Albania is on European migratory birds track. Albania also provides a breeding ground for Dalmatian pelicans. Dalmatian pelicans are the second largest flying bird in the world, second only to albatross. These are big birds. I am not allowed to drive per Peace Corps policy so I organized a trip of friends who all have cars. (I learned to make friends with people who have cars back in high school) My friends tend to be accomplished expats who tend to be affiliated with either the UN an embassy or a media outlet. So what started as me getting a ride to see pelicans evolved into a great publicity opportunity to the national park in Karavasta and for the environmental NGO PPNEA.
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Wishing bad upon someone is a common fear in Albania. Such wishes can be transmitted with the eyes hence “The Evil Eye” In Greece and Albania, people ward off the evil eye by wearing blue eye shaped talismans. Buildings under construction also need protection so Albanians hang teddy bears from the structures intending to confuse the spirits. However not every builder has teddy bears available so sometimes they use dolls.
The view across my alley:
When I was about 6, the Reverend Jesse Jackson sponsored a program in Chicago that paired inner city black children with white suburban families. (Back then African Americans were called Black) My entire family drove into the city to pick up Edward. When we got back home Edward wandered around our basic suburban home, dazed. This week I have had a new appreciation for what he might have felt. My new place just feels so fancy. I have screens and a shower curtain!
Two weeks ago, Peace Corps asked me to move to Tirana. I had been commuting to Tirana every Friday for 12 step meetings. Winter rains had caused landslides to block the most direct route so I was spending 5-6 hours on a bus/furgon each way. Peace Corps likes the fact that there is now a recovery program in Albania but they did not like me traveling so much. So I have been in Tirana for the last week finding an apartment and making plans to move in on Monday. My primary purpose here has always been to carry the message to friends and family suffering from the family disease of alcoholism so this move will enable me to do more of that.
But what of my projects in Pogradec? The community classroom project was just getting some traction. I was hosting daily yoga classes that were attends by two and sometimes even three women. It turns out that my landlady had become such a fan of yoga that she had been leading yoga classes while I was in Tirana dealing with my dog bite issues. The high school girls in GLOW had just hosted their very successful minicamp and were looking forward to hosting more. And it turns out they have found two Albanian women interested in being their sponsors for GLOW. Harrumph! I had achieved my own obsolescence.
What will I do in Tirana? Certainly 12 step work will be easier to do. I am also on national GLOW committee. I am the media coordinator and wise elder of the group while we work to transition GLOW to being a purely Albanian run program. Michelle Obama has announced a Let Girls Learn initiative (www.whitehouse.gov/letgirlslearn) which will provide further funding and support for GLOW. I have also networked with PPNEA (www.ppnea.org) an environmental group that does wildlife monitoring here. They run camera trapping for the endangered Balkan Lynx. They monitor the endangered Dalmatian pelican which sports a spiffy Mohawk ‘do. They work in the Lake Prespa region and also in the Accursed Mountains. What they don’t do is any sort of branding, media, education or PR and they have asked for my help however when I asked to see their strategic plan, they shrugged their shoulders, saying they did not need one because things change so fast. Yup, there is work there for me. Finally I am working with Assist Impact (www.assistimpact.org) as they navigate a transition and need help with branding.
Am I sorry about leaving Pogradec? A bit. I have been there almost a year and had become fond of my landlords, some neighbors and some locals. I was certainly prepared to live another year there. GLOW was very successful. I could not have hoped for a better experience with those girls and yet I am not interested in working with youth. My work on the national GLOW committee is about working with other committee members on behalf of youth. Youth do not interest me. Yoga never did interest me it was merely an activity to engage the local women. So I am a bit sad about leaving but not much. I had already made some great friends in Tirana and will be much more useful to the above mentioned NGOs. Someone else can lead GLOW Pogradec and Yoga for Fun in Pogradec.
The Pyramid was built to be a mausoleum for Enver Hoxha. Albanians can’t decide what to do with this monument to communism in the middle of Tirana
my new neighborhood
I was so busy posting those pictures I forgot to write about what really happened.
GLOW is about teaching girls leadership skills. However, just teaching those skills seems empty. Leadership skills are developed with practice not instruction. I have seen countless, wellintentioned training while I have been in Albania. Aid organizations are forever offering trainings because training are “capacity building.” but there is no opportunity to actual use the skills. GLOW is different.
GLOW Pogradec started meeting in October. We met weekly. Initially, I organized and led every meeting but the girls knew from day one that the plan was they would be leading clubs for younger local girls. Club meetings would focus on a topic; self-esteem, body image, stress management, sex ed, volunteerism.
Over many weeks, starting in January they started planning the camps at which they would be the leaders. First they had to plan when, where, who and how. This process made camp real and the discussion then turned to outreach. To get the word out they realized they needed a flyer. Before they could make a flyer they needed to know more about their own camp. As a group, they listed all the activities they had enjoyed. They had extensive discussions and decided some activities ( sex ed) were not appropriate and others were too complicated. They finalized a list of what they thought would be really fun for younger girls. Next they created an agenda and assigned a leader to each activity. We talked about how a leader also has to be a good follower. Leaders were each responsible for their activity and any supplies needed. Finally, we talked about what could go wrong and what we might do. What if someone got hurt? What if no one came? What if some disaster happens? I then offered up the idea that failure is a great teacher and that I hoped we would have at least a couple of great stories come out of camp.
Kampi Magik was much more successful than any of us had anticipated. We planned for 15 and 36 came. Each activity was managed beautifully by each activity leader. They supported each other’s decisions every time. At a number of points there were too many girls for any specific activity and the dance leader would suggest the extra girls come work on the dance with her while they wait. When the little girls finally left they all wanted to know if they could come back next week. The GLOW leaders and I collapsed in joy and fatigue.
We came together again on Monday for our regular meeting mostly to bask in our success. The best surprise of camp was how much the younger girls adored the older girls. The GLOW leaders were thrilled to be so popular and energized to host more camps. We also revisited our fears and laughed that we had all worried no one would come. They then launched into planning Kampi Magik Mars 15 in Starove, a small village near by. Shiney shiney GLOW girls.