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 February 2007

discouraging days in Berat...

I'm a little glum today. I've had quite the roller coaster week, and it's only Wednesday.

I wanted to do a project to create audio tour guides for Berat using mp3 players. Berat does actually get tourists. One of the major issues is a lack of information. Hence a portable, easy-to-use mp3 player with multiple languages would be a great addition. The plan was to work with the Institute of Culture and Monuments, the Bashkia (municipality), and a tourism information office. Not so simple.

After doing some research as to devices, Ray and I settled on one with speakers and a well-known brand. Next question, where's the money? I decided to apply for a grant through the Peace Corps. The only catch is the proposal would be due by March 01. Then the fun started. We thought we could use a tourism office that conveniently just opened. Then I found out that it was a private business. Plan scrapped. The next day I find out that a tourism information office through the Bashkia is opening sometime later this year (after tourist season but we won't get into that, it's still a step in the right direction). Plan resumes, this time with the idea of using the private tourism office/agency until the actual tourism information office opens. We speak with the people involved only to find that due to some mistrust or lack of acknowledgement of previous work one person in particular is not willing to work with the others.
Plan Scrapped.

Argh. I tried. I guess getting different agencies to work together really is an accomplishment here. Man do I have some work ahead. Wish me luck.

27 February 2007

good times in Gjirokaster...

Fog blankets Gjirokaster with wall of mountains peeking through

One of many abandoned and decrepit houses in Gjirokaster.

On Friday I ventured down to Gjirokaster and had a grand ol' time. Thanks in no small part to the hospitality of my friends Kate and David. They are amazing hosts, providing not only good conversation but also good, and I mean real good, food. Staying with K&D is just relaxing. I am very peaceful while I am there. I am not sure why. It reminds me of spending time at my grandmother's apartment in Westerville, Ohio (and her house in Heath/Newark but that could be something to do with my awesome grandma), the Smith's house in Knightstown, and Mona's house on Park St.
I really like hanging out in Gjirokaster. Like Berat, it's an old city with a castle/fortress/citadel (I don't know what to call these structures in English any more) and unique architecture. Of course Berat is WAY better but that might be cuz I am here.
As Katie and I explored the winding paths, we saw some interesting "fence" material.

After seeing more than one fence like this, it dawned on me that the fence was created from sheets of metal used to make spoons. We also found examples of fork sheets and knife sheets. Apparently, during communism, there was a large silverware factory nearby.
Katie and I were also fortunate enough to catch a ride from Gjirokaster to Tirana in a private vehicle. Albanian lesson for the day: I often say private vehicle now instead of the word car because in Albanian the word car sounds the same as the crude term for a part of the male anatomy. This not only made the ride much shorter, from around 7 hrs to 4hrs, but also gave us a chance to have some great discussions with some of Kate's Albanian co-workers. This was possible due to their strong English skills and their open-mindedness and some hours to kill. I really enjoyed it.

Labels: , ,

20 February 2007

elections, Shqiptare style...

The election season is winding down. Last Sunday, February 18th, local elections were held across Albania. I can't say that I really understand elections or politics in the US. Not surprisingly I am pretty much clueless here. I think the results are pretty finalized in Berat. The incumbent mayor won. In fact, according to early results I have seen, most of the cities from Tirana south have chosen Socialist candidates. Wait, I suppose that doesn't mean much to you. Like I said, I don't really understand the politics here so I can't really explain the different parties and their platforms.
I do, however, know a little bit about marketing. Now I realize that you cannot apply marketing strategies across all countries or societies but I am confident in saying that the PR campaigns for local elections could be improved. Across the country the main political promotion vehicle is candidate posters. Each poster is comprised of three elements: the candidate, the slogan, and either a scenic background of the appropriate city or a colorful background used for all candidates of the same party. Locally our guys look fine but in some cities the candidates posing in awkward positions with pained expressions. I should focus. I'm not here to glitz up the political campaigns.

The candidate to the right, Fadil Nasufi of the Socialist Party, won the election. I am not really sure how the vote counting works so I don't know if the results are final.

16 February 2007

Roses are red...

Happy Valentine's Day.
I had a great Valentine's Day even though I am far away.

Through the tireless efforts of Terralyn, I was able to send the lovely flowers pictured above to my Sweetheart Mona. Terralyn had to order (my request proved too complicated for online ordering) and pick-up the flowers to deliver to Mona. A bit incovenient but not a big deal unless you factor in the "blizzard" like conditions in central Indiana. Terralyn got stuck twice while playing her role as Cupid. Much, much thanks to Terralyn.

