Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Have you ever wondered what happens when you combine one giant American plus two small Albanians plus lots of flour in a ten-square-foot kitchen? Or what happens when a houseful of 13 guests and God knows how much food are faced with a crisis of no water and no gas? Or how long I can possibly sleep during a post-holiday nap? Or maybe you've never wondered about any of those things in which case I recommend you stop reading because you're about to get super bored.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ideas of the Day

Good Ideas of the day:

1. Three cookies for breakfast.
2. Finally remembering to listen to Adele Dazeem Idina Menzel's Christmas album.
3. Finding a use for my landlord's copy of Mein Kampf: as a doorstop.

Bad Ideas of the day:

1. Wearing a turtleneck because it's December. But also 70 degrees outside.
2. Initiating conversations with multiple people on Facebook, Skype, and text. All at the same time. SO MUCH COMMUNICATION.
3. Drinking an instant pumpkin spice latte at 8pm because I was bored. (No sleep tonight! I'm gonna get...no sleep tonight!)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

That time I had a major public meltdown.

Like, a toddler tantrum, making-a-scene-in-the-cereal-aisle kind of meltdown.

That's an exaggeration. 

There are literally* no good gifs of the Wicked Witch of the West melting. What else is the internet for? Why do you let me down now, internet, today of all days?

Monday, November 17, 2014

That time I got evicted. (Part II)

Enough is enough, decided our knight errant, and so Rudi arrived on the scene on Thursday to "liquidate the entirety" of the apartment according to Lola's petulant wishes. There was a whole list of demands awaiting us when we arrived at the pink apartment, including:

1. Paint the walls (because you ruined them)
2. Put the couch covers in the washing machine (because they're so dirty)
3. Buy a new doorknob (omg enough with the goddam doorknob)
4. Fix everything you damaged (uh, what?)
5. etc., etc., and so forth with illogical and unreasonable sweeping statements of nonsense.

In an almighty furor, Rudi wrote a venomous note back to Lola and got into a fight with Lola's messenger, the hair stylist downstairs. (Because obviously Lola wasn't on hand to actually talk with the Peace Corps rep face to face, which would be just too logical.) And Lena came with her son and took everything left in the apartment, including the stuff Mary just couldn't care less about like a dented ladle and empty peanut butter jars from America and three burned-out candles. They worked shpejt shpejt (quickly quickly) because again, Lola claimed to be returning in a few hours and they all wanted to get the hell out of that situation. But Rudi held onto the key, which Mary would return as soon as Lola returned her rent for half the month of November.

(Might I remind you all that it is now THURSDAY and still Lola hasn't moved her "terminally ill" husband to Lushnje. She gave me FIVE HOURS to get out, and a full EIGHTY-THREE hours later she still hasn't brought him back. I'm sure he's sick, and I really want to feel compassion for her - I do - but honestly, at this point I'm pretty sure she's either majorly exaggerating or TOTALLY MAKING THIS UP for her own convenience.)

Friday was World Diabetes Day, so Mary went back to work for some semblance of normalcy and took part in an activity with the office providing free diabetes blood sugar testing and blood pressure taking in the park. Also, she had an adventure with her washing machine, who is a little persnickety and took a bit to warm up to her. Friday also provided a slight hiatus from the evil (former) landlady, hallelujah praise the Lord.

Six calls from Lola. Six calls from Lola ignored by the fed-up Peace Corps volunteer. One hilarious text message from Lola:

"E lexova letren.Me ty
nuk me lidhi bujaria dhe
ligjesia,por bashkveprimi
reciprok.Laj dritat,ujin,
demet materiale qe me
ke shkaketuar.Marrja e
celesit eshte qesharake.
Ne dhjetor vjen vllai nga
Amerika qe esht i zoti
shtepis.Ai eshte qytetar
amerikan i nderuar.Cdo
gje e ka bler me djersen
e ballit .5vjet qe ka sjell
fondacioni ka dhene
parat qe i takonin vellajt
tim. Ai me tha do
ballafaqohem un me
Merin dhe me Rudin.

