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Earth Day 2010


Happy Wednesday America!

Firstly, I want to wish my beautiful cousin Stephanie a HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY! The hardest part of being a Peace Corps volunteer is missing birthdays and family celebrations. It's good to be going home soon <3

Last week PC volunteers throughout the world hosted events in honor of Earth Day. After the disaster that transpired last year, Alexi and I thought it best to do things independent of the school and the director's grasp. As a result, Earth Day in Delvine was a success.

A few months ago our good friend Klodi (a native Delviniot) requested ideas for a community development project to be executed in collaboration with the kids living at the Catholic convent/house. After meeting with the kids a few times, everyone agreed upon carrying out Alexi's idea for an anti-plastic bag campaign. Why are plastic bags such an issue you ask? Well, Albania's geography is composed of some of the most beautiful and pristine mountains in the world. Yet, they are robbed of their beauty by all the trash that people have polluted the country with. The most prominent article in the numerous trash piles throughout this place: the blue plastic bag. It's the one piece of trash you can always count on seeing in the piles thrown off the sides of mountains, flowing in the rivers, and laying in the gutters. I've come to strongly dislike blue plastic bags.


Alexi's idea involved finding a provider of about 500 hundred canvas bags to distribute throughout Delvine. But not just any canvas bags: bags silk-screened with Alexi's awesome logo that reads, "E dua Delvinen, ruaj ambjentin." Translation: I love Delvine, I protect its environment. It get's better. Instead of just handing out bags to people, which they probably wouldn't use in place of the plastic ones, we decided to institute a bag exchange to increase awareness. The exchange required people to bring us 5+ used plastic bags to swap for a fantastic canvas one. What's more, they couldn't receive it until they visited one of the information booths to learn about the consequences of plastic pollution and how they are directly affected.


The group


The bags

Though not completely according to plan, our bag exchange went well. Interestingly, more men than women approached the tables to get a bag. We thought the opposite would occur as women are the prominent shoppers in Albania. It's likely these men gave the bags to their wives, but we expected more women to come. After realizing this trend, we sent some kids to the markets to spread word about the activity in hopes of recruiting more ladies. More interesting was the fact that many women expressed they were too embarrassed to come get one. I have NO idea what that was about, but it sucked because those ladies missed out on a good thing. Another snag in the plan was the tendency for people to bring us unused bags from the store. We explained to them how that defeated the purpose of the project since we were going to take the bag collection to the recycling center in Gjirokaster, but they didn't care. Annoying. Finally, there's always that group of cynics you can expect to show up to impose their negative opinions upon you, but still take the free goods. Some people approached the tables just to discourage us and tell us that this one small effort in Delvine wasn't going to change the large scale national pollution problem. Though I didn't, I really just wanted to tell those individuals to shut the heck up because we weren't looking to save the country. We simply wanted to infuse the idea that it's not necessary to use so many plastic bags and present the reasons why we should cut back. How could they disagree? And how could they want to make the kids feel bad? What's wrong with people?

Regardless, there was a lot of positive buzz going on around town about this event. What's even more rewarding is the fact that people are actually using their bags! As of today, there are no efficient landfills in Albania. In addition, there aren't many recycling centers (or means of getting goods to the centers), and the ones that exist are causing significant air pollution. Thus, the only real option to reduce trash pollution is to cut back on its production. However, attention is being drawn to this matter and volunteers are doing a lot of work in this area. I look forward to the progress I know Albanians can achieve.

Much Love from Albania,
Mon



Alexi and I


Informing Delviniots


Informing a Delviniot


Klodi's interview with News 24


Baby Kevi 

Happy Belated Easter


It's been a while America!

The last month has been somewhat eventful. I celebrated my two-year anniversary on 03.19, welcomed some of the new volunteers from group 13, celebrated Easter weekend in Korça and Librazhd w/my dear friend [Amanda], and started receiving acceptances to law schools!! It's been fun!

