Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Community Gardens

The idea of growing one's food, as radical and impossible as it seems to most urban dwellers- particularly my NYC followers - is not only not radical but is the most reasonable, conventional and bland idea ever. I'm sure you know where I am going with this- humans have been growing our own food for consumption for thousands of years. Even when agricultural societies started emerging- about ten thousand years ago during the Neolithic period- people were still close to their food source. In fact, it is the idea that you are far removed from your food source that is radical. In the history of humanity, it is very recent that we've started to divorce food production from food consumption, with industrialization accelerating that separation as transport systems, pesticides and mechanized forms of production became not only wide spread but accepted and inexpensive.
The privilege of eating produce out of season transformed from an indulgent luxury to one that taken for granted in the industrialized world. The growth of pesticides and oil based fertilizers have allowed food from around the world is pumped with steroids, colored, and are genetically modified. We have lost our ability to know what grows when, let alone where, and with that any awareness of the enormous resources- energy, water, labor amongst others- involved in its production and transport.
Food is consumed- not enjoyed, and if it is enjoyed is enjoyed only as it is cooked and eaten. Growing our own food multiples our enjoyment exponentially as it creates so many opportunities for joy in the entire process- from planting to seeding to harvesting to cooking to eating it.
As a committed urban dweller, I have struggled with connecting with my food in a that does not require me to move to the suburbs or some far away way rural area. I have been intrigued with the multiple opportunities for urban farming which include reclaiming empty lots, roof top gardens and vertical gardens and reminded that less than 200 years ago our great urban playground, Central Park, was home to roaming pigs and small farmers.
Today I visited a community garden in Forress whose members are experiencing various successes, struggles and victories in growing their own food.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Eco-Village; First Impressions

I've arrived in Northern Scotland at Findhorn Village to complete 2 masters classes on sustainable development. Findhorn is an amazing laboratory of what works and doesn't work environmentally, economically and socially in an eco-village.
Today we had a brief introduction to the park as well as tour of some of the houses and explanation of the history. Lunch- a purely vegeratiran affiar made by people in the community, cleaned by people in the community, sourced by vegetables from the parks
farm- was deilcious. After lunch, one brings one plate up to the counter where cooked food and raw food are deposited in separate bins for composting, silver is separated and plates are stacked.
I am sharing a bungalow called with 3 other students from the course. Though I am impressed with the level of environmental awareness and desire to create change through the build environment-0 I am a bit skeptical of the spiritual elements. Before every meal- and in fact every activity- we "attune". We hold hands, calm ourselves and try to immerse ourselves in our task before starting. I wonder how my attitude to this will develop over the next few weeks.

Next Chapter - Good Bye Albania.

At the risk of being called lazy, I am going to repost the email I wrote to my dearest friends and family before I left Albania as I feel it does the best job of encapsulating my thoughts and cannot see what I can add to it.

Hard to believe that 2 years ago I was packing up my house and studio,selling my car and wrapping my life in New York up unsure of what this adventure would hold for me or when I would be back. After spending 20 years on that 8 mile island leaving was a big change. While there have been ups and downs, I'm certainly happy I served in Peace Corps. I learned so much about myself, about my tolerances, limits and
weaknesses. I have become so appreciative of things I took for granted: having people and not chicken/goats as my neighbors on the bus, MAIL!, bus drivers who don't stop for 40 minutes to eat their personal lunch at their friends, heat, walking outside after dark(after 4) in the winter, stop lights (none in my city of 80,000), sidewalks, toilets that can handle toilet paper, hot water, running water (I was without for 2 weeks), hot water, sleeping without a coat on, consistent electricity etc... However, I learned I can adapt to those things and live with them. The hardest challenge was the mental challenge: being alone, having no Americans around for months at a time, not speaking my native tongue at the store, work or socially, the cultural differences- some of which are obvious at first and some which take time to realize, having what I realize now is an American perspective and being painfully aware of the limits imposed on women in most of the world.