Which I understand to mean, basically:

"I read your note. Our agreement was not out of generosity nor was it legally mandated, but out of a simple agreement. Fix the energy and water bills and the materials you damaged. Taking the key is foolish. In December, my brother is coming from America. He owns the apartment. He is an honored American citizen. Everything which you bought with the sweat of your brow over the past half year (five years?) was money that belongs to my brother. He said we will face Mary and Rudi. Lola"

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. I paid the water and energy bills up through October. It is literally not possible to pay the first ten days of November separately at this time. The energy and water places wouldn't let me, so I basically did all I could there. Also, I didn't damage a single thing. Also, what is an "honored American citizen" and is that supposed to be a threat? Because if so that's hilarious. Also I just switched from third to first person, sorry. Also my brain hurts.

And here is where our story concludes for the time being. It has been a week of inexplicable insanity, stress, confusion, and exhaustion. Moral of the story: stay away from crazy people. They have a funny way of trying to ruin your life.

Albania. Always interesting.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

That time I got evicted. (Part I)

My brain, all this week.

Once upon a time, there lived a Peace Corps Volunteer named Mary in a pink apartment - an apartment which was, admittedly, a little too nice for Peace Corps' purposes - on a dusty street in a little city in Albania. Her landlady was crazy old woman named Lola who had let herself into the apartment when our PCV was out and then locked the door with a secret deadbolt key she had, simply because she found the house "too dirty." What the evil landlady didn't know was that it wasn't dirty, but dusty, because Mary was busy making gingerbread cookies and houses for the holiday season to give to friends and coworkers like a nice human being, and so there was flour everywhere. This fact did not stop her from calling Mary the equivalent of "slut" in front of the entire high school when she went to get the secret key so she could get back in her house.

Did Mary learn her lesson about the evil landlady? Did she immediately seek out new housing to get away from the insanity that was Lola? No, she did not. And that is where our story picks up today.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Call me melodramatic, but in 2010 when our governor, He Who Must Not Be Named, was elected, I cried. And then I was among the over 100,000 protesters at the Madison capitol for weeks (some would say months) when things went sour. And THEN I voted in the recall election, but he managed to win that, too. I mean, WTF Wisconsin. There's a huge chunk of the population that don't like this guy, so let's vote him out.

Mary Burke ALL THE WAY. Plus she has a cool first name.

Yay for the democratic process!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tumblr-ing in Albanian

I am not the best at sharing actual information on Albania (that is, excluding what pertains to the blogging topic du jour). And I'm a member of the Language & Culture Committee! For shame, Mary.

Thankfully, the LCC just launched a new Tumblr about not only language and culture here in country, but history, religion, food, and music - so I can shift part of the responsibility of edumacating my friends and family onto the committee's capable shoulders! The blog will be updated often, with posts from volunteers all over Albania. I'll be contributing there about once a month (don't worry, they'll be short & sweet), but I'll also link it here (so you can gain ALL the knowledge!). You can also click on the "Albanian Language and Culture" link I have on the upper right hand corner below the blog title.

Since blog posts are super boring without photos, here's a recent one taken in Ardenice after a lovely lunch with Peace Corps staff from in-country and a few visitors here to discuss the future of the health program in Albania.

It totally looks like I chopped a chunk of hair off on my right side and now I'm having flashbacks to 2007 and my awesome mom 'do from Bye Bye Birdie.

Too bad I can't find any good photo evidence of that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

La Bella Italia

A trip to Italy, punctuated with hoity-toity quotes from Florence's own great son, Dante Alighieri.

Futbol and Drones and Flamethrowers, Oh My!

