January 17, 2007

Sky Mall Catalog

I flew out to Portland last week to apartment hunt. My impression of the city was really favorable, so I am getting excited about the move.

My cultural readjustment is progressing steadily. My little brother has shown me that I am really behind on trends on the internet, and it is going to take a while to catch up on all the movies I haven't seen.

On the flight home from Portland, I was flipping through the Sky Mall Catalog (always good for killing about 20 minutes). I found a product I liked.

Automatic Cereal Dispenser
With the automatic Breakfix Cereal Dispenser, fixing the day's first meal will never again be a messy, time consuming chore. Breafix uses the same principles as a coffee-maker, dispensing pre-measured portions of cereal with a touch of a button - no mess, no fuss. Controlled portions also help to keep pounds off. Looks great in your kitchen and cleans in a snap. A healthy gift for the whole family - the kids will love it! Only $79.99!

I do agree that making cereal is a "time consuming chore", but I feel sorry for the person that hasn't yet figured out how to pour cereal in a bowl. I don't know about the weight loss claims, though. Couldn't you just get a big bowl and push the button twice?

January 08, 2007

Back in the USSA

Well, I am back in Kansas. I have waited about a week to write anything on here just because the whole readjustment was a bit strange at first. Over the past couple of days I have finally started to feel comfortable here again.

I am still not quite used to all the TV channels. So many channels and nothing to watch. There was a show on the other day called "101 Things That Have Been Removed From the Human Body". I caught it at #45, which was a Matchbox Racing Car. It also seems that anyone that is either emotionally disturbed or a complete idoit has his/her own reality show now. Watching basketball and football has been nice, though.

Wednesday I am flying out to Portland to look for an apartment and then I will come back here on Sunday. Right now I am planning on driving out there later this month, but that still seems a ways off.

December 23, 2006

Now you've gone and done it

Mirupafshim Shqiperi
Thursday I officially resigned as a Peace Corps Volunteer, so by this time next week I will be back in the States. I was offered a job, and I accepted.
I am not really sure how I feel about leaving. My emotions are quite mixed up right now. Part of me is incredibly excited to go home and see my family again. Part of me is really sad to leave all of the great friends I have made. Part of me is anxious about how I will react to being back in the land of plenty. Part of me is remeniscent about all the great times I have had here. Part of me is ready for some new work challenges. Part of me is ready for some indoor heating and 24-hour electricity. Part of me will always be in Shqiperi.
I suppose I will write more when I am back in the States just as a form of therapy for dealing with everything.
Mirupafshim Shqiperi dhe miqte te mi. Ju do te jeni ne zemren time pergjithmone.

December 17, 2006

Snake Style

No one's gonna take me alive.
The time has come to make things right.
You and I must fight for our rights!
You and I must fight to survive!

Have you seen the Knights of Cydonia video by Muse? Best music video I have ever seen.

December 11, 2006

Krize Dritash

S’ka Drite Fare

Despite many promises to the contrary, Albania is again without power this winter. Last night on the news they played a montage of the Prime Minister and several other government people making very authoritative declarations that the idea of another dark winter was absolutely absurd. Then they ended the montage with a guy from the electrical utilities saying, “Do jete nje kufizim.” In other words, “About all of our promises, well…. we kind of lied.”

So, I am writing this entry on my laptop at home, and right now it says that I have 21% battery left so I am typing as quickly as possible.

Actually Durres isn’t so bad; we only are without power for about 4 hours a day; whereas some villages in the country only have power for 4 hours a day.

On a positive note, I went to Kruje last week. Kruje is a city close to Tirana that was the home of the national hero Skanderbeg. The city is on the side of a mountain and so it has nice views of the surrounding land, and on a clear day you can see to the sea. It would be a really nice place, but like every other city here it is ruined by all the ugly, haphazard construction. It does have a couple of nice alleys where you can buy lots of old stuff.

Well, my computer is beeping, so I figure the battery is about to

November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Hope you all have a great day, and make sure that you stop and take the time to really connect with your turkey.

November 19, 2006

Mr. Sheern

It seems that I have begun teaching quite a bit lately. About two months ago I started teaching English to kids in Keneta again. This time it has gone much better than the previous two attempts. The kids that come are motivated to learn, so that makes all the difference.