There are also things I will miss dearly: The stunning blue coast abutting mountains for hours and hours, kayaking down the canyons and in general the stunning beauty of the country. Being walking distance to the beach for the first time in my life. Living so close to Italy and having the real influence (not the Americanized version)- including amazing pizza pies for $3.00. Tasty, fresh grilled whole fish and fresh, organic salad in a hut on the sea I kayaked up to for about $7. My bread lady who shakes my hand each morning, asks me how I am and sells me the most delicious multi-grain loaf for .$50, the women at the corner who say "tomorrow" if I am every short, knowing full well I will always come back and pay tomorrow, eating fresh, organic vegetables in season and in turn greeting the seasons by the vegetables, my neighbors who always help when some disaster strikes in my apartment, my friends who always have time for a coffee with me.

Some of you have visited which was amazing and got to witness the absolute physical beauty of the country and hospitality of the people first hand. Others sent postcards, letters or emails. I'm not sure when I'll be back in the States, but I hope you're all patient with me, my stories and pictures even after the excitement has worn off (We just had our final Close of Service (COS) conference and maybe had 1
too many sessions on "readjustment").

Next week, on Thursday, I leave Albania. Its been a fast two years and am not sure what the future will hold for me, but I'm pretty sure I can handle anything right now.

Smiles and hope to see you all soon,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Finishing Up

Today I handed in my DOS and completed my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It is was surreal to finish this chapter not as it is something that has been part of my life in one way or another for about 4 years.
Writing my Description of Service (DOS) that all important document which will go in my "permanent file" was cathartic in some ways- in that it was almost an expulsion of the last 2 years on that sheet- yet also odd. For so long Peace Corps has been my life- applying for Peace Corps, gathering medical/dental records for Peace Corps, packing, selling and eliminating in leaving for Peace Corps, and finally- of course- my service. As another PCV said, the final day was oddly anti-climactic.
Perhaps I am finding this particularly so because I have another week in the country. Given the excruciatingly short notice (about 3 weeks) about my COS (Close of Service) date- recently approved by Washington, in which I had a mandatory 1 week conference to attend and write my indelible DOS, I found it impossible to pack, clean and say goodbye. Luckily I extended my ticket for 1 week and will spend the next week tracking down all the people who I've connected with over the past few years.
Despite not feeling as if I had finished a mammoth climb- I did feel something walking out of the PC office for the final time, my stamped, signed DOS securely embedded amongst the myriad government forms in the large white American envelope contained in my bag. I could feel a slight lightness. I freedom I haven't felt in years. I assumed that freedom would be accompanied by fear but it wasn't. Perhaps the delayed departure- a week jammed with activities-and the knowledge that that was followed by a stint at an Eco-Village in Scotland and then five summer weddings in the US moderated that lightness and prevented me from feeling as if I was in a freefall. Perhaps. However, as I walked around, slowly freedom, the only think I could fee was general goodness. The early sun was on my face and I felt warm fluffy, buoyant and loose.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'm an aunt! I'm an aunt! I'

Wow. My baby brother now has his own baby. I cannot believe it. I am so happy and excited for him and Emilie. I just cannot wait to meet Elona. (
Oh, yes, and being an aunt in no way means I want to me called Aunt Molly. It merely means I have a beautiful niece.

In other news- the water has come back on, the laptop is now completely and utterly destroyed, and the black out are becoming more frequent. Work is going well and is really interesting. We had our open house last week to discuss the regional plan and host an open forum for different sections of that have strengths and potential. As a guest surprise an iso-polyphonic group came to sing traditional music which was fabulous. Now, out of all projects meeting the UNDP criteria the projects the technical team thought were the strongest will be presented to the region. Some interesting proposals included the creation and formation fof a regional park, a cinema and recording the iso-polyphonic music native to the region.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Added Bonus

