Archives for the month of: July, 2012

I recently finished Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip by Peter Hessler.  Fun enough, Mr. Hessler is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who spent his service teaching English in the Sichuan Province (1996-98).

I’m not offering a book review (because there are plenty herehere, and here) but I still wanted to note some of his observations about the rapid development of China.  In many ways I wonder if they are applicable to the Albanian context and the rapid change that is occurring here.

The following page numbers refer to the Harper Perennial soft cover edition from 2011 (ISBN: 978-0-06-180410-6).

“The frame of reference no longer consisted of the limited resources available in Wushenqi, but rather the infinite products available in the city.  By learning more about other places, residents had lost touch with their immediate environment.” (Book I: The Wall, Chapter I, pg. 56)

“The longer I lived in China, the more I worried about how people responded to rapid change.  This wasn’t an issue of modernization, at least not in an absolute sense […]. But there were costs when this process happened so fast.” (Book II: The Village, Chapter III, pg. 263)

If you have comments please share below.  I love a good public discourse.  In other thoughts, thanks Betty for the book.  I really enjoyed it and all the wonderful characters that Hessler encountered.

Books, my lovely friends,  are the lifeblood of the volunteer (though drinky-drinks help) and I am quickly devouring my small library.  Come winter I may be hungry.

I just had my first Albania Couchsurfing experience and hosted two young Polish women at their wits-end to find a place to crash.  They are attempting to hitch-hike to Peshkopi today on their way to heaven-knows-where.  Best of luck ladies!

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Last week I went to Tirana to meet up with a group of nonprofits including Pink Embassy, Albanian Women Empowerment Network, Aleanca, and a rep from the Ministry of Labor on Gender Equality to help plan Diversity Day 2013 (title pending).  I was pleased that they were starting the planning process early (Long-term planning is not a strong-suit of most people) and there was a lot of discussion and very little agreement except to meet again in September.  All of Albania will pretty much come to a halt in August for the Summer pushim.  Entire offices and agencies will shut their doors and people will disperse in every direction to get a little R & R.  My enthusiasm has been thoroughly squelched until September, and with not much to do, the days have gotten a little long.

Thank goodness for Jen, who pulled me away from my non-stop Community (#sixseasonsandamovie) marathon, to visit Gramsh in the south and join her Outdoor Ambassador (OA) group for some fun by the river.  OA is one of 4 Peace Corps committees here in Albania that focuses on environmental education for youth, as well as English, gender education, and general good, happy fun-times.  The Gramsh group is more about the happy-fun times, and despite the fact that they could easily walk to the river on their own, they prefer being able to tell their friends “I went with Ambasadori natyrë.”

Gramsh is divided by the river, but with the combination of summer heat and a near by dam project, the flow is a fraction of what it normally is, and cracks in the river bed look like an alien landscape (between Gramsh and Shengjin – we’ve got two locations for our zombie apocalypse movie.  Still languishing in pre-production).  Only the boys came this time, and I caught up with Jen in a warm pool, while they rough-and-tumbled in the quick river stream.  Quick note on the river.  Even when it’s just to your knees, the water has incredible strength and I was constantly on the verge of tipping over.  Add that to trying to find my footing between the river stones below I was making slow progress, when one of the guys rushed out as if nothing, grabbed my hand and hauled me to the next shore.  Only a little emasculating.

The kids are great, and many speak perfect English (I’m still struggling with Shqip).  I talked a lot with Bruno, who was accepted to study for a year at some unknown location and high school in the States.  More introverted than his friends and self-admittedly not very good at football, he joined Jen and I for a game of frisbee. Somehow we were talking about Albanian traditions and turned to raki (it’s like moonshine grappa.  Sometimes good.  Sometimes lighter fluid) and he said that he didn’t like drinking and didn’t think it “made him a man” to drink the stuff.

So next week, Peshkopie for the full moon.  But this week will be more of the usual routine.  Wake up around 5:00 am when the neighbor starts washing. Get up around 6:30 and lumber over to start coffee and check the email and weather (these days – hot.) Head to the office for a few hours either in the morning or afternoon.  Maybe a quick visit to the market to pick up veggies and other items.  Come home and nap, read, watch a film, some combination or all the above.  Maybe go out and xhiro it up.  Yeah.

Until next time true believers!

Torches – Sky Blue & Ivory from Torches on Vimeo.

Elbasan was selected as one of 13 sites for a new USAID Planning and Local Governance Project (PLGP) and somehow I have managed to get myself included in the preparation and implementation of that project.  Huzzah!  A meeting was held with various directors within the Bashkia and one or two representatives from the regional government (qarku) and nonprofit sectors, to identify the immediate needs and create an action plan for the PLGP.  I find myself a bit out of my depth trying to understand the language and now the language of government, but hope to be a quick study.

One of the major elements of the action plan regards reconciling the national and local governance and the transference of powers and (most especially) funds, as well as deciphering and implementing new national laws on urban planning.  From the little I’ve understood it has caused quite the upset.

All about Albania there is a tumult of activity as it overcomes economic, infrastructure, political, and social barriers in hopes of entering the EU, and nowhere can the physical results of this change best be seen than on the beaches.

For the 4th of July week I joined a small group of friends in Velipoja along the Adriatic.  We came laden with the usual beach supplies (water, towels, blankets, food, etc.) expecting sparsely populated coastline stretching out to either side for as far as the eye can see, but instead saw an altogether different site.  In the year since one of our colleagues had last been there, Velipoja’s beaches have largely been privatized and now instead of clear coast, were row upon row of umbrellas and lounge chairs rented out for the lofty sum of 400 lek.  Behind them, a growing development of lokals, restaurants and a burgeoning boardwalk.

For my part, I received the sight with a mixture of pleasure (yay for shady umbrellas!), and remorse at the privatization of a once a public resource (400 lek to sit here?  What if I don’t have 400 lek?).

And as more isolated beaches get developed others have become less suitable for swimming because of the increased pollution.  Hotels and tourism have improved but the waste water and trash collection systems have lagged behind.

Despite the issues that exist, after a bit of sunning, it’s pretty easy to put it all in the back of your mind for a few hours, and in fairness there are wide stretches of  protected Albanian coast, though so much more needs to be done.

Velipoja is quite nice during the day, even with its searing hot black sand. It is far more lovely, however and cliché as it may be, under the light of a full moon.

I saw this great video of presenter Jonah Lehrer at Behance’s 99% Conference.  Thanks to The Curious Brain for bringing it to my attention.

Among the many ideas covered, one takes me back to my BIC courses at Baylor, when we discussed the tenants of Daoism, “the way”, among which included “letting go”.  When we struggle to find the answer it will evade us, but when you relax and stop thinking, the solution oftentimes will present itself.

Just watch it and share comments.

I took a week of pushim and went to Velipoja and Shengjin to see my good friend Derek.  More on those adventures soon.  Busy-ish weeks ahead.

[Updated 1:12 pm] While researching Mr. Lehrer, I found out he was caught up in a plagiarism scandal, when he used his own previously published works without citation.  A few interesting articles on the subject can be found:

Here, here, and here.  No comment yet.  Either way, I still like his ideas.