Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving! My family is gathered in Oregon with my aunts, uncles and cousins. Of course, I wish I was with them. I woke up this morning thinking of past Thanksgivings with my DeKorte relations. Kim, Matt and I used to write, produce, and act in Thanksgiving plays. Kim and I were always Pilgrims and Matt would represent the Native. Then, there was exploding giant marshmallows on the candied yams incident. Not a Thanksgiving goes by that I don't think of that spectacular moment! I just made a new memory of Thanksgiving with the DeKortes. I got to talk to them over Skype and see all their familiar faces. It seriously has made my day!
We did have school today, though we get the next four days off for Albanian Liberation and Independence Day (s). Most of my students have no background knowledge of Thanksgiving. It was really a challenge to break it down for them. Today, we beaded necklaces in patterns and ate popcorn. This past Monday, we did this fun crafty project. Marcie, kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, emailed me this idea. Thanks, Marcie, for helping to build a Thanksgiving memory for my students! It's amazing what you can do with a toilet paper role...

Here's how I spent my Thanksgiving! It was an International Thanksgiving with 4 Albanians, 3 Canadians, and 2 Americans. We dined at Stephen's Center which is a hotel/ restaurant opened by Christian missionaries back in the early 90s. They specialize in American cuisine. We had a yummy Thanksgiving dinner followed by pumpkin pie! It was Entela, Berti, Florian and Anila's first Thanksgiving. Entela told me that she had walked by a man who looked lonely and it made her recognize how lucky she is to have us as friends...the feeling is mutual! I'm so thankful for my friends (who are very much like my family).
Two of the three Canadians! And no, Demetra is not Tracey's mom, although they look a lot alike. Here you can also see the good old fashioned pumpkin pie with whipped cream. You might be wondering why I'm making such a big deal about pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It's because neither of these items are readily available. I'm still excited about the dessert!

I have a lot to be thankful for. I know, with out a doubt, that Albania is where I need to be for this season of my life. It's good to reflect on God's grace that has brought me to this point. Hope every one's Thanksgiving was as joyful as mine!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

I'm a little behind on the blogging. This past weekend was packed. Saturday, I went shopping in Kruja (it was so cold but no snow!) and bowling with Tracey, Entela, Will and Casey (I broke 50, hooray!). Then, we went to play soccer with people from Hash. Turns out I'm not a bad goalie. I think it's because you don't have to run very far... We went to dessert with our buddies and were home by 12:30! Early night, finally!

Sunday was another "best" day. Berti took us hiking up Djati. I wasn't thinking and wore a long sleeve t-shirt, a sweatshirt and pants. Nobody really told me that when it is 7 degrees C in Tirana, it's probably 0 degrees C up on Djati. (If you are wondering how to convert C to F, just double the number, then add 30! Tracey taught me that trick.) Luckily, I still have all my fingers and toes! It was such a beautiful hike, and so much fun. Snow was on the ground and flakes were starting to fall. There were amazing icicles that froze in a swirly pattern. The bottoms of my pants were still frozen solid by the time we came off the mountain! Berti decided to walk with me down because he was concerned that I would fall (which we all did because it was so slick). Too bad we didn't have sleds.

Later that night Tracey, Berti and I went ice skating. I really don't understand why I'm ok at some athletic pursuits, but horrible at let's say...walking (or bowling). I'm a pretty fast skater and I didn't fall once, even when the electricity went out! I told Tracey that skating is when my Dutch genes come out. She thought I was referring to jeans and wanted to know what made them good for skating..

So, here are the Djati pictures. Are we tired of Djati yet?

If you enlarge this picture you can see how intricate these icicles are.

Berti is everyone's big brother. He's fun for a laugh.
Tracey and Berti with their cameras. We took pictures simultaneously. Berti is working on photographing Albania for postcards....all part of the growing tourism industry.

