Sunday, December 14, 2008


I’d like to start this blog entry with a quick disclaimer. As previously noted, this blog is written by me and is in no way connected to the American government or the Peace Corps. All the opinions within are mine and not representative of any government, or whatever. I tend to forget that I’m posting my ideas and experiences to the whole world. As, well, that’s how the internet works. This blog is meant to be a way for my friends and family to easily read about my experiences in Albania and wherever else I may be. By putting it up on the internet, I of course, open up my ideas and experiences to a wider audience. I really have no idea why anyone who doesn’t know me would be interested in my reasonably mundane musings on life abroad. (Lets be frank, I don’t think even most of the people who know me would be particularly interested, as my life isn’t particularly interesting and my writing isn’t particularly thoughtful or worthwhile.) But, it has become apparent that the people who this is meant for aren’t the only ones reading.

So, quick note to those not familiar with me or the Peace Corps…politics on the local, national and international level are not something I care to discuss or am really even at liberty to discuss, especially on this forum. Let’s leave it at that…and without further ado:

In my continuing effort to keep this blog up-to-date, here’s well, an update. I’m finally back home in Ksamil. Its really nice to finally be back home. Its rainy here. And by rainy, I mean its monsooning. On Tuesdays, I go to school late, which is usually really nice. Since it was raining…raining hard outside and the power was out, I decided to sleep in. Of course my landlord happened to be in town and dropped by to give me a heater. He always tends to drop by when I’m trying to sleep in…so, again, I answered the door in my pajamas. I think he’s beginning to think all I do is sleep. This, I promise, isn’t all I do.

When I finally did decide to get up and face the rain, I navigated a veritable rushing river on my way to school. I got caught on a mid-road island of rock and needed to be rescued by a gjysha (the Albanian equivalent to grandmother…or just general old lady) herding cows. I wish I wasn’t late for school and could have taken some pictures. The water was intense. This was a very Peace Corps moment. Most of the time, I tend to forget that I’m making any sacrifices. In comparison to Georgia, Albania is pretty ‘posh.’ I have my own apartment, a real flush toilet, electricity most of the time, I shower inside and I can cook my own food. This morning, when I was stuck in my road/river, fresh from no shower because the power was out, I remembered…I am indeed in the Peace Corps and Albania does, indeed, have its challenges…as mundane as they may be in comparison.

There was so much rain that school was cancelled mid-day. I, being from Seattle, kind of find the cancelling of school for rain to be odd…but I can’t say I wasn’t relieved. Since school was cancelled early, I had time to go into Saranda to drop by the bank (yay, I finally have an ATM card!!) and the post office. Despite the bad weather, nothing was going to keep me away from the packages I knew I had waiting at the post office. Seriously, packages are worth their weight in gold. Let me repeat. PACKAGES ARE THE BEST THINGS EVER INVENTED AND I LOVE THEM AND THEIR SENDERS WITH ALL MY HEART. Chris sent me like 5 pairs of shoes from my storage unit in Chicago and some spice packets. Presents like these, by the way, if I haven’t made this clear, are always welcome. I also received a card from Alyssa, filled with the traditional and much appreciated newspaper clippings.

So good news, my address does work.
Its simply:
Meghan Dean
Ksamil, Sarande, Albania

I don’t think you need the Sarande part, so that’s up to your discretion, but it can’t hurt. I think you could probably just put “American, Ksamil” on the package and it would get to me. I’m meeting with one of the program directors this week to perhaps do a little bit of site development in Saranda. I’m praying for an almost-site-mate there. It would make my life so much easier. They haven’t put a TEFL volunteer in Saranda since 1997, when the Volunteer there had to escape via Ferry to Corfu when the country erupted into civil war. His escape is profiled in the History Channel series “Getting out Alive.” If you have a chance to see it, its pretty scary. Well, not for you, warm in your first world home, but for me, after the whole Georgia incident and the such. I watched about a week after I arrived down here, alone in my apartment and I kind of freaked out for a little bit. No, but seriously, Albania is stable and I’m totally safe.

