Monday, September 30, 2013

Yet another gif dump...

...cuz guys, this no-camera-thing is really cramping my blogging style. But I digress.

What I want to say to all the eager newbies on the Facebook group for next year's PCVs:

When I realize someone finished my banana bread...and I'm the only one home: 

Instead of a figment of my imagination, Brad Pitt is a figment of my insatiable stomach.

What the local pastor looks like when I tell him that I'd love to help teach music, but I can't and won't lead a bible study:

"Just keep ignoring everything she says until she finally says what I want her to say!"

What trying to have a conversation with the D.Sh.P. director does to my soul:

When other PCVs post about their successful projects on Facebook and I'm impressed but mostly jealous of their success:

When things don't go quite as planned:

This last one isn't a gif. It just happens to be the story of my life.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vaçe Zela, Ylli i Shqiperisë

"You will always be the echo of every life in Albania."

"The immortal voice of Albania - the most wonderful voice in Albania!"

"The STAR and the ONLY STAR of Albania!"

With internet accolades like that, she's gotta be someone impressive. And she is - Vaçe Zela is one of Albania's greatest treasures. Born in Lushnje (!!!) in 1939, Vaçe Zela came of age during Hoxha's rise to power and became the voice of the nation during the decades communism.

I love the way her Wikipedia page is written (roughly translated):

Wherever she performed, in cities and villages, or even overseas, her the beautiful and melodious voice was welcomed. No wonder she was called "the Nightingale of Albania," because she performed with the same passionate love the songs of all provinces in the country... Vaçe Zela is considered by all generations as the meteorite that fell to Albania during the grim years of dictatorship. Then, when Albania was only darkness, Vaçe Zela's songs gave light. Vaçe Zela had an extraordinary ability to absorb and reproduce any melody, after only once hearing a song on the radio. She had the ability to make a song perfect for any any environment, without changing the inflections, and despite other people's traditions. People loved Vaçe Zele. Posters everywhere advertised her name, and tickets sold in the twinkling of an eye.

I'm assuming, of course, that her entry was written by a partial shqiptar/e, but I love it anyways. It puts into writing the sparkle that an Albanian gets in their eye when they start talking about the Nightingale (especially in my neck of the woods, where her family still lives). Even though she long ago retired to Switzerland, her legacy and footprint on Albanian culture only grows. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Things I Love About Albania

First of all, motivate meeeeeeeee. PEACE CORPS HAS SUCKED MY LIFE FORCE.*

I'm feeling peevish and petulant, so now, to force me into a better mood (because nothing says Peace Corps like totally uncalled-for grouchiness and inexplicable irascibility), here's a list of wonderful things I wish we had more of in the good ole' USofA.

1. Easy laughter

Albanians laugh so easily. Which is ironic, considering Eastern Europe's (well-deserved) reputation of stony faces and grumpy stares. Women have to walk down the street with their best bitch-face forward to ward off unwanted male attention; but get them in a group for coffee - a safe space - and the giggles and guffaws and grins commence in force. I don't even have to try and people will laugh at my stories. (Heaven forbid I forget that I'm actually a horrible storyteller...I can make Harry Potter sounds like Great Expectations. It's truly a gift of mediocrity.)

At first I thought there was some sort of miscommunication going on, but I gradually discovered that Albanians just love to laugh and will do so at the slightest provocation. It's refreshing, and fun, and joyful. And I love it.

photos by Joyce from the Gramsh Girls' Camp...which I have yet to blog about.

2. Repeated Greetings. Repeatedly. Repeatedly.

This is another thing that really weirded me out with its apparent in-necessity. When Albanians greet one another, it's often (in one breath), "How are you? How are things going? What are you up to? How have things been? Good? You're good?" It seems excessive...and it is. But it shows the hospitality inherent to Albanian culture.

It's also much more sincere than in the States. Another common phrase, used as a greeting or an awkward-silence-filler, is, "Je merzite?" or "Je lothur?" Which means, depending on the situation, "Are you bored/annoyed/bothered/tired/ok/well?" Now that I think of it, maybe it's so common to me because I walk around with a shqip-induced comatose look half the time...

Also, after having lived in Albania, I reserve the right to do the two-four kiss greeting when I see people without being pretentious. SCORE.

