my alarm is ringing and I am up anxiously turning on the faucet. Nothing. Ok, back to bed with the alarm now set for 6:45. Again the alarm sounds and I wake up hopeful. Again I am disappointed. Nothing. All right, I’ll try for 7:00. I wake up to the now extremely nerve-wracking sound of my alarm. I am a little nervous. If the water is on, will it then be shortly turned off again, keeping with our frustrating 7:30 cut-off? Plus at this time of morning, everyone is up and fighting for the water, reducing the water pressure to barely adequate to flow through my shower head. Turns out none of this matters since the water is still OFF. ARGH!

I did manage to shower in a way. I do have a reservoir that holds at least a day’s water. The only problem is that the reservoir does not have enough pressure to force through the shower head. Solution? I have to hold the shower knob up to force a small stream of water through. Honestly I would be happy, ok happy isn’t right, satisfied with this if only I didn’t have to hold the knob with one hand the whole time thus making an enjoyable shower of both the right and left sides of my body impossible!

I guess this is the “roughing” it part of the Peace Corps. If the water worked liked it should and all the other random things, I guess I wouldn’t be here. It’s just frustrating, especially when it doesn’t have to be like that. The resources they have could be managed so much more efficiently. I know, I know, that’s why I’m here. Perhaps another time I will tell you about those problems but I’ve complained enough for now.

I swear I was going to keep this short but it got away from me.
Thanks for listening :)

13 September 2006

An apple a day…

I guess I’m a little behind on my apple consumption. Sunday morning I woke up with a sore throat. I was hoping the sore throat had something to do with my less than superb night of sleep. I should have known better. My colds generally start with a sore throat in the morning.

By Sunday evening I had a full blown cold. I took a Nyquil. I’m not the biggest fan of random medication but Nyquil has won me over. Whenever I get sick, if I take one and get a good night’s sleep, I am my way to recovery. Really I think it’s the sleep that is the most beneficial so I cheat a little to get some.

Monday morning I woke around 9:00. Actually one time I woke up at 7:15 to get a shower before the water is turned off but was too late. The water situation however is another story :) Around 9:00 I thought to send a text message to my supervisor. In my Nyquil stupor I managed to get to the appropriate function on my phone. Then I promptly fell asleep. I woke to a blank screen on my phone, a clear indication that the well thought out message I had typed was only in my dream. I began to write the message in the real world. Trying to be clear and concise, I have to keep the message short to save money on my phone and I can’t abbreviate since the recipients are non-native English speakers, I thought about each sentence. Apparently I thought too hard because I fell asleep while thinking about the third sentence. I woke up a few minutes later with phone still in hand. I continued with my chore only to fall asleep one more time before managing to send the message. Did I mention that Nyquil really knocks me out?

I fell asleep again only to be awoken by my host grandmother who came up the stairs to check on me. My counterpart Mirela had called my host family to see why I wasn’t at work (she didn’t get the message in time). Later my supervisor Emilijano called to check on me. Then a neighbor who frequently hangs out at the small shop at the entrance to our compound courtyard came up with the older son to make sure I was doing ok. Katie came by bringing me a cold soda (which grandmother didn’t think was a good idea since it’s a cold beverage) and to keep me occupied for a spell. After returning home from work, the host father came and checked on me. In the evening Katie returned after taking care of some errands this time bearing the next disc of The West Wing Season One. While we were watching an episode, my host father stopped by with dinner for me, including a special soup prepared just for me.

I must say the attention is comforting. It’s also not at all what we would do back home. I mean, come on, I didn’t go to work or leave the house because I have a cold. All the attention seems odd but it’s nice too.

To really prove my point, Mirela just dropped by with another coworker. She just wanted to make sure I was doing all right. She brought two bananas and a jar of olives and gave me some advice for a speedy recovery.

I feel well enough to go back to work but I may stay one more day just because I don’t want to infect anyone else. I’ll probably just go in late and sleep off the Nyquil.