In any event, I would be a lot happier if there were a volunteer in Saranda. Since I have to go to Saranda to get anywhere (its where all the busses are) or do anything (Ksamil is super small, I’m the only Volunteer in Albania without even a bank in my town) it would just make things easier and would mean that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting back to Saranda by 4:30 to catch the last bus to Ksamil. So, go ahead and cross your fingers for me.

I guess that’s it for now. I’m off again next week for Group 11 In Service Training. It’s a little bit silly, since I’ve only been “in service” for like two months, but the Georgians are now part of the Albanian Group 11 and they’ve been here since March. As excited as I always am to see everybody and be around English speakers, I kind of have a lot of work to do here and I think my kids miss me when I’m gone, oh, and 8 hours on a bus isn’t fun. My counterpart is getting more and more pregnant by the day, too, and I like to take as much of the teaching load off her as I can. But, alas, staying in a nice hotel with friends shouldn’t be something I’ve come to dread…oh, wait…there was that month in Armenia…
Oh, and here are a few pictures:

Here is Ksamil from a hill to the south

On the coast facing north, towards Saranda

Friday, November 28, 2008

Almost three months in

So, I've been in Albania for almost three months now and I really haven't been updating my blog at all. I know you're all waiting for something...right? Please tell me you're still interested! Well, even if you aren't here's what has been going on in my neck of the woods:

After five weeks in Tirana for a quick and dirty Pre Service Training in everything Albania, I was sent out to my permanent site. I'm in Ksamil, about two miles from the Greek island of Corfu. Its beautiful. Its also super tiny. Especially now, in the winter. There are all kinds of cafes, restaurants, shops, etc., but they're not open now. I can't wait until the warm weather hits to see what my little village is really like. Hopefully I will have lots of visitors. (hint, hint). I really love showing people around Ksamil. Living there everyday, I tend to take the beauty of the place for granted.

Right now, I'm teaching high school in the village's only school. Its pretty tiny, but those kids are a handful. They're keeping me busy for sure. I am enjoying it and learning a ton about Albanian culture and the education system.

What is really hindering me right now is my complete and utter failure at learning the Albanian language. Well, I wouldn't call it a complete and utter failure exactly...I mean, I can get around, travel and buy what I need to...but polite conversation is challenging at best. I just started tutoring sessions twice a week, so things should be coming along.

I'm writing this blog from Tirana, I'm here for Thanksgiving, which was great. It was wonderful to see the other Georgian volunteers again and more of the other Albanian volunteers...oh, and American food was nice too.

I guess those are all the essential updates for now. I'll try to update this blog more often...maybe, if you're lucky, I'll even include some interesting and perhaps humorous anecdotes. I'm always making a fool of myself here...I'm sure everyone in Ksamil thinks I'm insane. Oh, and maybe put up some pictures. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Albania? Seriously?

So, I guess it’s about time to resume my blog. Here’s the one sentence, readers digest version of the last month: we were evacuated to Armenia, where we did nothing.

Of course there are notable exceptions: the “Georgia South Refugee Olympics,” the Sadie Hawkins dance and last but not least, the swearing in of the G8’s in Tsaghkadzor. But, as a general rule, I caught up on a lot of television and read a lot and on our last night I was crowned Grand Master of Didi Michaeli’s new card game, aptly titled “Grand Master.”

Oh, and I also received my luggage! On our last night in Tsaghkadzorr, the PC vehicles pulled up with ALL of our bags. One of the boys in our group walked in and exclaimed “It looks like a Nordstrom blew up in here!” That’s how we roll. With lots of clothes. The bad news was that since we were flying within Europe, only 20kg of baggage was allowed with us. We should be getting the additional 20kg in about a month. In other sad news, I forgot that I had done laundry (in the tub, naturally) the night before we left and left it on a balcony. I now have significantly less underwear than before. But, it’s the Peace Corps, we deal. And, well, frankly, you’re not going to feel sorry for me when I tell you about where I’ve moved to.

