Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pressure

Okay I realize that some of you may make fun of me for this post but I feel that it is something I must write about. My international organizations course meets every Thursday afternoon but this Thursday is Thanksgiving and so I informed my professor that I would not be attending class. He's spent some time studying in the States and so he completely understood, but since this week was midterm week, he told me that I would need to take the exam early. He suggested that I sit in on his Tuesday evening course because those students would also be taking a test and I could take mine early.
So I arrived to campus on Tuesday evening only to discover that many students from my international organizations course were in this other class as well. They all wanted to sit close to me so that they could see the test questions (the test that they will be taking on Thursday). One of the girls even came up to me and instructed me to write down the questions from the test and give them to her afterwards. At first I smiled and laughed but then she said, "oh no, I'm serious." 
When Ilir, my professor, handed me the exam he said, "Chelsi, please be sure to cover your work and do not tell the other students about the test. Even as he was talking to me I could feel the other students staring at me, and I begin to feel the pressure. As someone who wants to become  a professor someday, I would never cheat on an exam. I hold students to high standards and expect everyone to study hard and earn their grades. This perspective though, is largely shaped by my idealism and optimism. In the real world people cheat all of the time and many of my classmates expect me to "help them out" or to "give them a hand" when they're struggling. In fact many of them responded to me as if to say, "why wouldn't you help us, what's the big deal?"
Though I had the test in my possession, I thought about this for five or ten minutes. I didn't contemplate cheating, just tried to reason how I would get out of this awkward situation. My solution? I wrote as fast as I could, I mean I didn't really check my work, I just wrote, wrote, wrote, in hopes of beating anyone else and racing home to the other side of town. After all, I already have my bachelor's degree and these classes don't mean all that much (I apologize if this offended anyone...Mike or Julian). 
But seriously, I've been thinking a lot about this over the past couple of days. It was clear that many of the other Albanian students were cheating during the other test and helping each other out. They expected me to do the same. In no way did I consider myself superior to these students or better than anyone else, I just couldn't cheat. I mean we've even signed an honor code, swearing that we wouldn't do such a thing, but from the looks of it, only a few were actually abiding by that code.
What does that code mean anyway though? What does it matter if I abide by it and others don't? Are my actions and the actions of the other students just a reflection of our cultural and societal values? Who can really say what was the "right" thing to do in the situation, because though many would consider cheating "wrong," these Albanian students are trying to get ahead, to get degrees, and maybe sometimes they need a little help? But would me giving them answers help at all? Would the situation have been any different or the same anywhere else? Is it even a big deal at all? 
These are the questions running through my mind. I welcome your response? 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I'm pretty sure differences will always exist

Last summer I researched hip-hop music performance in Tanzania and Albania. My thesis addressed numerous questions and issues, but my central focus dealt globalization, and whether or not our world was experiencing a more homogeneous performance of hip-hop, or if global and local practices were fusing together and producing a more heterogeneous hip-hop scene. I know that's a lot of wording, but basically in today's age many people feel that the world is just becoming the same place, that with advances in technology and more communication, it seems that societies are no longer as culturally distinct as they once were. I think about this pretty much everyday here in Albania and after my recent class field trip to get lunch, I felt moved to blog about it.

Albania, I believe, is the only European country without a McDonald's but who needs McDonald's when you've got Kolonat. While I have no idea what Kolonat stands for or who Kolonat is/was, this fast food restaurant has everything from the golden slants to the Big Mec. If you've noticed I changed my blogger picture to one with the Kolonat bag. Though the name is different it seemed at first that almost everything about this place reminded me of McDonald's, except for the fact that customers can order beer with a combo meal, which is not called a "combo" but rather a "menu." Upon first inspection though, one might assume that this place is just another effect of globalization and increasing homogeneity everywhere until you see something like this:

That's right the girl behind the counter wrapped my drink in a bag. I tried to stop her and tell her that I could just hold it but I was so intrigued that I just let her continue. Then I took a picture.

