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Friday, May 2, 2008

Culture Day in Elbasan!

Saturday was Culture Day in Elbasan! Chris and I caught a furgon around 9 and met with all the volunteers at Skampa Theatre, near the old castle. There the PC had set up “culture stations” for us to learn (and have fun) with Albanian culture. They also arranged for a dance/performance troupe of young kids to present Albanian songs and dances in their traditional costumes, which was adorable and reminded me of the little figures from Disneyland’s It’s a Small World. PC also had a station for ushime e Shiperisё , or Albanian foods. Even more popular were the Turkish food tables, serving baklava and Turkish coffee. In case I haven’t already stated, there is a lot of Turkish influence here beyond the Ottoman mosques, which aren’t actually widely used. For example, many Albanian words are borrowed from Turkey, as well as squat toilets—called “Turkish toilets” since Turkey introduced them to the region. We learned a bit about Albanian literature, folklore, superstitions, and religions, as well as more circle dancing and watching videos of traditional singing in costume. I really appreciate how the PC tries to have fun and educate us, and to be as creative as possible.

*On a side note, I’ve recently gotten word from Anne that she has flown to DC for staging before her Guatemala departure, and I know she must be having an equally exciting time! I can’t wait to hear about her own cultural lessons and adjustments….!
After “Culture Day”, we had some errands to run in Elbasan, such as buying ingredients for making a cake. We wanted something to present for Karen and my birthday party the next afternoon (Sunday). Becca and I tried to be creative with this cake, but with such limited ingredients we decided to make a simple white cake with a layer of lemon custard in the middle. Becca came home with Chris and me, and we cooked it from scratch—even beating the eggs until stiff by hand . No appliances here—only the richest people can afford things from the Elektro Shtёpiake (“Electric Housewife” store). Unfortunately, and for reasons we haven’t yet worked out, the cake failed to rise, so we ended up making two giant pancakes with a layer of custard smooshed between. Even the frosting failed miserably, because we couldn’t find any powdered sugar and we didn’t foresee the disasters of substituting regular white sugar in its place… ;(

You can see in the pictures. But the party was a blast none the less! Almost all of the volunteers caught furgons here to Cerrik, and we gathered in the internet café for drinks, cake, and extra goodies that people gifted us with. We’re so lucky to have a nice big place in Cerrik that can accommodate so many of us—and we’ve agreed that we’re still having a cultural exchange with the Albanians because they all watch us and see how we Americans interact {— what? that girl is drinking beer! And she’s talking with a guy! And look how they hug each other hello/ goodbye instead of kissing each other’s cheeks!} . I am going to really miss having these impromptu gatherings with all of the PCTs—from what I hear after we leave for our sites we’ll only see everyone at once 3 or 4 times each year. I am on the PC Party Planning Committee, so I hope to at least coordinate frequent get-togethers in the southern region though…

As for this week, our technical practicums began, which means that the health volunteers are teaching lessons to the kindergarten kids, and next week we’ll do one with the 8th grade, as well as a community group (for us in Gjёrgjan we will be having a session about reproductive health with girls 16-22). I joined the language class in Gjёrgjan yesterday and afterwards we watched the first group teach a dental health lesson, which didn’t necessarily fail but also didn’t occur as planned. I guess there will always be some unforeseeable barrier in our jobs, but we simply cannot know until we try. In the afternoon we hitched a lift in the PC car to Elbasan, where I spent two hours at the post office trying to pick up my packages—successful in the end, however tired—and then did some internet research for our sexual health and anti-tobacco classes next week. I got home pretty late and busied myself with language homework until dinner was served—peppers stuffed with rice—at 9:30. Every day I am growing one step closer to requesting to eat earlier, even if I do have to eat alone, because I hate to wait so long between lunch (at 1 or 2) and dinner (usually between 9:30- 10:30), and also eating so close to sleeping. Maybe tonight.

For now, we’re making posters to advertise our Art Fest that we will be having later this month. Then I’m off for Shtёrmen, to watch another group’s health presentation…! Mirupafshim!


Arlene said...

Dear Courtney, I've just seen the third video in the series. It wasn't there last time. I love the singing!! It reminds me of Inner Mongolian music. What do you think, Chris?
Were they the birthday candles? or did you purchase them locally?
Happy Birthday, Courtney. This is one you;ll never forget.

Anne said...

Im so glad we are in this together! I love hearing about your adventure!!! Miss you!