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.

28 August 2006

Long overdue...

Oh yeah, that’s why I’m here…
28 August 2006
This past Friday I observed a class/activity led by a volunteer who has been living here for over a year now. The class took place in a small village outside of Vlora, the 3rd or 4th largest city in Albania, with a comparatively sizable tourist and shipping industries. The class was geared toward children or teenagers of the Roma community (similar to gypsy community). The Roma community is often discriminated against. The problems found throughout Albania are frequently in greater numbers within the Roma community.

The original plan for the class that day was to discuss goal setting and then have a connected activity. As is often the case, plans change. Since the kids that were there were too young to get much out of a goal setting discussion, we went cut that short and started the activity involving a small parachute and wiffle ball. Of course the kids loved it.
Working with the kids and seeing the volunteer interact with them was awesome.

The best part though was the greeting we received. As we drove up next to the field, the kids just started running to the field and to the vehicle, with bright smiles beaming the whole time. They chanted the name of the volunteer and were simply ecstatic to see him. Though his intended lesson may not have gone as planned, the volunteer and his host organization certainly made a huge impact by being there. That’s what I’m hoping for.

Work, work, work…24 August 2006
Yes! I have my first project. September 22nd is International Clean City Day, or something like that. During that week we are going to have little clean-up projects around the city, probably around the schools or parks. On the 22nd we will close one of the main roads in town to vehicular traffic. There will be a banner and people passing out pamphlets. Here’s where I come in. Not only will I probably be passing out the pamphlets, but I will the designer extraordinaire behind the masterful pamphlets. Ok, they’re not going to be that special but it’s a start. It’s good to work on a project.

Then there were 39…22 August 2006
Sad news :(
We officially have our first early termination. One of my fellow volunteers is heading back to the States. I am gonna miss her. We were becoming pretty good friends. The decision was a very difficult one. In addition to the normal considerations that one would deal with when making such a decision, the fact that this was the first volunteer to go home created more pressure. Nobody wants to be the first one to quit. It’s a shame. She didn’t have much control over the situation. If not for some extenuating circumstances, I know she would have finished out her whole two years.
I’ll be honest. There have been times when all I wanted to do was go home. For better or worse, my pride got in the way. Plus I knew that the situation or feeling would pass. I wonder when we will lose our next one. The winter isn’t exactly pleasant here. The whole lack of heat makes it pretty much impossible to ever be warm from like November to February. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to that.
Respect to our group though. We started with 40 and five months in, we lose our first volunteer. The rule of thumb is that you lose about 25% of the group by the end of the term. I was impressed that nobody bailed during the first initial shock from the three months of training. Maybe we’ll buck the trend. I am sure we will have some more. Medical problems and family troubles back home are likely to claim a few.
My respect to her and the difficult decision she made. I wish her strength in her readjustment back home and the transitional period she will be struggling through.

Two weeks…21 August 2006
I am trying not to get my hopes up but too late. The last couple of weeks some workmen have been drilling in the hall outside my office. By the way, this ain’t no simple little drill through drywall or even wood. I’m talking concrete block walls. Now that’s serious, ruckus making drilling. I never thought to ask what they were doing. I just knew they were loud.

Last week when they were working in my office, my supervisor informed me that they were putting in ADSL lines, which I assume are just DSL with an “a” in front. Do you realize what that means? Unlimited, non-dial-up internet access. Woohoo. That would be awesome. Not only would it save me some leke by not going to the internet café but it would also be very useful for researching topics, grants, and project ideas.

Now we still have to work out the contract with the provider but there are at least lines ready and waiting. I’ve noticed that when something big is coming, the timeframe often given is two weeks. For example, when we were in Peqin, I was told that internet was coming to the town in two weeks. Sadly those two weeks never passed while we finished the remaining two months of our training. I have heard however that an internet center, open to the public, has opened recently. Two weeks, two months, two years, whatev :)

Shume vap (very hot)…21 August 2006
LIFE-DRAINING. I figured that wasn’t really an exclamation deserving word. I mean come on, it has a hyphen.

Words that describe life in Albania when the temperature sufficiently surpasses the 100 degree mark for countless days in a row. Today is supposed to be the hottest yet, around 109. The heat was already present at 6:00 am when I was out for my morning run. I think I am going to go hang out in the one café with A/C. Hopefully we will have electricity today so that I can truly appreciate the wonder that is climate control.