I hope everyone enjoyed the Easter holiday and the accompanying spring break! Lent is over!!! You can bet I ate more dairy than one might consider humanly possible this weekend. BUT IT WAS SOOOOOO GOOD!! My first item of consumption was a samoa girl scout cookie from my beloved cousin Stephanie. How can one cookie taste SO GOOD? I proceeded with a cheddar/jack cheese omelet, a little pancake action, yogurt, Albanian white cheese, pizza, 2 ice creams and of course CHOCOLATE. Yes, I felt sick that night. However, Seth led us on an 8 hour trek to the top of the Spathar mountain outside of Librazhd (we scaled it up to about 1000 meters), and before my Samoa I ran three miles so the guilt was minimal ;]


Post 3 mile run Easter Samoa!


Easter Pancakes prepared by Amanda


Amanda and I upon a bunker on the mount [Librzhdi below]


Via Egnatius
 
The day before Easter I visited Korça, the hometown of Jim and John Belushi. The road to Korce leads you along the shore of Lake Ohrid, another Balkan must see. Wikipedia has this to say about Ohrid:

Lake Ohrid straddles the mountainous border between the southwestern Republic of Macedonia and eastern Albania. It is one of Europe's deepest and oldest lakes, preserving a unique aquatic ecosystem with more than 200 endemic species that is of worldwide importance. The importance of the lake was further emphasized when it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1979.

Korça's beautiful and lucky for me it's known for it's magnificent tomato/onion and bean byreks, of which I ate three. The city is also known for its large Orthodox population and its Easter fest. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for Sunday and I missed the events. It wasn't a complete loss however, because our darling Marie met us for coffee and we had a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday afternoon together.


Orthodox Church, Korça

Something that frustrated me about Korça was the large amount of child beggars throughout town. It sickens me that people put these kids to such inhumane work and it breaks my heart to turn them away when they ask for food. As hard as it is though, I can't support the human trafficking trade. I know some other sucker's gonna cave and hand over the food or money, but these kids end up taking it back to their trafficker and get nearly none of what they collect. The kids' looks of desperation make me want to vomit and some of them get really nasty when you turn them away because they're SO desperate. As  annoying as it is when they spit on people or pick their pockets, it's completely understandable. I just look forward to getting my JD and being able to do work on a larger scale to fight human trafficking.


Vajza te mia <3


Korça's bear on a leash. Crazy!

Spring is upon us and the weather's been magnificent. Despite the occasional April shower, the temps have remained in the sixties and I'm out of my sub-zero sleeping bag! This weekend calls for Spring cleaning and a Sunday afternoon hike to the ancient city Finiq, outside of Delvine. I love that everything here is ancient. The history in this region is mind-blowing and I'm so lucky to be living in it. How often in LA does anyone get to climb up on some random 200 BC pre-Roman Empire structure? NEVER!!! In fact, on Easter I hiked along the Via Egnatia, a 2nd century BC road, constructed by the Romans to link cities throughout the empire. Starting at what is modern day Durres (Albania), it stretched through Turkey. Nuts!

Ok all, it's been fun but I've gotta run.

All my love from Albania,
Mon




 

Happy Albanian Teacher's and Women's Days


Happy Albanian Teacher's Day to all you educators around the world! I believe world teacher's day is on October 5th so we can celebrate again in a few months. This weekend's been great. Yesterday, in honor of teacher's day, my host-grandmother Gjevo's birthday and woman's day, I made my first solo baklava. It turned out GREAT! Quite delicious if I do say so myself ;] I used a recipe from www.simplyrecipes.com and it received the Albanian stamp of approval. I used pre-made phyllo sheets, but next time I'll make the phyllo from scratch.





Last night we celebrated Xhevo's birthday with lots of food [that I couldn't eat b/c of lent], friends, family and laughter. Xhevo's daughters and two grandsons came up from Athens and people dropped in around the clock to wish her a happy 70th birthday. I love Xhevo. She's one of the sweetest most hard working women I know. She reminds me of my Abuelita Edith in that she's always working or looking for something to work on. She's never idle and she rarely complains. She also treats me like one of her own and I'm going to miss her when I leave.