Thanks for watching…

You would not believe the incredible find I found (there’s gotta be a better way of saying that). I was walking in the neighboring town of Kucove with Ryan the volunteer who lives there. As we were walking down the long hill from his apt to the center, there on the side of a road was a gem of a throw-away. What could it be, what could it be? You guessed it, a TV-less Tv. The tube was gone and only the shell remained. I was stoked. I’ve seen better but it was clean and seemed to be exactly what I wanted that night. I convinced him that if the Tv-less TV was still there on our ascent, I could take it back to his apt. Low and behold, my fine piece of electronics (does is still count as an electronic if all the electrical parts have been removed?) was valiantly waiting for me.
Ryan and I proudly carried the TV shell home. In all honesty, I’m not too sure that he was impressed with my find, let alone proud. The next day I was returning to Berat by bus so I was unable to take the TV with me. Lucky Ryan got to enjoy the TV for a little while longer, though I do not believe that he thought of this experience as a matter of good fortune.
As a week of antagonizing anticipation, last night I was reunited with Stevie the TV (yeah, that’s a blatant Friends rip-off). This rapturous reconciliation was possible because of another exciting development. My friend David, a missionary living with his family in Berat, purchased a vehicle and had decided to take Katie and myself for a ride. We ventured over to Kucove to get some Ballash Diesel (I’ll explain later) and to have a drink. While in Kucove, we met with Juliet and Ryan. Ryan asked if I wanted to take Stevie back with me. How perfect is this. Not only do I have free transportation to Berat, with David old school Land Rover, I had a vehicle to do all the work of climbing the hill for me. BTW, the bus usually costs $.70 one-way, cheap by American standards but not so cheap when you only make around $200 a month. Also the bus takes 40 minutes but in a car the trip takes 15 minutes. Man I need to get a chauffer. I’d drive myself but that’s against the rules.
Around 9:00 pm Stevie was introduced to his new home. Now all the remains is to determine the most totally rad way to reuse him. I am open to suggestions. Already on the list are: place fish bowl with fish inside, do puppet shows in the winter, hang pictures I color, place the laptop inside and pretend it’s a TV, books, plants, and maybe a shrine (to whom or what TBD).

08 September 2006


After five months, I have gotten used to the dietary offerings of Albania. For example, when I eat dinner with my host family, I am often served an ochre dish. Ochre is in season and the dish is easy to make and keeps relatively well.

Due to visiting other cities the last two weekends and having many visitors in Berat for the week between, I had only eaten with my host family one time in the last 11 days.

Monday evening I was in Berat and didn’t have any guests. Perhaps I was going to have a normal night and settle back in to my routine. I was looking forward to talking to my host father who I usually only see at dinner and I had a hankering for some of my standard dinner fare. For example, I am often served a “salad” comprised of only cucumbers and tomatoes, and onions that are so strong I can’t eat them. Now I totally dig this salad. I believe that lettuce has no business being in a salad and only gets in the way of the vegetables that are tasty and have some nutritional value ( I know leafy greens are nutritious, my issue is with the standard Iceberg lettuce).

After exchanging pleasantries with my host father, we set the table for dinner. Sadly my hoped for salad was not on this evening’s menu. Tonight’s dinning options consisted of the ochre dish, plain yoghurt (also a standard I have grown fond of), bread, some cheese and what I believe to be the small intestines of some poor sheep. Yep. Small intestines.

I cannot say with confidence what I was eating because my knowledge of edible animal parts is limited to, you know, the meat. All the other stuff is a mystery usually reserved for hot dogs. As is standard with the other innards I’ve consumed, the texture was the main difference. Other than that difference I didn’t really notice anything. I can however say that if given the choice, I would recommend the stuffed intestines (made from the larger part of the intestines due to the difficulty one would encounter in trying to stuff small intestines but perhaps I am erroneous in my deductions, like I said I’m no expert). Though the large taste the same as the small, the stuffing is pretty darn good.

Perhaps I will learn how to prepare such delicacies and will have a feast upon my return to the States. Shall I put you down for the large or small intestines? :)

Great Expectations…

Oh what was I thinking? I found out that I would have a chance to go to Tirana with a colleague for a meeting. I jumped at the chance because while we were there, I would be able to use the wi-fi at one of the cafés. I quickly ran home before we left so I could take my laptop and upload lots of new photos. And we were off.

After fighting through the miserable traffic of Tirana and the meeting, I made it to the café. I stayed while my colleague went to a nearby computer store. I got all cozy in the back of the café, sitting comfortably in the air conditioning watching music videos on the flat screen. Have I mentioned that Tirana is not like the rest of Albania? I mean come on. A/C, wi-fi, Chinese food, a French bakery, lots of foreigners, well you get the point. Go figure, PC will not place any volunteers in Tirana.

Where was I? Oh yeah.
Ok, comfy seat suitable for a solid hour or so of internet time? Check.
Pleasant environment to provide distractions while high-speed internet is too slow uploading my pictures? Check.
Power outlet nearby just in case I need more power? Check.
Overpriced drink ordered (I know the rules, internet may be free but you gotta pay to stay)? Check.
Connection to internet? NOTHING.
Reconnect to internet? Nothing.
Poke around internet settings as if I actually knew what I was doing? Nothing.
Sit there frustrated savoring the thick second hand smoke. CHECK.