In what came as a surprise to no one, the Albania-Serbia soccer game, held in Belgrade last night, was discontinued midway through the game due to totally expected insanity. (I tried to find a video to embed from YouTube but literally every video had either "Exterminate the Albanians!" or "Die, Serbian scum!" as the tag line and that's not really my cup of tea. So here's the link to a video at ESPN Go.)

In efforts to prevent violence, Albanians were not allowed to attend the game (risking arrest if they attempted to access the stadium - though why any Albania would want to get past Serbian border control is beyond me), so some enterprising young shqiptar decided that a flag-flying drone would bring some Albanian spirit to the game. For reasons beyond my comprehension, they decided to attach the flag (showing a map of Albania plus the contested Kosovo region - which Serbia still claims to possess, despite its independence being recognized by, like, everyone) to said drone with insanely long string...long enough that a Serbian player was able to grab the flag and pull down the drone.

Off course, the mature response to this is to FIGHT. This immediately incendiary act led to actual incendiaries - as the fight continues, check out the flame thrower action occurring in the upper right hand corner. Fans started throwing garbage onto the field, before breaking past barriers to rush the field. The Albanian team quickly abandoned the fight and ran to the safety of their locker room, but not before a invigorating round of "ubi ubi ubi siptare" chants from the Serbian fans ("Kill kill kill the Albanians!" - charming, no?).

Officials waited over an hour for tempers to cool - because, you know, fifteen years has worked so well to calm ethnic hatred between the two countries since the civil war ended - but eventually declared it hopeless and cancelled the game, upsetting soccer brackets everywhere.

For hours last night, Lushnje was insane with men screaming, whistling, parading down the main street, honking their car horns, singing Kosovar pride songs (Kosovo is largely ethnically Albanian), chanting, running, and wreaking general havoc.

Honestly. Sports.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I am so...

...HOMESICK. I am so so so homesick. Between all these summer travel posts that I'm publishing so tardily (how's that for an awkward adverb?), I would be remiss if I let anyone think my life has evolved into some money-spending, fun-having, world-traveling joy-fest. Because let me tell you, it's not.

Not that it's bad. It's great - I'm in the Peace Corps, I have internet and running water, I'm healthy. And yes, I get to travel and see new places and meet new people and generally enjoy my life. But that's not enough for me, apparently.

I want to hang out at UW's Memorial Union under the giant oak tree and watch the sailing team take the boats out for a final spin. I want to walk in Devil's Lake State Park and collect vibrant red maple leaves that will eventually turn into autumn fairy dust at the bottom of my backpack. I want to wake up and go to the farmer's market and get coffee at the head of State Street to warm our hands in the early morning chill before we get some hot spicy cheese bread and sprinkled donuts.

I want I want I want.

I want to go for a bike ride around Lake Monona. I want to go to a Badger football game and sing Varsity and eat brats and do the wave in Camp Randall. I want to go to Blackhawk for church and meet my friends beforehand at the coffee station and stock up on caffeine before service.

I want I want I want.

I want to curl up with my little sister and talk about life and fall asleep scrunched together in her little twin bed. I want to go to the Quandt farm and hang out in the barn and harvest pumpkins. I want to watch Young Frankenstein with my dad and wheedle a shoulder rub out of it.

I just really, really want to hug my mom.

Peace Corps is hard. I still have six and a half months to go, and it's getting harder and harder to focus on the now - my future may not be Albania, but my present is, and it still deserves my best. Even if, today, my best is verbal-vomiting my feelings on the internet because for some reason it's easier than actually reaching out to those who love me, both here and at home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Valbona to Thethi - the Thethi Part

(This is Part III of our Accursed Mountain Summit Trek - check out Part I here and Part II here.)

We awoke our last day to crystal-clear blue skies and fluffy cumulus clouds dancing between the mountain peaks. Erin was able to convince us all to take the hike out to the Syri i Kalter - the "Blue Eye" - for which I am so grateful. As you'll see, it was spectacular.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Valbona to Thethi - The Valbona Part

(This is Part II of our Accursed Mountain Summit Trek - check out Part I here.)

