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.

30 May 2006

everybody's workin for the weekend...

well, not everybody.
yesterday was my first day at my future place of employment. i arrived at 8. my albanian counterpart escorted me around and introduced my to about 20 or so new people. no worries, im great with names. this went on for about an hour or so. newt we went to the police station to register me as a resident. of course, i don't actually have a visa yet so i have to re-register for real once i have my visa. ah gov't. since we were close, my counterpart suggested we go see how one of the other volunteers was doing. we met her and then stayed there for a while because her counterparts had to go to a funeral viewing. we were getting pretty bored so we all went off to go check on the other volunteer. we met her and talked for a while.

sadly, my counter part had to go back to the office to take care of a few things so we had to decline teh coffee invitation. next time, there's always a next time for a coffee.

after we returned, she had a meeting so she told me that i could go home.

at 12:30, i met another PC volunteer that has been working here for a year now. we had lunch till 2:30 and then he headed back to work for a couple hours. I headed home and took a nap.

the nap was a matter of survival. it was so stinkin hot that i didn't feel like doing much else.

and today's schedule was even more grueling. i went in at 8 and reviewed some planning documents while we waited for the mayor to finish a meeting. i then met the mayor for about 2 minutes and that was it. my counterpart had to go to a seminar today so she told me to go explore the city. i already did that some yesterday so i went home and organized my stuff, put a bunch of PC phone numbers in my phone, and sent really long text messages.

it's tough, but i'll be strong.


swimming pools & movie stars

It took me just over two months but I found a swimming pool in this country. Granted it's in Tirana and that's not the typical Albania but I'll take it. BTW, the shift key on this keyboard is shorter and in the lost space is the backslash key. \It's a little annoying. See I didn't even plan to mess up there. |I will prolly give up on capitalization soon. how bout now\? argh that shift key.
We had our conference with our Albanian counterparts. This was the first time we all met them. It was held in Tirane at a nice hotel just outside the city. obviously the highlight for me was the pool.
Jimmy <3 pools.
that's Jimmy hearts/loves (the <3 is suppose to look like a heart, get it?) pools. but you already knew this. we also had shower curtains much to my delight. for some odd reason, this country does not believe in shower curtains. you just go ahead and splash all over the floor. the food was good too. overall, very nice.

i suppose my title is a little misleading. i did not, to my knowledge, see any movie stars.

18 May 2006

Game on…

Guess who’s got game. Obviously it’s me. Despite what you might have heard I’ve got some mad b-ball skills. Ok, not really. I have, however, stumbled upon a little strategy. Now you see, I can’t make a shot to save my life. I can however hussle and rebound, both of which are much easier when you play against people who do not normally play basketball or are a bit out of shape. So I managed to not embarrass my fine Hoosier state, not that I did it proud either. Baby steps remember, baby steps.
I managed not to injure myself the past weekend. I was rather excited about this but then came Monday and Tuesday. While throwing the disc on Monday, I expertly caught the disc and in the process bruised my middle finger. Ok, no big deal. What is or could be a big deal is the lack of feeling have in my right heel. It doesn’t hurt. I guess that’s obvious since I said “lack of feeling.” It feels like it has fallen asleep. The problem is that I first noticed this yesterday evening. I’m not sure what’s happening. I am guessing that there is a problem with one of my shoes that I wore that day. Don’t worry. I will let you know when the feeling returns to my heel. In the mean time, I want all of you to not take for granted the fact that you can feel your heel.