So as those dedicated followers to my blog know, I've been without water for 12 days now. First I wasn't so bothered. I thought it was temporary, plus I had stored plenty of water for this sort of thing. Additionally, in those first days it came in sporadically (sporadicness is only consistency i know). However, for the past six days, basically since that post I have had nothing. I mean nothing. I have left my taps open, put buckets under my shower but the water is gone. Nothing. Meaning creative bathing is not even an option, nor is dishes or well- I spare you the gory details.
Now I have the added bonus of no electricity. It went out about 3 hours ago. So, you ask, in a very logical way, how are you posting this? After 3 hours of reading my flashlight in my waterless apartment I need to leave. I was also curious about the extent of the black out - was it country wide like the last one or my community. So I went out, bought some water, returned, went out again and found out that my favorite internet cafe has a very loud but effective generator. Hence, here I am

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sporadicness is the only consistency (I know that's not a word)

Spotty electricity and water have finally made things really difficult. Until now, I was able to circumvent, create solutions, and use the shower at the gym (ever so smart, they have their own very large generator and huge water tank). I simply waited for the sound- the cruk uhk ogh- of the pipes opening, tanks filling to know that I had that hour or so in which to do my dishes, fill my bottles and hopefully squeeze in a shower.
However, getting anything done - whether it be at home or work- is quite challenging. My counterpart, the head of the office, had to actually leave today to go to an internet cafe because there were emails to write and no electricity to be found. We're discussing sharing a generator with the organization next door. We haven't been able to sit down and have a lengthy discussion in days due to constraints of figuring out how to work around when electricity shows up.
Electricity has already eaten my computer and several hard drives. In fact, I think I'm going to end now as I think suspect I hear the sound of water.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Creative Bathing and Electrical Outages

Quick post before I run to my first meeting with UNDP updating you concerned person on the water situation before my electricity goes out (again).

Going on day 6, however have done some investigative research (i.e. spoke to all my neighbors) and found out that no one has water because the municipality is doing repairs on the main water lines. However, the city has not yet made a public announcement. Thankfully, I honed my bucket bathing technique while living in the village but haven't exactly bought a huge cauldron for my city apartment and tiny two burner stove top (which has its own room). Unfortunately, this happened the week of my new job. Needless to I've invented some pretty creative bathing techniques and am really happy that someone had to foresight to invent deodorant.

Also received a text from our safety and security officer that OSSH, the Albanian energy company, will be running black outs across the country today. But since my computer that my father generously bought for me as a going away present two days before I left has already been completely and utterly destroyed by the inconsistent energy here, I'm not sure what harm is left to do. I guees this would be an excellent time to stock up on batteries.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I challenge you to cook dinner or any meal or actually go a full day without running water. Yeah right. You read the part about the washing machine and thought I had it so easy. Well, usually, its not to bad. However my "bit of a problem" is now turning into a rather large problem. Four going on five days with no water is proving to be a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, I stored water the last time this happened.
I will say, though, it has taught me about myself. I had no idea how often I washed my hands or turned on the sink until this happened. Turns out, quite frequently. Which is refreshing- sort of. I'm not as big of a germ container as I thought I was.
Well- if any of you are brave enough to accept the challenge I'd love to hear how you figured out how to do the dishes or wash the vegetables. Life is for sharing, right? Back to work.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Posts

I decided to post some pictures from the past. I'm going to try to back date the posts to when the pictures and events happened- but my memory is not great (hence, the decision to do it now, before the memories completely evaporate).
Point being: If you think you've read all the old posts, you probably haven't. I'm going to try to mark them with (*new post) and list them below.
Also- I know you're reading my blog (for real, I actually do, especially people in Albania) so why not comment- I love feedback!
#1) Traversing through Orikum ('09)
#2) Summertime and the Beach (*new post) ('09)

No Water

So, for now the electricity is back on- albeit in a weak way and the internet keeps cutting out- but I've had a bit of a water problem. Mainly a lack there of. Until now I've been exceptionally spoiled in that I don't have a water schedule like many of the volunteers. I usually have water 24 hours a day- which is, admittedly, quite a luxury.