Last Wednesday, I taught in Albanian for the first time. I led an activity for a middle-school class at the school in Keneta. We talked about what parts are important for a city and then they drew maps of what Keneta looked like. After they explained their maps to the class, we talked about how each person sees the city differently depending on age, gender, economics, etc. I think they understood most of it. Afterwards, one of the kids told me that it was the first time that they had ever worked together in groups. That is kind of sad because I could tell that they really enjoyed the groupwork. Maybe I will be able to go back and do another class.

Also on Wednesday, I led some English discussion groups at the new university in Durres. I was expecting to have about 10 students in each group, but there were over 40 in all three. We discussed an article that talks about perspectives on what it means to be an American. I was able to talk about America a bit, and they were able to talk about what it means to be an Albanian.

November 12, 2006

I didn't really feel much like writing, so here are some pictures.
My House


Me and Bryan Adams

Finally, Happy Birthday in a bit to my niece!

(She is the monkey next to the skunk)

October 31, 2006

Random Notes From My Part of the World

It has been a while since I have written anything. I guess I just haven't really been thinking much lately either. Need to jumpstart my brain. Here goes.........................oohhh that was nice.

Anyway, my brain will have to run on a generator because they have started the winter power cuts here. They started this weekend when I was in Pogradec and the past two days here in Durres we have been without power for about 4 hours each morning. The state electric company said that there would not be cuts and then they revised that statement to say, "Well, we were wrong." Evidently there is a shortage this year throughout Europe, so Albania found out last minute that they won't be able to buy as much juice as they thought.

There is a new controversy here in Durres. A new public university just opened here in Durres this fall and the director has decided not to allow two Muslim students to attend class because of their "religious attire". One is a man with a beard and the other is a woman in full covering. Now the first thing you may say is, "Isn't Albania majority Islamic? Didn't it used to be part of the Ottoman Empire?" And I would answer, "Yes, but live here long enough and you learn to distrust rational thought." Evidently the director is intent on banning any religious attire. For the life of me, though, I wouldn't be able tell a Muslim beard from a beard on a guy who has an aversion to showering and shaving. The kicker is that the constitution here explicitly says that no discrimination can be made due to a person's faith.

We got news a couple weeks ago that the Federal government is looking to invest in a project in our area of Keneta to install water pipes. This would be a great step for the area because, as you can see from the picture, the current water system is not holding up too well.

October 13, 2006

Randomness Keeps Things Interesting

Here are some pictures I took yesterday of the Latter Day Saints church they are building in Keneta. What a surreal place! You walk through Keneta and everything looks the same and then all of sudden there is just this church with a nice parking lot, green grass, and a sprinkler system!? I don't really know why they have a parking lot. It would not be very easy to get to the church with a car.

And in association with the absolute randomness of this church, I thought I would provide another installment of actual random thoughts that went through my head yesterday.

1. Women in high-heeled shoes are really not as tall as they appear.
2. I think the number one rule in the produce selling business is "Do not eat your product."
3. I wonder why Albanians don't make bacon? There is certainly not a shortage of pigs.
4. I don't think I should be able to smell a person's perfume from 40 paces away.
5. For cutting hair, I think scissors work better than a knife.

October 09, 2006


I hadn’t done it in a while, so I thought I should take a walk through Keneta today. Usually, most of my time is spent in the small section where our project is focused, so it is not often that I see the rest of the area. So, today I took a walk.

I walked down the gravel roads, and over the small wooden bridges straddling the open sewers. I was sprayed a couple of times by mud from the tires of passing cars and by water shooting from punctured pipes. I petted a dog and a couple of sheep. And I was overwhelmed, all over again, by the size of the situation.

Keneta is an 850-acre area with over 5,000 homes. (More houses than my hometown of Abilene, Kansas.) No sewer system. No potable water system. No proper electrical system. Just homes and buildings. With more being added every day. The Latter Day Saints have just built a big new church, and there is a 10-storey shoe factory in the first stages of development. And all without legal title to any of the land!

Sometimes I almost understand it. I understand the push and pull of migration and the rapid urbanization happening throughout the developing world. I understand parents’ desires for their kids to have access to better schools, and I understand the desire to find work and a better salary.

However, as an urban planner, I simply cannot understand how people expect to build a city first and then worry about infrastructure later. It simply goes against every rational, logical understand of city planning. And then they have the gall complain about the smell, mosquitoes, and lack of electricity and water! My compassion for the area’s residents certainly ebbs and flows.

Granted, the local government has done little, if anything, to address any of the area’s problems, but even if they had the plans and the will to make changes, the cost to retrofit the area with proper infrastructure is infeasible. It has been estimated that to fit our project area of 150 acres with a closed sewer system is 1.5 million euros.

