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.

17 October 2006

Birthday Bliss...

Day four (Thursday, October 5) of James’s Birthday 2006 was awesome.
For the third day in a row, I received a birthday card. I even got another text message from Ryan, the volunteer living in the nearby city of Kucove. He was a little confused on the day because Thursday was the day we were observing my birthday with friends.

Juliet, also from Kucove, came to Berat around 3:00 and so we began the celebrating with a coffee, in keeping with the customs of my new home. Around 4:00 we met Katie and her visiting boyfriend Ben and headed over to the house of our friend Ersa.

When we arrived at the Ersa’s, we began to prepare the feature the special treat for the evening’s festivities, apple pie. Now I realize that apple pie is not the traditional birthday treat but it’s quite the treat here. Sadly Albania does not have pie. Yes I know. I too have asked myself how a society can survive without pie. I must say they are a strong people (living without pie and not their life of communist isolation clued me into their heartiness). So pie, especially such an American classic of apple pie, was very special.

I like baking pie so I really wanted to help. First Ersa and her mother protested. For three reasons, first I am male and males don’t do kitchen work, second it was my birthday, and third I was a guest in their home. Wanting to learn how to make the pie, I insisted. I helped by washing the apples. Half way through thoroughly washing the apples, I realized that the next step was peeling the apples. Did I stop giving each apple such an intense scrubbing? Nope.

As Ersa was peeling I went out to the living room where I was distracted by TV. Not just regular TV. Beautifully displayed on an oh-so pretty widescreen flat panel TV were music videos. I was in heaven. Once I discovered the TV and Jesse (that’s the dog), I never made it back into the kitchen. I was further distracted by the “snack” of tomato byreck (Albanian dish made with layers of thin dough and various fillings), a plain cake thing, and chocolate cookies. By the time the pie had finished baking, Ryan and Evan arrived. We feasted on all the wonderful food and homemade wine.

We continued the celebrations at a local hotel. Before having such a spread at Ersa’s, Katie and I had planned to buy some yummy cake. However, being pleasantly full, we decided to forgo the cake and to just have drinks at the hotel. We split up to run some errands before arriving at the hotel. During this time I realized that this was my birthday and was exactly the time for gluttonous excess. After buying candles, we went by the bakery and I picked out an assortment of slices.

The night concluded with presenting of birthday cards, presents, and a special birthday poem written by Juliet. I had a great time. I hope my future Albanian birthdays are as good.

Photos taken by Katie or Ben.
In the photo of the pie being prepared, notice the size of the pan used and that the rolling pins they use here are long and thin like dowel rods.
The dish front and center in the photo of the spread of food is byreck.

16 October 2006

Hallmark was a little out of the way...

A Birthday Poem by Juliet The Awesome

Today we celebrate the birthday of James, our buddy
He has a lot of luck, just ask him how he kept his new white shoes from getting muddy

He takes it easy, going in late, taking a long lunch, napping and maybe returning to work
I guess when your Bashkia is not as good as Kucove’s, you can get away with this perk

He knows how to use the system, maneuvering through bureaucracy’s intricate weave,
Claiming he’ll do an English club, he’s going to Macedonia on business leave

He’s not always on time, the last to arrive at our swearing-in event
And to finish his bachelor’s degree, for six years he went

But really his nature is that he is very friendly and sweet
Whenever I had a mortgage payment, he bought me an ice cream treat

Normally he’s quite a gentleman and a reliable escort at night
But when his host mother said he can’t help clean my shoes, he didn’t put up a fight

But then there are instances where his host family said he was rude,
He should have known better since he hasn’t been paying for food

He has many luxuries compared to the rest of us by living in Berat
But he’s frustrated when men water the street while he has no water when it’s hot

Then there’s the missionary with a car, such a contact is really the best
It lets him take advantage of things far away, like the annual Tomori blood fest

His new place will be a mansion, three bedrooms, two baths, and a gym membership
Now guests don’t have to worry about upsetting nena when silently out the door we slip

They tell us to integrate, adapt, and always be alert
James, on the other hand, draws attention wearing his gabi “Kelly” shirt

His hobbies here are napping, Shqipopoly, Frisbee, and of course ping pong
He was going to run a marathon but that didn’t last long

Peanut butter, muesli, and smoothies make him grin with joy and nod,
As well as 50 cent pizzas, hummus, and animal crackers made by God

He’s a good dancer and he likes to sing quite a lot
Mostly Meatloaf’s, “Hose me down with Holy water, if I get to Hot, Hot!”

We’re going home for Christmas to spend time with family
It’ll be good to eat foods we can’t get in good ol’ Shqiperi

With that to look forward to, the next couple of months will be a breeze.
Until then, dear James, each day you must seize

12 October 2006


That's Dutch for "thanks."

A huge Thank You to everyone who sent me birthday love. I had a good birthday. It was rather odd because on the actual day, I didn't do much at all.

I went to work, they surprised me with some cake. I received a package with some treats from Peter and when I returned to work after lunch, my counter-part gave me a small carved wooden plaque of the city. That's all.