The perfect plan…

Sometimes things just work out. I like those times. This last Saturday was a great example. In fact Saturday turned out to be an overall great day.
The day began with tutoring in the main city. Since my trip to Elbasan was for a PC activity, they paid. Aw yeah. The trip only costs $3 round trip but like I’ve said, I’m cheap to begin with and not having income doesn’t help to loosen my purse strings (and no I do not carry a purse, it’s an expression, thanks b).
The tutoring went well and afterward my teacher went with Juliet and me to the “supermarket.” After a supposedly short walk to the supermarket, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection. As the store came into sight, the first think I noticed was a small parking lot. “Yeah, so. What’s the big deal,” you might say. Well, let me tell you. You see, no one has parking spaces for their businesses. I’m not talking in the downtown or historic areas, it seems to be lacking everywhere even though there are many many cars here. I discovered the next little surprise when I walked through the automatic doors and my instincts kicked in as I by-passed the shopping cart in favor of one of the small plastic baskets. In case you aren’t gettin’ it, it’s like I was in an American grocery store. It had multiple aisles. I could choose from a variety of cereals and there were even a few short aisles dedicated to HBC (that’s healthy and beauty for those of you not in the grocery business). It was in this section that I almost ran into a little trouble. Well not trouble so much as potentially embarrassing. I was comparing two packets of hand wipes. My teacher who was still with us giggled and turned to the other teacher with us who then told me that those “hand wipes” were only for women  Now how funny would have that been if I had bought them and then used them out in public or offered them to some Albanian woman who knew what they were. Do you think she would use them, laugh, or tell me what I had done? At any rate it would have been comical.
After our supermarket sweep (why was that show so good?), we decided to have coffee at the rooftop café of the tallest building in town. Now I’m not complaining but it does strike me as odd that I am in the PC and enjoying a cool, refreshing drink and a gorgeous view of the surrounding city and mountains from my 13 storey vantage point. Granted my view of trash everywhere and buildings seemingly in great disrepair didn’t let me get too carried away.
During my relaxing, yet productive day, I got a text message that my host uncle would meet us in front of the stadium at 4:00. Perfect! He’ll get us in, get us great seats, and we can ride home with him. We were quite relieved because we wanted to go to the match because transportation is always a little tricky starting at 4:00. With the details worked out, we head off to see the last match of the season and the ceremony since Elbasan had won the national league. Juliet especially excited to go since, for the special occasion, other women would be in attendance.
Well we wait for my uncle and he’s a no-show. While we are waiting though some guy comes up to us and just gives us two tickets to match for free. While we waited a bit longer for my uncle, a lady with no teeth and dressed in flowing fabrics trimmed in sequence randomly gave Juliet a fragrant pink rose. We find our section easily and decide to just risk the transportation thing. Within 10 minutes, I hear someone calling my name. I am getting really used to this by the way but I was very happy to turn and see a guy I knew from city hall. Score! He’ll help us get back to Peqin. All is well. Ten minutes later, someone else gets our attention. It’s Liu! If you’ll recall, he’s our furgon driver (the one that took on our little of the neighboring city). He somehow had two seats for us, which means he made somebody move for us. Once we saw Liu we knew we were in the clear. He himself would take us home. Problem solved.
I never did meet up with my uncle. I guess there goes my perfect plan.
Good night.

13 May 2006

marvelous mud...

LOL. Now that's a little bit of dirt on her shoes. The her in this case is my site mate Juliet. Yesterday we went for a hike. We came to a stream and were devising our best crossing options. We settled on stepping to the little island of rocks in the middle of the stream (you can probably guess where this is going). Juliet was closer to that direction so she went first. In retrospect I am VERY happy about that. I was wearing my band new, bright white running shoes, by the way. She took one step onto the island and realized that it was not as dry as it appeared to be. As she began to sink, she took a step with her other foot and that foot began to sing. I thought I was going to lose her there for a minute. She was stepping back on what we thought was the solid river bank and you guessed it, not so solid after all. In fact, with taht step, the earth swallowed all of her foot and even up past her ankle.

Eventually we found a good place to cross. we ended up just backtracking. isn't that always the case? Sidenote, we didn't really know exactly where we were but as we climbed the "trail" back up, we realized it was the same trail that we used to begin this little trek.

We stopped by my house first. I offered the use of our hose and barrel of water to Juliet to clean her shoes. I, being such a great guy, even lent her my sandles and some socks. Also being a nice guy, i picked up one of her mud caked shoes to show her where to clean them. Oh NO! my host mother was not gonna let that happen. she started talking excitedly and i knew she was not happy about something. I kinda suspected what the commotion was about. Throught the English speaking daughter, I was told that a man cannot wash the shoes of a woman. She is to wash her own shoes (even though she was a guest). So poor Juliet went to the corner of the yard and washed her slightly dirty shoes all alone. I on the other hand, with my still nearly spotless shoes, sat on the porth and talked with my host family. It was a little weird, kinda like she was a servant girl. I like being cared for but I also like having the option to help when I want. Thank goodness I haven't tried to do the dishes yet. Kinda crazy.