So I know that many of you want to know what the food tasted like...well unfortunately I wasn't brave enough to try the Big Mec so I just ate some pizza (another thing McDonald's in the U.S. doesn't have) and french fries. And of course my Sprite that was wrapped in a plastic bag!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oatmeal

It's always been one of my favorite things to eat. When I was younger I rode the bus to elementary and middle school, and often times this required me to wake up as early as 5:45 in the morning to catch a 6:20 bus (my schools were weird and the bus rides were long). In an effort to make sure that I did not go to school hungry my mother always got up shortly before I would leave to prepare me a quick breakfast. For the most part this would include one of three things: oatmeal, grits or biscuits. I know that some of you may think, "how exactly did I my mother prepare oatmeal for me on a school bus?" Well simple, she would just pour the oatmeal in Styrofoam cups and then cover them with foil, then give me a couple of plastic spoons. All of this she would put in a Wal-Mart bag and of course she always included enough for my friend Micki as well.
So imagine my surprise when I was at a really small fruit and nuts market the other day and came across oatmeal on one of the shelves. I mean I was truly in heaven - I'm afraid I won't be able to find biscuits or grits anywhere here in Albania. But as for oatmeal, I mean to find that here just made my day. Naturally I did the likely thing once I found it: I began to make it for breakfast in the morning. For some reason though, no matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to wake up an extra ten minutes early so that I have enough time to eat the oatmeal before leaving the house. Considering this coupled with the fact that I've always eaten oatmeal on the go, and plus my mom sent me over here with Glad Tupperware from the U.S., I decided to just take the oatmeal with me to class. I soon learned however just how odd of an experience this was for everyone around me.
For one thing, no one else in the class had ever seen oatmeal. Ikuko said she had heard about it but the dish was foreign to all of them. Now I have seen several Albanian students eating snacks around the campus, stuffed croissants with chocolate inside, or bags of chips, or candy bars, things like that. So I assumed that it would be no problem to just eat whatever I wanted in class as long as I wasn't loud. But ummmmm....no! Everyone watched me as I took out my spoon and before I ate my first bite they had to say, "Ju bufe te mire" which when translated basically means, "Bon Appetit." Then when I finished everyone wanted to know if it was good or not and if I was satisfied. I thought it was a weird experience but assumed they had those reactions simply because it was the first time I'd eaten something in class. Besides Huija eats bread and crackers all of the time and no one makes a big deal about it. So I decided to try the oatmeal again but still got the same reaction. I'm not exactly sure why. Today I ate yogurt in class and it did not warrant a single response...there must be something about oatmeal!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So How Did It All Turn Out?

Well the last video that you all saw involved attempts to wash all of the relaxer out of my hair. Fortunately, four rinses and shampoos later, we were successful at getting everything out. We had a slight emergency though because the comb we used to do the relaxer still had chemicals on it that wouldn't come out and Mindy didn't have a comb, but as always Cindy came to my rescue (with the aid of her daughter Taylor)! A process that takes about 30 minutes at home took Mindy and I about 2 and half hours!
Since then I've been to the Albanian hair salon where my new found beautician, Alona, gave me my first "wash and set" here in Albania. Though she did not part my hair, oil my scalp or have any oil sheen, I'd say that the style turned out very well. I received numerous comments about my hair at the Marine Ball last night and though it's very frizzy now (from all of the dancing and then rain today), I'd say that everything turned out A okay - THANK GOD!
Below is a picture of me from last night and also a picture of me with Mindy, who has now found a calling relaxing hair!




Washing it all out

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Time is running out

Starting to relax!

Now I Think I Know Why Many Black Female Anthropologists Rock Natrual Hair Styles...

Okay people so here's the deal, on Thursday my friend Mindy and I attempted to relax my hair. You see there's this ball coming up here in Albania (it's actually tonight) that's thrown by the embassy and as a "prestigious Fulbrighter" I'm going to it. But my last relaxer was 8 weeks ago, before I left the U.S. For those of you who are not familiar with this process, you should google something like "Black Women and Hair" to learn more, and you can also read one of my earlier blog posts, "Hair: A Black Woman's Dilemma" to learn more about my personal takes.