I was sick that day so once I was home I didn't leave. I just spent the evening at home relaxing. It was a bit of treat because I was house sitting, enjoying the surroundings of a beautifully restored house from the late 1700's.

I celebrated my birthday with friends on Thursday and had a grand ol' time. I will tell you more about that once I get the pictures from Katie. Suffice to say, desserts were consumed a plenty :)

Thanks again for the cards and calls. It meant a lot to me.

Movin on up, to the Eastside...

To a Delux apartment in the sky-igh, movin on up
Beans don't burn in the kitchen, fish don't burn on the grill<
something something about gettin up that hill.

Yes I know I am amazing with lyrics. That's from The Jefferson's in case you didn't recognize it. By the way, I am typing on what looks to be an Italian keyboard. Some of the keys have been moved, for example apostrophe is à and the shift key is shorter and it took me five minutes to find and use the @ key.

At the end of the month, I will be moving out of my shpi (shortened form of the word shtepi which, you guessed it, means house). The house where I live now is actually pretty nice. The only thing keeping it from being great is the Turkish toliet. After three months of living with such facilities, I really have no problem with it. Granted I still won't use one any place other than my shpi.

So why am I moving? Well, you see, the new place is better in almost every way. I will be leaving my 2 bedroom, Turkish for a 3 bedroom, western. Here's the kicker. The place has two, count 'em, two bathrooms with western toliets. The bathrooms are small and right next to each other and should be combined to form on larger bathroom but yet again people forgot to hire me a design consultant.
The corridor is even larger. Large enough to house a ping pong table (I plan to fashion one out of plywood, any suggestions?) I have a nice large covered balcony at my front door ( I am on the third floor of a house, each level is a separate house). Oh, how could I forget. I will have water 24/7 because this district has a separate contract with the water supply company. Yay! I will also be able to easily access the roof terrace. I already have some ideas for spring/summer usage. The family owns a small gym next to the house and I will have free usage, saving me $20-$30 a month. Plus this house is close to Katie's new place.

Another benefit is that I can come and go as I please. At my current place, the gate to the compound doesn't lock using a key, instead there is a bar that slides across to secure it. During the day, I usually enter and exit through the attached dyqan (doo-chan = small store). However, when they close the dyqan, my only option is to ring the bell and have someone let me in. It hasn't been a problem when I have come home late. They don't seem annoyed but I just don't like it. Especially now that winter is coming. They are closing the dyqan before 8:00. It feels like I have a curfew.

Now all that's left is to inform the family that I will not be staying there. I an NOT looking forward to this. A couple times before, we have had some communication problems so there seems to be a residual tension. Plus, the house is nice (other volunteers have it far worse) and they have been generally good to me. Though we agreed that me choosing to stay or them wanting me to stay was not a forgone conclusion at the beginning, I bet they are going to be surprised and annoyed. They will have put up with me for 4 months with the definite benefit of me paying $100 rent for two years on an otherwise unused house.

Like I said I do not want to tell them. Is it too awful to just let them know when I am moving my stuff out? Hopefully I will have a chance to tell the father today. Wish me luck.

Pics for Clean City Day...

10 October 2006

Strolling in Struga...

Yesterday I returned from a conference in Struga, Macedonia.
Struga is located near the Albanian border in the central part of the country. It's a nice town on the large Lake Ohrid.

The conference was for TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). I might do some English courses or discussion groups and had hoped to get some tips or strategies from the sessions. I did get some ideas but most of the sessions were geared toward advanced students. The session on Modal Verbs was fun. I have come to realize that I am a bit of dork. I like grammar.

I am getting better at doing something like traveling to another country without any plans or information. Things just work out (mostly because they have to but you gotta put a positive spin on it). For example, luckily I had looked at a map of the city and knew the hotel conference location. We took a taxi from the border to the hotel and then went to the center of town in search of a bank and possibly cheaper accomodations.

Near the end of the pedestrian shopping street, we came across a tourist map/sign. As we stood there searching for some guiding information, a woman came up to us and asked if we needed any help. Not wanting to miss such a wonderful offering of assistance, I told her that we were looking for a bank, a place to eat, and a cheap hotel. Realizing that it was a bit much to ask a stranger for all this, I also threw in the option of the local Tourist Info office (the lady said that she worked in hospitality in the city, I thought she might know all of this). Perhaps a little overwhelmed at my requests or just plain scared by the site of the three of us, she told us to wait there. She would return after purchasing some apples. After 10 minutes, which is enough time to doubt the return of someone just buying apples, she did in fact come to our aid. We mentioned that we were PC volunteers and we were here for a conference. At this point, she said that she too was a volunteer and that we could stay at her place. Sweet!

She was a great host. She took us to a local bar that played great music, helped us order at restaurant, and we even cooked a meal at her apartment.

Despite the constant rain, the miscommunication over the conference fee (we thought it was free, they informed us it was $65), and the complete lack of speaking Macedonian, we had a good weekend.

Plus Macedonia has all these little cars leftover from it's Yugoslavian days. They're awesome. I want one.