I am off to a football match in Elbasan (the big city). Everyone is going crazy here because the team won in the national league. It's the first time since 1984. There should be some good craziness after the game too.

lovely lushnje...

Ya never know what’s going to happen with your furgon (van-taxi) driver.
We have driver that we use frequently. He’s good and doesn’t drive like a mad man, nor does he stop to pick up a load of tomatoes or pack the van with 13 people. He even will wait for us in the morning and pick us up when our day is done. Oh and he’s a relative of my family somehow. I think his brother is married to the sister of my host mother. Got it? Don’t worry, you get used to it.
Yesterday as he was dropping us off, he asked if we wanted to go to a nearby town for a “xhiro” which is where you just walk around town and hang out in the evening. At first we didn’t realize that he meant right then and there (well i did but that’s just cuz i’m smart like that ). We asked how long we would be. He said an hour or hour and a half. Yeah right.
We hopped back in the van and we were on our way. First though his wife and two daughters joined us in the van. We went through the town and passed all the stuff where we thought we might stop but we just kept going. It turns out we were dropping off the family members at the wife’s brother’s house.
We then we back to the edge of town and took a short but winding road up the hillside to a hotel and restaurant. We thought we were just going for the view and then back home we would go. Silly Americans. That’s not how Albanians work. Of course we were having a coffee too. About half way through, a the brother of the wife showed up and joined us. Then he left. Shortly after that, we left. We then headed to pick up the wife and daughters. When we pulled into the driveway, the brother came out and insisted that we have a coffee with him in his house. He said it would only take five minutes. Yeah right. We had coffee and then met all the family living in the house. The son showed us his computer program that he uses to study English. We talked about where were all from and where we going to work in Albania. We had only a few moments of awkward silence and a few more moments of lack of language comprehension.
After the coffees and the chatting we finally headed home. We said goodbye to the grandmother, the grandfather, the two young sons, the mother and father, and i think a friend was thrown into the mix as well.
We arrived home not an hour and a half later but rather THREE and a half hours later  Good times. I love the spontaneity.

08 May 2006

You spin me right round, baby, right round…

We had culture day on Saturday in our Palace of Culture. Don’t get too excited, though it does have some nice elements, namely the auditorium with cushy by Albanian standard seats, the Palace part might be a little misleading.
The day started with a show of traditional dance and music. It was pretty cool and very interesting. I even made it up on stage and joined in the big circle dance. Big surprise huh! After the show they had different stations set up showcasing various aspects of the Albanian culture. I had some dessert, again big surprise, and ate some other tasty things. Also on display was some embroidery at which they are quite skillful. They also do this nifty decorative border thing too. My host sisters and mother do this as well. Later I will post a picture of some of their handy work. It’s really quite impressive.
On a sad note, I sacrificed my large bottle of hand sanitizer  I had brought in my large bottle for everyone to use since the bathroom didn’t have any water, and with Turkish toilets you don’t have an option of using water from the bowl or tank of the toilet. If you’re not familiar with Turkish toilets, they consist of two main elements. First and foremost, a whole in the floor and second a porcelain surround that is set into the floor in the middle of which is the aforementioned whole. At the end of our cultural day, I went to retrieve my bottle of hand sanitizer and it was gone (I’m sorry I lost part of your gift Jenelle, no really I am the one that’s sorry). I’ll have to check to see if I can get hand sanitizer here. I might have to America-Light, aka Tirana the capital city.
After the festivities, we took some of the other volunteers for a tour of our fair city. We scaled the castle walls. It just dawned on me that I now get to play on a real, totally legit, built 2000 years ago castle. How cool is that! I am sure one of these days, they won’t allow that but until then, I’m gonna enjoy it.
We then meandered down to the soccer field because there was a game going on. We didn’t have tickets but we decided to play the dumb American card. We just strolled right by the security and the gate guy. He didn’t even try to ask us for tickets. Being obviously foreign does have it’s advantages.
We finished the day with a drink at café where we sat outside and enjoyed the evening.
It’s sleepy time. I have to get up, shower, shave, dress, and eat breakfast to leave at 8:00 a.m. Ug. Yeah, it’s nice that I have to join the PC to get into that whole 8-5 schedule.
Good night.