Nene Xhevo and Baby Laura
 
Last week PC Albania group 11 spent 4 days in a town [if you can even call Plepa a town!] near Durres for our Close of Service (COS) Conference. It's weird to think it was the last time we'll all be together as a group. At the conference we discussed all of the government hurdles we'll have to jump through in the coming months to get out of here. We also spent some quality time together watching picture slide shows, competing in the COS olympics, painting tiles and going out for dinners. Despite the somewhat drab info sessions, it was enjoyable overall. Also, at the close of the conference we were all issued awards, nominated and voted on by the volunteers [sort of like yearbook superlatives]. I was really surprised that I won "most surprisingly dirty mouth!" Not because I'm in any form of denial about my topics of conversation and/or word choices [LOL], but because I didn't know I could win an award for them. Haha! Thanks guys :]PC


PC Albania Group ELEVEN
 

Group 11 TEFLers
 
Speaking of leaving Albania... my friends here can't stop talking about it! All they talk about is how sad it's going to be when I leave. I'm pretty good at changing the subject and reassuring them that I'll be back one day with my mom, but they're as anxious as I am about me leaving. It makes me sad because I'm really going to miss them and I hate that I'm the source of their sorrow. But it's also an amazing feeling to realize how much they love me and if there's anything I can feel certain about regarding my service, it's that I achieved the goals of Peace Corps through making the most phenomenal friends.

I want my last few months in Delvine to memorable. Thus, Eda and I are planning all sorts of Spring activities. In the works, we've got a run/walk around Delvine, a Red Cross event and a series of Earth Day activities. I really just want to enjoy the time I've got left, and I can't think of a better way to do it than through activities with the kids. Let's just hope politics don't get in the way!

Ok all, I'm off to Ida's for food and English lessons. Tomorrow I'll be spending woman's day with her and baby Laura. I'll also be making spinach byrek in my continued efforts to master Shqiptar cuisine. Until next time...


Baby Laura and her mohawk <3

Much love from Albania,
Moni

Lent and Fitness


Feliz Cumpleaños Susie, Renee y Abi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today marks the second day of Lent, a seven-week period that represents the forty days Jesus spent in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. Lent is typically a period of fasting observed by Christians in homage of Christ. The fast will culminate in Holy Week celebrations at the end of March. Like last year I'm giving up animal products and will be vegan until Easter [April 4th]. This snippet of information is mainly for my Albanian readers as most of you already know this :]

Meghan and Alexi's birthdays fall just in a nick of time. We did sort of a fat Tuesday weekend and made Enchiladas. Courtney and I were doing the GM cleanse so we couldn't partake in the cheesy goodness, but we did get to eat the delicious black bean and Spanish rice filling. Alexi made her traditional birthday rocky road cake and my next day slice was amazing!!


Meghan & Alexi

Rocky Road Cake


Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas

Meghan and I


Thanks to Alexi I'm stitch-free!!

Now back to that cleanse I mentioned. Last week Courtney and I did the GM diet. I don't really know the history behind the name, but the vegetarian version is pretty great. After a week of only fruits, veggies, beans and brown rice I lost my crazy cravings for sweets and processed foods. There was some weight-loss involved, but not as much as claimed. Plus, we didn't really do it for the weight-loss as much as we did for the discipline and clean out.

In the coming weeks I'll begin half-marathon training. Let's hope it warms up! The boys have agreed to run with me this June and now that I know I can run a marathon, I want to improve my time. The catch is, I have to lose some kilos!! In the next few weeks I'm going to develop a well-rounded vegan running diet that will offer maximum energy and safe weight-loss. I'm pretty excited about it. Especially since I was able to score soy protein in Macedonia. My dear friend Jessica really inspired me with her latest workout initiative and per her advice, I'll be using FitDay to track my progress. Thanks Jess <3


Courtney's and My Post Marathon Pic '08

Much love from Albania
<3 Mon
 

Potatoes, Stitches and Facebook


Hello Everyone :]

2010 presented an uneventful January up until the 29th. The last weekend in Jan some of my favorite PCVs came down to my place for none other than a potato party!! What is a potato party you ask? In this sense of the term, it's' a four day lounge event which entails multiple dishes utilizing potatoes, hours and hours of chick flicks, CHOCOLATE, and laughing til you almost pee your pants. The potato party is AWESSS!!

