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.

13 June 2008


Today I am officially unemployed. I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am now a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I'm not sure if I can handle the title change.
I was trying to think of the title for this post and I couldn't decide. So many things are mixed into being done and coming home. It's basically just a little on the weird side. I'm sure I will bore you with all (well not all, that'd bore me too) the details. People usually don't really care to hear more than like 5 minutes worth of your story. As I work out the bullet points and determine which elements make for enjoyable conversation (should I leave out my stomach problems?), you'll have to humor me.

I feel good. I am excited to go home and sad that I will be leaving. It's the perfect mix.

This week I have all my goodbyes in Berat. My week is booked solid. I even had to use a little calendar to keep track of who and when. I do have two lunches available if you'll be in the Berat region.

The weather has been rain followed by rain with a mix of rain. Actually we did have three days of sun while I was in Tirana. I would have rather had those three days last week when I had planned on going to the beach. The flooding in the Midwest has made it on the news here. Indiana was mentioned and my friends told me about it the next day. So there are at least 5 people in Berat, Albania who know that the state of Indiana exists. You can understand why I am leaving Peace Corps. Obviously my work here is done.

I posted some pictures on flickr. They are not organized or titled. I hope to get to that soon. Take a gander regardless and enjoy.

I think today begins my Ten Day count down. See you soon.

09 June 2008

tick tock tick tock...

That's right. I am homeward bound in two weeks (technically I arrive late on Tuesday the 24th). I can't believe the time has come already. I'm taking appointments now so that I can tell you all about my two years worth of stories. Preferably we'll do this over coffee. I am certain I will be going through withdrawl and I doubt I can afford many lunches out. I'm gonna be American poor when I get bach. Waahoo!

The power just went out which means I don't know when I will be able to actually send this. We've had consistent power since mid January. I so used to it again. The funny thing is that this stuff doesn't phase me anymore. Yesterday I didn't have water. I just used some water from the bottles I keep on hand to brush my teeth (oral hygene is a must) and figured I'd shower at a later point.

Luckily I was a good little volunteer and sent in my final report before the power went out. The report was a summary of our activities for the last two years. Writing and reading my "accomplishments" felt good. Often I felt like I wasn't doing anything or at least not enough. Going over all of it, I realized I did accomplish some things in the down time between my coffees and pool time. Oh I suppose I should be honest. That report that I sent in this morning was due two weeks ago. Did you expect anything less?

Ooooh. The power is back on. So very nice. I guess it was just a little glitch.

See you all soon. First stop Taco Bell. So good. Cherry Coke, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and so many more tasty carbonated beverages. I can't wait. Sorry got distracted.

30 May 2008

Then there's Dhermi...

The "Dh" in Dhermi is pronounced like the "th" in: then and there and this but not like the "th" in thin and think. That's your Albanian language lesson for the day.

Dhermi is a beautiful beach in the southern part of Albania. I have been wanting and trying to go to this beach the whole time I've been here. On three separate occasions I made plans to go but something has always come up in the past, which is weird since I generally have a pretty flexible schedule.
Recently, however, I was finally able to visit this breathtaking beach. Perhaps breathtaking is a little over the top but I had been really looking forward to the visit. Plus many of the beaches in Albania are gross. They are overcrowded, full of trash, and polluted with industrial or human waste. Oh and to reach Dhermi, you travel along a scenic road that winds up the mountains and through the forest to the pass where you are rewarded with amazing coastal views. These things make Dhermi even more awesome.
We camped two nights on the beach. The stars were amazing. Everyone must, at some point in his or her life, fall asleep while to watch for shooting stars. During the day we hung out, played cards and Frisbee, and of course some leisurely reading (D. H. Lawerence, Sons and Lovers). Of course there was some swimming too. And despite the fact that we kept lathering on the sunscreen, there was some unintentional light sun burning.

The beach, the friends, the weather were PERFECT!
I hope I can find the time to go back before I leave Albania.

Gotta jet. Marisa's jet is here. Hehehe.

It's the little things...