Watch out World Cup…

Oh yeah! Who’s the best soccer player you know? That’s right, the one the only, James Louis Williams. I can actually hear the crowd chanting. Oh wait, that’s just cow waiting for its turn at the butcher shop. Then again it might be a rooster or a dog or a donkey. Btw, I live in a city.
Though it might be slightly premature to say that I am the best soccer player you know, I did better than I expected today at impromptu futbol camp. I was very recreationally active this afternoon. It was quite nice. We went down to the field by the river and threw the disc, aka Frisbee but I think that’s trademarked so I don’t want to run the risk of getting sued. I did all right on my hammer throw and the awkward reverse discus (is that how the word is spelled?) as I have named it. Oh and I had a major break through on my forward flick. The trick is to overcompensate by forcing a low starting point. Got it? Do you care? Anyway back to futbol camp. There was a practice/pickup game going on in the adjacent field. When they finished, a couple came over and we showed them how to throw the Frisbee. Then they showed me the proper method for kicking a soccer ball. I was a born natural  Nah, but I did all right. It was good times. They even tried to teach me a fancy trick where I kinda kick the ball back and then over my head. I never quite got the “over my head” part, but I made a valiant effort.
Prior to rec time, we had a very large and rather pricey lunch. We had chicken, rice, salad, and drinks. Oh and they threw in dessert for free. Wahoo. That’s the large part. The price… $14. Ok, my price expectations/standards have changed a little. If I spend more than $4 including drink, I think it’s a little expensive. Basically it’s comparable to double or triple the price for an equivalent meal in the States. At first I was thinking everything was so cheap but I’ve already made the transition to broke volunteer thinking. You might be wondering why I spent so much on lunch. That’d be cuz we didn’t know the price. There was a little misunderstanding regarding the price of the chicken. We were expecting $3 and it turned out to be $10. No worries it was good chicken.
Now I am resting before my busy night of ping-pong and billiards. I know, I know, it’s a tough life. Don’t worry, I’ll be strong. I need my rest and determination. I have found a worthy opponent. In all honesty, he is WAY better than I am. Hopefully I can play him some more to step up my game. Then I can shift my focus to billiards, I mean language, definitely language. That’s what’s important. Man does my pool game need some help.
Today was also exciting because of the observance of Hero’s Day, similar to Veterans’ Day. Granted, we did not understand the speeches that were made as everyone crowded into the street. All the rowdiness of the kids wasn’t very conducive to hearing and interpretation. The kids here behave a little differently than in the States. Bluntly, they’re obnoxious, spoiled, brats. I’ve rationalized it nicely though. You see, they are less strict with the kids because when they grow up, they have so many family obligations that the parents are trying to balance it out. It’s either that or I am just trying to hard.
Anything else exciting? Nah, not for today. I think I covered ALL of it.
Yesterday we went to the fortress in the nearby big city. It’s cool and it’s old. Romans built it, Turks rebuilt it. We walked along a Roman road that led from the sea here all the way to Istanbul. Very cool. We ascended the stairs, dodging a power line, to the top of the fortress wall and walked along. No bars, no gates, no warning signs. So sweet.
Wow. I wrote a lot. I need a nap now.

04 May 2006

berat is so hot...

I don't know if I specifically mentioned this but I found out where I will be living and working for the next two years. I totally lucked out and I am heading to a really really old city called Berat (or Berati, depending if you are refering to it in the definite form, yeah welcome to my world of language).

Anyway, check it out.

I assume so people might actually wanna come see me now that I am in a gorgeous and historicallly significant city.

sorry i just dig my name with an X. how cool is that?

Super Seven???

Here is a pic of my host mother and one of her daughters that lives in the same town.

This is my traing group. We will all work in Community Development. The pic was taken at Criss's birthday. Criss is seated behind me, next is his wife Carol, then David and Kate (another married couple), next is Juliet, and rounding out our group is Ryan.

test pics

My house in Peqin is AMAZING. Can you see the pretty flowers? I was not expecting my own little garden. Not too shabby :)

This should be a picture of my training town from the mountain. I live in Peqin, a city of about 8,000 people.