I’m now in Albania, my new home for the next two years. Albania is amazing…and I almost feel guilty telling everybody what an amazing time I’m having. Didn’t I sign up for the Peace Corps in hope of a life of misery? Unfortunately this isn’t exactly panning out. First, Albania is beautiful (not to compare, but…its not quite as pretty as Georgia, but refugees don’t complain.) Second, the Albania PC program (staff, volunteers, the whole population of Albania) has gone over and above to make us feel welcome. On our first night we were treated to an amazing lunch that included pizza without…and brace yourself for this one…mayonnaise. That night we had dinner at our country director’s home, met his family and played with his adorable puppies.

On day two we were taken to the beach. Yeah, a white sand beach on the crystal clear Adriatic. How jealous are you now? On a scale of 1-10, seriously. After the beach, one of our program directors took us out to dinner in Tirana (the capital of Albania and where we’re staying for 5 weeks while we learn Albanian) and then we walked around downtown (In dark-time, kids…we’re allowed free range even after 8…unthinkable in Georgia) and while we were looking for a certain wine bar that apparently serves 100 lek (about 1 dollar) wine. We didn’t find the bar we were looking for, but stumbled upon a wine distributor who invited us into his show room and kept bringing us gigantic carafes of tasty Spanish wine and plates of cheese. We decided to buy a few bottles since, well, this is the first real wine we’ve had in quite awhile and he then gave us a discount on the wine we bought. Georgian hospitality is great and everything and I’m used to the wine flowing like water, but this was out of control.

Satiated on good wine and cheese, we awoke this morning to our first language classes, lunch with our program managers and a meeting with the US Ambassador to Albania.

So, yeah. I have no complaints about life right now. Things are of course going to get harder and my next two years won’t be like these last two days, but I’m going to enjoy it while I have the chance. I think we’re going to pretty much get to live like ex-pats in Tirana for the next five weeks. We’re so lucky to get so much individualized attention from all of the PC staff and the American community at large in Tirana.

I’m going to stop bragging now, I’m sure, dear readers, you’ve had enough. I’m going to hold out hope that things get worse and that you’ll have a whiny, bitter post to read next time.

But, I wouldn’t count on it…


This is a really old blog post that I wrote before everything 'went down' in Georgia. It was already written and eventhough not exactly timely, I figured it wouldn't hurt to put it up. Oh, and if you're privy to my ketchup story, here's where it all started...

This weekend all the TEFL’s went on job shadowing trips. How we’re supposed to ‘job shadow’ teachers in the middle of summer on a weekend, I don’t know, but, alas, that was the plan. In all honesty, I think the Peace Corps staff was just trying to avoid insurrection…the business kids always get to leave site and do fun stuff…TEFLs not so much.

Two other PSTs and I were job shadowing a G7 in the Kaketi region. Kaketi is the easternmost region of Georgia. It’s also the hottest region of Georgia and a malaria zone. Oh, and guess who forgot to pack her malaria meds?

If you guessed me, you would be correct. I figured I’d just stock up on tonic water and try to find some good gin. PC medical didn’t feel as optimistic about my obviously well thought out plan. The good news is that you can buy malaria medication in almost any pharmacy and it’s cheap.

Anyway, the G7 we were shadowing lives in a village about 10 km from the Azeri border. This means we were in for a 4+ hour trip on Georgian public transportation from our villages in central Georgia. Yay!

As a quick aside, the notion of Georgian public transportation seems pretty cool, right? I mean you can go anywhere you need to in the whole country for like 20 Lari. But, then you may ask yourself, how can a country like Georgia have an efficient and inexpensive public transportation system? “Cities in the US like Seattle hardly have reliable public transport and the CTA in Chicago is on the verge of collapse,” you may muse.

Well, Georgia can have such a system because it’s ridiculously unsafe and not regulated by the Government. Georgia’s country-wide ‘public’ transportation system is a system of old 16 passenger vans that drive no less than 70 kmh on mountain roads and poorly maintained highways…but, hey, they’re cheap! I’m sure Wikipedia can do a much better job of explaining these than I can…so have at it.

Back to the trip…so we took various marshutkas and navigated the metro in Tbilisi all by ourselves and arrived in Vardisubani (our final destination) in a little under 5 hours. Vardisubani may be perhaps the hottest place I’ve ever been. It was easily pushing 115 degrees when we arrived and didn’t cool down our entire visit. But, on the plus side, it’s beautiful and our G7 host and her host family were wonderful to us.