Accommodations provided by…
20 August 2006
This past weekend I set a new record for the number of people staying at my house. I had four guys plus myself. At one point two female volunteers were going to crash at my place too but Katie was able to put them up for the night. I’m sure they had quite the little girly slumber party, including the obligatory late night chats and pillow fights. The bad part for them is that I do not yet have access to the spare bedrooms so all I could offer them was floor space. One lucky person did get the 3 inch thick pad that goes over my bed thing. My hospitality supplies are also limited to 2 flat sheets and three pillows. I do however have a decent supply of towels. What can I say, I’m such a gracious host.

In addition to the 6 guests mentioned above, we had Criss and Carol in town. We were having a little Peqin (training city) reunion for August birthdays. Sadly, Kate and David were unable to attend, which really sucked because David and Juliet were the birthday guests of honor. Without them I still ended up having 11 people hang out at my place Saturday evening. It was good times.

The only problem was the incredible amount of body heat generated by 11 people. OMG it was so hot in my house. The body heat in combination with the 100 degree weather and the electricity being out, which meant no fan, made for a rather uncomfortable spell. Have no worries, we were tough and fought through the heat.

15 August 2006

the big picture

Shqipopoly pics

I had a little trouble loading the pics for the game.

Shqipopoly…This may be the most amazing game ever. True, it’s a complete rip-off of Monopoly® but it’s way cooler. Shqipopoly is our version of Albanian Monopoly® (Shqip is the word for Albanian language in Albanian).
The game was created one Wednesday afternoon when fellow volunteers were passing through Berat and staying the night at my place. They arrived in the middle of the day, just as it was getting really hot. After we hiked up to my place to drop off luggage and for me to eat lunch, we didn’t feel like leaving for anything.
I suggested Monopoly® because the visiting family now living in Ohio had brought it with them. We were pretty excited by this prospect. However when I went to borrow it, I found out that they had taken the game with them while visiting the beach. With our spirits crushed, we sat devastated in the heat of the day. At one point I suggested we make our own Monopoly® board but make it better by Albanianizing it. However, without the game to copy or any real office supplies, we decided it would be a good winter activity one day. We continued in our misery of heat and lack of electricity trying to figure out what we could do that did not require venturing outside and down the hill (which then requires a return hike up the hill).
Finally, the draw of Monopoly®, even a ghetto, hand-made version, was too powerful. We started with a sheet of graph paper and some colored pens I had. We called Katie and gave her the mission of finding poster board (She was given that task because she had not yet come up the hill to my place). Katie was a trouper and trekked down the street and found a large sheet of paper, roughly 36” x 48”. When she arrived we got to work. First we decided which properties should be on the board. Katie was in charge of the creating graphics for each property. Ryan (from neighboring Kucove) and I worked on creating “Fat” cards, which means luck and is our combined Chance and Community Chest. Through the guidance of the visiting volunteer, we were able to make property cards with the prices and rents, with houses or hotels.
With the game board complete, we started our game. It was an intensive game that lasted for about four with a break in there for dinner. Katie had a run of luck, landing on Free Parking, with a kitty of $1100, drawing the Fat card, “Your family pays for your plane ticket home, Collect $500”, right after Ryan had drawn the opposite Fat card requiring him to PAY $500 (guess who made those two cards), and to seal the deal, she acquired a large number of properties in a trade for The Block in Tirana (that’s Boardwalk to you guys). As the game continued, and as Katie grew more and more tired, I staged a stealthy comeback and won the game. Woohoo. I love winning at Monopoly®, just ask my sisters.

Be Aggressive, B-E Aggressive…Congratulations are in order to my niece Mariah. She is the newest member of the cheerleading squad at Carmel-Clay Middle School (I think that’s the name). She loves cheerleading. I think she even practiced during the summer to be ready, which is even more impressive because she was at her dad’s most of the summer. My sister wasn’t there to make her train. She’ll be awesome. She loves cheerleading and has dabbled in gymnastics in her childhood years. Plus I am sure the squad could use the addition of my little ghetto white girl niece. Respect. Got nothin’ but luv4ya Riah.
On a completely different note, I have some more exciting news. My sister Tamara who had been living in Bemidji, Minnesota has moved to the South Bend area in northern Indiana. She will be about 3.5 hrs away, which is much better than the 14hrs she was before. Her husband will be working in private dental practice (he had been doing dental work on a reservation for the Navy). The job sounds like a great fit. He will be able to work in some underserved areas and will still be able to do mission work.
In September of last year, Terralyn moved from Orlando to Indianapolis, where she had lived for the last 17 years. Now Tamara is back in the state of Indiana, which is much more convenient than north central Montana. Now that was a pain to get to. Except for the little problem of me being on a different continent, we are all back in the same state for the first time since I was 13 years old and my parents and I moved to Indiana from Florida. Hopefully, everybody will hang around in roughly the same place for the next two years.

