Thursday, October 24, 2013

Two truths and a lie

1. Being able to make kids squeal with delight simply because they got to speak to me, an American, is so humbling.

2. I only vlog when I'm having a good hair day.

3. I got four bags of butterscotch candies in a care package and sometimes I eat five candies in a row and I don't even care.

(4. Bonus: I published it as "buttscotch" the first time.)


Number 1! Duh. I mean, seriously. When people say stuff like that it makes my skin crawl. Humbling? More like super ego booster. I'm not ashamed to admit it. Yes, it's privilege, yes, it has nothing to do with me as a person at all, and no, I shouldn't read into it...but do I? Hellz yes.

And if you actually say stuff like that seriously, I don't believe you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or, A Plethora of Boobs

As everyone knows, October is World Breast Cancer Awareness Month (which is a mouthful), or Muaji i Ndërgjegjesimit për Kancerit të Gjirit in shqip (gesundheit). 

In other words, I've never touched so many boobs in such a short period of time.

It's been very fulfilling to have a (relatively) busy schedule. We've done presentations for teachers out in the villages, in the Bashkia, in the Tregu i Madhe (a big warehouse market), and today at the Kineteatra and Victory School. We showed two short films and did a powerpoint presentation today at the Vace Zela Kineteatra, and over 130 women showed up (score!). Representatives from the D.Sh.P, the Bashkia, the Prefecture, two public high schools, and many community members attended. Of course nothing goes off without a hitch, and so I ended up reading the powerpoint because no one else wanted to. There's five of us on this team. Eighty percent are Albanian. And somehow it landed in my lap to present, after a quick little game of "nose goes" in the dark while the audience waited. 

I know. My paint skills are killer.

Regardless of my kindergartner's vocabulary, I think it went pretty well. It certainly served to bring attention to the topic in the community, and the videos we showed were concise, clear, and very helpful.

Later this afternoon, I went to Victory School to give a small presentation to the English teachers there. Lo and behold, there was a whole slew of church ladies who showed up - the more the merrier, but of course I'd only prepared stuff in English because I thought I was presenting to English speakers. Ha. Never assume.* Yay for winging it shqiptare style.

(Actually, I felt horrible and it kinda sucked because this is such an important topic. About 185,000 European women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and around 44,000 die from it. It's becoming more common among Albanian women - although that seems to also be contributed slightly to better reporting - and is by far the number one cancer killer for that population. These women need and deserve the best health information and treatment, and they need it articulated clearly in their own language. I just remind myself that I'm better than nothing.)

I make it very clear to everyone that I'm not a doctor nor a nurse, and that my only qualifications are my Women's Studies and Public Health background, but I've still had women come up to me and ask my opinion about questionable lumps. I've done all the presentations but one with my counterparts and so generally ask them to intervene, but at tonight's presentation I ended up hitting second base on quite a few ladies. In some cases, it was funny ("Ma'am, I would hope that's hard there, it's your rib. Not a tumor.") but in one case my heart just fell in my stomach and all I could say was, "Please see a doctor asap." And it kills me that I don't know who to send them to or what to recommend, or that I can't even promise they'll receive the help they need. I can only keep telling them to go to the Poliklinika (public health clinic), cross my fingers, and hope for the best.


*...because when you assume it makes an ass out of u and me. 

Eriola (sociologist), Moza (nurse), & Soida (psychologist) on our way home from presenting in Ballagat. 
Don't be deceived. I'm standing in a hole. I'm actually a monster next to them in real life. 

Soida, Gesti (nurse), and Moza. Size is slightly more to scale. 

Kish i Laç, Part Dos

Part 1 here.

So, it turns out the church is a very old, very important chapel on top of a mountain overlooking the Adriatic. I could be wrong, but I think what I understood was that it was the first landing point of missionaries in northern Albania when Christianity first came to the country over a millenium ago. Dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua (who always finds my lost stuff, thanks bro), many Orthodox Albanians travel to the church on June 13th (happy birthday, Mom!) to pay homage. There was a statue and people rubbed clothes and pictures on it for blessings. There was a cavern whose floor is completely covered with the wax of centuries of candles. There's a little crypt with a head-shaped hole in the ceiling that if you put your head in, it will impart wisdom to you.

Not to mention, the views were breathtaking. The land is pretty flat for miles inland and then rises sharply as the mountains begin (no foothills...just, suddenly, mountains); the church is situated right in the front of the parading peaks and so you can see practically to Italy. (Not really. But far. Very far.)