3. Coffees

Yes, I've talked about it ad nauseum. But, yes, it's not uncommon to go to three or four coffees a day. And you know what? We get more stuff done at coffees than we ever could in the dingy offices in which most of us work. Why not go for a change of scenery and a little pick-me-up? It seems the most normal thing in the world now...and it bothers me to think of returning to the run-till-you-die work ethic back home. Seriously. Life's so much nicer when you stop to smell the roses coffee.

coffee with Lena...always.

4. Lipstick

The brighter, the redder, the bolder, the better. It's fantastic.

modeling Jill's manic-pink lipstick with out language teacher, Besa, back in PST.

*LOLz when did I ever have any motivation.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Caprese Vlog on my Blog

Today in utterly-unnecessary-posting, I have a video on absolutely nothing, showcasing mozzarella, my GIGANTIC MAN HANDS, and run-on sentences.

Also, I apologize for not blogging. I'm such a bore sometimes. But in the meantime I've watched Orange is the New Black AND the second season of Call the Midwife! Yay!*

Also, the HORRENDOUS quality on this video is why I would normally use my camera to vlog, and not my computer. Stupid PC.

*Yes, I'm aware that's not something I should be entirely proud of.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Slut-Shaming, Gender Roles, and Flames...On the Side of My Face

First of all, I must admit that I was completely inspired by this post by my dear friend Kate to write this.

Second of all, I'm thoroughly obsessed with that YouTube clip of Madeline Kahn you see below.

Third of all, fasten your seat belts, because I have a lot to say about gender equity.

(Fourth of all, this post is best enjoyed while listening to this play list. VERY NSFW & angsty & dramatic.)

In June, I found out that I was selected by the Barazia Gjinore committee to be one of three representatives from my training group. Barazia Gjinore (BG) - literally "Gender Equity" and formerly "Gender and Development" - is a part of Peace Corps Albania and is made up of six representatives, three from each group. I'm incredibly excited to be a part of this committee and get to work on projects! In fact, I just helped with a girls' leadership camp last week in the city of Gramsh (I'll blog about that a bit later).

And today, I had the opportunity to talk about both homosexuality and transsexualism with some Albanian women (two counterparts and a friend). Perhaps "opportunity" is too optimistic of a word..."challenge," "herculean task," or "impossibility" more fittingly describe the task of communicating abstract, cross-cultural, gender-bending ideas in a third language. Even if I spoke shqip perfectly, I could no more explain my perspective than pass up free brownies and root beer and a side of cheese curds. These three women - kind, open, loving, caring, progressive, hard-working - have lived their entire lives within a narrow gender-normative framework that they (seem to) fit without issue, one to which I can't exactly relate.

Even with a degree in  Gender & Women's Studies, I struggled to answer their questions. Each explanation seemed to open a Pandora's box of cultural taboos and unconscious prejudices (both mine and theirs). Committees like PC Albania's LGBT committee (to a greater extent) and  BG (to a lesser extent) have produced materials to help volunteers navigate these language-murky waters. My experiences today have only made me that much more determined to be a productive member of the BG committee here in Albania.


I can't sit here complaining about this country and its gender roles and restrictions and blah blah blah when modern American women still post things like this: FYI (If You're a Teenage Girl). Go ahead and read it. It's pretty short. And needless to say, by the time I finished the article I was so irate I could only channel Madeline Kahn and eat some (pseudo-Chips Ahoy chocolate chip) cookies in emotional distress.

(I suppose this post should have come with a "required reading" assignment ahead of time, but you've read this far and now it's too late to turn back. So feel free to read the following articles in their entirety, because they're all fantastic and most of them are more concise than I am and certainly use less over-the-top adjectives and run-on sentences. And definitely read this parody of the letter: FYI (If You're a Teenage Boy).)