Right now I am sitting in Rinas Airport. For those of you out there who have not made frequent flights Tirana, Albania, it's the airport in Albania. Marisa, my sitemate returns today from a nice little trip with her boyfriend. Not wanting to deal with a taxi and hotel in Tirana, Marisa hired a taxi from Berat to take her to Berat. And not wanting to ride back alone at night with a stranger, she asked me to ride up with the taxi from Berat and ride back with her. Simple enough right?

Silly you.
First, before leaving, Marisa had sent me a text message with the name and number of the taxi driver. Yesterday after having a coffee with one of my English students (the student is Ledia who was on our Model UN team if that rings a bell), I ask her to call the driver for me so that he understands exactly (Marisa has done this once already but better safe than sorry they say). I go to retrieve the number from my phone and, you guessed it, it's not there! No I did not accidentally delete the message. I opened the message and half of it had disappeared. Instead of a complete message with the needed name and number, I found *text missing*. Now isn't that helpful. No worries. I can be resourceful. I had a plan. I was pretty sure of his name. So Ledia and I went eto the taxis in the center of town and asked if anyone had his number. They did. Ledia called and everything was in place.
Perhaps you noticed this paragraph began with "First". Ready for the next part?
Second, when Mr. Taxi Driver and I arrive at the airport, he asked me if everything was OK. I said yes. I then asked if we were going to go inside and wait. He said no. He would leave now. I then chuckled and said there had been a little misunderstanding. I explained the plan and he understood.
Along the way there were clues for both of us. However, when you don't exactly speak the same language, you let some odd comments or confusing statements pass without too much question. For example, he thought it odd that I would be only traveling with a small bag (my laptop) and wearing only shorts and flip-flops. I thought it odd when he was saying that I spoke with his daughter when it had been Marisa. I am sure there were other little ones along the way but you just don't notice them.
So now I am here with still an hour to kill. Thankfully there is wi-fi and I thought to bring my laptop :)

Oh and I hate to leave you with no photo so I will tell you of my most recent gabi (used clothes market) purchase. Flip-flops! I really really liked the I brought with me but they just couldn't take it anymore.

07 May 2008

Happily ever after...

Ah an Albanian wedding. Truly an interesting experience. I recommend every person attend at least one Albanian wedding during his lifetime. Last month Marisa and I attended the wedding of our friend Ersa. Katie and I got to know Ersa pretty well during these past two years. Ersa is the one who made Albanian apple pie for my first birthday here. We've spent many wonderful evenings at Ersa's house, eating great food, drinking tasty homemade wine, and just relaxing in a very nice and comfortable house.

The bride and her family.

I should probably explain the makings of an Shqiptare (Albanian) wedding.

First and foremost, Food! Lots of food. I mean way more than could possibly be consumed. You start with a meat plate. I should be more specific. You start with the cold meat plate. Oh and the table is already set with sliced vegetables on plates and bread. Then begins the hot meat selection. The type and number of hot meats varies but at Ersa's we had shishkebab (I don't know how to spell that in English, in Albanian it's shishqebap), followed by biftek vienez. Biftek vienez is one of my favorites and it's more or less a Berat dish. It's like a cordon-blu but with veal and no ham. Same idea though, meat, cheese, and fried. Yummy. This artery clogger was followed by turkey and stuffing. Yep they have turkey and stuffing here too. Finally after all this food and beers/sodas/wine, the cake slices are delivered.

Marisa's food collection. Being a vegetarian, she didn't each much of the offerings and left before the cake arrived. I, now being experienced at Albanian meals, knew not to touch her food. I would have more than I could handle on my own.

Second must-have is music and dancing. Lots of both. The music should be LOUD, really loud and feature hardcore wailing on the clarinet. The dancing takes the form of a circle dance with the circle being overwhelmed by itself and turning into a winding line of dancers, navigating tables, columns, waiters, and other parts of the circle dance line.

Ersa looking radiant leading the dance.