I'm not sure what to do about it as I have paid all my water bills. The problem is not knowing when I'll have water. I turned on the shower and the water went out after 2 minutes. Likewise, the washing machine stopped b/c the water had been turned off (yes, I have a washing machine). However, last time I had no water I filled up many different containers so I am prepared. I can fill the toilet tank (I'm so handy) and brush my teeth. But, I guess in the grand scheme of things irregular water is not such a big deal.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Black Out

I woke up to such peace and calm. I didn't think much. The usual cascade of voices flowing from the playground is usually a bit subdued or delayed on Saturday.
At 8, my neighbors friend Ilir came to replace my lock (see post: Locked In). I tried to show him how it sticks but it was difficult without electricity. I wasn't sure why I had no electricity but wasn't so concerned. I'm up to date on my bills and can deal with a little black out.

Ilir returned after work at 11 to continue. The lights were still out. Now I was getting slightly concerned. Ilir- I don't have electricity I said. I know he said. I don't know why I said. He responded with the shocking "no one has, no one." Well I certainly know that my neighborhood runs out but no one? And what does "no one" really mean. I asked "No one in the city? Or the neighborhood". "No on in Vlore, Fier, Tirana, Durres". Shocked I looked at him "No one in the whole country??". "Since 5am." He replied.

Unfortunately, I missed the blackouts in my two favorite cities, having been in London when the blackout happened in NY and visa versa. Finally, I hit the right cit and the right time.

If you're going to be in any country when there is a massive blackout affecting millions you want to be stuck in the country in which people walk into the bank with pockets full of cash and are handed, by the bank, lined plastic bags with handles to hold their cash. You want to be in a country where stores have massive generators that take up the sidewalks. For blackouts, Albania is the place to be.

London went was vastly amused when the blackout happened in New York. I remember reading the headlines loudly screeching "Why it could never happen here" only to find it, in fact, happening there a little later. My disappointment at missing the most exciting day of the year was slightly tempered by the holds no bar British press.

New Yorkers didn't know what to do- the had no cash. Swipe, tap and go temporarily disabled people had to resort to using their laundry quarters. Everyone popped up as a taxi driver and to stop from melting away Popsicles were given out like, well, the candy their are. People drank whatever money the could unable to go anywhere.

In Albania, however, life went on as normal. I went to the post office to claim my package confident in the reliability of the god old ledger system. On arrival, I was correct. The ledger, paper slip, and stamping system did not disappoint. The post office was running smoothly, so smoothly in fact, I would have never even known there was a country wide 6 hour long black out.

Outside, things were a bit more quiet as internet shops were closes and music couldn't blare, however things were pretty much normal. No panic, no stress, freaking out or throwing of laundry quarters to random man in vans you've jumped into take you uptown (you know exactly who I'm talking about). Life went on.

On a side note- my water situation is improving. I now have regained water in the bathroom sink

Friday, October 29, 2010

Post Office Part 3

Yes, its true. The post office consumes a disproportionate amount of my blog. However, it also consumes an inordinate amount of time as I must go whenever I think my package pay or may not have arrived and to pay my electric bills. Therefore, besides work and the gym its really the only place I must go to at more than once a month.

I've lately been going to find a package my mother kindly sent. As I discussed before, Albania has wisely decided to invest in LARGE HUGE BIG screen tvs for each of its post offices at which people pay their electric bills. It has also announced that in two years every street in the capital and possibly other cities will have a name and address enabling people to get mail. (Gazeta Shqiptare,"3,000 road signs ready to be put up" p. 18 - Tirana, July 2009). "Tirana Municipality announced that more than 3,000 road signs will be put up in the Capital following the conclusion of the modernization of the address system. The project included the naming of 1304 streets, 840 of which were new street names, and the numbering of buildings. Tirana Municipality is working to complete the city’s Address Book, which will contain accurate and updated addresses. Soon all the data will be entered into the Geographic Information System (GIS) and will feature on the Municipality’s official website."

