Archives for the month of: May, 2014

…Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give love

Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves”

– from “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Freddie Mercury

press release for the With Respect project.

In terms of the legal rights of persons identifying LGBT; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (transgender, transsexual, transvestite, etc), Albania has come a very long way in a short amount of time.  Since homosexuality was decriminalized in 1995, the criminal code was amended to include hate crimes against sexual orientation and gender identity, and a bill is being drafted to introduce same-sex marriage.  Despite the sweeping reforms, public opinion is still very negative towards the LGBT community.

In the fall of 2013, Peace Corps volunteer, Luis Vivaldi, working with representatives from Aleanca Kundër Diskriminimit LGBT (Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination), began work to raise awareness about the LGBT community, dispel myths and stereotypes and challenge prejudice. Funded through a USAID Small Projects Assistance grant, the message of the With Respect project traveled to 12 cities throughout Albania: Shkodër, Korçë, Gjirokastër, Kukës, Lezhë, Kuçovë, Çorovodë, Rubik, Vlorë, Fier, Prrenjas and Elbasan.

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250 youth were introduced to concepts of identity, stereotyping, prejudice and bullying, and LGBT bullying.  They shared stereotypes of the LGBT community, and with the facilitation of Aleanca leaders, Xheni Karaj, Sidita Zaja and Elvis Hoxha, participants got to talk openly about the issues and challenges faced by the LGBT community and leave with the message that all people deserve respect.

After the presentation kids who maybe had never met a gay or lesbian person wanted to have their pictures taken with the speakers, and many have signed up for the organization’s facebook page and have personally messaged the speakers.  After the conversation in Çorovodë, one student told her local PCV, “this morning when I woke up I realized that everyone is free to love who they want, and I like this, I did not think that yesterday, and now I do.” A student from Fier said to her volunteer, “I think I am a bully. I want to go apologize.”

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The work of Albanian Peace Corps volunteers has been the work of many people and on May 17, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Peace Corps Albania and Peace Corps volunteers were among those awarded “Ally of the Year” for 2013.  Accepting on behalf of Peace Corps, Luis Vivaldi said, “I accept this on behalf of the Peace Corps and the work of volunteers past, current and future. I see this award not only as a mark of the work we have done for the LGBT community with our partners, …but also as a mark of the work to come.  Thank you very much.”

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Better and more entertaining things will be written in the future.  Just had to get this out to end the writer’s block.

Surprised by Evening
by Robert Bly

There is unknown dust that is near us 
Waves breaking on shores just over the hill 
Trees full of birds that we have never seen 
Nets drawn with dark fish.

The evening arrives; we look up and it is there 
It has come through the nets of the stars 
Through the tissues of the grass 
Walking quietly over the asylums of the waters.

The day shall never end we think:
We have hair that seemed born for the daylight;
But at last the quiet waters of the night will rise 
And our skin shall see far off as it does under water.

Elbasan Youth Council

 On Tuesday, March 25, the youth council presented their project ideas to the Elbasan Municipal Council.  Unfortunately I was too busy herding the council to take picture, and Prime Minister Edi Rama was in town, so news coverage had other (misguided?) priorities.  Happy to share that all the project ideas were unanimously approved.

Through our efforts, we have raised $450 USD to support the projects (special thanks to all the individual donors – more for you later) and the Art & Culture group has raised $700 for their Art competition which will take place on May 24th.

The Equity group presented to 8 schools and nearly 200 high school students on Violence and Bullying and the Anti-Drug group is wrapping edits on a PSA which they will play for classrooms and have secured a slot on a local television station to air, though the exact date hasn’t been confirmed. The Public Spaces group has gotten in-kind donation for the use of the public screen in the towns center, but dates for “film in the square” haven’t been confirmed.

A lot of the kids are in their last year of high school and “matura” exams are (hugely important) taking up a lot of their time.  Still I’m trying to walk that fine line of pressuring them to stick with their projects and put in the time and effort to pull them off well.


Rainbow Cities

A colleague and friend with Pink Embassy secured a grant to create six “Rainbow Cities” in Elbasan, Korce, Durres, Shkoder, Tirane and Vlore.  Based on a similar project done in the Netherlands and now other countries, it will take place in three phases over the next two years and seeks to increase local institutional capacity to meet the needs of LGBT citizens and raise local awareness and education about the rights of LGBT  citizens. See the initial report HERE.