I supposed I am rambling, but like I said before, it is all a bit overwhelming. Perhaps I shouldn’t take any more walks.

We're Off to See the Pope

I am not sure if it made the international news wires, but a Turkish Airlines flight from Tirana to Istanbul was hijacked last week. Long story made short, the flight was hijacked by one man who forced his way into the cockpit. He had no weapons, but claimed to have an accomplice in the cabin that had a bomb. Turns out that he was a Turkish army defector that had moved to Albania and been denied a visa to stay long term, so he was being deported. He was a converted Catholic, so he forced the pilots to fly to Italy in the hopes that he would be able to deliver a message asking the Pope to intervene so that he would not have to go back to Turkey and serve in a “Muslim” army. Here is a link, if you want a description of the whole story.

In retrospect, seeing as how now one was injured, the situation was actually quite amusing to watch on TV. After the plane had landed in Brindisi, one of the Albanian TV stations was able to get a connection to one of the captive passenger’s cell phones. Of course, the anchor, with a grave tone, asked the passenger if he was okay and to explain what had happened when the plane was hijacked. His response was that he didn’t even really know that the plane had been hijacked. For some unknown reason they were in Italy and he was more concerned about the fact that they had been sitting there a long time and the flight attendants hadn’t given them anything to eat or drink.

As is expected, the situation was branded as terrorism. This has unfortunately started the wonderful, two-party political fighting we experienced in America post 9/11. I had some deja vu hearing the Socialist Party demand to know what the ministry knew and when they did they know it. From what I have heard, however, the fault seems to be with the flight attendants. The man had no weapons or other objects, and he only was able to get into the cockpit because the flight attendants kept opening the door.

Yesterday, I found out that someone I know was actually on the flight, so I will be interested in hearing a firsthand account.

September 30, 2006

Land Legalization Revisited

Last July I wrote about the new federal, land legalization initiative that was starting. The process has been running for over two and a half months now, and from what I read and hear, it is not going well.

To recap, all Albanians who have purchased land without a proper title are being given the opportunity to legalize their landholdings without any penalities. Starting from July 15, they are given four months to complete a preliminary declaration saying that they would like to have their land legalized. After this four-month period, the local municipalities will be given the responsibility of completing the necessary reviews, technical work, and collection of payments.

From what I hear, like happens many times in politics, the federal government created the process without much consideration for the capacity of local governments to handle all of the work involved. Durres alone has around 10,000 illegal households, and an urban planning staff of around 10 people. Also, there seems to be some clashes between local governments and the new federal office that was established to oversee legalization. Tack on to this disputes over how to compensate claims by rightful former owners, and it is obvious that this situation is a long way from being resolved.

September 25, 2006

Clean Cities and Cigarettes

Last Friday was International Clean Cities Day, so we celebrated in Keneta. The youth had worked all week building a model of what they think should be included in the new kindergarten they are going to build in Keneta. It turned out well. On Friday, we went out near the abandoned hospital and planted three trees and some flowers in painted tires. I am really hoping that they survive the winter and all the coming rains. The ground in Keneta is not the best for plants, it is below sea level and fairly salty.

If there is one generalization about Albania that has justification, is that a lot of people here smoke. My annoyance toward all the smoking ebbs and flows. It is certainly worse in the Winter, simply because everyone is indoors more and thus the second-hand smoke is worse. Right now, there are people smoking here in the internet cafe. I don't really mind except for the fact that I am going to smell like cigarettes the rest of the day.

There are two things about smoking here in Albania that bug me. The first is the high use of cigarettes by youth. I think the youngest person I have seen smoking was around 8 years-old and the level of smoking among teenagers is really high. Much like America of old, there are even cigarette brands here that are marketed directly to youth.

It certainly is a wonderful world with Elixyr cigarettes "Cigare per te Rinj" or "Cigarettes for Youth".

The other aspect of smoking here that bothers me is the way that it has become adopted among girls and women as a sign of their increasing liberation. From what I have heard, smoking among girls and women was taboo until several years ago, and even today it is not really common in many villages. However, in cities I have a seen a growing number of girls and women smoking, and many have commented to me about how it is kind of a symbol of bucking cultural norms. This certainly isn't the case for all women who smoke, but I would think for a good number. Unfortunately, if they continue smoking, their liberation will come at the cost of their lives.