Look at these sunshine-y faces we woke up to! Good thing these cuties were there, because they were the only sunshine we saw for the next twelve hours.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Feminism FTW

Oh Emma Watson, I <3 you so much. Thank you for putting this issue into words so eloquently. I've tried (and often failed) to explain the ideas behind feminism as gender neutral; to justify the term "feminism;" and to find a way to call out those who equate feminism with misandry with such grace and poise.

Feminism isn't just about women and girls. It's about people, and acknowledging that for equality, the female half of things needs a boost. But like she says in her video, feminism is also about changing hurtful barriers for males, too. Feminism isn't just about females - it's about making sure that little girls born in Albania or Zimbabwe get the same chance at a successful, fulfilling life as do baby boys born in America or Zambia.

I seriously cannot recommend this speech enough. Hermione would be proud.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Valbona to Thethi - The Getting There Part

This was a summer of epic trips, vaguely mentioned in previous posts. This tale is all about our hike over the Valbona Pass, up in the "Accursed Mountains" of the Albanian Alps. You know, Voldemort's old hangout. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Little Switcharoo on the Blogaroo

...Yes, that was corny. Anyway, as I'm sure you may have noticed, I've switched up the format and style of the blog. One big change? Since checking for new/old posts can be a bit tedious on a continuous scrolling setup, now all you have to do is click the "Read more >>>" in dark green below...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

GLOW Corovode, Berat, & Prrenjas

Here are the last of this summer's GLOW posts - that is, before we hold our first national camp next week (!!!).

I was invited down to Corovode to do some hygiene and lady bits lessons. Heather and Alayna had the girls dancing, eating healthy rainbow snacks, and appreciating the outdoors in my favorite little shqiptar town. The girls were a bit younger (10-12) and so I had a few more innocent questions. "Wait. Why doesn't the baby come from the belly button?!"

Friday, August 22, 2014

Other various things about living alone

1. I waste so. much. food. I just can't keep up with my fruits and veggies in this heat. Not to mention they're all deliciously organic, so there aren't any preservative sprays and whatnot, and so I'm always finding one variety of rotten cherries or carrots (the later of which smell just like an old man.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Glowing Some More...(Gjirokaster)

When Laurel invited me to help at her GLOW camp, she gave me the opportunity to finally see a city that had captured my interest both in literature and history - Gjirokaster. Among its famous residents are Ismail Kadare (Nobel prize for Literature nominee, and national treasure of Albania) and Enver Hoxha (WWII rebel leader turned communist dictator from 1944 to his death in 1985). Checking out that city chock full with interest and beauty, doing camp with bright and bubbly girls, and experiencing some b-e-a-YOUteous nature made for an awesome week.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Let's GLOW some more! (Vau Dejes)

I am GLOW-ing all over the place this summer. It's awesome. Not only did Megan and I get to run our own awesome camp, I've been invited to some camps put on by other PCVs. This week, I'll post a new camp every day.

First up was Erin's camp in Vau Dejes - actually, my first camp of the summer. Vau Dejes was also special because the girls were older - and, as such, we could connect with them on a deeper level and delve into some heavier topics. We covered successful women, goal setting, personal hygiene, wound care, period care, sex ed, communication skills, team work, and so much more. The pictures below are in no real order, seeing as I stole them all from Erin's and Megan's facebooks and as such are in random download order and I'm too lazy to copy and paste them in chronological order...so there. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mistress of Mischief

Lena is on FIRE lately.

Most of it, on the surface, she seems to be entirely serious about. But after spending oodles of time with her for the past year, I've come to think a bit differently (one could almost say...indulgently). She's a hopeless troublemaker: most of the outrageous things she says and does is just to piss me (and others) off - and if you blink, you'll miss her gleeful little smirk. Here's a collection of her most recent gems:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bibliomania Revisited

Since 2014 is already officially half done (!??!!?!), I'm doing a little book drop-in to see how I'm doing on my goal of reading 75 books this year, with most of them being "classics" (and "classics" is a totally completely arbitrary term that I'm defining by, "I this a classic? Ehh, I think so, therefore it is." in a literary subversion of Descartes).