Twice baked


Pierogi


Hashed and browned


Gnochi


Oreo cheesecake, just for fun
 
Sprinkles cupcakes [courtesy of Lina Okita]

With the close of the potato party came my medical evacuation to Macedonia for a standard mole removal. For the last year a fleshy mole on my back has consistently changed color and irritated me. Due to my family's history with skin cancer the doctors advised me to remove it. The procedure took about 20 minutes and I got to spend three enjoyable days in Skopje in a heated hotel room.

My experience of the procedure was like reading the setting out of a story book. Those present at the carving included the doctor, a nurse, the peace corps medical rep and myself. When we started, three out of the four of us were on the phone (myself not included). The doctor was considerate enough to hangup before injecting me with Novocaine, but the other two continued chatting into the cutting phase. Apart from asking me if I felt the first injection, nobody said a word to me. I was rocking out to Time After Time when the craziness set in. At one point I realized the surgeon was cutting out a hearty chunk of my flesh, but I couldn't feel a thing! It was crazy and cool and somehow didn't make any sense. After a few minutes the nurse brought over this thing they called the thermo-coagulator to burn closed my gushing blood vessels. Next, the doctor stitched me up and closed my wound with four high quality stitches that I can't wait to remove on Monday. THEY ITCH!!!

Alexi [bless her heart] has helped me keep the cut clean and safely dressed :] Now I await stitch removal.


My first stitches

I want to end this post with some thoughts on Facebook. It's amazing to me that in a city where the Internet was installed only a few months ago, my students have learned the basics of computers in order to navigate Facebook. I think it's kind of cool that Facebook has become such an international craze that it's motivating kids around the world to use computers. But it's nuts that where some kids don't have much money for food and clothes, they save their pocket change for time at the internet cafe and Facebook. Recently a young man was killed in Tirana because of a post he left of FB. In an instant the website became more than a networking device and an agent in murder. I don't know what to say about this except it hurts my heart. Ugh.

To my students reading this post: please be careful you guys. If you insist on posting something offensive, change your privacy settings to a more restricted level. Better yet, DON'T POST IT. I don't want to hear about anyone getting hurt because of something someone read of FB!!

That's all I've got for today.

Much love from Albania,
Moni

P.s. I'm a total sucker for fads and a fellow PCV convinced me to try this:
http://msync.org/health/GeneralMotorsDiet.html

yes, it's a diet :]

Albanian New Year


The New Year celebration in Albania was definitely a memorable one. But I must say, despite warnings of how crazy it was going to get with all of the unregulated fireworks and firecrackers, it isn't as crazy as in Guatemala :]

Before I continue describing the event I want to give you all a little history. So, for fifty years (until 1991) Albania was ruled by a communist dictator named Enver Hoxha [Hocha]. Hoxha closed off Albania's borders to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the country and spread propaganda to trick Albanians into thinking they were the world's superpower. He also abolished religion and destroyed hundreds of mosques and churches around the country. All of this was part of an effort to prevent a popular up-rise and civil war. Being a secular holiday, New Year's Eve was one of the few events Albanians could "celebrate," or rather, observe. Thus, the New Year is celebrated on a grander scale than any other holiday nationwide. And what's particularly interesting is that all of the decor typical of Christmas throughout the rest of the world, is considered New Year's decor in Albania. So it's common to see Christmas trees and wreaths and even a Santa Clause look alike around the New Year.

The night doesn't get started until late. People spend the day cooking byrek [burek], making salads, roasting meat and preparing bakllava. Byrek is a traditional Albanian dish that consists of layers of phyllo dough (made a little differently than in Greece) with a filling that can include anything from spinach, cheese, rice, chicken, beans, eggs, milk, etc. If prepared properly, it's absolutely amazing. Dinner usually starts around 9-10pm. Families gather to eat, drink, toast and watch TV. Alexi and I were invited to Ida's (my landlord's) and Eda's (my counterpart's) on the 31st so we ate two delicious meals. Since the New Year feast is meant to be big, we ate A LOT. I'm talking disgusting amounts here people, and it was great. Then at midnight everyone toasts the New Year and runs outside to light fireworks and firecrackers. It was really cool to watch the sky fill with color and see the excitement in all the kids' faces. It was also really scary to think that there's no regulation for what kinds of fireworks can be set off and where they can be lit. On TV the next day I saw substantial news coverage on how the hospitals filled up after midnight with burn victims. Also, fireworks are not just a New Year's Eve thing. For days leading up to the 31st kids are running around lighting them all over town. It's actually really dangerous and annoying. Amanda told me she was walking down the street the other day and when she saw a kid running away from her she knew she should start running too because he threw it right behind her. You might be asking yourselves what's wrong with people. I ask myself this question almost everyday. So basically, around New Year's walking down the street is like walking through a mine field. At this point I think that even if anti-firework laws were passed, it would be years before regulation actually followed because they're embedded in tradition. It'd be more fun if people were more responsible.

Regardless, the night was fantastic and I'm really glad I got to share the experience with my Albanian friends that have become like my family.

Today I watched Food, Inc. If you're wondering what that is, it's a documentary about food production in the United States. I'm of the opinion that documentaries are generally engineered to instill a fear in people that will mobilize them for a cause. I'm usually critical of this methodology because I can't tell how much of the truth is being sensationalized and I don't like being manipulated into fear. I actually really appreciated this documentary, but after watching it I fell victim to that sense of hopelessness that always annoys me about watching documentaries. Then again isn't that what we need sometimes to change harmful habits? I don't want to turn this into an op ed or an imposition of my personal philosophies about consumption, but I do want to encourage everyone to watch this film. It made me glad to be a vegetarian and a consumer of local vegetables from my village. Simultaneously it made me feel ashamed about craving those terrible foods in the pretty packaging. There are a lot of changes I want to make in my buying habits when I go home and I think that in the long-run the extra costs of eco-friendly foods are worth the benefits. I just hope other Americans start to realize this too. Soon.

Enjoy what's left of your weekend!!

Much love from Albania,
Mon

takepart.com/foodinc
worldofgood.ebay.com




Here's to the New Year!!!


Hello America,

New Year's Eve is upon us and tomorrow we enter 2010. Weird. Somehow, 22 months snuck past me and in just 5, roughly 140 days, I complete my Peace Corps service. It's funny to think that 22 months ago I thought I'd never get here. What's funnier is that as I write these words, I feel sad about leaving. It's complicated. It's complicated because as much as I love this place and its people, Albania has a way of driving me crazy. My daily encounters include events that would make up the most bizarre of days in the States. And, as entertaining as these things might be (usually in retrospect), I miss what I now consider the normalcy of life in LA. LOL! I never thought I'd call LA normal. Who knew? But that's not really fair of me to say, as I've come to learn that "normal" is a very subjective term and its experience changes with each person. So, I'm sad at the thought of leaving my friends in Albania, but I'm happy to reconnect with my loved ones in the US.

I returned from Austria three days ago, and it's taken me until now to recover from our travels. The return to Albania involved at 17 hour train-ride through Italy, an eight hour ferry across the Adriatic, and a 7 hour bus-ride back to Delvine. Yes, it was intense. But in general the trip to Austria was really enjoyable and I'm glad I got to see a new part of Europe.

Austria is beautiful, but cold. Our good fortune brought us to Vienna on the first "cold" day of the season. The temps dropped to -15 and it snowed. The wind factor wasn't cool, but the city's beauty helped distract us. Just to re-cap, we stayed with the Haller family, who's only daughter Verena, stayed with Amanda's family in North Carolina while she was an exchange student. The Hallers are a gracious bunch who know how to host a set of Peace Corps volunteers. Every morning they treated us to Austrian baked goods (which I may actually like more than French pastries) and coffee. They fed us lunch, dinner, gave us cheese and wine. They gave us in-door heating and showers, down comforters and pillows. We had access to Internet and TV and we each had our own bed. Then of course, they shared their family Christmas with us and took us to the grandparents' houses for all kinds of delicious food. It really was a great time.