Oh and another interesting tradition is the money giving. Granted in America we often give gifts of money but here they do it with so much more... we'll go with flare. You see instead of putting the money in a lovely card from Hallmark, you put the money in the bride's dress! Hehe. I had to try this out. It was quite fun. It's not degrading or inappropriate in any way. It definitely makes it more energetic. After I clumsily made my contribution, I saw that there was a basket at the foot of the couple's table where money could be given. The rest of my contributions were delivered in that manner.

Ersa being amused by my self-conscious delivery

Albanian weddings are not held in church. It's more like a reception. Another difference is that there is one ceremony for the bride and her family on one day and another ceremony for the groom and his family the following day. There are also family visits and various lunches in the days prior to the ceremonies. Since I am not Albanian, I'm not really familiar with that element.

I had a blast! The food, the dancing, the friends, and even the music. At 3:00am, I said my goodbyes and headed home. And before I finish, I should tell you that I was right on time to the wedding. Well on time according to the details in my head. When we arrived at 9:30, everyone was inside already. Turns out the wedding start time was 9:00 not 9:30. Oops. At least we got there before the bride.

11 April 2008

Ciao Katie...

Katie holding brownies made by Juliet and decorated by Me :)

About two weeks ago, Berat suffered a tragic loss. Our dear sitemate Katie headed back to her homeland of Minnesota a little early :(

Now that it's been over a week, I am fairly confident that we will survive, not thrive mind you but survive. I had my doubts but luckily I've been relatively busy and have kept myself occupied.

Before Katie's departure, we had a great night out in Berat. Several friends joined us as we had our farewell dinner, rode/drove/did bumper cars, played pool (a hobby reserved for men only), and went to our local club/bar. We danced the night away in upstairs of the bar which we had all to ourselves. And in the sense of adventure, on the our walk back, we joined a private party in another bar. We only stayed for a drink and one dance. I arrived home around 3am. That's late. I'm never out that late in Berat. My sleepy little town does have its wild side. Katie just had to coax it out.

On Tuesday of the next week, we headed to Tirana so Katie could begin all the paperwork associated with the end of our Peace Corps service. It worked out great. I had a seminar in Tirana and needed to return Honey (the dog I was watching). Katie and I got to hang out a few more days before she headed out for the last time.

Again we had a great time. The days in Tirana featured many coffees, some tasty dinners, three trips to the crepe place in as many days, and one more night out. On her last night in Tirana, Katie went hardcore. With the taxi coming at 3:30am for her very early flight, we stayed out till 2:30. I was very impressed.

Katie and our friend Lauren enjoying some nice wine before heading out

A typical moment between Katie and Diana, a PC staff member

Katie being hardcore, minutes before the taxi arrived

Maybe someday you will be lucky enough to meet Katie. She is an amazing person. Basically she ROCKS! She is definitely missed. If you're in The Cities, you should look her up. She can feed you Albanian biscuits and sing you Berat folk songs. I know I'll be stoppin by soon.

02 April 2008

My new obsession...

I have a new favorite past time. What could it be, what could it be???
Laundry. Yep. I now really enjoy doing my laundry. I've always been a little picky about my laundry. Being in Shqiperi (Albania) has taken my meticulousness to the next level. I'll spare you all the details of my procedures. However, I will say that in a land of hard, yucky water, and no dryers, fabric softener is key. I started using fabric softener, even though it's a little pricey for a Peace Corps stipend, when my landlords gave me my very own washer. That was a big day too. Before that my landlady had been doing my laundry. I think she was surprised how ofter I washed clothes. I appreciated her help and God knows I would have never done my laundry by hand but I was thrilled when I got my washer.
In the picture below you see the detergent I use. It's the good stuff. I might switch to Tide since it has become available in Berat just recently. You'll also see the fabric softener collection. My favorite is the first one (yellow), then I bought the green, then Katie gave me the orange. I can't wait to run out so I can buy more of the yellow stuff. See I told you it was an obsession.

I thought I'd also include another James peculiarity: children's toothbrushes. Years ago my dentist told me to better clean my wisdom teeth, I should use a kid's toothbrush. I brought a supply with me to Albania but I lost some and miscalculated the number of times I'd be changing them. So I had to buy a new toothbrush. I bought the pink dinosaur first. I was quite happy with my purchase so when I was without a toothbrush in Tirana, I bought the blue momma elephant, you can see her baby at her feet. Not only are they small and colorful, making brush time lots of fun, they also come with covers, another necessity for me.