Time flies, then flies backward and then forward again…

Number one, hands down favorite (so far), gonna remember this for the rest of my life story.
It turns out that I control time. Did you know that? I had to come all the way to Albania to find out. I’m not sure of the full extent of my powers but I can tell you what happened a few weeks ago when Europe did the whole silly day-light savings thing. Wait. Do I like day light savings? I can never remember.
Let me set the scene. In the living room, hangs a clock. On Sunday evening, Ana, the English speaking daughter, took the clock down and moved it an hour forward. At this point, Gerti, one of the cousins, showed me a map of US cities and the current time in a particular city. Now you see hears the problem. The US does daylight a week later. Can anybody tell me why that is? I tried to explain this to him in my extremely limited Albanian and his extremely limited English. We didn’t get very far so in comes Ana to translate. I tell her we change time next week which she translates. Manushaqe, that’s my host mother by the way, then tells her something which, of course, I didn’t quite catch. Well the meaning was soon revealed because Ana came back into the living room, removed the clock from the wall, and proceeded to move the clock back an hour to the non-daylight, US synchronized time. I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe that changed the clock back to the wrong time just because I said it was done differently in the States. I tried to explain that I was fine with the right time being displayed. In fact I thought it might be useful when trying to tell time. I got no where. Did I mention that Albanians are extremely hospitable? Perhaps you gathered that.
The next Saturday, Ana was home from university for the weekend. Now it was only a day until the States went to observed daylight so I told her it’d be fine to move the clock forward to the correct time. I know, I know. I’m so giving.
I still chuckle when I think of them looking at the wrong time on the clock for week just because I said something about it being done differently.

Walk much…

Was anybody else aware of the fact that I am a big klutz? Or that apparently I can’t walk down the side of steep hill without falling twice? I wish I would have known this before attempting such daring feats. Don’t worry (yes, I know that my mom is the only one that is worried at this point), I’m fine. I really just slipped and sat down and slid down the hill a few feet. Sadly that wasn’t my first encounter with clumsiness. Off hand I can think of 4 minor incidents. That’s about one a week. Impressive.
The first mishap came at the end of my first week with my host family. We were playing Ultimate Frisbee in the town soccer field and I made a diving catch. The only problem was that I softened my fall with my elbow. Yeah, I know I’m good. I skinned it pretty badly but that was all. I wasn’t too concerned. Oh and can anyone tell me why it would be a good thing to put cigarette tobacco on a “wound” like that? Just wondering because that’s what my host uncle promptly did when he saw my wound. I didn’t know what he was doing. He just grabbed my arm and lifted back and proceeded to take the tobacco and press it onto the owie. Now this being my first week, I had no language ability so I didn’t protest. It didn’t hurt so I left it on till I got home. Now to my untrained eye, I don’t think it did much good. Oh well, at least it didn’t make it worse. They have a lot of old wives tales or is it old wise tales “remedies.” Here’s another good part of this incident. I tried to hide it from my host mother when I got home and I was successful, at least until my host uncle came by and mentioned it at which time I had to show her. I swear, it’s like I’m a kid again. I’m loving it. The moral of the story? Tobacco may kill but it does wonders for skinned elbows.
Two weeks ago I had another incident while playing Ultimate Frisbee. This time it wasn’t a diving catch that did me in. No way. We were playing on asphalt area in front of a school. I wasn’t going to be stupid enough to go for any crazy plays. I was, however, stupid enough to go for a huge jump catch while being heavily guarded. The jump part went fine. The landing part? Not so much. I came down kinda on my right side. I managed to lightly skin my calf, my side/lower back, get gravel down in my underwear, and cut my hand on a piece of glass. Oh did I mention that the schoolyard had a nice mix of gravel and broken glass and other pieces of trash in certain areas? Well that’s where I chose to attempt my mad jump. Of course, I’m fine but man am I getting clumsy. Oh well, at least I am having fun doing it.
I was going to try to get caught up on all the details but I am too exhausted. The side track into pointless story land wasn’t supposed to take so long. The funny thing is that it’s only 11:30. I don’t have any class or meetings tomorrow so I was going to be crazy and stay up late. Woohoo. I’m so cragee. That’s crazy to everyone else.
And on that note I say goodnight.