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!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July! 

For a few years when I was little, my parents hosted a Fourth of July brunch at our house on the main residential street in town, where we could eat red white and blue fruit salads with red white and blue pancakes while watching the city's Independence Day parade line up. 

July 4, 2000 (I think?), the year Emily lost all her teeth in the space of a few weeks. Also, didn't EVERYONE have one of those dog+American flag shirts from Old Navy back then?

Then we all hiked down a block to the main road below to catch the train of Shriners in their little cars, high-stepping show horses, and firetrucks with local kid's sports teams riding above and pelting the crowd with candy.

Em's the little blondie with the pigtails!:

What better way to celebrate the beauty of America than to hop on a sailboat and take in the beauty of the bluffs and St. Croix River? Oh America, you so Beautiful.

Either Mom and Dad cared more about my safety than Emily's (sorry Em), or they thought that my lack of hand-eye coordination made me more likely to go overboard (which is true). 

Above and below: Emily demonstrating the quintessential Fourth of July foods: watermelon and hot dogs (or burgers or brats or any other grilled meat on a bun).

To top the day off, some years we crawled out onto our roof to watch the fireworks over the river, and other years we went out on a boat to get a close view. 

The fourth of July was a magical holiday as a child (and now I'm homesick). BUT pencil me in on your calender, USA, because I'll be back for the fabulous festivities next year!