My funniest experience with smoking here happened my third week in-country up North in Rreshen. I was visiting another volunteer, Daniel, and he had organized an anti-smoking activity with some school officials at a local cafe. Part of the planned program was to have a local doctor come in and speak on the health risks associated with smoking. About a half hour into the activity, we noticed the doctor was running late, so someone was sent to fetch him. All of the students were sitting, somewhat patiently, for the doctor to come. Of course, in typical Albanian irony, the doctor walked in with a lit cigarette between his lips. Needless to say, his ensuing speech was not very influential.

September 17, 2006

Durres Water Equation

(1 City below sea level) - (1 working storm drainage system) + (2 inches of rain in 30 minutes) =

September 16, 2006

Balkan Travels

I am back in Albania, a couple kilos lighter and fairly well rested. Our “Around the Balkans in 10-days Tour” was a success.

Each of the six of us seemed to have different objectives for our travels. Some were looking for a “return to civilization”, some for adventure, and some simply for a meal at McDonalds. For me it was simply to see some new places and spend some time at the beach.

As should have been expected, getting out of Albania and into Montenegro proved to be the most complicated part of the trip. Luckily, through various connections we were able to secure a ride from Shkodra directly to Budva, Montenegro. Montenegro was absolutely beautiful and still relatively undiscovered by travelers. Montenegro just declared independence from Serbia several months ago, so it is nice to be able to say that I have been to the newest country in the world. Our time in Budva was spent cliff jumping at the beach and eating a giant fish dinner and delicious Serbian sandwiches.

From Budva, it was on to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Dubrovnik was a complete contrast to Budva, as it was packed full of tourists, mostly because of the giant cruise ships. The city itself was beautiful, but the entire atmosphere seemed a bit contrived. I don’t have many pictures of Dubrovnik because I had traveler’s sickness for one of the days. Luckily, the view from my bedroom window was nice.

After Dubrovnik, it was on to Sarajevo. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip. Sarajevo is a beautiful city with a recent, tragic history. Evidence of the four-year siege is still starkly visible throughout the city, but it is also evident that the city has moved forward and begun to recover. I would recommend Sarajevo as a must-see for anyone traveling through the Balkans. Being in Sarajevo and driving through the Bosnian countryside reminded me how large and brutal the war there really was.

Another striking aspect of Sarajevo is the scale of religious diversity. Coming from Albania, where religion is a non-issue and was even outlawed for several decades, Sarajevo had an almost overwhelmingly religious exterior. Within the city proper, there are hundreds of mosques, catholic churches, orthodox churches and synagogues. In fact, two churches, a mosque, and a synagogue all reside within a two-block area.

As always, returning to Albania begets a period of readjustment, so it will probably take several days to get back into the Albanian lifestyle.

I have posted my pictures on my flickr site. Just click the newer pictures link on the right.

September 09, 2006


I am currently on vacation and traveling through the Balkans. It has been a good trip so far and I will write a full summary when I get back to Durres.


August 24, 2006

Naked Female Centaur Tattoos

In my experiences traveling, I have discovered one hard and fast rule. The more difficult a place is to get to, the more beautiful. This is certainly true of the southern coast of Albania. This past week I made the effort to get down to Dhermi, a small beach town between Vlore and Sarande, and it was absolutely amazing, the best beaches I have seen in Albania yet.

Oh, but according to the rule, Dhermi's beauty is dependent on it's remoteness, and I can tell you that getting there and back was not an easy endeavor. Getting there, my friend and I were able to catch a public bus from Fier that would take us down. Once on the bus, I could quickly see that all of the seats were occupied, so a lady with her young son was kind enough to share her seat with me. So I was on my way to Dhermi with at least one butt cheek on the seat. After about 5 minutes of hearing Albanian music mixed with babies crying, I put on my headphones. Unfortunately, headphones do nothing for blocking out smells. The three young kids sitting around me had all promptly started puking, and I can only equate the smell to what Tim Robbins must have experienced in the sewers under Shawshank Prison.

Luckily, it turns out that topless female centaur tattoos are a good diversion for passing a long bus ride. The Greek man across the aisle was sporting what can be mildly referred to as a "bad tattoo", so I spent the remainder of the ride concocting adventures for half-woman, half-horse creature. I finally decided that she had been in love with Pan (the half-man, half-goat), but that her parents would not accept her relationship with another species, so she was riding off to take revenge. Before you put me in a straightjacket, you try riding a bus for 5 hours in Albania.