So I am now posting the first video above this post, I believe two more will follow. Please prepare yourselves...this really did happen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Retirement Plan

There's a couple, Mr. and Mrs. G, that owns the "Nova Bar" Cafe near my house. It's kind of a small cafe, large enough to accommodate maybe 15 people comfortably at any given time. They have everything from a fully stocked supply of alcohol, to every type of coffee you could ever want to order. Anyhow Mr. G always sees me walking the same route home every night and so one day he offered to treat me to a coffee. I decided to take him up on the offer because I did have a lot of homework to do that night and needed a pick-me-up. When I got inside Mrs. G started making a big deal about how pretty my smile was (a nice change because I was sure she'd first start talking about my hips) and kept talking about my teeth to the guy next to her. The reason that I knew she was talking about my teeth is that we were studying the parts of the body in class, so YES, one point for me!
Anyhow Mr. G brings me my coffee and we attempt to have a conversation. While using my hands to gesture, which I am frequently forced to do, Mrs. G grabbed my left hand and noticed there was no ring on my finger. She showed my hand to Mr. G and he smiled, then the two of them proceeded to talk without me, all the while the guy next to me is cracking up laughing. About 5 minutes later Mr. G asked me if I would be his wife. My eyebrows furrowed and I made a face as if to say, "but isn't this your wife right here?" Then Mrs. G starts to nod her head as if to encourage this, and then everyone just starts laughing, me included, though my laugh was more of that "uhhhh this is kinda awkward, what's really going on" type laugh. After a few minutes Mr. G finally cleared things up: he would leave his wife, marry me so that we could move to America together and then he could make more money and send it home to his wife. She was thrilled with this idea and again said that she loved my smile!
I told Cindy and Dave about this and Dave said that the couple must think that I'm their new retirement plan! Perhaps this is the case but I'm not looking forward to marrying any Albanian guys any time soon, especially not those that already have wives. Although I must admit that this is not my first Albanian marriage proposal!
Since that night Mr. and Mrs. G have been really cool, always speaking and frequently inviting me for coffees at the cafe. We talk, we laugh and the entire time I'm asking questions in my head about what would happen if this guy really tried to marry me...

Petrelë

On Sunday Camille invited me to go with her family and some friends out to lunch. She said that since the weather was pretty nice (which we have to be extremely grateful for so late in the year), they thought we ought to head to the Petrelë castle to eat. I had never been there before so was very eager to join. Although climbing to the top was somewhat of an adventure, the walk was well worth it for everything was absolutely gorgeous. I'm posting some pictures now, including the castle itself, a couple of views from the castle below, and also the inside of the restaurant. Enjoy!



















Saturday, November 8, 2008

But They Kiss???

Machismo. Bravado. Strong. Protective. Big Manly Men. These are just some of the terms and phrases used by Albanians and foreigners to describe Albanian men. Traditionally Albanian men have been seen as the heroes of this nation, the strong links of the family, basically the strength of society. At one point it seemed that a woman's life was half that of a man, if that much! Today as Albania becomes more "connected" with the rest of Europe and the world, and with the spread of globalization and development of capitalism, it seems that these views are changing. Woman today are in a much better position than they once were (for more info you can check out this fascinating article about gender in society http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/23/europe/virgins.php). Albanian men though, are still expected to be very tough and rugged. As I explained in an earlier blog I think that Albanian men frequently use the road as an outlet of expressing this "tough-guy" mentality, which means running red lights, running over pedestrians, or even running over other cars when necessary (okay so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but just wait til you come over and see for yourself).
Since I've been here I've taken many notes about the behavior of guys here, how it is more socially acceptable for men to just talk with anyone in the street, or for men to yell whatever they want at women, or how I am often the only female eating at a restaurant in the middle of day with a bunch of guys because all of the females are "supposed" to be at home. This manliness displayed by all of the men is very confusing however because...they kiss! Traditional greetings in Albania involve kissing twice, once on each cheek. This practice does not stop with the men, who may also even hold hands when walking. I guess I just find it extremely interesting for a man to yell at another guy about being tough and willing to beat him up, but then five minutes later kiss another guy and walk arm in arm down the street. Interesting!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Shum vështire

Sometimes I just look at some Albanian words and think to myself, "really???" How am I ever supposed to pronounce that?!? This word right now is not my friend:


Gjëegjëzë

The translation of the word is puzzle. Go figure!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Son of Kenya Day

