Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Two EWEs to all the birthday people. Especially Timmy, Kathy, Dave and Terry!

Monday, November 19, 2007


The rain rain rain came down down down and washed away poor kidlets. It has been a week of rain and about five of the shacks of people we know were flooded. One woman told us she woke in the night to find her children crying while floating on their mattress towards door. We decided that we needed to do something, though our resources were limited. Dave got together with a friend and set out to find sand bags. Can you believe it, there are no sand bags in Albania! Dave tried the Red Cross, European Union help organizations and every other help organization that we could think of. No luck on any of them. Finally, they came up with the idea of using flour sacks.

You should have seen him covered in flour from the 200 used sacks he had gathered. Unfortunately there was no camera handy. A local church heard a rumor of what was going on and offered to finance the bags and materials and helped with the bagging.

So after two days of foot work, getting everything together, and a full day of hard labor in calf depth sticky mud...

...a sandbag....oops, flour bag wall was created around five homes. Sadly it's not really enough and their yards and the inside of their shacks are still covered in mud, but perhaps they will be able to sleep without the fear that the river will carry away their children.

For the moment there are smiles even in the midst of hardship.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Those lovely dark beans, to die for.

The ritual of coffee drinking here in Albania is an old one. 500 years of Ottoman rule has left it's mark. Here, drinking nuclear powered cups of pure caffeine is more than just drinking coffee, it means relationship, friendship, connection.

First there are the beans, but beans must be ground. Not the rough grind that we can get in the States, but like fine talcum powder. Through the centuries the muliri, or coffee grinder, has been used for this purpose. Generations of kids grinding away as their mothers ponder the questions of the universe and what they are going to make for lunch.
After the grinding, the process of the brewing can begin. You will need a xhezve, a small cooking "pot". They come in a variety of sizes and materials from the beaten copper one shown here, to practical everyday kind.

Fill the xhezve with enough water for however many demitasse cups you are planning to make. Add a coffee spoon of sugar for each cup. Boil the water and the sugar and remove from the heat. Add and stir one heaping coffee spoon full of the coffee powder for each cup. In some countries they add cardamon and orange blossom water. Here in Albania we just drink the pure stuff.

Put the xhezve back on the heat and let it begin to froth up. This is the delicate part. If you don't leave it long enough you won't get the foam. If you leave it too long you won't get the foam. A coffee without the foam, or cream as they call it here, just isn't coffee. So you leave the coffee on the heat just long enough for the foam to form, but take it off before it boils.

Gently pour out the coffee, sharing it out in turns if there is more than one cup.

I'll never forget my first experience of drinking Turkish coffee. The taste was exquisite, but that last sip was a loo loo. What nobody had informed me of was that the last fourth of the cup was filled with coffee grounds. That was an eye-opener.
Everything for the Albanian people revolves around relationship. Their lives depends on it. Everything here is boiled down to who you know. The ritual of coffee is one of the more important rituals cementing the society together.

Monday, October 22, 2007

My son, Timmy, was lamenting the fact that he didn't have a bicycle the other day. When I reminded him of the fact that if he had one all of the neighborhood kids would all be asking to ride it or trying to take it from him, he got this resigned look in his eye and said, "I guess I really don't want one after all." It's hard to have things in an area where other people don't.

This made me think of Nene Teresa, ethnically Albanian though born in Macedonia. She, like all of those in her order, took a vow of poverty. While very noble, I think it very practical as well. If you are inspired to help the poor, and believe that the best way to help is to live in their community, it is truly uncomfortable to enjoy your "riches". I say riches loosely, as luxury is in many cases in the eye of the beholder. What seems like necessity to one may be a luxury for another.

Not only would it be in some ways more comfortable to take up a vow of poverty, but then when everyone asks you for money you can say in perfect sincerity, "I don't have it to give you but I can help you rebuild your house with my time and effort".