Eventually we made it, and Dhermi was amazing. The water was clear, clean and just the right temperature.

Finally, a special thanks to Etienne and Laura from Paris for giving a couple of poor Peace Corps Volunteers a ride back to Vlore.

I have put up my pictures from Dhermi and some others I have taken on my Flickr site.

August 12, 2006

Cigarettes and Seahorses: Revisited

As you can see, my last post "“Cigarettes and Seahorses"” has generated a fair amount of debate and differing viewpoints. If I said I didn'’t expect this, I would be lying. However it has surprised me by making me think about the issue of criticism.

Let me start by saying that I regret having included a couple of points in the post. First, the comment about Albanians having nowhere to go was a poor generalization. Albania, like anywhere, has people who are extremely industrious and entrepreneurial and people who are just plain lazy and unmotivated. Fortunately, there seem to be more of the former rather than the latter, particularly in places like Tirana and Durres. Unfortunately, there also seem to be a large number of people who have the ability and motivation to do something big, but because of circumstances, they have few outlets or opportunities to put their talents to full use. This is particularly the case with kids who cannot afford (or are not allowed) to continue their education.

Secondly, my comments about arranged marriages and blood feuds were cheap shots. It is unfair to criticize a people about cultural artifacts that, while still practiced by a few, are not accepted by a large majority. (These regrets really became clear as I talked with some of my close Albanian friends. My friends are quite patient with me.)

Now thoughts on criticism…

I think that how criticism is given and how it is received changes between cultures. Certainly Americans and the Japanese have different ways of criticizing and different ideas of what it means to "“save face"” or protect another person'’s honor. This being said, I also think there are some universal truths to criticism. If you will indulge me, I will try to explain some of those truths here.

  1. Criticism is essential. Any person or culture that avoids criticism is doomed to self-destruct. Looking at our deficiencies is essential for us to improve and move forward. One commenter put it well when he/she said, "The only way we can progress is by identifying and acknowledging our weaknesses and trying to find practical solutions to them."” Failing to criticize others when you see something wrong is a disservice to them and to yourself.

  1. You have to see the whole picture. It is much easier to make quick judgments about people, but when you criticize without looking at the whole picture, you tend to miss a lot and sound like an idiot. There may be a surface problem that is easy to criticize, but perhaps there is an underlying reason for that problem. This leads to my next truth.

  1. Criticizing a brother is easier than criticizing a stranger. This is true for two reasons. First, you know the people who are close to you. When you know the person or people, you are more likely to see the whole picture; the history, the culture, the underlying circumstances. Plus when criticism comes from a person who is known and trusted, it is more readily taken to heart than criticism from an outsider. When someone we don't know or who doesn'’t seem to "“be like us"” offers criticism, it is rather easy to dismiss it, whether the criticism is true or not. When the person has lived what you've lived and knows what you know, you are more easily convinced of both that person'’s authority to criticize and his/her trustworthiness.

  1. Positive criticism is always more productive than negative criticism. People get tired of repeatedly hearing what is wrong with them. Unless the criticism comes with an attempt at providing a solution or with some point of encouragement, the chances of the criticism truly being heard greatly diminish. One commenter said, "“It always amazes me that foreigners who come to another country tend to emphases the "dark " sides of a culture..... Why no generositybout genereosity, sense of community, respect, joy, positivity there is in the albanian cutlure...?" I would agree, unfortunately we tend to look at the negative in order to help us feel better about ourselves. I would also add that we should look at both the positive and the negative. Ignoring one or the other helps no one.

I hope this makes sense because I am still trying to process it all as I write this.

Finally, with the knowledge that Americans should worry about America and Albanians should worry about Albania, here is some criticism from an American for any Albanians who may read this.

I know that you probably hear about it a lot, but you really must do something about the littering problem plaguing your country. If you truly are concerned about how others perceive Albania, cleaning up your country is perhaps one of the best steps you can make. Whenever I meet foreigners who are here in Albania, either traveling or on business, the first thing they always mention is how much trash there is and how dirty everything seems. The consensus among foreigners seems to be that if Albanians don'’t respect their country enough to keep it clean, then why should we respect Albania?

So I beg you, Albanians, do something about it! Albania is a beautiful country with great people, but right now there are few people who are able to look past the trash and see that. Tell your family and friends not to litter. Heck, tell a stranger. When you see people litter on the street, stop them and tell them why they shouldn'’t. The problem is not too big to be solved.