Rubbing, kissing, hugging, polishing, petting, and smashing children into St. Anthony.

I LOVE the northern traditional dress for the old ladies. They wear their hair in two long braids that they loop under their ears and crisscross over the top of their heads, under a bandana-like kerchief. It's adorable and they look like they hobbled out of a Grimm story.

Somehow we made it home. It took us over an hour to get down the mountain (we stopped at every stall on the way down. I wish I was joking.), and there were multiple times when I had to focus simply on the "serenity to accept the things I cannot change" part of the serenity prayer. But it was a beautiful day, in a beautiful place, with wonderful (albeit crazy) Albanians.

But I'm never getting into a car even slightly unclear on the details with Lena ever again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Kishe i Laç, Part 1

Good news! The camera is back in the States and hopefully will be fixed soon-ish.

Bad news. "Soon-ish" will be about two months.

Good news! I'm going through all my old photos that I never posted so there are still some stories to tell!

Bad news. I'm procrastinating again and not working on a video I'm supposed to finish editing.

Good news! I'm finally updating my blog though!

Bad news. I'm apparently only motivated to do so when I'm supposed to be doing something else.


Back in June, around the second week of living and "working" in Lushnje, Lena invited me to go to an event of some kind. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but she kept referring to something something "kishe ilaç" (keesh ee lahch) something something. "Kishe" means church and "ilaç" means pill/medicine. Pill Church? Church Drugs? Health/Medicine event at church? Jesus loves pills? I was so confused and at the time did not have the language skills to even explain my confusion, and all my great English-speaking friends remained un-met. Lena told me to come along and meet her at her house the next day, so I just smiled and nodded and hoped for the best.

The next morning, I called Megan and literally told her I was going somewhere to something to do some sort of hopefully work-related somestuffs but I really have no idea what's going on I'm just gonna trust Lena is that a bad thing to do? if you don't hear from me by the end of the day I'm probably dead so wish me luck. And I hoped in a furgon with Lena and...her family? Why is her family with us for a medical event? I'M SO CONFUSED.

We started driving, and then we left town. Not exactly what I was expecting, but ok, it's probably in a village. We passed Kavaje a half hour later. And then we got to the nearest big city, Durres, and passed that. (By now, I've broken out into a sweat and I have NO IDEA WHERE I'M GOING what am I doing with my life this is crazy help me.) When we passed Tirana, I knew I was in trouble. The entire time, they kept telling me, "We're going to Kishe Ilaç." Even Lena's son, who speaks a bit of English, couldn't explain it any better.

My answer finally came when we turned off the highway (two. hours. later) at the sign for "Laç." And I realized, they weren't saying "kishe ilaç" but "kishe i Laç" (which is a huge difference...but pronounced almost the same). We weren't going to any church medical/pill/drugs/health event. We were on a tourist trip to visit a church in Laç.

Side note on Laç: a volunteer was posted there last year. He moved to another site around the time my group showed up in March because there was too much gun violence in town. We were supposed to avoid Laç, yet here I was, prancing into town with Lena & Co. And not a week later, the only election-related murder occurred right in the middle of town there. But, you know, I'm sure the people there are very nice.

So I found myself in Laç. I found myself in Laç. WHAT AM I DOING IN LAC. Are you there God, it's me, Margarety, and I don't know what I'm doing and I'm stuck in a furgon with practical strangers and we're going up a mountain now and there's people banging on the van and did I mention I'm so. confused?

It was Albania in a nutshell: breathtakingly beautiful one second, batsh*t insane the next.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


One of my super awesome friends here, Jill, just had a blog post of hers go viral. Her 50 Observations of Albania can't be generalized the entire country, of course, but she never meant for them to! I loved reading it when she first published it, because she hit so many common themes of life here, plus a few unexpected ones that I'd already begun to take for granted.

As when anything goes viral, of course, there was a lot of commentary on the post, so she wrote an eloquent follow-up that I'd be remiss to fail to share. Check that out here.

I'd HIGHLY recommend you scurry on over to her blog and check it out. She has a fantastic perspective, not only on Albania, but life in general!

Jill and I on the left, with Megan & Kate on the right. Kate & Jill live in nearby Kavaje.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dita pa drita

The entire city was without power today until about 6:30 pm. No one had their espresso for the day, and perhaps I was imagining it but it seemed to me the city was in a bit of a haze all morning and afternoon. I went for a xhiro with Lena around 5 and she took me from lokale to lokale, searching for a place with a generator so she could have her coffee. She normally drinks kafe turk, which is made with a mini gas stove, but I think her desire for espresso was nothing more than a way to express grouchiness about the lack of power.

