6/26/11 : A Day in the Life of Albanians.

            This past week has been a challenging one to say the least.  Even though this is an “environmentally focused” internship and blog, I cannot deny the fact that social issues go hand in hand with all environmental issues.  One social issue that plays a monstrous part in my experience here is the discrepancy between female and male roles in Kosovar culture.  It is not socially acceptable for females to do any manual labor what so ever.  I actually heard an Albanian man refer to females as “servants.”  Now if this is actually an act of chivalry, I am not convinced, but it has created much frustration in my Americanized brain.  Women in the U.S. are challenged and encouraged to play a part in “manly” roles.  We are permitted to speak up in debates, become business leaders, and even run for president.  Here, if I even pick up a shovel to start digging, 70% of the time an Albanian man will walk right up to me, shake his head, say something in a language I obviously cannot understand, grab the shovel, and turn his back to me and start digging.  Now, I am aware that maybe it is somewhat of a personal control issue (ha!), but I find this extremely rude and demeaning.  However, I am required to slap a smile on my face and go sit down with the other women and children, which I have found is quite relaxing.  J
            Another social issue here is (again) a cultural difference between Americans and, well lets say most of the rest of the world  -  Time.  It cant possibly be because no one here can afford watches, but here this term “Time” does not exist.  A typical morning here would consist of us, Americans, running around for an hour trying to find supplies such as cement, rebar, or well lids.  After actually finding them, communicating that they need to be delivered before the end of the month is another disaster.  Once communicated in a gracious manner as not offend our suppliers, we continue on our way to begin prepping the ground.  However, THEN a family doesn’t have enough shovels for more than ONE person to dig up a 2m circle outside of the well.  Or tea is served, and served again, and then again.  And maybe a few more times if you’re not careful.  And by the time the circle is dug, or the women have decided 2 liters of tea was enough, its lunch time.  After a break for lunch the gravel/sand/concrete mixture is delivered, but Manly arguments proceed for an hour about the proper proportions to make a sustainable cement mixture.  By the time the rebar is laid out and the mixture has been argued about for at least 40 minutes, you go to plug in the concrete mixer….and…..oh, the powers out.  So then you must mix it by hand, which in itself takes about three hours.  Then, and only then, is it OK to leave the 100-degree weather, go home drenched in sweat and dirt, only to arrive home, where there is no running water.  For the 10th day in a row.
            In all of my experiences working over seas, being both a female and an American have never quite provided for a stress-less adventure.  However, I have found it is up to the individual to put their social norms or culture on the back burner, for a short time.  Because if you don’t, you’ll never leave American culture…ever again. 


            Well, I’ve been in Kosovo now for exactly two weeks.  And in the past two weeks, I have learned so much about this land!  I am here for an Environmental Studies internship working with an organization, Water for Life.  Our home base is in Skenderaj, which is about an hour west of the capital city, Pristina.  We make a fifteen-minute commute to the town of Tushile where we have a goal of reaching ten houses in my two months here.  As of now, most wells in the town of Tushile have already been dug.  However, we are helping the community improve their wells to USAID standards and requirements.  These standards ensure safer, cleaner water for the families. 
            We are also installing electric pumps, piping, and storage units to the houses in order to create more easily accessible sources of water.  Because the cleaning, cooking, and washing are primarily the job of the women, this allows their work to be almost cut in half.  Water for Life requires each family to pay 10% of the project’s costs.  This has averaged about 25 Euros per well/per family (~$37).  Funding through churches, families, and individuals who desire to make a change in the water-world provides the rest of the finances.
            Right now I am living in a two-bedroom apartment with nine people.  Yes, I said nine people.  Our leader, his wife and their 2, 4, and 6 year old children share a room.  Another intern Christina and I share a room, while interns Jonathan and Besnik sleep on the couches in the living room.  We haven’t had running water for more than an hour/day in over five days.  Yes, I said five days.  Whenever we have running water, we run to fill about fifty empty 1-liter water bottles and some buckets.  However, with this many people, it lasts maybe two days.  Baby-wipe showers have been a requirement for cleaning. 
            Speaking of plastic bottles, the only source of “guaranteed clean” drinking water is through the purchasing of 6-pack, 1 liter bottles of water running anywhere from1-3 Euros a pack.  This is expensive, wasteful, and extremely inconvenient.  When you think about an entire country living off of bottled water, you have to question waste management.  And this is something that barely exits, while recycling doesn’t at all.
            Between waste, lack of waste management, water contamination, lack of water at all, and poverty, this country seems to be on the verge of collapsing.  For some unknown reason, the people continue barely making a living, while living in a barely-existing environmental state.  My time here is the beginning of a desperation in striving to understand some of the world’s environmental crisis, not just America’s strife and struggle to be a power hungry “green” nation.  Our eyes need to open to the helpless, hopeless nature of impoverished nation’s continuous battle with our natural environment, such as this place.  My Kosova.