On Sunday we traveled up to Signaghi. Signaghi is one of the first towns in Georgia Saakashvili pushed to renovate, as he has a vacation home there. It’s really beautiful in a fakey-touristy sort of way…so of course I loved it! St. Nino’s church, where St. Nino is buried, is also there. If you haven’t been reading up, St. Nino brought Christianity to Georgia and she’s kind of a big deal. We went into the church, which is beautiful, lit candles and touched her tomb. Unfortunately, its kind of holy site, so no pictures of the inside, but if you’re ever in Georgia, be sure it hit it up.

While St. Nino’s was pretty amazing, I think the highlight of the day was lunch. We had Mexican food. Yes. We ate Mexican food in a little town in eastern Georgia. The owner is part of an international Georgian dancing troupe and his brother-in-law is American, so the food was surprisingly authentic…we even had hand made tortilla chips! After a month of nothing but Georgian food (which is amazing, don’t get me wrong…just a little lacking in variety) it was a very welcome change.

The next morning it was time to depart again, we caught the early Marshutka into Tbilisi and may or may not have spent a little more time than necessary making our way from one side of the city to the other. We stopped for American style breakfast: omelets and Starbucks coffee, and did a little window shopping. I bought real Heinz ketchup at the big grocery store in Tbilisi, which really can’t be replicated, and is absolutely essential, I don’t care where you are in the world.

So, all in all, I had a wonderful weekend. It was a nice little morale boost. PST can be ridiculously stressful and adjusting to Georgia can be tough, even though there is a reason certain countries coughlikegeorgiacough are considered ‘posh corps.’ It was nice to have a break and an opportunity to find a few American style comforts. The big news is that they announce our permanent sites Friday…which signals the beginning of the end of PST! We’ve already lost 8 G8’s…I’m just so glad I’m making it through.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Georgia Update....Kind of

Hey everybody,

I'm sure you all know about the stuff going on in Georgia right now. We're safe in Armenia. I have an e-mail with all the gritty details, but I don't want to post it here (other volunteers are having problems with the media taking info off their blogs...and that's totally ar shedzleba (not allowed) So, if you're interested, send me or my mom your e-mail address and promise not to talk to the media.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

"In America, Men Work"

My host mother’s favorite story to tell about me is that on my first day, when I could basically only say 5-10 Georgian words, I recognized and correctly identified a bizhra.

For those that don’t know, (and why should you, really?) a bizhra is a gathering place for men. Basically, they hang out, drink, discuss politics, play cards, etc, on the side of the street. Some bizhras are covered, some aren’t. If you see more than three men standing around, you’ve found a bizhra. The literal meaning, in Russian, is ‘dog house,’ really it needs no explanation. Ironically, or not, there are usually also a number of stray dogs hanging around the bizhra.

In training we’re taught, as women, to stay far, far away from bizhras. When walking by a bizhra, we’re instructed to avoid eye contact and/or speaking to the men. According to our safety and security trainers, like everything in Georiga, bizhras are scary, horrible and to be avoided at all costs.

In all fairness, they’re right. Groups of men in various states of intoxication loitering on the side of the road should generally be avoided. But, in a super small village they’re not really of much concern. Cue my host mother’s laughter when I pointed out the bizhra. I can’t imagine what must have been going through her head. No, actually I can, it was something along the lines of:

“Crazy American, she can’t even figure out how to construct a sentence in Georgian but knows what a bizhra is? What kind of useless crap are they teaching her in class?”

So, if you’re ever in Georgia and recognize a bizhra (and really, you can’t miss them, one is located like every 20 feet) don’t let on until you know the basics of the language. It will save you more than a few awkward moments when your host mom is having a laugh at your expense.

While we’re on the subject of bizhras, as my host mom and I were walking to the store today, past like the fifth bizhra on our way, she asked me if they had them in Chicago. “Uh…ara?” My limited vocabulary kind of prevents me from explaining that no, we don’t have bizhras, but we have bars.