However, for now, the post office is largely for passports, visa and electric bills. I went with my book (circled in blue) so that I could pay and get stamped when I notice that the stationary picture on the big tv is now showing minimovies advertising the postal service. The one I liked the best has a lady surrounded by an assortment of computer screens on the tables around her, with a large ledger in front of her, pen in hand, smiling up.

I managed to pay with only one person throwing their book, money and bills on top of me while at the counter (circled in red) so I think the bill paying is making a huge improvement. Especially, since though she pushed her papers over to the other side of the counter while I was infront of the hole in the plastic and the woman was calculating my bill, she did it in a very civilized way and didn't even try to push me out of the way (as you can see by the fact that the her papers remained on the top part of the counter- hence not a large or powerful toss). However, she did tell the lady to stop working on me and work on her, but the post office lady ignored her.

No Water

I have no idea why but once again the water has mysteriously disappeared. One day I will find the water bandit. In the meanwhile, I'm pretty happy I went on a massive cleaning spree yesterday that included mopping, dishes and all other water related activities.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I love the Vlore gym. Obviously I am biased as its the only gym but the two brothers who own it are genuinely good men. They work hard at their job and are good at it. Everyone at the gym is happy. The new renovation is amazing. In fact, with the slate floor, shiny tile walls, sleek showers, pull shower and jacuzzi I sort of disbelieving that I'm in the Peace Corps. When I say it can rival Equinox I'm actually not being sarcastic.

However, one thing I do not and will never understand is this: Why, in the unair conditioned third floor gym on a hot day, in the middle of the day, would someone want all the windows and balcony door shut? And why would they insist on it? With the explanation being "I'm going to run"?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


This is ridiculous. I know. I'm aware. I'm also very cognizant of the fact that Elissa has been riding me about my taste in music since 1990 or perhaps 1988. Either way its been a solid 2 decades. That said, here is goes. I've been listening to Danny's Song. Yes- the highly cheesy Kenny Loggins and Messina song over and over and over again. But that's not the worst part. No. The worst part is that it makes me happy. For real. It makes me smile and want to skip but since I'll slip and fall I settle for happy jumping. Try it. Listen to Danny's Song several times and try not to smile. I dare you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


So, I went home for a week and it was fabulous. There is nothing quite as oddly voyeuristic and sublime as being a tourist in your home. Particularly when your home in New York City.

I went home and drank Mojitos, saw art, ate vegan cupcakes and gluten free pizza, saw some more art and talked to everyone. I mean everyone. And people don't do that in NY. They just don't. Keep your head down (or straight). Focus ahead. Don't stare. Even it its a celebrity (for example, Nicolas Cage waiting casually outside the door to the theather you're about to enter to see a play). No, this isn't L.A. We're better than that- oh I mean cooler than that. We play it chill... But I did. I stared, I talked, I gaped. I even smiled- profusely and incessantly. Bordering on creepy. I talked to the people next, the guy next to me, the girl, the little old ladies on the first floor at the theater. I didn't care. I was so happy to be home. They were mostly amused- who was this girl- this girl who looks like a New Yorker, talks like a New Yorker but isn't acting like one. Is she invaded? Their reactions were priceless.

I saw Promises Promises. On that sunny day as Charlotte and I met on the steps of the new TKTS booth whose design I critiqued years ago in architecture school and waited to hear that her niece was finally born we took a break from the phones, technology and amaranthine ringing and beeping to escape into the revival of Promises Promises. Seeing Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth was like seeing sparks fly. As we sat in the balcony I spotted many empty seats smack in front dead center. Like I have done ever since I was a little girl, during intermission I went down to the stage. As a child this routine was undertaken by a parent or grandmother eager to point out the orchestra to me and my siblings. Now it was more for nostalgia, routine and familiarity- the orchestra being good but quite small. I chatted with the ladies who lunch. I asked if the seats were taken. They looked at the seats, looked at me and said now they are with a wink.