I'm not saying that "Mrs. Hall" 1,000% off her mark. The over-sexualization of girls, teens, and women is a pervasive problem in our society. American and Albanian. Basically the entire world, in general. But that's not what has the internet up in arms about this particular blog post. Professor Rebecca Hains has an excellent and articulate response (I mean, she is a professor): 
I suspect that Hall’s post has gone viral because so many people are concerned with teenage girls’ self-presentation on facebook. We’ve all seen it: teenage girls trying to mimic the scantily-clad celebrities and models plastered on billboards and magazine covers. And naturally, people want to do something about it. After all, the implications of our media culture’s sexualization of girls is serious: As the American Psychological Association has noted, when girls learn that our culture values their appearances above all else about them, they may in turn learn to sexualize themselves–and the impact of self-sexualization on girls’ self-esteem and self-image is devastating. The damage of thinking of oneself first and foremost as an object can take a lifetime to undo. 
Furthermore, once a photograph is online, it’s essentially impossible to remove it from the internet. So when girls place sexually provocative “selfies” of themselves to facebook, it’s a huge issue. For example, the photos can be used by bullies to shame the girls–and they can resurface years later, too, causing myriad problems in their lives. 
But these are not problems that would affect Mrs. Hall’s sons. They would affect the girls themselves. Furthermore, the sexual double-standard in our society is so pervasive that any “sexy” photos the boys may post of themselves are unlikely to cause them similar harm. 
We are living in a post-Steubenville world. We have seen graphic evidence of the results of the sexual objectification of young girls, and of the victim-blaming mindset–that a girl who presents herself in a sexy way “deserves it.” 
Therefore, for parents like Mrs. Hall who are concerned about their sons’ well-being, their best course is not to focus on shaming girls and controlling their behavior. 
Instead, we must teach our sons compassion. Help them understand that girls’ self-sexualization is prompted by a toxic culture.
Ultimately, no matter where you go, women are objectified. "Christian Moms" in the US demand that young women police their own wardrobes instead of teaching their own sons responsibility, integrity, and respect for women. In Albania, a large minority of women appear to accept domestic violence as part of marriage: in the 2008-9 DHS, 29.8% of women agreed with at least one out of a list of five ‘reasons’ for a man to justifiably beat his wife. (Source.) As an American PCV, I know I have a right to bitch slap the old dude who thought he had the right to cop a feel on a furgon; but how would one of my young shqiptare girlfriends react in the same situation? Or what about the young çuns I know/know of - who's teaching them that they do not, in fact, have that right (no matter what the girl is wearing)? 

In her parody of Hill's letter, blogger Amy Mitchell states (with tongue-firmly-in-cheek):
So, here’s the bit that I think is important for you to realize.  If you are the parent of a teenage son, you should definitely make sure he never, ever sees a half-dressed girl.  Half-dressed boys are okay, though, because naturally, none of your sons are gay or bisexual.  Posting half-naked pictures of your own sons flexing on the beach is also totally fine, since no one ever equates strength and virility... Besides, it’s not at all exploitative to parade their bodies on the Internet for your own gain; everyone knows that’s much better than making one’s own choices about what to post. 
Please understand this also: you are not responsible for making sure your sons know that regardless of what a girl is wearing, she deserves respect.  All you need to do is assure they don’t see those pictures.  After all, if they don’t see them, then you can relax in the knowledge that your sons do not know what girls’ bodies look like or that they won’t satisfy their curiosity by looking at the Internet at a friend’s house.
I'm not sure how to wrap up this tirade against Gender Roles and Western Society and Slut-Shaming and The Man. And by all means, I am not perfect ("don’t fret – I’ve made some doozies."). Heck, I found myself slut-shaming Miley Cyrus the other day after seeing her performance at the VMAs and I am not proud of it. 

So what does this leave you with, you who managed to make it through this ginormous post? Thanks for reading. Think about it. Ask questions. Tell me when I'm being culturally insensitive or close-minded or nauseatingly self-righteous. Be aware and be proactive.

And where does this leave me, besides irate and frustrated and slightly sweaty? Even the broadest topics here in Albania (equity, equality, opportunity, ability) need addressing. I'm over the moon that I get to be a part of BG. Volunteering at the girls' leadership camp was not only fun and rewarding, but uplifting to see how the simplest activities can change perspectives. I can't wait to develop relationships with local Lushnje girls to talk about choice and goals and personal agency. And hopefully I'll be able to influence the minds of my Albanian friends and coworkers about gender and slut-shaming and society and all the rest.

One poorly-translated, best-intentioned conversation at a time.

Monday, September 2, 2013

This song makes me want to pull a Dobby and slam my head in a door.


This song. Is. More annoying. Than. This post's. Grammar. In my. Humble. Opinion.