Preposterous processing power…
If you can’t buy the foods you’re craving somethin’ fierce, you might as well just make them yourself. This culinary quest is exponentially aided by the proper equipment. A couple weeks ago Katie and I decided to go crazy and split the cost of a food processor. Now we are both out $12, which reminds me I still owe her for my portion.
The first fabulous fabrication was fruit smoothies. The second endeavor yielded a fantastically frothy Frappe (cold coffee drink).
Thanks to the kindness of my friend David, a missionary now living in Berat, and his generous gift of pseudo nacho chips, I was inspired to make some fresh salsa. One day when I had a couple people over, I felt the time was right for my first attempt at salsa. I used tomatoes, less than half an onion (they’re really strong here), cucumber, and the actually hot peppers we were lucky enough to find at one of the produce shops. I sliced and diced the fresh ingredients, added a small bottle of the closest thing to salsa you can find here (trust me, it leaves some room for improvement), and viola, we had fresh, homemade salsa.
You know me and my love affair with salsa. How many times did Nick come home to find me sitting in front of the TV eating my dinner of blue corn chips from Aldi and my favorite salsa from Kroger? Though it wasn’t perfect, it was close enough. I thought it was super good. I got compliments and I was not the only one eating so I think they actually liked it. The whole bowl was quickly consumed with me licking the bowl clean. Yummy!
Next on the list for the crazy concoctions? Peanut Butter. I’m already excited thinking about it. I LOVE peanut butter. Cross your fingers for me.

Hard hearted…Good job Dad! My father had a triple bypass last week. He did quite well I believe. He was supposed to get a quintuple (whatever the word for five times is) bypass. Once the docs got to the ol’ ticker, they only needed to do three. Now the hard part comes in. My father, who is a fan of all things fried, will have to adopt a new healthy lifestyle. First he’ll have to endure the recuperation period. I think he said he can’t leave the house for a while and then he can’t drive for two months. That’s gonna be very strange for my father. The man is always working. He won’t know what to do with himself. Can you catch up for a lifetime’s lack of sleep in two months?
Though I am sure the recovery will be difficult, I am very happy the surgery went well. I know my dad is a strong man but it still made me nervous. Plus I didn’t like the fact that I was an ocean away while some doctors were playing with his heart with the potential for many things to go wrong. I guess God thought my dad had some more work to do down here. I’m not gonna lie, I’m glad that he’s still around :)

08 August 2006

bad blogger...

I cannot figure out how to get rid of the disclaimer at the top of the page. I don't want it there. It took me a couple of guesses to get it at the side where my Profile is. I just spent an hour trying to figure it out. It's a shame I can't even handle simple website "editing". Hehe. The quote key " and the AT symbol @ are switched. Random.
Speaking of random. The internet guy recently sprayed the bathroom and the trash can with air freshener. I appreciate the thought but now it smells like a locker room, not a dirty stinky one rather one where they are trying to cover up the smell of it being a locker room. Lovely.

04 August 2006

blah blah blah...

Running as fast as we can, holding onto one another’s hand…
My morning running routine has become a habit for me. After not running for a week due to being sick, I resumed my morning run and it felt great. When I returned home and began getting ready for work, everything just seemed right.
We’ve got this crazy idea to do a marathon in Athens this November. Currently, around 10 volunteers are training. I’m impressed. Some people are already in good shape. Some people are in bad shape. Some people, like myself, are somewhere in between. I have either 13 or 15 weeks to get myself in good enough condition to run for 26.2 miles. That just sounds silly. I am only up to doing an hour and 15 minutes for my long run. I got a ways to go.
Even if I am not prepared enough to race, I am pretty sure that all the running won’t hurt. It feels good to be running again. It completely wears me out (partly due to lack of protein in my diet which I am working on) which is good come pushim (rest, or nap) time in the afternoon. Not only is a nap always good, in a world with A/C, a nap helps pass the heat of the afternoon. Have I mentioned it’s hot here? :)
Well, I gotta run. Ha! I’m so funny. Is that a pun? I don’t like puns. Oops.