Group 17

They are one day from swearing-in as full-fledged volunteers and going off to their sites.  Two new volunteers will come to Elbasan, and I hope to leave them as much information and material to ease the transition.  I will not lie, I have my own designs on what I would like to see happen and would hope that the Elbasan Youth Council and other projects will be a part of that, but each volunteers makes their own experience.  Good luck to all the players.


Transitioning

Group 15 members have already started leaving.  Last month I was feeling incredibly anxious about all the changes happening because I didn’t have a plan. I’m a planner. It manifested in a malaise about work, about writing this blog, about keeping up with things, about where I will live and do and whether Norman will be a part of any of it…and then I bought my plane ticket and all the pressure was finally off.

Now I am in a general state of contentment.  It’s coming to an end as it would and should and I feel ready for the next thing.

 

I am behind on this since obviously we are in May. I was a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of wrapping up two years of life in Albania and start thinking about the future.  The movies have kept me grounded.  I forget the name of the professor, but in a coursera class he described how through fiction we live out other possible lives and scenarios, testing ourselves and possibilities from a safe distance.  In this review I’ve enjoyed being a smuggler, conflicted, a sperm donor restauranteur, a drag queen undercover cop and a hundreds year old vampire polymath.

Smokey and the Bandit

I saw this because Jen insisted. Jason liked it for the car stunts, and it’s enjoyable if you don’t think about how very little there is to an absurd plot.

C.O.G.

Based on the life and essays of David Sedaris, Jonathan Groff shines as a young intelligent and well-educated man, who goes out into the world and finds he knows very little about it.  A journey of self-discovery, it feel like a collection of Sedaris work rather than a single story line, with multiple situations rolling from one to another and levels of characters revealing themselves to show that people are not black and white.

The Kids are All Right

This movie is not all right.

Tacones Lejanos

This film is true Almodovar fashion, a high melodrama concerned with transformation of character and the relationship between parents and their children. Rebeca goes to pick up her actress/singer mother Becky del Páramo from whom she has been estranged, after the latter, freed conveniently by the death of an overbearing husband (supplied by her daughter), returns to Spain after 20 years abroad.  Like most Almodovar films the plots are convoluted, as are the relationships between characters.  Love is a messy business, and sometimes deadly we find, when Rebeca (who works as a news anchor), confesses on live television to murdering her husband (a former lover of her mother).

[THERE BE SPOILERS]

Recriminations and blame run rampant, but what intrigued me most about this film is the Oedipal/Elektra nature of it.  Rebeca is so in love with her mother that she kills her father (or at least, the father figure) to be closer. Of course this doesn’t work, and early on when mother daughter are reunited, Rebeca admits to both loving and hating her daughter.  The nature of her complex also is found in her attachment to a drag performer “Femme Letal” (Miguel Bosé) who mimics the early work of del Páramo, who transforms in the film from mother substitute to lover, and fathers a child with Rebeca.

Guilt, love, and absolution are sought by the two lead characters, who both yearn to return to the home. Becky comes back to her childhood home, and in her final act, releases her daughter to transform herself into a mother and create a new home and life.

Only Loves Left Alive

Esther Perel discusses the human need for security and surprise in relationship.

I think her discussion sets up my thoughts on Only Lovers Left Alive quote nicely.  She says in her conversation with Guy Raz, that love is an all encompassing experience, leaving no part of ourselves untouched, but when couples enter relationship, at least in Western society, there is a tendency to conflate “partnership” and “friendship”, “stability” and “adventure”. We ask too much of the other and drive them away.

In her talk, she gives insight into how this paradox of love can be managed, and there is no better example I can think of, for a couple that has maintained love and desire, than Adam and Eve, the long-time lovers and protagonist of the film.  Their names are evocative of the first couple and this lends to their tale of two people who individually are wonderfully complete characters with passions, and interests, beauty and wisdom that is each their own, living on opposite ends of the world when the film begins, yet even when apart and they complete each other. During an early scene, while in the throes of blood ecstasy, a spinning record fades to an overhead spinning shot of Adam and then of Eve. Like yin and yang (also depicted by Adam’s full black dress to Eve’s pure white).

These two persevere throughout time, maintaing beautiful ritual until interrupted by the chaotic entrance of Eve’s sister Eva, whose actions toss their world into a tizzy.  The main crux of the film rests on restoring the balance to their relationship and world, and the audience wonders will they survive and endure.  In the final scenes I think there is hope they will.