I experienced the bamboo exhibit. Rachel and I climbed to the top, begged strangers to take photos for us and basked in the sunshine. There is nothing like New York in late September. I pointed out my old apartment. She watched the shadows. It was a bit sloppy for my taste, some of the joints felt haphazard and random not in a good way but the roof of the Met can't ever be duplicated. The city is just beneath you with its huge green gem smiling up at you. Rachel made me a tiny painting I took back with me.

I lunched with Christy in the Union Square park enjoying my whole foods sprouted take out in the organic decomposing container. We discussed the impending wedding and all that excitement. My last vivid memory of Christy being of us when we were children in boarding school jumping on our beds in our tiny room that was supposed to be a single. Now she's getting married.

I slept at Kiva's, leaving with a bag she had designed. A purple gem with a gold chain detail and more pockets than I could dream of with a slick magnetic clasp. A Kiva original she told me. I use it every day here in Albania to remind me of home (and good design). I missed her show but luckily fashion week happens twice a year. I left her with a less elegant bag of wholesome Trader Joe goodies relishing every moment I had wandering around those new isles finding her snacks for Morocco.

I saw the house. The new house, the symbol of moving on, moving out and building a family. The baby stuff. The heating and cooling - thank you Ian for the tour- and more baby stuff. I look at the picture I have of us at 11 and think that pretty soon Elissa's child will be the same age as we were in that decades old Cejwin photo. I brunched with the pregnant Cejwin ladies the next day (girls in the blue and white shirts to the left of my hot side pony).

I also brunched with the ladies on the beach. My mom actually made her semi- annual trip to Long Island and we all enjoyed the amazing fall sea.

I met Jenny on the roof for cocktails and dinner. Remembering that the last time I saw her was at her new house with her new dog and now there are two houses and babies... and.... I raided her showroom and was given a blanket she designed that I love so much I brought it back with me to Albania to remind me of home. It made the winter so much more bearable.

I ran with friends in Central Park, ate great bagels, drank bitter beer, Popeye pizza, accidentally crashed someone's first date (awkward mistake), drank some more bitter beer, saw old friends, new friends, and finally dined at Craft.

And I went to the wedding- the most fabulous wedding in an artist space in Boston where my cousin showed her true love for her partner and we were all able to share. Took the train up with my mom to Boston. I read the NYTimes on the train. I Saw my family, enjoyed my family, all of my family. Missed playing tennis with my sister and the gym. Saw the new office, new house, and Boston via the duck tour with Aunt Selma. And no, mom, I didn't have time for a haircut.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Locked In

It seems I only write when something bad happens, so I'm going to try to change that. But for now, I will report that I once again was locked in my apartment- but here's the good news: Peace Corps was great about helping me, getting the locksmith here and freeing me. The locksmith came and pushed the door open, enabling me to complete my very important task of taking out the garbage. So, while I have a semi functional lock all is resolved for now.

Friday, September 3, 2010

It Finally Happened

I've heard of it happening to other volunteers. I've heard the horror stories, but its never happened to me. Or, I should say in the last 8 months it hasn't happened to me- until today. The electricity went out at the gym. Not a big deal right? Think- treadmill + running + electricity cut. Exactly - Ejection. Thought so. So, luckily I was being lazy and having a prolonged warm up so I was not forcefully hurled from the treadmill. When the generator came back on I hesitated a bit before I started running but since the guys who run my gym are some of the most responsible, respectful and effective business men and citizens in Vlore I really didn't worry to much. And in fact, 28 minutes later, before switching off the generator, one of the brother came up to me and quite nicely asked if I would stop running so they could switch the power back on. Sweet. Who says NYC is more exciting? I'll challenge those propulsion threat-free gym goers any day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


So today it rained. No- don't get sad. This is good news. Very good news. So good, in fact that when I bumped into my friend on the street the other day one of the first things he said was "Molly, I hear its going to rain". When it is so hot you sweat from sitting rain sounds wonderful. Just wonderful. And, now, having it I can tell you it was wonderful. The heat broke, the air had the great smell and the mud even felt like an old friend who had come back for a visit.