“Uh, ara bizhra Chicagoidan, ara bizhra Amerikeli.” I figured I’d go with the simple nope, no bizhras in Chicago or America in general. My host mom thought about this for a minute and her reply was ridiculously telling. “Oh, ara bizhra…in America men work?”


Yeah, in Georgia men stand around and drink all day and in America, men work. Of course it’s not so cut and dry, but for the most part that’s how it works. Here it seems like the women do all the work and the men just kind of hang out. This may of course be because I hang out with the women all day. I have no idea what the men do. For the most part, men don’t really talk to me. This includes my host father, who I’ve seen a total of one time and has said a total of 3 words to me.
In other important news, I have kind of mastered the outhouse and there is an extensive explanation of how to shower in Georgia included in my “Georgia” album on facebook.


It’s about a quarter after nine o’clock on the most surreal day of my entire life. Today we stepped out of the hotels of Tbilisi and the mountain resorts of Baukurani into ‘real’ Georgia. I’m living in a small village outside of Kashuri with a host family for the next 10 weeks.

After driving from Baukurani to Kashuri this afternoon, we were introduced to our host families and left for the countryside. My host mother and a neighbor girl came to pick me up. As soon as we hit the dirt road, I was informed by my host mother that we were now in Osuriari. Yes, the transition from pavement to dirt delineates the entrance to my new village.

My host family’s house is very nice. Especially my bedroom. It has everything I need, with the notable exception of hangers. Upstairs is where I live (I may still be confused about this, but there are three bedrooms on the second floor and I think I might be the only one sleeping up here….my Bebia (grandmother) totally can’t get up the stairs and I don’t think my two little da (sisters) sleep up here either.) The point is, it’s nice. The other important point is that I CAN’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING.

I’ve been in Georgia for a week now, I think I’ve had a total of 5 hours of Georgian lessons. I can say stuff like “hello” and “goodbye” and even “I am American” but anything more complex than that and I’m totally lost.

This leads to a ton of assumptions and half getting it. Like, I think my dada (mother) does just about everything. She owns a clothing shop, which we visited this evening to close up. She had about 4 items of clothing for sale. One, notably, was a Salvatore Ferragamo knockoff sweater. Pimp, I know. When I somehow got it across that I needed to buy water, we walked to another store and she got water for me and cigarettes for her husband, but didn’t pay. This leads me to believe she also owns this store, but I can’t be sure.

Perhaps most notably, I haven’t figured out how to go to the bathroom. Its outside, I guess it’s an outhouse. I haven’t been brave enough to go investigate. My host family probably thinks that in addition to being crazy, Americans don’t pee. It may be true. We’ll see how long it takes me to get a kidney infection. Honestly, I think I can pretty much deal with anything…the exception being a bathroom that consists of a hole in the ground.

I’ll keep you posted on the situation as it progresses.

A Picture Interlude

I have no idea how to format any of this, but here are some pictures. The city pictures are Tbilisi and the mountain-y pictures are Baukuriani, a Georgian ski resort a few hours outside Tbilisi.
The picture below, of people, happens to be of my host mother, Gulo and host sisters, Russo and Mari. The picture to the right of my host family is of Osiauri, my training village, as is the picture of the church below.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


There is an old adage in foreign policy circles that goes something to the effect of “there aren’t wars between two countries with Mc Donalds’. It seems there are at least 50 Mc Donalds’ in Tbilisi and I’m pretty sure Moscow is stocked with them as well. So, if you’ve been worried about Russian aggression towards Georgia, you can stop. There are just too many Mickey-D’s here for war.

Speaking of things American and war-like, our first dinner in Tbilisi was at the same restaurant George W. Bush ate at when he visited Georgia. There is a picture of him on the wall and a street now named after him. He called the country a “beacon of democracy.” As such, the government here is extremely pro-American and, here’s a fun fact: after the U.S. and the UK, Georgia has by far the most troops in Iraq.

As an aside, I’m not sure how political I can get on this blog. I’m pretty sure what I’ve been speaking of so far is just factual, but if this entry happens to be removed in the next week, we’ll both know why.