I hope you enjoyed the little peak inside my head.

17 March 2008

Running as fast as we can...

The Start Line

The first hopefully annual Kucove Race happened this past Saturday. Juliet, the Volunteer who works in Kucove (which is a medium sized city close to Berat), organized a 2 kilometer race. Of course Juliet didn't do it all by herself, though I am 100% she could have. She's an amazing worker. I swear she does the work of at least 5 of us. The event was sponsored by a local bank. Getting local sponsorship is a major success in and of itself . Juliet's Girls Leadership group was the main group of organizers. She got the local municipality involved and the Youth Center, funded by Save The Children, and of course other Peace Corps Volunteers.
The race was a success. Over 200 people participated, including about 20 Volunteers, some traveling 7 hours to participate in the event. Kinda makes my 40 minute bus ride not very impressive. There were some problems too, like about half of the boys in the under 14 group cheating by cutting through a park. They weren't very smart about it. The hill in the park was steeper than the road course.
Several Volunteers ran in the race for fun. We weren't allowed to win any of the prizes, though some of us did manage to score a free t-shirt. We did our part by running at a good pace and NOT cheating. At one point I stopped to grab a kid I saw emerging from the park. I told him "No" and physically turned him around and pointed to the bottom of the road.
The race even with its problems was a great event. Physical exercise is not common in Albania. This was just the beginning. Now the foundation has been laid for future events. Baby steps, that's what we're all about.

A slightly sweaty James rehydrating while speaking to Volunteer extraordinaire Juliet

12 March 2008

Please excuse James today...

Perhaps you've noticed I've been a little lax in my blog postings. I do apologize. I have no particular reason for this. I've been busy but not busier than usual. I've been not interested in Internet but that too is common. I've had power 24/7 so I don't have that problem. Not sure really what my deal has been.

As usual, I will not try to cover everything that has happened in the past 40 plus days. I will start with the most recent.

Last week I was in Greece. I met my friend Jessica in Athens on Sunday 02 March and we hopped on a small cruise ship to embark upon our journey of the Greek islands to see the ancient sites.
After the cruise, Jessica came back to Albania to experience Berat. She was only here for three days, including our recovery day from the overnight bus from Athens. I will tell you about that another time. The short version? The bus ride SUCKED!
Due to Swiss Air being punks, Jess had to shorten her trip in Berat. We did the castle in record time and opted for a taxi ride up there. The time constraints and the crappy weather led us to the taxi. It worked out well. The taxi driver liked us and told the guard not to charge us the entrance fee. We then went to the museum to see the icons and frescoes. The tour guide was away but no problem. I know the stuff. I've been through the church a few times. When the attendant did arrive, since the people know me, we didn't have to pay. Nice.
We then headed to my tutor's house for a short visit. My tutor and her family are great people. She was a wonderful hostess and Jessica got to experience Albanian hospitality. Needing some grub, we headed to my favorite pizza place. The sisters who own the place are really sweet. I always say hi to them and they enjoy our little conversations. In addition to the best calzones in Albania, they always give me a little treat for free. This time it was ice cream with a lion and peacock for decorations.
Jess and I then returned to my house to prepare for her 4am bus departure. We packed her bags and the extra one filled with some of my stuff and some stuff from Katie. Right now Jess should be finding her way to the Athens airport. I hope she makes it.

Rruge te mbare (Have a good trip) Jess!
For today, that's all I got. Dinner is almost ready. We're having kulac pizza a Katie creation.

01 February 2008

Albanians, Jews, and one hot American

Flag on left: City of Berat
Last week I attended the opening ceremony for a conference on Albanians and their role in protecting Jewish refugees during WWII. Yeah. I didn't know they had a big part either. But this is a surprisingly little country. Berat particularly had a lot of families that hosted/protected Jewish families. Albanian hospitality is truly phenomenal. Once they take you in as a guest, they will protect you like a member of their family.