Irene (from the German Embassy...totally fun and I want her job!), me, Tracey and Entela at the top of Djati.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Concern for Others

Quality Schools International has a "Success Orientation" philosophy. These are basic monthly character traits that students are expected to exhibit. These traits include responsibility, group interaction, kindness and politeness, trustworthiness, aesthetic appreciation and concern for others (there is another but I can't remember them all off the top of my head). Students who show these traits are awarded paper links which each teacher attaches into a chain around his or her classroom. Visualize a Christmas countdown chain... My friends and I go around rewarding each other imaginary links whenever we see each other demonstrating a success orientation. This all started one day on a hike when I awarded figurative links to our friend, Gjergj, who was showing major kindness and politeness and concern for others. Now, it's just a part of what we do to amuse ourselves and others!

Now for the real reason of this post: Today is my mother's birthday! I was walking around Tirana thinking about what I appreciate most about Mom. The thing that immediately came to mind was "concern for others." This, perhaps, is my mom's defining success orientation. She has a heart that is ready to serve. How lucky am I to be raised by such a woman! I think her service stems from who she is as a follower of Christ. She knows who she is and who God has created her to be and by serving others, she serves her Maker. Thanks, Mom, for modeling this for me. You deserve a VERY happy birthday, not to mention, a million red paper links!

Mom and Dad at my "Good Pie Party." My mom has the great smile in the family! I couldn't resist posting this picture. I once showed Egla this shot of my parents and her response was, "Your mom looks like she is very kind and your dad looks like he is very funny." How true.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Cave

The only time I really remember being in a deep dark cave was when I was eight years old. We were up in Oregon in the middle of summer. The biggest impression that the cave left on my young mind was how very, very cold it was. Yesterday, Sunday, the five of us went on a hike to a cave only about 30 minutes away from Tirana. It left a greater impression than I was expecting.

The villagers have been working to improve the trail up to the cave. It was the easiest trail that I've been on yet, though there were some loose rocks at one point. Apparently, the trail used to be single file only. It was much wider after the improvements.
The cave! All I could think of was Harry Potter (and Tom Sawyer). We were told to expect bats. I had slightly convinced myself that I would run into Lord Voldemort too.
Florian constructed a torch so that we would be able to see more of the cave. It was a "bright" idea, though I was a little concerned because of all the fires raging in California. Of course, it was damp enough in the cave to never be a problem. The torch lasted about 10 minutes until it was dropped. Florian fell in a really muddy part and extinguished the torch. I was walking right behind him and you would think I would have been paying closer attention... When we were leaving the cave I duplicated his fall, but with more pizazz. Both feet slipped right out from under me and I sailed through the air. Luckily, neither of us were hurt. We had fun laughing about our flights (as opposed to our falls).
I let Florian use my camera because he's more of a photographer than I am. Here I am ducking because the bats were flying by my head.
I took the picture below and I do have to say that it's my favorite. Entela, Tracey and I have a very healthy respect for bats as shown by Entela and Tracey in an awesome duck and cover pose.
Ah...the creatures of the night! We were really up close and personal with these fascinating creatures. Tracey was able to give us geology lessons and I taught us all about bats. I think I began to get a little annoying when I started quoting straight from the books that I read to my students....

If you look closely at this formation, you can see what I saw (I had a blast looking for shapes and images). It's clearly a sea horse though Sarah and Florian saw a camel.
It was such an adventurous day! I want to be an explorer when I grow up.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Marine Corps Ball

I thought I'd start with my favorite picture. As usual, I sort of forgot about my camera during the course of the evening. Silly me. Anyhow, the Marine Corps Ball was a ton of fun! Sarah, Tracey, Katie and I had pedicures in the afternoon (very clean, I assure you! I've had worse in America). Our, meaning the three of us in the apartments, water was out for most of the day. The worse case scenario was to shower at the school (my school house has a tub). Luckily, two hours before we left for the ball, the water tanks were refilled and we could be clean. Honestly, I've never appreciated a shower so much in my life...I should probably mention that Sarah and I had spent the morning cleaning up the field with the school community.