So how am I doing? FORTY-THREE books so far! Yay! How many classics? Only fourteen and a half (half of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex). Whomp whomp. What's next on the list? I know you're waiting with bated breath, so here it is, for your reading leisure:

1. A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking (50% done) (although after this book it's hard to believe in something as simple as numbers.)
2. The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
3. The Brother Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
4. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
5. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
6. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
7. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
8. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather 
9. Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer
10. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
11. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
12. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
13. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
14. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
15. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton
16. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou 
17. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
18. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (2% done...)
19. The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot
20. On the Road - Jack Kerouac la la la I don't see you why did I even put you on the list....
21. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
22. Oryx & Crake - Margaret Atwood
23. The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir (50% done...I can't rush this book, it's definitely one to savor!)
24. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
25. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
26. Slaughterhouse-5 - Kurt Vonnegut
27. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
28. The Stranger - Albert Camus
29. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
30. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
31. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
32. All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque
33. Middlemarch - George Eliot
34. A Book of Memories - Peter Nadas
35. The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
36. Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes
37. War & Peace - Leo Tolstoy
38. Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
39. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
40. The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey
41. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
42. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
43. Anything by Alice Munro. HOW HAVE I NOT READ ALICE MUNRO.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Let it Glow, Let it GLOW!

Last week, Megan and I put on Lushnje's first GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp with 22 girls! SO. MUCH. FUN. Two PCVs in Romania started GLOW a few years back, and now it's spread to most other Peace Corps countries. Albania's first GLOW was last year (here's the link to that post) but by the end of this summer, there will have been almost a dozen.

GLOW is absolutely everything I love about Peace Corps. I literally want to do nothing but travel around Albania for the next 10 months (only ten months left!?) doing GLOW camps every week. It's part Young Life camp, part group therapy, part classroom, and part insanity, with generous dash of general hilarity. Megan started out organizing some camp rules written by the girls, including the classics like Respect Others, Make New Friends, and some not-so-classic ones, such as Don't Bring a Hobo Home.

I started off the day with a presentation on self esteem, and the girls did an activity where they wrote down qualities in themselves they were proud of on petals and glued them to a center with their name on it (cue the "awwwwww"), after which we had them present them to each other.

We talked about how self esteem comes from within (like the flower activity), but it doesn't hurt to have a supportive friend or two! We all decorated envelopes with our names on them so we could write encouragements and compliments to each other. The first day was a little slow, but quickly the girls started gathering around the envelope table to write notes first thing in the morning, during break, and right before they left!

No summer camp is complete without a few rounds of the Human Knot. It's so much fun join the girls in these games, not just because they're a blast, but because none of them have ever played a game like it! 


Erin gave an awesome presentation on Successful Women, working from a poster that her Albanian counterpart had made (yay sustainability!) for her GLOW camp (which Meg and I attended and I'll post about later).

What makes a successful woman? The girls picked a role model and had to present about who they chose and why. One tricky part of this dialogue is the word "bukur," or beautiful. In Albanian, they use the word to compliment anything - Oh, Metallica is so beautiful! The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? I loved it, it was so beautiful! - and so trying to differentiate between "beautiful" as physical description and "beautiful" meaning kind, or good, was difficult. Every girl wrote down that they admired their chosen role model because she is beautiful. 

So basically every presentation had this conversation:

"So, does a woman need to look perfect to be successful?"
"So what are some other, more important characteristics of your successful woman?"
"Well, she is very beautiful."

We had some awesome examples, though, and the girls, after a bit of prodding, ventured beyond "beautiful" and "lovely" and came up with "helpful" and "strong" and "confident." Success! Another success: the green girl on the left (above) represents Megan and me. Cue another "awwwwwwwww!"