Mail call…
I’d like to send a little shout-out to all my people who have sent me some good old fashion snail mail.
Good job ladies.
Every time I get mail, it’s been the highlight of my day and sometimes it can turn a bad day good. The cards and postcards are proudly displayed on the headboard of my bed/couch. Thank you very much.

James vs. Stomach…
In the first major battle of the many to come during my time here, Stomach was decidedly victorious over James. However, I have returned to health. I’d like to say that it won’t happen again but the problem is that I know what happened. I was fine Sunday, feeling a little yucky Monday morning, and flat out sick Monday evening. Possible culprits abound. There’s always the water, either tap or bottled. The issue might be something I ate. Perhaps bad water was used in the preparation of some bad food for the double whammy. Whatever it was, it has passed and I am glad for that.
I was very impressed with the level of concern expressed by everyone. Katie stopped by and kept me company for a spell. My counter-part stopped by to check on me since I didn’t feel well enough to go to work. My host family checked in on me five times. They even offered to take me to the hospital. I was given two packs of crackers and three cans of Sprite.

Wi-fi is wonderful…
I found a place where I can use high speed wireless internet. The catch? It’s in Tirana. I have to travel three hours to get to it. The one good thing is that it doesn’t cost anything, though the drinks are overpriced. No worries. I can take a couple hours to drink a good Frappe (iced coffee drink that has gotten me through the summer so far). The coolest thing about the wi-fi is getting to use my laptop. I was able to upload lots of photos. Now all I have to do is further organize them and add captions.
While in Tirana (I was there for warden training, more on that later), we also found our way to the mall. Ok, it’s not really a mall but it’ll do. The most important feature is EuroMax, which is an actual grocery store. It almost like home. They had different departments, fancy cheeses and breads, kitchen wares, clothing, some office supplies, and good selection of food. The highlight was the chickpeas/garbanzo which will be used in the food processor Katie and I bought together. Hey we’re volunteers. We can’t afford to buy $23 food processors all the time. I also bought some very overpriced, and not so tasty peanut butter. Another highlight was finding granola bars. Oh and I really enjoyed the samples of breads at the bakery section. It felt almost like being home. Granted it’s got nothing on Costco samples, I’ll still take it.

Coloring 101…
Good thing I learned how to color well. Sidenote, my coloring skills greatly improved in college. That sounds awesome. And to think I was at Ball State for only 6 years. A lot of people go to school for 7 years (yeah, they’re called doctors – Tommy Boy). Actually I am very grateful to the Site Analysis Maps we had to do in second year studio. Not only do I possess some mad coloring skills but I also learned some graphic hierarchy. Granted at the time I thought it was stupid to make us do stuff by hand when a computer would have been better and faster. I mean come on, what workplace wouldn’t have a computer to use? Oh right. Albania.
Illustrating pollution hot spots on the city map was my first bit of actual work. I suppose it’s fitting that this was also my first dose of work related frustration. We took a map printed using a plotter (large format printer) from AutoCAD and we were going to color the polluted parts. Then an NGO (non-governmental organization) was going to take our hand colored map and put into AutoCAD. I thought, “Hey, here’s a great opportunity for me to use my actual skill set. I can do all this in AutoCAD. It will be faster, more accurate, and just plain ol’ better. Plus we will be able to do it ourselves and not rely on some outside organization.” If only it was that easy.
We ask the director of the Urban dept. if it was possible to use the plotter. He never answered the question. We were simply told to do as planned.
So, I spent an hour and a half coloring brown circles around the old battery plant. Next I moved onto the coloring the main road through town because of the vehicular pollution. My favorite part was indicating where the open sewage lines were and where they drained directly into the river. I did do a nice job of blending my colors and conveying the idea of the concentrated pollution in the river compared to the general inflows of sewage or industrial waste. Yummy. I did all this with crappy colored pencils. Yeah we’re not working with Berol pencils here.
I was pretty frustrated by all this. The morning had started off so well. I had a good run, I received some actual mail from the States. The whole map thing kinda ruined it. When I went home for lunch, I had received another piece of mail, which helped my mood immensely. I ate my lunch, had a good nap, and returned to work ready for an exercise in futility. Nah, it wasn’t a futile exercise just frustrating. As I get more established, hopefully I will be able to do more than just color.