We had a lovely dinner with some friends. It was quite the feast. We even used a no-bake cheesecake dessert with freshly puréed strawberries drizzled on top. I also shared my bounty of Necco Sweethearts with my Albanian (and American) friends. Surprisingly Albanians already know about Valentine's Day but the candy was a new treat. I loved explaining the words on the hearts, I Love You, Go Girl, Awesome, etc.

08 February 2007

Week of accomplishments...

Recently I mentioned that I had had my most awesome week in Albania. I should have also mentioned that the awesomeness applies to my work week. Yes, that's right, I had an entire week of goodness on the work front.
Please note that small things are considered huge milestones for me now. I am not so sure that was different before but now I care more about them.
The week went like this:
I am having coffee at Katie's house and I tell her I would like her help in setting up an English class. I didn't really want to teach English per se so I (or Katie, but since this is MY awesome week, I'm gonna take credit) suggested having an after-school group where students can bring in homework from the English class and I could help them. This is a great fit for many reasons. I don't have to mess with creating lesson plans (yay), I am not competition for private English courses (yay), I will be able to give the students more individual attention than they receive in the classroom (yay), oh and the students "should" have a decent level of English already (yay). Later that evening while having another coffee (it's a frequent occurence) I mention my plan to my supervisor Emiljano. He says we can check with the director of the library to see if a room is available. I was a little doubtful about this even though a previous volunteer had used the library because the director had told Katie that the room could not be used.
I wake up early and feel refreshed. I make it to the office on time. I think I might have even shaved that morning. That combination of events never happens which makes me doubt the factuality of my recollection. Oh well, this is my awesome week. Later that day Emiljano and I head over to the library. We find the director, which is not as easy as it sounds. We, I explain in English and broken Albanian, Emiljano translates the Albanian part (I may be generous on some of the details but I am not delusional), and to my surprise the director agrees. Awesome.
Katie tells me later that day that she talked with her English classes. The Homework Help Club (lame name but I have to focus my energy here) will happen on Wednesday and Thursday from 3pm to 4pm.
I have a coffee with Ray, the other volunteer living in Berat. We discuss a plan for a project. At the suggestion of a friend at UNDP (United Nations Development Program), we begin to craft a project to create audio guides for tourist in Berat. The project is pretty doable and funding, though not easily, is available.
Tuesday is also tutoring day. I am never really prepared for it. I don't really do any homework and I often don't feel like going but my tutor is so sweet. She always makes me feel like I am making progress, though my need for actual progress is always apparent. But wait, I forgot this is my awesome week. Now I remember that I spoke fluently without even a trace of an accent. Ok, that's a complete lie.
Wednesday & Thursday.
Homework Help Club happens. That's pretty awesome. I would also like to point out that I managed to get the room unlocked. A seemingly simple task but such an accomplishment here. I went over around 2pm and the director was gone. I saw a lady from my neighborhood and told her what I was doing. She then talked to the cleaning lady who fortunately had the keys to the room. Thursday, even though I had said I would be needing the room, the keys were with the director and he had left early. Is it still leaving early if you leave a few hours before you are suppose to EVERY day? We end up using the break room and then head to the internet cafe to do some research, so that worked out.

Sidenote: A man came in asking for someone. He then realized I was American and insisted that we had spoken on the phone. Since I never answer the phone here I doubted his claim. He said we had talked and met on a bus. Granted I have trouble remembering everyone I meet but none of this was ringing a bell. He asked me to give him my number. I am hesitant to do this so I played dumb, though I wasn't really playing since I had no idea what he was talking about and only understood part of what he was saying. Luckily a coworker comes in and provides a distraction. He shows me my supposed cell phone number and it wasn't mine. I tell him that we have not met and that he probably confusing me with the Americans that were here before. On that news, he relents and leaves. I am just not comfortable giving out my number to any and everyone.

Ray and I meet with Eva from the Municipality about our project. She's on board. She's great so I am excited to work with her. Plus she speaks English, always a plus. That evening some friends come over and we had a great time just chilling at my place. We also ate great food that we prepared by ourselves. Yummy.

That was my most awesome week yet. Things just clicked. That never happens. It was such an awesome feeling. I accomplished something, I contributed, I had fun, I was recharged. Now if that's not an awesome week, I don't know what is.

06 February 2007

Colts 29 Bears 17

01 February 2007

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday...

Go Colts!
I did some fenagling and now I will be viewing the Super Bowl in a couple days. Yaahoo!
Myself and 9 other volunteers will be in Tirana on Sunday to see the Big Game. Our director arranged something for us. I am not sure what the set up will be. I don't even care if we watch on a 13" black & white TV. I just gotta see the game.
Right after the game, I have to head back to Berat for work. I could stay in Tirana but then I'd have to use a vacation day and that's no fun. It'll be a long day but I am sure I will be able to ride the adrenalin rush and work through the day.

Which reminds me, I had the most awesome week last week. I'll tell you more later.