All I can say is that it's not easy being a have living among have nots. It's a tension that is with you every day and with everyone that you interact with, like standing on your toes all day.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The grape stomping gang

Dave at his best

Monday, October 8, 2007

These are images from one of my favorite European cites. Can you guess where? Budapest!Every time I have visited I have come away refreshed. I love the colors. I know there are still some remnants of the communist era, like big grey apartment buildings, but just look at the tiles on this roof. It makes me happy just looking at them. But it's not only the place. I have a friend, Virag, she and her husband Csaba are such an example and inspiration to me. They came to Albania with their kids, facing down the disapproval of both of their families, to help Albanian youth. They came even with great difficulties, health, education for their kids and much more. For several years we met weekly encouraging one another and sharing our woes. She had to return to Budapest due to health and other reasons and I miss her greatly.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

It can be easy to be negative and see only the ugliness, both the physical and spiritual that are so prevalent here. It's easy to be so overwhelmed with the ugly that you can't see anything else. How very sad that is when that happens.

Beauty, diversity, squalor, all are part of my life here. It just depends where your eye lands and how you interpret things. It takes God's grace every day to remind me to see the beauty in the people and in all it's unexpected forms.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. ~C. S. Lewis

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.
~C.S Lewis

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Here they are, all my lovely family.

This is Dave making his wine. He's still outside at the is very moment (10pm) working on the white wine. He did allow the rest of us to help a little.

Though at times it can get frustrating having to shop almost everyday for things here, I still enjoy going though the open market. It can be beautiful and full of those bright colors I so enjoy.
My sense of what's beautiful has changed over years. I guess time spent being bombarded by scenes like this one has given me an appreciation for bright and in your face colors. It makes me happy to see the cheerful kaleidoscope of color.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Arggggggggg! The stupid Internet is throwing a fit today. I can't stay on for more then two minutes. Grrrrr! Ah well, such is life. Maybe tomorrow I can get some pictures up or maybe even look at the comments. It's all a great mystery.

How does one truly help the poor. You want to give financial help or physical help of some kind. In many instances though, that kind of help is no help at all. Tomorrow they are still in the same difficulties. Then there is the fact that there is limited resources that one couple can give. Who do you give it to? The ones you don't give it to are bitter and jealous, the ones you do give to are never satisfied. You know that it won't get better for them unless something changes inside them. Somehow their motivations or outlook on life needs to change . It's true that there are outside things that affect their ability to prosper, ethnicity, education, work opportunities or lack there of. Yet, that's not really the problem. It's a problem of spirit. Lack of hope and inability to love one another. Poverty of spirit is something that the rich and the poor have in common.

Monday, October 1, 2007

This is our electrical situation, need I say more?

She has seen two world wars. She has stories about how nice the Italian solders were to her and how jealous her husband was. She tells of the food they gave her and the flowered tent. Her life has not been an easy one and much if not all of it has been spent traveling and begging. I have been visiting nene (or Grandma) for the last five years or so. Last week she fell and broke her hip. It makes me so sad. There is little hope for her. She is too old and poor for the doctors here to do anything for her. Her family keeps her at home in her little shack. She lays in pain, unable to move much. It's not a pleasant way to go. I'm sure her family would just like to see it over with. She's old after all. She's so afraid of death. There is so little we can do. I have brought her pain medication, but it's only a drop in the bucket of her need.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wine Making

I never knew that wine making could be so basic. I found that out about yogurt making too. In the west we make it so complicated. We have to buy all sorts of specialized gadgets to make it work when really you don't need much. For yogurt all you need is warm milk, a big jar and and a spoon of active yogurt. It's really amazing how good it is too. Wine making is a little more work intensive and I imagine it's a lot like guitar playing. Not to hard to learn the basics, but much more difficult to do it well. Our wine is almost done. I have not idea if it's drinkable or not. Dave is so proud of it. I want to put pictures of us stomping on the grapes, but for some reason I can't upload very well. Connection is probably too slow.