Earlier in the day, we were at another lokale (after a hard morning's work going stall to stall in the tregu i madhe (big market) advertising our breast cancer presentation on, really, not hard at all) and met up with other-Lena and a few more wizened old ladies. Somehow Berlusconi came up, and I made the comment that, "Berlusconi is an animal." And I got a high five from an eighty-year-old and that was the highlight of my day.

But now I'm plagued with the thought that we were actually talking about Berisha, the former prime minister here who just lost the election, and I messed the two names up (I didn't, I'm just paranoid). Which would make my comment a political statement, which Lena would love because she voted for Rama. And Moza would hate, because she voted for Berisha.

And Moza and Lena fight enough as it is!

Also, I just started Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being and I'm only on page 12 but I'm already tripping and having an existential crisis. I mean, come on:
"Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict. For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine."

"...not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural. We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come. There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold...What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all."

Like I said, existential crisis.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


happy mean girls day!

Gramsh Girls Camp

During the last week of August, I got the chance to help out at a girls' camp run by my friend Jen in Gramsh. I briefly alluded to it in this post, talking about things I love in Albania - because this was the motherlode of my favorite things:

friends - new old! (silver & gold, silver & gold, there's something tacky 'bout singing 'bout silver & gold...)
making a fool of myself
And more! (sorry this seems to be turning into an infomercial)

Another PCV, Joyce, kicks butt at photography and putting together videos, so I'm just gonna leave her newest creation here. (She also did the Fourth of July pictures and video - so talented!)

It was an awesome three days of working with teenage girls (so. hyper.) on healthy living, leadership, and communication with some amazing PCVs. Theses 20 girls from Gramsh blew me away with their English skills (it wasn't a requirement for the camp - which was mostly entirely done by Jen's counterparts in shqip - but most of the students wanted to practice their English), their acting skills, their creativity, teamwork, dedication, and fun. It was refreshing to see a group of Albanian teenage girls relax and let their hair down (literally...I think the final braid count I did was about 40 braids over three days), and be free to do and say what they wanted, instead of worrying what society or their parents or their neighbors would think. 

Jen did a fantastic job planning the camp, and she accomplished the not-quite-impossible-but-incredibly-challenging feat of getting Albanian women to do almost all the teaching and presenting, a three-pronged success:

1. Girls received the lessons and info in their native language, and as Nelson Mandela said, "If you speak to a man girl in the language he she understands, it goes to his her head. If you speak to him her in his her language, that goes to his her heart." (In case you're impressed by my grasp of brainy quotes, I must disappoint you and tell you that this is plastered all over all our language books.) 
2. Girls who didn't excel in English also had the chance to benefit from the camp.
3. The Albanians who helped run it gained skills on running a camp and have also been roped into (hopefully) doing another camp next summer! And if they don't, the girls from this year will badger them to insanity. 

The BG committee is actually working on extending these camps throughout Albania now, too. The Gramsh one was a kind of prototype-pilot camp, but it worked so well that I'm excited to do something very similar here in Lushnje. Girl power FTW.

I spent, like, half an hour trying to edit the British flag out and add in the Albanian one, but I was using Microsoft Paint and it was taking forever and then I was like, what am I doing with my life. 
No, seriously, why did I think this was worth my time.

Moral of the story: don't mess with the Spice Girls.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Girl: Reading

Going through the old photos on my camera (looking for something to put on the blog, because nothing's worse than a boring and updated blog. Well, some things are worse. Running out of peanut butter is worse.) I came across pics of projects I did earlier in the summer when I was bored out of my mind. I'm definitely most proud of this one!

I've mentioned this before, but since my apartment is four rooms and they're all painted a nice, fleshy pink, I feel like I live in the belly of a giant cow. Therefore, I'm slowly but surely covering up the walls with art and letters from home and photos. There was a gaping space above my bed when I first moved in:

Being my mother's daughter, I set to work rearranging asap and planning for how to make the room One particularly boring day in June, it was raining and the electricity was out, so I drew inspiration from Pinterest and one of my favorite sculptures to create an inside-out reading-girl silhouette.

                                                     a45226301b52e2f34827b3444f1a5875 Colorful Art Pieces Made Easy  

Pietro Magni's Girl Reading, 1856

The previous volunteer had left some giant boxes, so I used one of them as a canvas to create a silhouette with strips of paper from an old calender and 50 cents worth of glue:

 And voilá! Cheap art and a day that felt slightly productive!