The Marine Ball was rich in tradition. Really, though, it felt like a wedding reception. There was cake and speeches, dancing and dinner. (I even wore the bridesmaid's dress from my cousin Kim's wedding! Good job picking a dress that was re-wearable after eight years!) I did see the cake cut with a sword and the oldest Marine received the first piece. The Ambassador to Albania came and introduced himself to our table. I guess our director has been working closely with him as we attempt to build a new school.
I went shopping with Sarah and Katie before our pedicures. They were doing last minute shoe shopping and I love shoes, so I went to offer advice. They got these suckers on sale for 1,000 leke which is $10. Sarah was ready to throw her shoes away by the end of the evening and Katie's shoes were actually two different colors (one had been the display shoe in the shop window and had faded). These are very typical of shoes Albanian girls wear everyday...morning, noon or night!

Happy Birthday Marine Corps!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Life in a Construction Zone

Do you know the first sound that I heard the first morning I woke up in Albania? It was a loud, annoying jackhammer that sounded as if it was right outside my bedroom window. This jackhammer began about 7:00 am every day (including Saturday and Sunday) for two months. There was major construction going on to the apartment building next to the school. I walked my students to music and art with the very real possibility of debris falling on their cute little heads or having a cement truck bury us all. Then, all of a sudden, the noise stopped. The workers were beginning to stucco the outside walls of the apartment. Ah...peace. There was still the very real danger for our passing times, but at least I was getting to sleep in!

Then, oh, then, a new construction project started. This time, it's a road that runs between our apartment and the school (we are losing about 1/2 the playground). It's actually a good thing, but very inconvenient currently. Last Friday, a bulldozer nearly took out my entire class, including Miss Egla and me. Our administration found an alternative route which goes through private property (the children go to our school). At least, now the kids are safe. I don't know about us teachers though! I didn't go on a hash hike last weekend, but I did hike in our field! It's crazy. We're still a little puzzled about what will happen when it begins to rain again. We might need a ferry to get across. Pictures speak better than words in this case...

Here is Ilira, our librarian, crossing the torn up area. She lives a few apartment buildings away from us. This is the front of my apartment. Amy and I almost took each other down a few days ago.

Horray! Ilira made it across to live another day! Sometimes I like to pretend I'm living in Little House on the Prairie time and must ford a stream to get to school. Flights of fantasy help me to keep my sense of humor. (And don't ask me why this is underlined..)

So you can actually see the apartment building that is under construction (it's the closest in the foreground). The bridge across is for the 9 year old and above teachers who still have to make it to the lower campus in the morning. The green gate is their entrance.
It doesn't look that deep, but it is! See all the trash along the road? Our landlord is slowly removing it so that we can cross by. All Saturday, our landlord and his sons, were outside our illegal apartment building yelling. Apparently, they have to knock down some walls.... No, there haven't been any stand offs yet! Adula, though, was very good about helping me to cross on Saturday when the cranes were not stopping for me. He is protective of us (in a weird way). Think of me in this crazy wonderful developing nation!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Art, Party, Beach

This was another packed weekend. It began with an art show that I attended on Friday night. The only thing that I knew about the exhibit was that the artist was the cousin of my friend's friend. Go figure that one out. Anyhow, the show was sort of interesting. It was all about petroleum. Even the paintings were done with petroleum. The artist photographed an Albanian town as it was turned into an oil producing machine. Actually, the "after" shots looked a lot like Bakersfield. There was a picture of a man standing with oil running over his hands and another with oil spilling up from the ground. I stood back and said, "Ok. I get it. Albania has untapped resources." Later I found out that Albania has the most on shore oil than any other European country. Dad, I wonder if you could get a business trip out here...