Getting back to forbidden politics, if you’re at all interested in the Russian ‘situation,’ apparently much of it stems from the strong U.S.-Georgian relationship. Georgia sits in an extremely desirable geo-political position in light of all the oil coming from the Caspian. Right now all that oil travels through Russia. With improved infrastructure (and no doubt U.S. backing) a large amount of that oil can be re-routed, taking Russia out of the picture entirely. It’s obviously more complicated than my brief explanation, but you can do your own research if you’re really that interested. I’m not even interested enough to delve that deep into it. I subscribe to a different theory. There is a rumor that Putin’s old mistress was married to a Georgian and she broke off the affair with Putin to go back to her husband. This, of course, resulting in a hatred for all things Georgia. Also, secretly, Putin’s mother may have been Georgian. And this shame has led to a dislike of the Georgian people.

I’m choosing to believe the fun theories, because I don’t get a subscription to US Weekly and Putin’s Oedipus complex is the best I can do.

So, as we’ve established, Georgian’s love Americans…and we’re being treated pretty fantastically here…at least now. Apparently the squat toilets and bucket baths come next week. We stayed in an amazing hotel in Tbilisi with lots of hot water, electricity and spotty wireless internet. We’re most definitely living the good life. Now we’re in a ski resort town about three hours outside of Tbilisi in a big lodge-like hotel with amenities like mini-bars (which unfortunately the P.C. does not cover) and Georgian fashion magazines. We’re resorting for three days until we leave to move in with our first host families.

Most of Tbilisi, let alone the outer towns and villages, isn’t living like we are. For a capital city Tbilisi is honestly kind of run down and dirty. It’s a very odd juxtaposition. Like, they have designer stores (most notably to the men’s designer fans) there is a Boss store and a Zegna (and not the Z or the Sport, the good stuff). There’s a D&G and Dior here, people. Yet, there are also children begging in the streets and feral dogs running wild across the street. A few streets over from the nice stores and the opera house there are buildings that have more than likely been bombed. They have all these fantastic statues and monuments surrounded by shanty-ish stores. It’s hard to wrap your head around. Overall, my review, after being in country for less than a week is that you come to Georgia for the scenery, the nature and the hospitality…not cosmopolitan conspicuous consumption.

We’ll see how my opinion on this changes after a month or two of bucket baths.

Oh, and a special note to my mother: thanks for the silent ‘h’ in my name that has confused people all of my life. I have to officially drop it here. One of the letters in the Georgian alphabet is the English equivalent to “gh” it’s a deep guttural guuuuhhh. If I use that letter in Georgian, my name becomes Meguuuhhhani. Ew. No thanks. If I were to just use the regular G letter followed by the regular H letter I would basically confuse everybody I came into contact with. The silent H just isn’t done here, Mom. I can’t believe you didn’t anticipate this being a problem.

So, I’m now Megani. Awesome, I know.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In the Begining

Ok, I have no idea how to set up this blog business. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to have some kind of disclaimer noting that the content of this blog does not represent the views of the U.S. government. So, until I figure out how to do that, keep in mind that I do not represent the views of the U.S. government.

So, with that out of the way....

I'm at JFK airport right now. I've been in Philadelphia staging for the past few days. For those of you not down with the Peace Corps lingo, staging is like our pre-pre-pre orientation. We play games and learn about rules. The highlight, however, was being shown around by my dear friend Alicia, who lives in Philly. She was gracious enough to take me to the best cheesesteak stand in the world (or so they claim...I've only experienced the one, so who knows). It was good?

As I mentioned, I'm at JFK right now, waiting for my flight to Istanbul. From Istanbul we ('we' being the 55 other PCV going to Georgia as well) fly to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. We're going to stay in Tbilisi for a few days and then leave for another city where we'll spend another few days in pre-pre training. Then we're divided into smaller groups, of five or so, and placed in a village for pre-service training. We'll be at this site for the first three months, before we're placed in our permanent sites, where we'll stay for the remainder of our service.

So, that's really all the big news. I'll work on collecting some good anecdotes, as I'm sure an outline of my travel plans isn't exactly riveting reading. Oh, and keep your fingers crossed that I find a Brooks Brother's outlet in Tbilisi.

The real explanation:

My love of all things waspy: