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.

22 November 2006

Gobble, Gobble...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like many of you, I will be doing some traveling and enjoying a generous feast. Families from the American Embassy volunteered to host volunteers for Thanksgiving. I do not know the family I will be dining with but I have been told they are great people. I will also be joined by Kate & David (from Peqin days, they're good people) and some others.

I assume we will we eat the meal at the family's home which is located in the American compound. Talk about surreal. The heavily guarded area looks like a normal suburb in the States, with it's grassy lawns, attached garages, and SUV's in the driveways. It's very Pleasantville-esque.

There's a chance I will get to watch some American football too. That would be awesome. I miss football.

Oh and remember that regardless of your situation, you have something to be thankful for. Just the other day I said that after Peace Corps I didn't know what I was doing or where I was going. The world is open. My Albanian friend looked at me and said, "No, for us, it is closed." We ARE forunate to live in the Land of Opportunity.

21 November 2006

Miscommunication: Part 148

One of the subtle but constant difficulties of living in a country without truly fluent English speakers is the misunderstandings or uncertainties that arise from using English. Last Wednesday I found out that the Bashkia (city hall) was going to Macedonia for the weekend. I was invited and it was going to cost me nothing, nada, zilch.

I said I wanted to go. I got permission from PC office. Thursday comes and I am talking with my counterpart about the price. We go to check with the finance lady to see if the trip was in fact free for me. The finance lady didn’t know. The head finance lady was out sick. The mayor was gone. No problem, we would get to the bottom of this Friday morning before the bus left at 10:00. Along the way my supervisor got involved in the discussion as well. The whole thing became a bit of production.

After work on Thursday, I decided that I wanted to stay in Berat and spend some getting settled into my new house. Going to Macedonia would have been a good bonding experience but I just wasn’t up to it. I hadn’t stayed in Berat for weeks.

Thursday evening I sent a text message to Emiljano, my supervisor, telling him not to bother people about whether I had to pay. I was going to stay in town. Problem solved.
Or so I thought. I got to work and found out Mirela, my counterpart, was upstairs talking to the mayor and the finance lady. Noooo. I dart up the stairs only to find Mirela coming down. But wait, the mayor was out. She hadn’t talked to him yet. Whew. I told Mirela that I didn’t want to go, even if it was free (I had told her that if I had to pay $90 I wouldn’t go). It was no problem. I wanted to stay in Berat. Problem solved.

An hour later, I am walking with Katie and Ryan and my phone rang. Mirela had talked to the mayor and the vice-mayor. They agreed that I should be able to go for free. I said I didn’t want to come. She told me, “Yes, James you must come.” Argh. She had gone out on a limb for me. It would be rude for me not to go. It was a free trip to Macedonia I should’ve been happy. Ah the joys of miscommunication. I relented and went home to quickly pack my bag.
I returned to the Bashkia to scan and send the permission form to PC office. At this point everybody is ready and getting settled in the bus. I knew that I was not going to enjoy the trip. I told them that I couldn’t get the internet to work, which is partly true. The power went out for a minute or two so I thought I wouldn’t be able to send the form. Therefore I couldn’t go out of the country without permission. Finally problem solved.

20 November 2006

S’ka frik, s’ka turp…

“No fear, No shame.” That became my motto for the events surrounding our language refresher held in Pogradec, Albania.
For some reason, when we all meet for a workshop or training, the Peace Corps staff feels led to schedule a Talent Show. I did not participate in the first one. However, the language refresher training was originally going to be held in Berat. Being the good hosts that we are, Katie and I wanted to prepare a little duet for the show.

After narrowing down the list of possibilities to the following three, “Don’t Go Breaking My heart” by Elton John, a classic Frank Sinatra “Something Stupid” and Meatloaf’s “I won’t do that.” After leaving Meatloaf as a possibility for Juliet and Ryan, and trying one time to do “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (wow, is that way hard without the vocals), we opted for “Something Stupid.” Here I must confess that I was forced to do business with evil-incarnate Wal-mart (don’t get me started why I don’t like Wally World but suffice to say my reasoning is shaky at best, after all, I do openly frequent Meijer or Target). Wal-mart was my only source for my karaoke needs.

My “talents” were not limited to “Something Stupid.” Swept up in the “fun” that is karaoke, we decided to also perform part of “Afternoon Delight” as inspired by Wil Ferrell’s Anchorman. Oh and the “we” in this case is The Berati Boys, featuring yours truly, Ryan, Evan, and Ray. We all live in the Berat Region in case you hadn’t put all the details together. Ray also requested a performance of “Tirona” which is an Albanian rap song.

