Saturday, May 22, 2010
Odds, Ends and Albania
Last weekend was the National Spelling Bee in Skopje. It was organized by two Peace Corps volunteers (who did a terrific job) and open to all kids from 5th to 12th grades. They had had to pass qualifying events in cities around Macedonia and the turnout was wonderful - over 300 students were at the finals. They were spelling English words - not Macedonian - and I can tell you, I wouldn't have done as well as some of those students. Pterodactyl? Who can spell that when they're on the spot in front of a large audience? They were divided into age groups and I got to erase for the 162 5th and 6th graders that were there. What fun and congratulations to all of them!
Tuesday Luli, his family and I went to Peshkopi in Albania. Elona's family is there, and she visited them while Luli and I went to a meeting about a cross border grant program. We're currently working on 2 grants, a small one through the Peace Corps and USAID to put on an agricultural festival and fun run, and this larger one which we'll do with an Albanian group. Anyway, I've been anxious to go to Albania and was delighted at the opportunity. The Diber area of Albania is gorgeous - very mountainous with smaller, cozier valleys than Macedonia. Several things struck me as we ventured into the country. First, the infrastructure is not in good shape - the roads and buildings were in rough shape. The economy there is worse than in Macedonia - they are not yet an EU candidate country. Enver Hoxha, who was dictator for about 40 years, I think, isolated the country and pretty much trashed the economy. He collectivized the farms, and ordered the farmers to terrace the mountains, so you can see all these terraces climbing their way up the mountains. In the Peshkopi area, he had everyone plant fruit trees, but when he died and everyone reclaimed their ancestral lands, they abandoned the terraces and many of the trees - they are just now starting to replant orchards. I saw many more horses being used by the farmers - not with wagons but individual horses packing things on their backs. There are also greater numbers of cows and fewer sheep - another thing that I think was a legacy of Hoxha. But one of his most infamous legacies is the bunkers he had built. He was so paranoid that someone was going to attack Albania that he had thousands of bunkers built for soldiers to stand in and fire at the enemy. I would see what looked like a strange round haystack in a field and then realize it was one of his bunkers. In fact, once I realized what they were, everywhere I looked was a bunker. But we had a great time, the people were lovely, and Elona's family was very gracious!
The other picture is me lounging on my 'deck' - really the roof of the empty store that is under my apartment. It's great - I have a table and chairs, tomato, cucumber and pepper plants, and, of course, my clothes line out there. Ah, the luxurious life in Macedonia!
Posted by Candice Wiggum at 7:32 AM