August 08, 2006

Cigarettes and Seahorses

To: Albania

cc: Sali Berisha, Edi Rama, Skanderbeg, Ismail Kadare, Jim Belushi

Subject: Bad Press

Hello Albania. I hope this letter finds you well. Sorry about all the bad press coverage you have been getting in the media lately. Those Brits have no right to criticize your citizens' "bombed-out" teeth. I don't really have any experience in public relations, but I thought that maybe I could help you avoid future embarrassing exposes. So, here a few ideas on how to become a better nation.

1. Stop Littering

I think I have written about this before, but it still happens and it still makes me mad so you are going to hear about it again whether you like it or not.

It was a beautiful day here last Tuesday, so I made my way out to the beach at Porto Romano just outside of Durres. The peoplewatching had been going smoothly for a while when I spotted a man heading into the water. He was smoking (no surprise there), but as he had walked out to where his hips were in the water, he casually flipped his half-smoked cigarette into the water beside him.

Shocking!! That's probably your reaction. I know this because that is how I felt the first 20 times I saw people throw trash into the sea. I suppose the people just assume that the fish like to eat cigarettes, napkins, and half-eaten corncobs.

I guess what I am saying is, please tell your citizens to stop complaining about how dirty and trashed their country is while they throw trash on the street.

2. Give Pedestrians the Right-of-Way

I enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with fear as much as the next guy, but I really don't need a rush every time I leave my house. Where are all the people in such a hurry to go to that they need to put my life in danger? Surely they can wait an extra five minutes for their coffee. I think Albanians are some of the best in the world at going nowhere fast.

Also, if there happens to be a giant pot hole in the middle of the road (like the one in front of my house), please don't drive on the sidewalk. Again, I understand your need to hurry to nowhere, but what happens when you make pot holes in the sidewalk?

3. Turn Down the Music at Your Weddings

Marriage definitely deserves to be celebrated (especially when it has been pre-arranged), but is it really necessary to include the entire city in your celebration? Don't get me wrong, I really like the same 5, polyphonic songs you play repeatedly for 7 hours straight, but around about 3 a.m. it may be considerate to lower the volume level from ear drum shattering to simply window rattling.

I hope this is helpful.

David Sheern

P.S. If you want to start a blood feud with that Gill guy in Anglia, I know some guys who know some guys.

July 31, 2006

Barrios Unidos

The new Group of the Month for August is Barrios Unidos.

From their website: "The California Coalition of Barrios Unidos began as a community based peace movement in the violent streets of urban California in 1977. Incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1993, the national office of Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos established the mission to prevent and curtail violence amongst youth within Santa Cruz County by providing them with life enhancing alternatives. Over the past twenty-five years Barrios Unidos has developed a model that seeks to reclaim and restore the lives of struggling youth while promoting unity amongst families and neighbors through community building efforts."

The link to their webpage is on the right. Give it a look and see what this amazing group is doing for California.

July 26, 2006

Death Notices

In America we have obituaries. Here they post notices on the street.

The death notices that are pasted around town have been something that have really stuck in my thoughts over the past year. How a culture deals with death says a lot.

As an American, I sometimes feel offended by the way death notices are just pasted on walls and signs around town. I guess, more than that, it bothers me that the notices are just left to be weather beaten and pasted over by more recent passings. I cannot help but think that this is a disrespect to the people these signs are meant to venerate, even though I know that is not how Albanians see it.

Death is public here. Albanians grieve openly and demonstratively. Families are expected to open their homes for three to seven days following the death of a family member so that the community may come and grieve with them.

The American response to death is much more subdued and individual. We tend to believe that each person should be left to grieve in his or her own way, and we really offer support only when it seems the person desires it. The community still offers support, but it is much more practical and less demonstrative.

I know that this is generalizing both Americans and Albanians, and we all respond to death differently, but these are the general things I have noticed and been thinking about.

I suppose I understand the public or communal nature of death here, and I understand the purpose of the public death notices, but coming from the culture I do it just does not quite feel right.

I think it also has to do with my personal nature. This may sound weird, but I really do not want people to grieve when I die. I want people to remember me, but to be happy for the life I have had. I don't know, I guess I am still trying to work it all out in my head.

July 22, 2006


As some people may know, I live and work in an "informal" area called Keneta. The term "informal", however, can be rather misleading. Keneta is not a place where people only wear sweat pants and greet each other with grunts. It's not that kind of "informal". Instead, it's "informal" in the sense that no one here owns an actual title for their land or buildings.

Long story short, the demise of communism here in 1991 sparked high levels of internal migration. For the previous 40+ years, Albanians had been told where they could and could not live, so with the new freedom of movement came many new residents in and around the nation's larger cities. Over the past 15 years, Keneta has been transformed from abandoned swamp land into a residential area home to approximately 75,000 people. None of whom own the land on which they have built.

Absence of land ownership is a problem plaguing the entire country. Millions of dollars have been invested in homes and businesses, but as long as they remain informal, owners are not able to realize the full potential of their investments. Primarily because they are not able to use their properties as collateral for loans and other investments.

The Albanian Government is hoping to solve this problem with a nationwide land-legalization effort that began on July 15th. All informal land owners have been given amnesty and the opportunity to register their land and receive formal titles.

I really hope that the process proceeds smoothly and efficiently. This could be a big step forward for society and the economy here. However, much of the work burden involved in the process has been put on the shoulders of the local governments, and few seem to be fully prepared to meet the responsibilities and level of work that will be required to meet the deadlines set by the new law.

July 15, 2006

There were some volunteers and others in Durres this week for a project development workshop. We had a good time enjoying Summer in Durres together.

Please pray for Peace between Israel and Lebanon, and call on our administration to take a stand. Bombs do not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent.

July 08, 2006


I have added a new link on the right side. It is called "Group of the Month". Each month I will put a new aid group that is doing good things for people. This month it is NightLight Ministries. They have started a jewelry business that hires women and girls they bring out of Bangkok brothels. Give their site a look.

Went to the beach today and got properly sunburned. The weather has been really pleasant here the past week, compared to the week before. I think it should stay in the mid to upper 80s (30s) for next week.

I have planned a trip for the youth in Keneta to go downtown and get a tour of the archeological work being done at the amphitheater. Durres has the largest Roman amphitheater in the Balkans, and right now a team of Italians is working on digging out a new portion. The director of the archeological museum has agreed to give us a tour of the dig and tell us more about the amphitheater and the old castle walls. Durres has a rich history. Each time crews excavate at building sites, they seem to uncover new archeological finds. At one site they just found the first Hellensistic period pottery to be found in Durres.

July 05, 2006

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July to Everyone. I hope you all enjoy the new look I've designed for my page. I was getting a bit tired of what blogger templates had to offer. Making a new design really wasn't as hard as I thought it might be.

Weird story from the weekend. Walking home one night I decided to pop into a small store to buy some pasta. Looking around quickly I noticed that they had a shelf with some sauces on it. One of the sauces they had was a curry sauce that is imported from Serbia. Even though "Serbian Curry Sauce" doesn't sound too tasty, I really like it. Only, I haven't been able to find it since the Winter because stores have stopped importing it. Just my luck, I had found some in this small store. I grab two bottles and go up to pay. When I get to the front of the store, the owner just gives me one of those "Are you stupid?" looks, takes the bottles from me, says "No" and offers me a bottle of mustard instead. Mustard is about the same as curry, right? Well, I ask "Pse?" (Why?), and he turns the curry bottles over and shows me that they expired in February.

Now here is the weird part. After I say I don't want the mustard, he says okay and just puts the curry bottles back on the shelf where they were before. Now, he obviously knew that the sauce was expired, and even if he didn't know before, he knows now. So why is he putting them back on the shelf? How many people have come in since February and tried to buy curry sauce only to be rebuffed at the counter? Is he not tired to telling people the curry has expired? How many of the other products in his store are actually good and for sale? Besides the guy being just nuts, the only other explanation I have come up with is that he didn't want an empty space on his shelf. But couldn't that be solved by just moving some other bottles around a bit? I am really tempted to go back and just ask the guy.

June 29, 2006


I think Al Gore is right. The world is melting. There are certainly no glaciers left here in Albania because if there were, that is where I would be right now. Just laying on the ice and snow.

June 20, 2006


I don't particularly like gum. If it is offered to me, I will take a piece, but very rarely do I actually buy gum at the store. Somehow, however, here in Durres it seems to be impossible to leave the grocery store without buying a piece of gum.

First, you have to understand that Albania is a cash society. Check writing does not exist and places that accept credit cards are few and far between. Every purchase, every transaction here is purely cash. The odd thing is, though, that every store seems to be continually short on small change.