Christmas in Vienna is really quite magical. Well, maybe I should say that the Christmas markets in Vienna are really quite magical. At the Kristkindlmarkts' hundreds of vendors line up booths full of the most beautiful Christmas decor. They have ornaments, snow globes, nativities, gingerbread houses, hats, stockings, candles, jewelry and the list goes on. But what's really sensational is the FOOD! Every other booth you can find pretzels (all kinds ranging from dipped in chocolate to cheese filled), funnel cakes, pancakes, waffles, weinershcnitzel, cheese, ice cream and potatoes. What kind of potatoes you ask? I'm talking home fries, pancakes (latkes), tots, wedges. It was incredible. And I can't forget the punsch- warm cider spiked with some kind of liquer, and the best thing to keep you warm while walking through the markets. I of course got the kinder version (alcohol free), and was quite content.

I think a really interesting aspect of the trip was talking about Albania, with Austrians and Americans. One night at dinner we were describing things that are typical of our towns, and the country in general. Such as, the fact that Albania doesn't have a recycling program. The idea of a country that doesn't recycle was shocking to them. And that's just recycling, I can't imagine what it would've been like if we talked about the recent election issues, or the corruption I've referenced in other posts. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Greg, Amanda and I were awed at the way an employee in a restaurant separated every article of trash into distinct bins (including different types of plastic). Turns out Austrians are allowed to generate a limited amount of trash and are fined if they exceed the cap. I believe similar systems are in place throughout the US as well. But they also have a complex system for separating their recyclables that outshines the blue bin program in LA. Getting back to my point, some of the things we described to people seemed unimaginable to them and the way we cut across the boundary and linked these worlds was also surprising. Now that I think about it, I was somewhat apathetic to the change since I've come to feel at home in the developed and developing worlds. Really, it just goes to show how easily we can isolate ourselves from the rest of the world (more specifically, situations that are different and uncomfortable) when the rest of the world is only a car-ride away.

I just realized I've gotta head out. I'll continue this in tomorrow's post in which I'll also describe the Albanian new year celebration. Alexi and I will be spending the night with Ida and Eda. They've each invited us to dinner, one at 9pm and the other at 11pm. I expect we will be force fed at both houses. Should be amazing!!! I wish you all the happiest New Year Celebrations. Be Safe and be happy.

Much love from Albania,
Mon







Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!


Happy Saturday America,

It looks like Albania will have a white Christmas after all. I wasn't sure if we would with December temps in the 50s-60s F (at least down south). But this weekend we had a stark drop into freezing and snow is falling all over the country. Lucky for me, Delvina only has rain.

Alexi's back from Thanksgiving in the States and readjusting to Albanian life. I'm really happy to have her back. It was kind of strange to be the only American in Delvine while she was gone. I imagine these first few days will be a little sad for her, but we've only got 5+ months left and the Internet makes connecting with home so easy. Today during my skype session with my mom she showed me the Christmas tree!! Who'd a thought I'd be able to do that in the Peace Coprs? It made me really happy.

Last weekend I took a trip to the Northern City of Rreshen, where I attended my first event as PHOTOGRAPHER!! LOL!! If taking pictures for my dear friend Sarah counts. The event was fabulous: a production of District IX: Beso Tek Une [believe in me], a brilliant musical about the hardships of adolescence. The play was so fabulous, I choked up during some of the solos and big group songs. Why so emotional? Because every now and then a volunteer executes a project that really reaches out to their community and touches everyone's’ hearts. This play was one such event, and I could see it in one mom's face as tears streamed down her cheeks. Congratulations Sarah and crew ;]

This past week I attended a project design and management conference with my friend and colleague Klodian. The goal of the conference is to give Albanian counterparts insight in developing a community project proposal that meets the standards of organizations offering grants. Peace Corps holds two per year and I think it's a great opportunity for our Albanian counterparts to get a better idea of how we are trained as volunteers and generally just how projects are managed in America. Plus, PC comped us for five days of food and hotel expenses in a really nice port city called Durres.