Saturday, we had a party in Sarah and my apartments. It was fun! We opened the door between our apartments and arranged a table for our laptops and ipods. Our Latin theme seemed to be successful. Sarah's sangria was smooth (kind of dangerous!), my guacamole was the correct ratio (and tasty!), and Tracey's burritos were a delightful hit! And Entela brought Tres Leche for dessert (yummm!). Most of our close friends from work were there. It turned into more of a work party, which I was very, very glad about. We had an impromptu sing along in the kitchen and dancing in the hallway and bathroom. Two of the marines showed up. They actually rekindled my faith in the decency of our armed forces. One of the marines had helped out with the cross country team and is a gentleman to his core. The other was really sweet too (both are incredibly young). The marines we have previously had contact with were completely arrogant. Not so with these new friends! They stayed and danced with us and then called their driver and took us out for pizza. We'll get a chance to hang out with them at the Marine Ball next Saturday.

Today was just a happy day. Florian drove us to Durres for a day at the beach. We took a nice stroll on the shore. Berti met up with us and took us over to his family's Durres apartment so we could change into our bathing suits (yes, it was on the colder side). I had my book, Sarah and Tracey had their guitars, Berti had his camera and Flori had his Frisbee. Everyone was a happy camper. We went in the water for a refreshing swim. I could have stayed out longer, but everyone else was shivering. It was a day filled with sunshine, music and water. Who could ask for more?

Nearly every weekend is as full as this one until I come home in December. It's making the time disappear. I am trying to savor every day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Haircut...Albanian Style!

I bravely went to Tracey and Sarah's hair stylist who they had found a month ago. She's set up in the Sheraton Hotel, which makes the entire experience seem a little less frightening actually. You should really see some Albanian hair cuts. They like the frosted, jagged cut look. The stylist's friend asked me how I wanted my hair and I said, "Not edgy or too ultra-modern!" I prayed that they understood me and that nothing got lost in translation. Luckily, it was a very positive experience. Entela is even convinced that this lady could give her a stellar hair cut. So, what do you all think?

She didn't color my hair (I'm not that trusting), but I did freak out a little because the picture makes it look gray!!! I swear that it's brown...or maybe I'm just delusional.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Making Memories

Friday, Tirana International School hosted its first annual Fall Festival! Glad to report that it was a successful evening. Everyone pulled together and did their part, thank God. The parent group supplied tasty treats and the teachers and students were responsible for the carnival games. If you're thinking, "Gosh, that sounds like a lot of work for the teachers," you are right. It was so worth it. Many students celebrated Halloween for the very first time. The best part of the evening was when our kids visited the classrooms (which are in houses) and trick or treated. Egla passed out candy and had a blast. The little students especially loved the 5 year old booth. The students got to dig in the sand box for buried treasure. That was Diane's idea (she currently teaches the 6s). I dressed as a pirate as did many of my adorable students!

Saturday night was another Halloween bash. This was held at Diane's house where she entertained about half of the Tirana international community. We (meaning the four of us girls) had been planning our costume for over a month. The seamstress next to the school followed Entela's design so we had custom made costumes! (For only about $7!). We went as.....the first national Albanian figure skating team!!!! The ice skating rink down the road even loaned up figure skates for the evening. We were simply adorable. I'm only posting a few pictures of the evening because, frankly, I was having trouble choosing!
We practiced our routine before we left for the party. Of course, we needed a routine! We really hoped that we'd have a chance to perform it. Perform it we did. Not once but five times. In front of my students' parents, might I add. Really, I don't know if I can make it through parent teacher conferences with my dignity now!

The P.E. teacher had taken a video of us with Tracey's camera. We all loved this picture of us watching the video. I think it captures our personalities. And boy were we full of personality! We danced until 2:00 in the morning. Diane knows how to throw a party!

So we won the prize for the best group costume! We also happened to be the ONLY group costume. Florian won the prize for the funniest costume. Sarah loaned him her guitar and painted some awesome facial hair which definitely put him over the top! Amy and Travis won for best couple. The dressed up as Tirana buildings (which also won Amy the prize for most creative!). I love, love, love living in this community. It isn't everywhere that you can party with parents, boogy with your bosses, and carouse with your colleagues!