The lowest value coin here is the 5 leke coin, which equals about an American nickel. However, most stores never seem to have any 5 leke coins in their tills. Most solve this problem by keeping prices in multiples of 10, but not at my grocery store.

Each time I go to the store, I always seem to need some item that has a cost ending in 5. At that point, I have two choices. I can either look for another item that I might need ending in five, or I can take the chance that maybe that day they will have a 5 leke coin. Every time I take the risk, I get "gummed". After the girl rings up my purchases, she gives me the "Sorry no 5 leke coins today" smile and offers me a piece of gum instead. So, I end up buying gum.

I am not complaining though, cause if I am lucky, the gum has a temporary, stick-on tattoo inside. Now that is something worth 5 leke.

P.S. Somebody from N.Y. mentioned Jack Handy in the comments. My favorite Jack Handy quote goes something like "I really wish my name was Jared. Then when I walk down the street people would say, 'Hey there goes Jared Hammersmith.' Oh yeah, I also wish my last name was Hammersmith."

June 16, 2006

5 Random Thoughts

First, I hope everyone realizes my last post was an exercise in sarcasm.

The thoughts I have during a normal day are rather strange sometimes. I don't think it is because of me being strange, but I think it is just the random stuff that I encounter throughout a day. For example, here are 5 random thoughts I had today. They are all real thoughts. I promise.

1. Wow, that kid should be careful with that big, rusted piece of metal.
2. I bet that insurance would cover a breast reduction surgery if the woman was having back problems.
3. Soccer is really boring to watch.
4. This fish soup doesn't taste too bad.
5. My shower is pretty gross. I should probably clean it. Ah, I'll do it tomorrow.

Life is weird.

June 10, 2006

Imaginary Suffering

When I signed up to be a Peace Corps volunteer and made my way to Albania, I expected to encounter the difficulties that come from living in a developing country. The difficulties were part of the reason of why I signed up. I wanted to be challenged, stretched, to find the real me, the side of me that is only exposed when I have to face adversity. Well, today was perhaps the most challenging day of my service so far, and I have to say that the adversity kept piling up and while at times I thought I might crack under the pressure, I was very proud of myself for perservering.

First, I managed to pull myself out of bed at 8:30 so that I could get to Tirana by 10:00 to meet some friends for breakfast. After pancakes and omlettes we were planning to go to the movie theater and see the "Da Vinci Code". We had been waiting two whole weeks for this movie to come to Albania and finally it had made it here. Just our luck, though, the movie is sold out. Not just for the 12:30 show, but for the whole weekend! "No problem", I thought. I'll just head to the office and get some work done on the internet. I make the 20 minute walk to the office, sit down at the computer, and, dang it, the internet is down!! At this point the adversities are starting to pile up and I am really beginning to see the "true me". After hanging out at the office a while, sans connection, we decide to make our way to the block to have some chicken wings. We get to the restaurant, find a prime table, and decide on a 20 piece basket. My mouth had already been watering for about 5 minutes when the waiter comes and, yep, you guessed it, they are out of wings!!! At this point I am really thinking about catching the next flight back to the States. I mean I expected Peace Corps to have some challenges, but no movie, internet, and wings all in the same day! That's too much even for me. The only way I could think of calming down was to head over and get some Chinese food. Nothing puts me in a better mood than an order of curry chicken. Anyway, I am happy to say that I have perservered and that I do feel like I have been changed a little today. I know that the next time I have to face a day like today I will be better prepared.

June 01, 2006

"Furgon Flip Flop" Revisited

When I posted the story about the furgon, I never really expected all the comments. I guess, in response to the comments, I would say two things. First, I did understand what the driver and passengers were saying. I have been living here for over a year, and I understand the language well enough. Secondly, some comments took the line of reasoning that if it had not happened to them in Albania, then it probably could not happen to me. I do not think I need to clarify the flaw in this train of thought.

I traveled downt to Vlore this weekend for Memorial Day. There were quite a few volunteers there and even some from Macedonia. We had a great time, and the beaches in Vlore definitely outdo the ones here in Durres. This week I have been back here in Durres working on preparations for an Environmental Day activity we are having in Keneta on Monday.

Here are two interesting photos from this weekend.

The first is a Vancouver Grizzlies Bryant 'Big Country' Reeves jersey. For all of you OSU fans. The second is some beach towels the sell here. The first lady has an interesting anatomy.

May 26, 2006

Co-PLAN Keneta Staff Photo