I personally learned a lot about soliciting grants and was somewhat overwhelmed by the process. Klodi and I realized that our project to renovate the nursery school is a little ambitious and realistically can't happen before I leave. Realizing this made me sad, but also hopeful. Klodi and I have decided that we can still collect the estimates and write up the proposal, and perhaps the next set of volunteers will be interested in taking on the project. We'll see I guess.

Next week Amanda, Greg and I are headed to Austria for Christmas. We're hitching a ride with our friend Alissa's boyfriend, who is a native Viennese. We'll travel roughly two days up the coast through Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia, straight to Vienna. I'm SO excited!! I've been told Vienna has numerous Christmas markets (I'm talking warehouse style people) and ridiculous holiday baked goods. I'm having trouble containing my excitement. I'm also looking forward to the countless museums and coffee shops. CHRISTMAS IS COMING!!

The following excerpt from World Travel Guide describes the X-mas market that awaits us [http://www.worldtravelguide.net/feature/8/index/Christmas-in-Vienna.html]:

In December the Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt), a tradition that goes back to the early 17th century, become the focus of all activity in Vienna. The biggest of them all takes place in front of the magnificent Rathaus (City Hall) (website: www.christkindlmarkt.at), which forms a majestic backdrop to what has to be one of the prettiest Christmas markets in Europe.

Over 140 stalls, selling such perennial favourites as candyfloss, roasted chestnuts, wursts (sausages), pickles jars and the ubiquitous gingerbreads, as well as baubles, candles and all manner of wooden and soft toys, attract a whopping 3 million visitors every year. The smell of spices and glühwein (mulled wine) permeates the air, and the multicoloured lights hanging in the trees above the square really do turn the whole area into a magical Christmas wonderland.


I CAN'T WAIT!!!

Ok friends, I should wrap this up. But before I do, I want to address some of your inquiries about x-mas care packages. I appreciate your desire to send a little Christmas cheer my way. You're the best <3 This year I've asked Santa for:
  • Peppermint Bark
  • Candycanes
  • Buttermilk Powder Mix
  • Peanut Butter
  • Brown Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Pecans
  • Pumpkin in a can

In case he can't make it to the supermarket, feel free to help him out :]

Have a fabulous weekend Americanos!!


Much love from Albania,
Mon


Distrikt IX: Beso Tek Une


Final Number


Sarah (Director and awesome PCV) with the Mayor of Rreshen

We're gonna call this a cultural difference


Interesting story. So I'm in my apartment working on law school apps and at around 6pm I hear a knock at the door. I opened it to find my site mate's counterpart's husband and her landlord's son-in-law. Turns out, her landlord (an older gentleman) passed away. He is originally from Delvine but has been living in Gjirokaster for the last 4 years. Most of his family resides here, so the plan is to burry him in Delvine. Here's the catch, these people want to have the funeral in Alexi's house!! Initially, I thought I misunderstood the request and asked them to repeat it. Oh how I wished I misunderstood when I realized what they were asking.

So, Alexi is in Arkasas and there's is no number for me to contact her, not to mention an accessible key to her house. So I start emailing frantically. One would think that if I couldn't get a hold of her these people would have figured something else out. But I've been here long enough that I suspected they might just do it anyway. Especially since I'm headed North soon.

At this point I'll explain a little about Albanian funerals. They're actually quite sad. I'm fairly certain I've covered this before but here we go again. So, the deceased are usually displayed in the home. I'm not sure if they're put on a bed or what the deal is, but they're in the house for a few days. Then, the loved ones come over and cry for them. Now, I don't mean shed a few tears. I mean moan and wail in the shrillest pitch I've ever heard. The idea is that the louder they cry, the more love they demonstrate. I understand the idea, but the first time I heard funeral cries, I was really freaked out.

