Sunday, April 8, 2012
We were in Boise for a couple of days and noticed that the local art-house movie theater, The Flicks, had a movie in Albanian with English subtitles. “Forgiveness of Blood” is set in a small town near Shkoder in northern Albania and tells the story of a family caught in a blood feud under the ancient Kanun law which has seen resurgence since the fall of communism. We called up several of our friends that had expressed an interest in our experiences in Albania and six of us went to see the film. It was a well done and moving story about modern Albania. We were about half the audience. It only showed for a week at the theater.
I think I have mentioned before that one of the goals of the Peace Corps is to introduce Americans to other countries, so the movie and our discussion afterwards helped fulfill that. We explained that was what Albania looks like (although they had picked up most of the trash from the roadside) and that the family depicted was middle class, as they had jobs, an inside toilet with hot water, a kitchen, cell phones and a TV. I have given a few talks and lectures since I have returned and usually am asked to say a few words about Albania before I get to the scheduled subject. We have even been asked to present about Albania to the McCall library travel series next fall. The Idaho Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group is fairly active. The regional Peace Corps office, in Seattle, calls on it to help whenever they come to the area. We have participated in a few recruitment events in Boise,in the community and at Boise State University. Most of those interested are young, but a few are older. We tell them about our experiences and answer their questions.
Lots has happened since returning home. I got a new puppy, a miniature Australian shepherd, named Merle Barkham. Catherine finished her rehab at Barrows in Phoenix and then flew home to Oklahoma in November for the first time since Albania. I then drove with MB in a pick up truck to meet a few of her friends and family and ferry her and some of her stuff back to Idaho. An Idaho friend needed an antique radial aircraft engine delivered to a repair shop near Oklahoma City,so I had a load going both directions. It was a long drive. I had hoped to visit friends in New Mexico or Colorado on the way, but had to divert to avoid early winter snow in the high country going and we were delayed a couple of days in Wyoming on the way back. The tarp flew off in hurricane force winds, but we repaired it and trudged on. It was a relief to see the Snake River valley, at last. The sun came out and the wind subsided. We stopped in Twin Falls so Catherine could see Shoshone Falls (the Niagra of the West) and then detoured, slightly, past Thousand Springs near Hagerman on the way home.
Catherine transferred her care to a doctor friend of mine and finished her outpatient rehab at the Elks Hospital in Boise. It was a relief for me to know that she was in capable hands of people I knew and trusted. Maybe that is one of the definitions of “home”. Since then she has worked as a part time volunteer at the Middle School in McCall. She has not been cleared to return to full work and we have not heard anything about vocational counseling to help her with the transition. She does receive a small amount of support from the Office of Workers Compensation Programs of the Department of Labor as a work injured Peace Corps volunteer. Peace Corps service does entitle returned volunteers to purchase low cost, private health insurance for up to 18 months after return. One thing they might also consider is a private disability insurance program for volunteers, especially for older volunteers who might be planning to return to professional work after service rather than retiring. Because of uncertainty about Catherine’s needs, I decided to resume part time work, mostly filling in where I used to work and consulting. It is not onerous and I enjoy the stimulation of my profession, maybe more than I did before I joined the Peace Corps. I had thought about flying a small plane around the country and writing a book about the unique aviation history museums found at many small airports (like the Warhawk Museum at the Nampa airport in Idaho). That can wait and it is no great loss if it never gets written. Perhaps the internet has made projects like that obsolete, anyway.
We still keep in touch with friends from Albania and our fellow Peace Corps volunteers, both in the US and some still in Albania. We have had visitors from both groups to Idaho, most probably never planning a visit to the Gem State before our meeting. It seems no one, either European or American, ever plans on visiting Idaho. Too bad, it is a great state. Lawrence, my Maltese teacher friend in Korce, came to visit with a friend of his from Malta. We hiked and flew and river rafted, went to a baseball game, outdoor Shakespeare and a blue grass concert. The highlight of their visit was at the State Capitol. The governor, Butch Otter, came out of his office to greet them and insisted on having pictures taken with them sitting in his official chair. That is something that just would not happen in most states and definitely not in most European capitals. They were simply astonished. It made me proud to be an American and, especially, an Idahoan.
Amid the vitriol of the election season when each side, it seems, paints the opposition as not just wrong, but traitorous, it is easy to lose sight of the many blessings of American democracy. People may camp out in protest in front of the capitol, but they are fed, provided free health care and would even be helped to find employment (if they wanted) by government, church or community agencies. Stories about corrupt politicians or police are still news. Riots and beatings are rare. People still care about and take pride in their communities. Service in government, or the military or, even the Peace Corps, is still valued and done for reasons of altruism and patriotism. These are values I hope take root in countries like Albania and, perhaps, the Peace Corps can help with that. I know that my time in the Peace Corps has helped me see more clearly and appreciate them at home.