Day Two started off with a bang as we dove right into health and hygiene. In three groups, the girls learned about wound care, period care, and skin & body care, made posters, and presented what they learned to the other girls. I ran around like a maniacal bumblebee, fact-checking and encouraging and saying things like, "No, I promise saying the word 'vagina' will not make you spontaneously vomit."

"See, before, the girl has black greasy hair, zits all over the place, black teeth, and no likes on Facebook. After she showered and brushed her teeth, she has blonde hair and white teeth and perfect skin and 38,000 likes on Facebook. So take a shower."

Thank goodness for Dr. Kaltra to (create and) mend red-marker-wounds!

Then we played that crazy game all us 90s kids learned in gym - crossing the river, with limited "step stones" (which were actually the photoshopped covers of magazine, thus a subtle anti-glamour message for 14-year-old girls jumping on all those computer-edited faces).

Too easy? Let's make weird blindfolds!

Megan led an activity about dreams and the girls (and us) made vision boards. They got super creative: a crazy looking lady meant "I want to die happy" and pictures of cookies meant "I want to have a sweet life." I think it's time for another "awwwwwwwwwww!"

Meg and I both topped ours with cookie hearts, and no one was surprised.

Our third day started off with an even bigger bang, by which I mean the chorus of eighteen jaws hitting the floor when I explained the opening activity. Two words: play-do. vulvas.

I think Kaltrina's (the cutie in the pink sleeveless top) face pretty much sums it up: nope. not doing it. But after we passed out the play-do (an unfortunate shade of nude because we couldn't find any dye...oops) and the girls started playing with it, I made one as a model and we put the giant vulva poster on the table and they all got to work.

I've tactfully refrained from posting the giant 2'x3' multi-colored vulva poster here, as I think most of you have seen enough of that.

And now none of them will ever forget how many holes they have and where they are. 
Mission Accomplished.

Megan then led her super awesome session of Attaining Goals (or, as they all translated it, Realizing Dreams). What is a goal? Who can help you? When? Where? And most important, Why? This sort of guided critical thinking isn't taught in schools here, where usually a teacher stands at the front of the class and reads the lesson to students and that's it. (I know I'm being unfair by generalizing, but this is by far the most common method of teaching.) All the girls wrote out a plan for a goal they had - med school in the UK, design school in Germany - and also wrote about a goal they'd already accomplished - passing the English exam, graduating first in their class.

Two volunteers, Paulina and Lucy, were able to come at the very end with two Peace Corps staff, Mira and Cale, so they could meet the girls and see how GLOW Lushnje was coming along. Meg and I like to think we blew their socks off. ;)

Our final day was a hike/picnic/scavenger hunt out in the hills behind town, aka Megan's and my new favorite spot. The girls definitely got creative about some things:

"There's only one cloud in the sky! Can it count for a cloud that looks like an animal?"
"Well, what animal does it look like?"
"A cloud."
"But actually, we were just kidding, it looks like a crocodile hiding under the water!"

"MEGAN! We found some nuts!"
"You did? Where?"

So. Many. Turtles.

We stopped at the top of a hill with a beautiful view of the rolling farmland and olive groves, where we made friendship bracelets out of old T-shirts, ate a snack, talked about what we learned, and played some games. Human knot included, of course.

So. Many. Bracelets.

We had so much fun at this camp. It was fun, rewarding, challenging, enlightening, powerful, entertaining, exhausting, and simply the best week I've had in Albania. Thanks to (in alphabetical order, because we love you all equally!) Ada, Belisa, Dorisa, Elda, Elgi, Eneida, Eriselda, Helga, Ina, Ingrid, Kaltra, Kaltrina, Klea, Kristi, Mediana, Megi, Ornela, Rea, Sindi, and Tea! And of course to Victory School, for letting us use your amazing facilities!

Group pic, without Megan :(, but just pretend she's next to me!