My friend Joseph from Kenya works for the World Bank here in Albania and this morning we ran into each other on the street. I was covered in victory buttons for Obama that I had received from the American Chamber of Commerce's Celebration Breakfast. Joseph told me that Kenya's don't take any type of credit for Obama's victory but that they are more than excited for him and glad that a guy like him will represent the United States. Joseph said that it means so much to Kenyans that Barack Obama came searching for his father and family when he did, and how he acknowledges his cultural heritage. Joseph tells me tomorrow has been claimed a public holiday in Kenya and it's called the "Son of Kenya Day," in honor of Obama's victory. I thought that was pretty cool.
Albanians are definitely excited about Obama. My neighbors own a small convenient store and one of the guys was taking a break from work to drink a beer when I walked in this afternoon. He told me that his beer was in honor of Obama. Lina, a girl who owns a sandwich stand near my house, gave me an American keychain last week (which I wasn't sure why, thought it should have been the other way around) and so I gave her one of my Obama buttons to wear for today, which she loved! And cab drivers or basically anyone on the street will just shout, "Urime Urime per ti" which means "Congratulations, congratulations to you." When I first heard it this morning I thought, "why are they saying congratulations to me, I don't normally hear that on election day." But then I thought about it, the Albanians are congratulating me because he's my new president. I guess it just took me a while to realize it since it's my first time to not be in America when the new president is announced.
I'm posting some pictures from the election party this morning. They had a live feed of CNN international which was great to watch, I was even able to watch Obama's speech. And I met a whole bunch of people including a Peace Corps Volunteer who has invited me to speak at his school in Southern Albania because he's teaching students about cultural anthropology. Cool huh?
This first picture is of Cindy and me.



I promised that I would also upload pictures from Halloween. Ikuko and I went to a party together and it was her first time to go to a costume party. You may not be able to see very well but I decided to go as a sandwich...the cardboard is the bread and I'm wearing a yellow jacket for mustard. There are pink and green pieces of paper to represent the meat and lettuce and there's even real spinach on the front of the bread.


My friend Ylna had never thrown a Halloween party but together with her sister and boyfriend I'd say they did one heck of a job, complete with pumpkin carving contests.










Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Here's to you Dave Chapelle!!!

I know it's been a while since my last post, that's why I'm writing a couple of them today. This post, however, is not really about Albania...it's paying respect where respect is due. Today I am watching an episode of the Chapelle Show on my computer, the one with the Black President. There are times when I get frustrated and just want to laugh away problems - these are the times when Chapelle is near and dear to my heart. But today I'm watching this episode because by the end of this day, there just may actually be a Black man serving as president of the United States. Every single time I get in a cab here in Tirana I must have the same old conversation about how Barack Obama is a very good man, very good for America. "Obama I like," people tell me around here. Well yes, he is a good man and whoever thought that the day this could happen would be today??? I'll tell you who thought it, Dave Chapelle...here's to you Dave, though you've quit making what was quite possibly the funniest show I've ever watched in my life, gëzuar!

A Note About Tipping

Today Huija, Ikuko and I went out for lunch after class. When the waiter brought our check the meal turned out to be around $7 (which would NEVER happen in America) so we each chipped in 200 lek (that's Albanian money). Now tipping in Albania is different than tipping in the States, you don't have to tip 15 or 20% of your bill, some waiters don't expect much of a tip at all, if any. Well I threw in another 50 lek (which is about 55 cents) for the tip. Ikuko and Huija saw what I left and started making the biggest deal about it. They were saying how I was being really nice to the waiter, and how in China or Japan such tipping is unheard of. I had initially thought about leaving 100 lek for the guy but after they made such a big deal I didn't add anything else. When the waiter came Ikuko made sure to tell him that the 50 lek was just from me, and then the waiter smiled and said thanks. I was kind of embarrassed because I wasn't supposed to show off...I was just leaving a tip.
So lesson for the day: Hmmmm actually I'm really not quite sure what the lesson is, but I guess remember that when you're living outside the US, don't think that just because something is a cultural normative "at home," means it's a cultural normative somewhere else. And also, if you come to visit me in Albania (which I hope many of you do), don't leave 15% of your check for a tip...or if you do, you just might get a huge kiss or something from your waiter!