Saturday, June 29, 2013

This is How I Look, Part ??

What I (and PCV ladies in general) see when accidentally smiling when making eye contact with Albanian men:

When my electricity came back on after a 24-hour spat between landlords:

Mullet mood...that is, business in the front ... "help me I'm going insane" in the back (like when I've been sitting at coffee with Lena & Co. for over an hour and my brain just can't process the shqip anymore):

When an Albanian tells me I have a great shqiptar accent:

The post office lady tells me that, yes, there is a package for me in the back:

...and upon opening said package:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Contact me, yo.

I've finally settled on an address to which all y'all can send me mail! (Please?) Since my actual building doesn't have an address (that's functional, at least), you can write to me c/o my counterpart, Lena. Actually, c/o her husband, but who's splitting hairs?

Mary Quandt
c/o Zoi Rrushi
Lagja "Loni Dhamo"
Pallati parafabrikat 13, kati 3
Lushnje, Albania

That's for letters. For packages, send them here:

Mary Quandt OR Megan Bowman
Bashkia Lushnje
Lushnje, Albania

That makes it all official (Megan is the community development volunteer here who works at the bashkia/municipality). And when customs asks for a list of items and a price tag, your best bet is to totally lie list something like, "paper, marker, pens, various supplies for United States Peace Corps volunteer" or something similarly official-sounding.

Sorry it took me so long to figure all this out...and then actually post the info. Can't wait to see what shows up!


This post may be a teensy bit TMI, but this is my little corner of the interwebs so sue me.

Last week was tough. The past month has been tough. From finishing off PST (exhaustion, excitement, eagerness to get to site and have my own kitchen and sleep in a bed and have a toilet in the same BUILDING as me!), to being dumped in Lushnje, and the slow summer schedule of people here...I've been adrift. Megan had it so much worse, with an abysmal housing situation and counterparts too busy with the election to pay her any mind.


One thing I've learned in life is that just because others suffer, it doesn't make my suffering any less valid. I can't look at others who have significantly bigger obstacles and then feel guilty for my own ones.

Which brings me to the past week. I've had a nasty summer sinus/head cold monstrosity and have been pmsing and the weather? It's 984 degrees here. Not even kidding.

photo from my friend Dan

Actually, it's hovering around 96 degrees and 110% humidity. Like, sitting in the dark in my apartment with a fan running, I still have sweat dripping down my legs.

Needless to say (then why say it), a lot of things culminated to the point of me just hunkering down for a few days. I didn't want to read, or watch a movie, or be productive in any way. I just wanted to sleep all day. I even went to the Blackhawk website a few times to try to watch last week's sermon, but just couldn't motivate myself to sit and listen to a message.

So when I finally sat down this morning to watch the sermon, after shopping for a ton of veggies and fruits and cleaning supplies, with a healthy breakfast and a cup of amazing turkish coffee, imagine my surprise when the topic of choice was Psalm 6 and depression.


I mean, God himself could have shown up and demanded I stop letting my depression punch me in the face, but the whole timing of this sermon did the trick pretty well on its own. The irony that I couldn't motivate myself to watch the sermon for an entire week (taking notes and reading along just seemed too much work) because of my depression and then finding out the topic was depression is too good to ignore. The juxtaposition of my attitude and the message pulled me out of myself and my head.

Thank you, Blackhawk, for the online sermons so I can keep up with you from another continent. Thank you, Matt Metzger, for your honesty, openness, and lyrical way of describing the dirty details of depression. Some people don't get it, some people won't get it, and some have no choice in the matter. At least, in that last group, I find myself in good company.


P.S. bonus points: the lyrics of U2's song "40" come directly from Psalms 6 and 40. Trivia FTW.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tomorrow is Albania's election day - for everything. The entire municipality could be upended with the results, not to mention the entire government due to a possible party change-over at the national level. And Albanians are getting ca-RAY-zy. We're on standfast starting tonight at 7pm all through tomorrow.

But let's talk about politics. There are two main front runners in the competition: Sali Berisha (current prime minister) and Edi Rama. Berisha represents the Democratic Party (which is more analogous to the American GOP) and Rama represents the Socialist Party (like the American Democrats) (so, totally not confusing at all ever). For a great post from a PCV's perspective, check out the awesome(ly-named) blog, Dude, Where's My Gomar?