In attendance were the Israeli and American Ambassadors, local government officials, and various community members. I was not expressly invited but I just kinda invite myself to these type of things. Playing the foreigner card is so handy sometimes.

Since it was a fancy event, I decided I should try to look half way decent. My black pants were clean and didn't need ironing. My blue dress shirt matches my black pants. My black tie matches both the pants and the shirt. My recently purchased grown-up's black coat matches all the above articles. Put it together, what do you get?

One smokin hot James!
See for yourself:

19 January 2008

mix & match...

I've been pretty lame about posting recently. Though I'd like to give proper attention to the events of the last few months, I know that this happening is unlikely. I also know that you really just want to see lots of pictures (well not too many, I know you are busy people). Below are some photos from major events in my PC life.

The stage and runway inside the Palace of Culture (aka the civic center). Katie and I were there for a play about AIDS. The auditorium was packed with all high school students and about six adults. It was TORTURE! I didn't make it to the end. I had to leave for the sake of my sanity.

The man on the left is Ambassador Withers. He visited Berat to see the city and to speak at the Opening Ceremony of Katie's Teacher Training. I'm not sure what was asked at this coffee the evening before the training but I like the fact that we all raised our hands.

Who's that handsome fella in the back lookin aloof?

My fellow PC volunteer birthday lunch. I made the cake. I've never been too good at icing :(

Katie, Zaku (Katie's host grandfather), and me. Zaku is the awesomest!

Just cool full moon with a halo on a cloudless night

My ET attempt

Marisa & I participating in AIDS Week march. The poster reads: Take your destiny in your hand. The translations a little rough. Sorry.

AIDS Week activities included a candle-lit march and then creating a ribbon from those candles.

Thanks for watching.

14 January 2008

Defeat minus the glory...

I am sad :(

The Colts lost :(

I think I will go home and pout :(

04 January 2008

behind the times...

So perhaps you've noticed that I have been a bit lacking in my postings. Believe me it's not for lack of material. Quite the opposite. I've had a busy month. Things are slowing down again, which is good actually. I need a bit of breather and some time to focus on my remaining projects and the next big step. Speaking of which, is anyone looking for a guy like me to employ?

The winter has arrived with force here in Albania. It's been COLD! I had to remember all my little tricks for staying warm. For example, when trying to watch West Wing on my laptop with its freshly installed optical drive (that's a CD/DVD drive for those who have not had to replace theirs), I shouldn't even bother using my heater. It's not gonna make much difference in my over sized living room. Instead I must simply take one thick wool blanket and wrap it around my legs while sitting Indian style and take another thick wool blanket and wrap it around my upper half. Of course, underneath my blanket cocoon I am layered with hoody and two pairs of socks. I did try to warm my cold feetsies while in this configuration and all I managed to do was singe my blankets. Oops.
I have also revived my morning ritual of preheating my bathroom. I am lucky in that I have water all the time but that doesn't do much for the really cold bathroom tiles. So I just wake up an hour before I plan to shower and move my heater into my bathroom, which is wonderfully not over sized. Without this step I cannot muster the courage to leave the warm water of my shower.
Sidenote: Albanians are REALLY REALLY REALLY bad at closing doors.
One last strategy, and it's probably my favorite. My tent. My bedroom is, surprisingly enough, also over sized. Therefore it too is impossible to keep warm (the drafty windows don't help either). I have a heater that is safe to leave on during the night but not powerful enough to heat my bedroom. So I devised this little structure to help keep the heat near me. I must say that it works like a charm. I can keep it set on low and I stay warm all night. Brilliance, I tell you, pure brilliance. Observe.

Hopefully I will catch up and post some stuff from the previous month. One thing to look forward to... Sitemates' Dance Off. I'll explain in a couple weeks :)

29 November 2007

Third pie’s the charm…

A week ago today I, like you, was celebrating Thanksgiving. For some odd reason, Thanksgiving is not that significant in Albania. I suppose it has something to do with the lack of Pilgrims and Indians. So to celebrate in proper fashion, we headed to Tirana. The Embassy and other American organizations or Americans working in Tirana do this really cool thing for us Peace Corps Volunteers. They invite us into their homes for a lovely traditional (more or less) Thanksgiving meal. Last year I had an amazing dinner with a great couple so I was very eager to replicate that experience.