Needless to say the performances were a huge hit :) If there was a Language Refresher King & Queen contest, I bet Katie and I would have won. We’ve got to be the cutest site mates EVER!

The inner entertainer in me also led to special attire for my “Afternoon Delight” performance. Oddly enough, the stage costume easily transitioned into a costume for our Halloween night out. In the picture of Katie and me, you’ll notice I appear in normal clothes. Our “Afternoon Delight” performance was after “Something Stupid” and I didn’t want to ruin my debut. I wore borrowed khakis and my blue hoody (man I love that thing) over my 70’s outfit.

16 November 2006


Happy (belated) Halloween!
Halloween is still a very American holiday. I’ll ignore the fact that it is a day centered on evil, scary things and instead be proud of our creativeness. Other than a few skeletons and monsters decorating the mall in Tirana, Albania has not yet taken advantage of our candy depravity. In keeping with the Peace Corps goal to spread/share American culture, we introduced Halloween to two cities.

Granted we didn’t actually celebrate Halloween with any Albanians, they were able to observe our odd attire and the displaying of a Jack-O Lantern.

On Halloween, I ventured over to Kucove to celebrate with Ryan and Juliet. We made a tasty stir-fry dinner with items purchased at EuroMax (the comparatively enormous grocery store I like to call Heaven) in Ryan’s new apartment. It was his first hosting duties in his new place. His new place is an upgrade in almost every way. Before he had one room and a small room/area in front of the bathroom. His “kitchen” consisted of the sink in the bathroom, the cabinet in the ante-bathroom, and the stove on the balcony. Now he has, well, a kitchen. All the kitchenesque things all in one room. Crazy. He now has a western toilet instead of a shower head directly over a Turkish toilet (squatty potty if you prefer). The new apartment even comes with a room for entering (aka foyer), a room for sleeping (aka bedroom), and a room for entertaining (aka living room). Nice. Where was I?

With me I brought from Berat the lone pumpkin in town. It was small and mostly green with a huge funky spot on one side, but it was the only one I could find. I was put in charge of designing our Jack’s face. Luckily my creativity was fueled by a box of Good & Plenty that Juliet brought, knowing that I am quite the fan of licorice (sp?). Juliet worked on the gutting of Jack. Ryan, hmph, I don’t know what Ryan was doing. Big bum. For some reason I was also in charge of implementation of the facial reconstruction I had designed. Using a rounded-tip steak knife, I created my masterpiece. Behold.

14 November 2006

Simply Sublime Samara...

Congratulations are in order to my sister Tamara. On October 20, she gave birth to Samara Elyana Edith Duquette. Weighing around 8 lbs 8 oz, she made her debut into this world after finally deciding to give mom a break. She was originally due on the 14th I think. Apparently Tamara is great hostess, her kids tend to want to stay inside her belly.

Oh, do you see all that hair? Obviously she didn't get that from me :)

Goodbye Black-haired Grandma…

“I’ll behave, if you behave,” that’s what my grandma would always say. Luckily my grandmother rarely behaved so I was free to raise a ruckus if I so desired. In fact she was rather spunky. I don’t think I have ever met someone so feisty, both in the good way and the troublesome way.

My grandmother did not have an easy life. She was a fighter. Her mother died when she was barely a teenager and she took over as caretaker for her 4 siblings. She was practically blind but that never stopped her. She was smart and figured out how to live without sight and without letting most people know.

Living through the depression and raising two daughters while my grandfather fought in World War II, where he was taken as POW, my grandmother learned the value of frugality. However when it was birthday time for one of us grandchildren, she would send $5 to the birthday kid and $1 to each of the other siblings. Generous though she was, she didn’t really keep up with inflation :)

During the last couple of years I was able to grow even closer to my grandmother. I will cherish those memories forever. She is an inspiration to me and I miss her dearly.

Fortunately I was able to attend her funeral services in Columbus, Ohio. My family was very supportive and everything went well. For the viewing there was a picture of her wearing her grey Ball State sweatshirt. I love that picture.

Goodbye Grandma, I love you

Hello, Hello, Hellooooo…

Yes I know it has been a while since my last post. I apologize. It’s been a crazy month. In fact I can’t even remember exactly what happened.

The three main events were language training in Pogradec, Halloween, and the sad one, my trip back home for my grandmother’s funeral. I’ll give you details about each happening in separate posts.

I am now back in Berat and trying to get settled into my new place. Oh yeah, I moved to a different house. I had such a whirlwind of a week before returning home and then to be gone for a week. My routine is really messed up. Hopefully I can spend the next week getting resettled.