Sali's official portrait. Sali actually tends to look like Grumpy Cat.

Rama's campaign photo (below). 
I can't help but think the caption to that photo is, "Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids!"

Also, last year Albania celebrated their 100th anniversary of independence. I'm kinda bummed I missed all the partying! But they created a new logo for the centennial, which is supposed to be a re-imagining of the current double-headed eagle flag.

I personally think it looks more like a bit of female reproductive anatomy, but that's just me.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

6,000 Miles AIN'T ENOUGH

DISCLAIMER: In case you forgot, anything and everything I say here is my opinion and most assuredly has nothing to do with the US Peace Corps.

I'm halfway across the world, staring at health care problems that Americans haven't dealt with since the 1930s. No patient privacy. No heat. Unclean bathrooms. I'll get into my tours of the hospital in another post, but for now, suffice it to say healthcare (especially for women) is lacking here.

And then I read the news from home. And cringe. And yell pointlessly at my computer screen as if that might mitigate some, any, a tiny bit of my anger. Because even though America is great and all - and it is, believe me - we still need FeministRyanGosling to help point out some egregious errors.

Believe me, I wrote a much longer, much more irate post but then deleted it all. This is as pc* as I get.

*politically correct, not peace corps

Monday, June 17, 2013


In case you missed the memo, coffee = life in Albania. When my host family finally trusted me with more than a broom (after a slight hiccup, where they almost rescinded my rights to a carrot peeler), I was allowed to enter the world of big girls: learning to make Turkish coffee.

Basically, you mix equal parts coffee, sugar, and water together and heat it until the foam threatens to boil over. And then you drink the mud, which is surprisingly good. (But let's be honest - if it weren't for the sugar, the stuff would taste like dirt.)

And when I mastered that skill, I had proudly attained the house-hold skills of an Albanian 6-year-old.

Coffee breaks also = PST survival.


Also, you always get two sugar packets with espresso, and I steal them and take them home and empty them into my sugar jar. Go ahead, judge away, see if I care.

It's free sugar.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Because, obviously.

Happy Father's Day to the one and only Russell Quandt. I'm so, so lucky to have you as my dad!

I love you tons and tonnes!

...and them are metric tonnes.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


...think of a song! Any song!

Now replace all the words with "Meri" and you know what it's like to be serenaded by Lena as we walk around Lushnje.

Until she burps and starts singing Whitney Houston.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Just a sec...

...can I point out I have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF? Thanks. I didn't even fit in the back of the van. That's only 2 bags. Of 5. What is this nonsense?

Flash back to travelling to Lushnje that first day. Oh, and when we got there? We were dropped off literally kilometers from our houses. Mine was closer, yes, but Megan's was still another 50-minute walk away. NOT EVEN EXAGGERATING. (And that's both our stuff, not just mine. Don't judge. I mean, most of it is mine...but still.)

But Megan got her faux-counterpart Erald to come pick us up IN HIS CAR. Happy day.

So when I was bored later and couldn't understand the flurry of shqip surrounding me, we drew him a thank you card. (He speaks English, don't worry.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Oh, Lena...

So my counterpart, Lena, is kinda off her rocker.

I love her and she's awesome and she has a heart of gold and she takes care of me and takes care of business and I'm lucky to have her.

Look how she commands the attention of all those kindergartners! Except for the one dude in the middle, who's all "that wall is way more interesting than that lady up front," and the kid in the corner who's too busy flexing his biceps.


She does things like butt-dial me 17 time before 8:30 in the morning. And she walks up to men loitering around locales, gives them pamphlets (about breast cancer, or smoking, or sun poisoning), and tells them to "nuk jeni kot"" - stop being useless. And if people are fighting at the market she waddles into the midst of it and yells at everyone with a withering stare and the instigators all slink away. So, in a way, she's a total badass.

I mean, LOOK at that withering stare. I'd back off.

Who still happens to be slightly off her rocker.


She also has a joke that she's really fond of...and she should be. It's a play on words, but unfortunately it doesn't translate well to English. When introducing me, she says:

"Kjo është çupa ime amerikane me burrin amerikan."

Which translates differently depending on the audience:

Professional colleagues: "This is my American girl with the American boy (Kip, who's been around for 2 years and who most people know.)

Her friends: "This is my American daughter from my American husband." (cue middle-aged giggles)

Women with sons of marriageable age (aka, the dangerous kind of women): "This is my American girl, who already has a boyfriend/fiance/husband at home in America."

Either way, we always end up discussing my marital status.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Peace out, Pajove

Some last-minute photos of daily life in Pajove on my last day there.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

This is how I look when...

...I get to Lushnje and try to jump right into work, right away:

(it's a metaphor, Mom.)

...Megan tells me that dhalle is good. Dhalle is watered-down salty kos/yogurt.

...I opened up the cabinets at Kip's my apartment to discover things like ginger and cinnamon and curry:

...When Lena/Moza/shopkeepers/postal workers/any Albanian say something unintelligible in shqip:

...When Lena grabs my hand and pulls me along for yet another adventure:

...When Megan showed me the picture of the black mold under her sink:

...aaaaaand my suggestion about what she should do about it:


This may or may not happen at the Tirana airport:


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Swearing-In Slideshow

Here's the video I mentioned last week (that YouTube hated on but Vimeo rescued) - thanks again, Amber, for putting this together!:

The least of these

There are Roma kids that play in the alley, older girls caring for the babies and little imps who show off their few English words with pride - none of them being appropriate for a blog your mother reads. They dig through the dumpsters in front of your building looking for treasure while their mothers and grandmothers collect plastic bottles, each worth a few small leke in change. If you pause to talk with a friend in the street, one or two will inevitably come up and pull on your sleeve, asking for change or gum or just attention. Your companion has no qualms sternly telling them to "ik, ik!" (leave!) and you're only too comfortable letting them do the dirty business, because giving the kids anything would reinforce the cycle of child labor and make you a target for so many others and you just can't help them all but-

"Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick in prison, and did not help you?"
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

My heart hurts and my head hurts.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Streaming and dreaming

I'm sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee balanced on my laptop, totally adrift and at a loss as to what to do. I don't want to go into the D.Sh.P. today because I know the door will be locked and I'll have to call Lena or Moza and then try to decipher what they're shouting to me on the other end of the phone. I just want to tell them, "I can hear you, it's ok!" but I don't have the language skills yet.

It feels like a Sunday but it's a Wednesday and so I feel guilty about not being productive.

It was pouring rain when I got up early this morning to plug in my water heater. I hoped it would last the day,  so I could have an excuse to stay inside but now, I'm sure I'm the only one who's disappointed that the sun is out and there aren't any clouds in the sky. From my balcony, I watch people go about their lives: the shopkeeper sweeping the sidewalk in front of her store and spraying water from an old soda bottle to keep the dust down; the old men in their vests and fedoras riding their bikes to meet other old men for coffee, cigarettes nonchalantly hanging from their lips as they smoke and peddle at the same time; the qun* packs wandering around with their arms across their brothers' shoulders, cracking jokes and shouting American swear words; the Roma digging through the dumpsters in front of my building, searching for plastics and metals to turn in for spare leke. 

My apartment is still a mess. It's clean-ish but totally unorganized...or as they say in shqip, "unregular-ized" (rregulluar). I'm a PCV living in a third world country, yet this place is infinitely nicer than my housing in college ever was. I have a wardrobe to myself...probably the only thing I don't miss about living with Becky is the abysmally small closets we had. I have a hood for my oven. I have a washing machine.

I don't have a toilet seat, though. I'm not living in total luxury.

But I have to go grocery shopping (instead of just stopping at the fruit stand on my way home at the end of the day), I have to call my landlady about the building key and my energy meter and plan the coffee she wants to have next week, the floors already need re-mopping, I have basil seeds to plant and spices from Kip to organize and an address to figure out and a want-list to write for my mother and emails to answer and paperwork to read through and sort and translations and studying to do and I should put on make-up because when I leave the house I'm bound to meet someone important and so have to be prepared to always, always make a good impression.

But all I want to do is read NPR and catch up on blogs and paint my toe nails.

*a "qun" (choon) is a boy. We PCVs use it in a way that is not quite correctly translated - instead of just the generic "boy" or "guy", we use it to mean something more like "punks". Improper translation, but PCV-speak.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Week 8, Part V: Uninvited Guests, Eel Heads, & Circle Dancing

Can I just point out how weird the word “eel” looks when capitalized?