I went up to Tirana on Wednesday for a presentation about careers in Foreign Service. Now one of the things that becomes of utmost concern as volunteer visiting Tirana is where to sleep. It’s just not fun to have to pay for a hotel, granted it’s not too expensive but we’re uber cheap. I thought I was going to be able to stay with a friend but that fell through. My friend Juliet, who was going to stay with me at a different friend’s apartment Thursday night, told me that she didn’t a place because her Thanksgiving hosts offered to let her stay at their house Wednesday and Thursday. Prior to be in the Peace Corps I don’t think I would have done this (though I cannot say for certain) but I asked her to ask her hosts if I too could stay Wednesday night. To my delight, they said yes.

After the presentation they drove us to their house and offered to make some pizzas, cheese dip, brownies, and even margaritas. It was great. We really do miss the food a LOT. We had great food, used the Internet, watched Harry Potter, and then went out to meet some friends. All in all, a very good night.

It got even better. The next morning they made pancakes and bacon. So good. Then since they were having Thanksgiving early, around noon, and my host was having it in the evening, they invited me to have Thanksgiving lunch with them. Of course I said yes. We had the works. Two turkeys (one oven-baked, one deep-fried), stuffing, green bean casserole, corn, cranberry sauce, and pie. It was so good. I was smart and did not stuff myself, keeping in mind that I had a big dinner to go to at 5pm.

After helping with clean-up and finishing reading Harry Potter (the 5th book), they drove me to meet my host for my Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving #2 was a bit unorthodox. My host wasn’t able to procure turkey so he opted for four varieties of lasagna. After the power came back on, the lasagna finished cooking and I ate another large, tasty meal. The other guests were really interesting people and I enjoyed hearing about their different backgrounds. Around 10pm or so, we left.

However, my Thanksgiving festivities were not quite over. I headed over to my Thanksgiving #3, my final one for the day, to get the keys to my friend’s apartment. I was stuffed and didn’t even try to eat anymore turkey, but… PECAN PIE! My friend had made pecan pie. It was the only thing missing from my Thanksgiving day. I always eat a slice of pumpkin and a slice of pecan. I was so happy to see that. I managed to find some room in my belly and enjoyed every last crumb.

After that I went to my friend’s place and was able to call my family and talk for a while. Granted it was after midnight my time and I don’t know how coherent I was, it was the perfect end to a perfect day.

20 November 2007

Professor James...

Right now I am preparing my first lesson. I am teaching again today but this time I am preparing something extra to add to the lesson. Of course it's not a formal lesson plan or anything but I did have to prepare and put a little extra effort into it.

I've decided I wanted to teach my class the usage of "like". I'm into grammar and informal speech so I thought I'd lay some knowledge down on 'em. Realizing this might be boring to them or above their level, I have other material prepared, just like a good teacher :)

I think I am ready for this. I am like a little nervous so like wish me luck. Thanks.

15 November 2007


Today I am in Tirana. Shortly I'll head out to try my luck at exchanging my modem, again. Until then, I am enjoying the cozy comforts of the apartment of a friend of mine who is graciously hosting me today.

Surprisingly, I am still running. I do good to get out twice a week. It's really hard to find a dry day and dry-ish roads. Plus I've noticed it's harder to run my usual distance. I've been sorer (grammar lesson for the day: though "sorer" sounds funny I think it is correct. I've been more interested in proper English now that I am teaching the stuff). Today it is rainy. I got soaked last night walking around Tirana. So even though I brought my running stuff to enjoy a good trail run in the park, I am out of luck. Or am I? Now that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer I have to use the "f" word a lot, flexible :) So in lieu of running, I've found an alternative. I am going to hop on an ellipse-like piece of exercise equipment and get my workout on.