So, the kids are apparently having construction done in their home, which is why they can't do the funeral there. I don't know if I buy it, but I was really annoyed when they asked me to bring all of Alexi's things to my house. At this point I was really stressed out because I hadn't spoken with her yet. Basically, they wanted to break her door down. I calmly explained that I would not be doing that because it isn't my house and Alexi's things aren't mine. I also apologized for their loss, but explained that she was paying rent there, and it wasn't my responsibility to move her things. That if she allowed them to use her place, they'd have to leave things how they are. I could tell they weren't happy.

Eventually I got a hold of Alexi and under the pressure of not pissing Delvinians off, she agreed. I don't think I could've done it. My family is made up of a lot of supersticiosos who for my whole life have told me that if the body isn't removed from the house and if the family doesn't let them move on, the soul will linger. I don't know if I necessarily believe this, but I'm not into spirits hanging around my place, and I just don't do dead bodies.

So, I ran over to Alexi's to at least put her stuff away and bring her valuables over to my place. And shortly thereafter her landlord's family arrived with his body. They will be up with it all day and night for the next 2-4 days. I feel for them, but I also think they sort of took advantage of Alexi, because she's the nice American girl who doesn't want to offend anyone and is sort of put in a tough spot as a result. I should probably just get over it and pray for the family's quick recovery from their loss.

'Tis the First of December


I woke up today to a picturesque autumn morning in Albania. Thank goodness for me, Delvina's been abnormally warm, even compared to the rest of the country. I'm spending the Independence day inside, at a comfortable 60F. Anyway, the sky was filled with big gray clouds and the sun pierced through them onto my windows. I boiled some water for a mocha, and the aroma of coffee blended nicely with the scent of cinnamon and orange. I LOVE FALL. It's the coziest season of the year.

Last week was one of the best I've had in Albania... ever! Thanksgiving, coupled with my 25th birthday made for a fantastic holiday weekend in Tirana and Librazhd. I kicked off the festivities with an 8 hour trip to Librazhd where Amanda and I started dough prep for our cookie exchange. I made my grandma Nancy's Molasses Ginger Snaps and Amanda made her dad's sour cream twists. The cookies were AMAZING!! The idea behind the baking was that everyone would bring a dozen cookies to my Christmas birthday party for an exchange. Too bad we ate ALL the cookies. Over 150!! Tummy aches were in full effect ;]

Wednesday was a productive day for applications. Let's hope to have everything in by tomorrow! And then the wait. Peace Corps Albania's second in charge hosted Amanda, Greg, Marie and I that night for veggie chilli and bean stew. She gave us cheddar! Because of the lack of good cheese in this country, volunteers get freakishly excited when they see cheese that's not Albanian feta. I call it Albanian feta because it's not quite what you eat in Greece. It's harder and tangier and generally nastier. In any case, we got cheddar and Starbucks filtered coffee and were happy.

The next day Amanda, Greg and I shopped for the ingredients for a Veggie Thanksgiving dinner. Some of Jan's other guests brought a few meat and potato dishes, but everything we prepared was meat free and delicious. The list includes: broccoli casserole, mushrooms cooked in butter and red wine, green beans and garlic, corn (you can't have Thanksgiving w/o corn!!), dinner rolls, stuffing, pumpkin pie, apple pie and pecan pie. Other menu items included garlic mashed potatoes, canned cranberries, citrus salad, a Latvian meat and potatoes thing and of course, Turkey. The group sweetly sang me happy birthday and despite being grossly full, we ate birthday cake. Mami and Haik called me at midnight and both sang happy birthday. T'was awesome!!



The next day we were off to Librazhd at 6am. The cookoff was to prepare two 24inch pans of enchiladas and scalloped potatoes, more cookies, double chocolate chip chocolate cake, funfetti, pesto pasta salad and butter-cream frosting.

Needless to say, my friends and I ate insane amounts of food this weekend and now it's back to weight watchers!! Wish me luck.

Klodi and I were invited to a grant writing workshop where we'll write a grant for our pre-school/playground project. Let's hope we get it!! I hope you all had a wonderful T-day weekend. Get out your advent calendars and X-mas music. DECEMBER IS HERE!!!