Thursday Kip was hosting a lunch for us and his three counterparts (my three new counterparts!) at a nice restaurant up by the Ardenice monastery. I’ll get to that part in a bit. But first, let’s talk about the morning, shall we?

Megan went for a run while I read on the couch. (Sounds about right.) About half an hour later, I heard someone trying to jiggle the handle on the door, and assumed it was Meg because the door is really hard to open from the outside. BAD IDEA. I opened the door and LENA CAME BARRELING INTO KIP’S HOUSE (Kip, who was still asleep), sat down on the couch, demanded coffee, and expected entertainment. I hadn’t showered in three days, I’d been reading for the past hour and was trying to extricate myself from the novel into the real world, I wasn’t even wearing a bra…and a middle-aged Albanian woman was sitting on my couch looking at me expectantly making demands in a language I’m still not very good at understanding. 

So I texted a warning to the sleeping Kip, put a pot of water to boil on the stove, gave Lena free reign on my facebook photos to stalk to her heart’s delight, and hopped in the shower. Thankfully for me, Megan came home and kept Lena out of trouble until I was ready. Shortly thereafter, we succeeded in getting Lena to leave with the promise that yes, we were meeting her later, for lunch.

Shortly thereafter, there was another knock on the door. This time it was Moza…and the infamous Kerry Ann.

(A quick note about Kerry Ann. She’s a legend. She’s a group 12 volunteer – I’m group 16 – fluent in the language, who got a job in Tirana and stuck around. Lena and Moza LOVE HER. To them, she is the epitome of perfection. Everything I do will be measured against Kerry Ann. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But certainly an intimidating thing.)

Anyway, Moza strutted in with KA and sat at the table and demanded coffee. (For those of you who’ve missed all the hints, coffee = life for Albanians.) Kip was up but didn’t want to make coffee for an uninvited guest, so KA (feeling bad because Kip had no idea she was coming along, even though Moza had invited her, which is just so Albanian) started making Moza coffee. And then for some reason Moza abruptly stood up and indignantly stormed out of the apartment.


(A quick note about Moza. Moza is a dear. And she took great care of KA and Kip, and I know I can really count on her as well. But like most Albanian women, she is very black and white. And abrupt. And dramatic.)

KA chased after her to talk her down, while the three of us left up in the apartment quickly got ready for lunch. We met up at the furgon station, I finally got to meet my third counterpart, Gesti, and we settled in for the short drive to Ardenice.

Ardenice is not only stunning, it is incredibly important historically. Scanderberg, Albania’s national hero, was married there in the early fifteenth century. Additionally, even though it was used as a barracks during communism, the church is still in fantastic shape. It’s one of those places where stepping through the doorway instantly makes you stop and go quiet, listening for echoes of those who’d lived and worshipped there through the centuries. The old smell of incense and beeswax and smoke, along with the damp smell of ancient stone bricks, is a stark contrast to the young and fresh and new rose garden outside. Down the center aisle, the brick is worn where generations of Orthodox Christians have tread to the altar. There was a font filled with sand into which, for a few leke (1 lek is about 1 cent), you could stick a tall, thin, tapered candle with a prayer.

Seriously, folks, I could have stayed there for hours. Literally.

After six thousand photos, we went to a restaurant close by. For eight courses of meat. Thanks, Kip, for a great lunch! (Just like on birthdays, when the birthday person buys for everyone, at going-away parties the person leaving buys.) And, of course, circle dancing. And middle-aged Albanian women learning how to do Gangnam Style. 

We survived our site visit!

The head and tail of the eel...missing the 8 middle sections.

Then we returned home, spent one more night with Kip, and made our way back to Elbasan. Which was an adventure in itself, involving: one taxi driver who convinced himself to drive us to the highway for free because God would take care of him for taking care of two beautiful Americans; four furgon drivers fighting about who got to drive us; one mini-bus driver who swept in and took us to Cerme; one more furgon driver who shoved us in the back seat; two families sitting on top of each other in the trunk of the furgon; and one super sweet little boy who wanted to talk but was sitting behind me so every time I had an answer to a question I had to turn around and consequently get car sick.

Thus was the beginning of the end of PST.

The view from Ardenice, with Lushnje in the distance.