Ovine Assault Vehicles and Other Animal Behavior

On Wednesday night, Abby and I went to the weekly ex-pat dinner. This week’s dinner was being held at a restaurant behind the football stadium, near to the park and the Polytechnic, and about two city blocks away from the U.S. Embassy. Abby parked, and got out, opened the back door, and leaned in to get her purse. (I had already crossed the street.) As she straightened up out of the car, she saw a pack of wild animals round the corner and start heading straight toward her. I turned around too as I heard the pounding of feet along the sidewalk toward the car. It took a few seconds to comprehend what we were seeing:

Fortunately, the herd ran right past Abby. Or perhaps unfortunately: had they stopped, she might have been able to pinch some wool.

Meanwhile, activity continues in the Park. The dogs seems to have carved out territories for themselves. I see the puppies less often at the lake now; it seems to have been taken over mostly by adult males who are very jealous of the area. Abby had been with Cooper a few days ago and had him off the leash, and as she rounded the lake the pack bore down on Cooper and chased him into a long-abandoned, perfectly foul bathroom facility.

Abby had her umbrella so she was able to threaten the pack into retreating, but it took her a while to coax Cooper out, and now he’s nervous until we’ve passed that stretch of the park. (We did walk by there today, with Cooper on the leash. The dogs seemed content to watch us warily, although two of them were mostly intent on humping each other, switching from top to bottom – homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom.) Meanwhile, some females rule the area between two of the cafes in the park; one of them was the dog that bit Cooper some weeks back when he ran into their territory. We also hear the sounds of other dogs barking and snarling – followed by the sound of some other dog yelping – from another area that we haven’t walked through yet.

Clio ignoring Cooper

Scruffy, Clio and Cooper playing

Despite the territoriality, there are plenty of “floaters” in the park, and we still have our friends. Today we played with Clio, a golden lab-mix female on whom Cooper practiced some of his moves, and then Scruffy came bounding over, barrelled into me, and joined the fray. Scruffy and Clio are both very socialized, and Scruffy would follow me to the car if I let him; in fact, both Clio and Scruffy are better at following me off the leash than Cooper is. If I were a little less practical, we’d have six dogs right now.

Speaking of animal behavior, how about those Albanian drivers? (Ba-da-bing!) Seriously, the majority of Albanians on the road have only a rudimentary appreciation of road rules, and for a sizeable minority traffic lights are purely decorative. We have all the American standards over here – the classic “left-turn-from-the-right-lane” maneuver, the “driving-at-night-with-no-lights-on” challenge, and the “I’m-entering-moving-traffic-without-looking” dash, plus a level of red-light running that would shame the worst D.C. driver. However, I’ve also seen some local variations that leave me almost speechless. (Abby wishes they would leave me actually speechless, just so I’d shut up while I’m driving her to work.)

For example, I’ve seen whole lines of cars take over a lane on the other side of a solid white line – not just to pass a standing vehicle, but to continue up the entire road. I saw one driver swerve into the opposite lane of traffic and pass six cars waiting to go through a traffic light, and then run through the intersection after the light has changed to red. And I’ve watched policemen coolly ignore moving violations that would result in crucifixion in the U.S.

So, as Lenin asked famously, what is to be done? I digress for a moment to describe what I did last night. I went to an exhibition hall in the National History Museum and, with five other people, judged a competition of 91 childrens’ drawings. The competition was the culmination of an educational program for third-graders called “Friends of Water”, in which the Water Supply and Sewerage Association of Albania created a curriculum about water conservation and protection that was taught across the country; the students then took part in local drawing competitions on the theme, and the winners’ drawings were collected in Tirana for the final judging and exhibition. I was talking with one of the program directors, an Albanian-American guy from Worcester, MA, and I suggested that the local car insurance companies should run a similar program to teach kids about safe driving and, in Abby’s words, to “shame their parents” into driving responsibly. Since I know the head of the local chamber of commerce, this may become my next project. At least I’ll be doing something other than complaining every morning.

As for the competition itself, I thought it was pretty cute, but I’ll let you judge for yourself. The pictures variously depict the water cycle, the ways that water gets into people’s houses, declarations that water equals life, and exhortations to not waste water.

There were many introductory speeches before the ribbon-cutting.

The participants awaited the results with excitement.

Some of the works were typical of third-graders – busy, colorful, and occasionally incomprehensible.

Even though I couldn’t quite understand this one – something about a drop of water’s journey through the plumbing – the guy’s expression is marvelous. It’d make a great plush toy.

This artist took a decidedly minimalist approach, utilizing only half the canvas.

This one, on the other hand, went for a more complex layout. It talks about not using drinking water to wash the car and not leaving the tap on.

I particularly liked this one. It reminded me of a Keith Haring or the Woodstock poster.

We all thought this one was especially good for a nine-year-old artist. It says that without water, there is no life.

This one, however, bore the mark of a more “mature” hand, probably Dad’s. The material looks like gouache, which most nine-year-olds can’t even spell. Because of our suspicions, it only won on the second round of voting.