Luckily I found VH1 on the TV and it's playing Top Ten of ABBA. Love it. Don't you judge. You know you can't resist their singable pop hooks. Plus you try living in Sweden for half a year and not growing to love them. I'm betting Fernando is Number 1.

Just so you know, I am typing over, under, around a seven month old puppy that's not very puppy sized. Coincidently her name is Honey just like my sister's dog. Very cute even though she keeps farting by/on me.

13 November 2007

down & out...

So my Internet is down again. I think my modem got fried by a power surge, which are pretty common here. It doesn't seem fair that we don't have power all the time (last night I lost it for 7.5 hrs) and when do have it, its too strong. Go figure.

On a good note, we had a great early Thanksgiving dinner this weekend. I made some uber delicious pumpkin pies. I even had to find recipes that didn't call for shortening or lard. I'm sure there is some somewhere in this country but I haven't found it yet. Our spread featured four small chickens in lieu of a turkey, salads, mashed potatoes, homemade apple sauce, biscuits, and a Chilean dish featuring ground beef, raisins, olives, boiled eggs, cream corn (which we had to make ourselves), brown sugar. We had plans for more but power went out earlier than expected. Of course this was enough food to feed all of us quite well.

For now I am off to class. Hopefully I will be back online soon.

26 October 2007

Istanbul Images...

View from our hotel rooftop terrace.
Interior of New Mosque near spice bazaar
Hagia Sofia

Just finished our first day of sightseeing. I am tired after traveling and walking around so much. Here are a few pics from today.

24 October 2007

Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople...

It's almost 3am and I can't sleep. This never happens. It might have something to do with the little nap that I took at 10pm. Then again it might be the garlic I ate for dinner. My stomach no longer likes garlic and really doesn't like Albanian onions. I just ate some peanut butter and bread (yum) so my tummy should be happy soon. While I wait for sleepy time to resume, I'll tell you about two exciting things happening this week.
First, it's official (actually there's nothing official about it). I am almost a teacher. After my experiences last school year helping students with English, I decided to try out teaching in a school. I am working with a teacher named Julian. He has agreed to let me help in a few classes a week. Right now the plan is for me to observe for a couple weeks and then I would teach with him in the room. Today was my first day in the school and tomorrow I go back for more. I will probably only be teaching once a week in four or five classes. If that's not enough for me, I would start my English help sessions. I am excited about this opportunity. Last semester was my first experience in the classroom. I really enjoyed it and I think the students did too. Though my work at the municipality is picking up a bit and I have other random things that could keep me busy, I decided to give "teaching" a shot. This will be a great test-run for me. Plus I don't think schools in the US would be so eager to let me help out. Turns out a lot of people speak English in America. Anyway, perhaps a career change is in my future.
Second, I am going to Istanbul. I decided to go like two days ago. Spur of the moment trips are not usually my thing. I like to research everything, the travel, the lodging, the sites, the food, and the costs. However, in my spirit of adventure, I threw caution to the wind and I decided to go. It helps that I am joining a group of friends who had already planned on going. The trip is kinda short but I figure it'll be a good intro to Istanbul, which I have heard is worth a second trip. If there is a next time, I'll be a pro at it. Plus I'll do even more research :)
Wish me luck for tomorrow in school. I'll post some Istanbul pics after I get back so check back in a week.

21 October 2007

Peruvian Perfection...

We have finished our first Model United Nations conference. It was three days of intense debate and coalition building. The students did a great job. Though I didn't have any specific tasks during the conference, I was exhausted every day. One volunteer said he now knows what it's like to feel like a proud parent. You are thrilled that the students do so well but you know that they can do even better and just want to push them to their best.

Peru's Resolution was passed. I should add that it passed by only ONE vote. I don't mean like 5 to 4. I mean ONE. Peru was the only country who voted in favor of our resolution (shocking). The other 10 countries abstained. All we needed in our mock Security Council was a simple majority of those voting. Score.

