Monthly Archives: August 2014

notes from a fish bowl

My morning routine.  I stumble from bed …

View from my living area through my kitchen

View from my living area through my kitchen

to the toilet, pee, wash, brush etc.


to the toilet.  Pee, wash, brush etc.

My neighbor’s morning routine….

walkway to my apartment.

walkway to my apartment.

sweep here.  Look in second window….

view into my apartment through my toilet window.

view into my apartment through my toilet window.

say “Good morning.  How are you?  Are you well?  How is your son?  Is he well?  When is he coming to visit?  How is your daughter?  Is she well?  When is she coming to visit?”


Timing is everything.  I try to get the window closed before she makes it over there but sometimes I forget.  Or I come back to brush my hair or put on sunblock and there she is, ready to chat.  Keeping the window closed is not an option as it is one of only two windows I have.  Curtains wouldn’t work as the walls are concrete so nothing can be hung.

I just have to get quicker or learn Shqip with toothpaste in my mouth.





A power outage is never just a power outage

I got home Saturday afternoon to find water all over my kitchen floor.  The electricity had been out long enough for my freezer and everything in it to melt.  I went to find my landlord who came immediately.  As he worked on a fuse neighbors came over.  One offered to help clean the floor.  She opened my cupboard to get a bucket and found my empty glass jars.  She asked if she could have those?  She then saw my retainers sitting on a shelf and asked about those.  Another neighbor saw my lamps I had brought back from Prague (Albanians use a single ceiling bulb, no lamps)  He asked where I had gotten them and how much.  Another saw how I had tied open my balcony door.  After 30 minutes, answering lots of questions and being relieved of my glass jars the power came on.

An hour later, the power was out.  Again I called the landlord.  He came as did one neighbor with byrek and preserves for me.  This time, neighbors asked about photos and books until the power was back on.

Another hour and, you guessed it,  no power.  My landlord calls in a specialist who is out in the street climbing the utility pole.  My other neighbor comes back to ask about my travels and my work and to offer more food.

Finally, after four hours, I have power and solitude.  I go to bed.

This morning, no power and the cycle begins again….

photo 1 (9)

My apartment has exactly two outlets. the one connected to this power bar and…

photo 2 (7)

the one connected to this power bar.

Lesson in corruption

These past few weeks, I and a counterpart have been providing business trainings for local artisans.  Albanian crafts people would like to grow their market, selling items to tourists.  Summer is festival season here and an optimal time to sell craft items.   We arranged a display table at a local beer fest and required vendors to attend a training session in order to display at the fair.  UNDP (UN Development Program) provided funding for travel to training and the event as well as a per diem for the actual event days.   The training focused on knowing your market and meeting market demands.  Specifically, people that attend a beer festival come intending to drink beer and listen to music, any items they might buy would be small, inexpensive, and lightweight in order to fit easily into a suitcase.  Cute, colorful, clever, creative were all words we used over and over.

Festival day arrived and with it the artisan vendors.  A couple had created small clever dolls dressed in varying Albanian costumes.  Most. However, arrived with the exact same products they displayed (and did not sell) last year: pricey tablecloths, bulky baskets, heavy fragile sculptures, even a wicker table and chairs.  Over the course of two days the small dolls sold well but nothing else moved.  At the end of day two, the artisan who weren’t selling items announced they were leaving.  The days were hot and they weren’t selling anything so this seemed logical.  UNDP offered to give them money above and beyond the per diem if they stayed through the end of the event.  The vendors agreed, accepted the money and returned for each of the days following.  Nothing more was sold.  UNDP has lots of pictures of the vendors displaying their crafts at the festival over the whole four days.

Outcomes reported to UNDP:  Twenty artisan/crafts people were trained in business skills: customer analysis, focus marketing, customer service.  Artisans then practice their new skills at four day festival selling their wares to over 10,000 visitors.

Actual outcome:  Corruption always pays.  Training is a euphemism for cash hand out.  Attend “trainings” to be eligible for this cash.  Find the correct threat (leaving early in this case) and accrue more cash.