Our girls did an amazing job. We started the conference off with a bang. Our presentations about Peru (a short trivia quiz) and Berat (a skit about the Legend of Berat) were off the chain and definitely crowd pleasers. Their awesomeness continued throughout the conference. They debated well, acted diplomatically (most the time), and worked well with the other teams. Katie and I are understandably proud.

Hopefully we will be able to repeat such an outstanding performance. For now, we are all tired and going to need a little break from Model UN.

03 October 2007

Reunited and it feels so good...

Yay for birthdays. This one is shaping up to be quite nice. Not only did I receive another birthday sms (or text message on my phone for those non-hip people out there, yes that includes me) but I got two more packages today. Waahoooo!!!
My parents sent lots of cereal, which is good because I was burnt out on my cornflakes and museuli mixture, some instant soup mixes and rice packets, very good for the upcoming cold weather, and a much appreciated twin pack of JIF Peanut Butter. Ummmmm...Peanut butter. Have I mentioned how much I love Peanut Butter? When I was home for Christmas I brought back 12lbs of PB and that supply is almost mbaruat (finished).

Another package arrived today. This one from Mona. The content of which made me oh so joyful. I showed three people as soon as I opened it. I feel like an old friend has returned. Poor Mona was afraid I wouldn't like it. Sometimes I'm hard to buy for, especially if you are trying to surprise me and not use a list provided by yours truly. And without further ado, the pièce de résistance

As you'll recall, my other Swiss Army knife was stolen during my trip to Belgrade. This one is even fancier and doesn't have a strange smell to it (I had kept my first one in my glove compartment along with some nasty smelling air fresheners, of course the knife decided to absorb the funky smell). James is a happy boy.


That's how old I am today. You could also say 29 years old and a day. Perhaps I'll start keeping track of my age including the decimal. That'd be kinda fun. It might be kinda lame too but that usually doesn't stop me.

My birthday was good. I was in Tirana during the day because we had a Peace Corps presentation on Monday. With my renewed fitness focus, I brought my running clothes with me, and here's the kicker, I actually used them. Tuesday morning I went for a run in the park. It was awesome. The park is large and wooded and there are lots of other people running too. I haven't seen another runner in a long time. Except this one time during the summer while I was running on my regular route, I saw a father and his two sons running together. It was very strange. I really enjoyed my run yesterday because I was able to run on a lot of trails in the park. I had forgotten how much I love trail running. It's way better than street or track running. Even though I ran into some dead-end trails, trip and just barely skinned my knee, and a few times ran by old men doing stretches in their underwear, I totally dug it. I want to go back to Tirana just to go running. Oh the old men in their underwear, it's not a creepy thing. For some reason it's acceptable, and a bit normal, though I was started by it the first time I came upon it.

The birthday fun started on Saturday because we had some people over for dinner after our Model UN practice. That was also the first day I received a birthday message. I got lots of birthday love. My mom called me at 1am. I was sound asleep. You know the type when you can barely form a word when woken suddenly? I think I dozed off twice while she was talking to me. I was also surprised by our Model UN team. The girls had a cake for me. I'm not even sure how they knew it was my birthday. Perhaps I told them but I swear I was purposely not telling people this year. Anyway, I had a great birthday and hopefully I can extend the fun just a little bit longer.

Thanks again for all the birthday love.

26 September 2007

Better late than never...

Recently I decided to get my lazy self back into shape. Preferably a shape not descriable as squishy, soft, pluffy, or the most vile of words HUSKY. I had to wear Husky jeans as a child and I'm still scarred by that experience. My inspiration for this renewed fitness focus stems from three different people calling me fat. Two were meant more as compliments and one was not. Regardless of how people think I look, I am getting a little more love in my handles.
I'm starting simple. One day running, next day light gym workout, with the weekends off. Hopefully I'll be able to keep this up as the cold and wet weather begins.

For now I leave you with a gorgeous picture of me modeling much-needed sweat bands, a gift from Marisa to help stop the sweat from cascading down my shaved dome.

Picture perfect...

I can upload pictures again. Yay. I don't know exactly what the problem was. My best guess is that I was using Internet Explorer 7.0 and it is NOT cool.
For now enjoy my edited picture. It's currently my desktop.