Guest Blogger, Garrett Wheeler: Agriculture in Kosovo

April’s Note: My friend Nicole asked me to write a post about gardening/agriculture in Kosovo. Since I don’t know much about the subject, I decided to outsource her question. Below is the account of one of my fellow volunteers, Garrett Wheeler.

With the advent of spring arises a slew of tasks pertinent to raising crops. After months of neglect, farmers begin restoring fields marred by frigid weather. Makeshift fences, comprised of wood and barbed wire, oft become loose or fall apart on account of the wind. A pair of pliers, hammer, digging bar (an instrument somewhat akin to the crowbar), and U-nails are needed to mend damage accrued. While pliers pull and twist wire until taut, U-nails are driven into wooden stakes. The digging bar, aside from punching holes in the ground, may act as a sledgehammer fastening poles that have wriggled free.

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Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Upon completion of maintenance, a far more grueling chore awaits; fertilization. As a tractor, equipped with a trailer, positions itself near the accumulated pile of manure, workers, with the aid of pitchforks, start the loading process. Though precautions, like gloves and rain boots, are taken to promote cleanliness, the job is inherently dirty. It is not uncommon, for example, to have dung flung your direction; especially when fatigue sets in. With the trailer overflowing, tractor and crew make their way to the field. While the tractor cruises at a leisurely pace, compost is scattered left and right. A sore back and tired arms are typically awarded to all participants.

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Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

In preparation for sowing, a plow is hauled the entirety of a field leaving neat rows of finely ground soil in its wake. Utensils for digging are then used to create holes. As one punctures the earth, another trailing behind deposits seed. Corn and beans are planted simultaneously. While maize grows upright, the latter coils around adjacent stalks. A nearby stream supplies water when barred.

Gleaning of produce occurs in September. Hefty bags are carted and stuffed with brown pods. Those still green are unripe and need not be plucked. Though the weather may be warm, long sleeve shirts are worn to prevent cuts (maize leaves possess jagged edges which tear skin if brushed). Work is long and tedious requiring numerous days to complete. Corn, conversely, is harvested quickly. Buckets filled to the brim are dumped in a close by trailer towed by a tractor.

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Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Beans reaped must then be strewn across a tarp and left to bathe in the sun. After several days, or when the shells become hard and brittle, the heap is battered with the shaft of a rake. Empty husks are then brushed away revealing seed below. Once the product has been gathered in containers, it is transferred to empty sacks. Prior to dumping, however, it is necessary to remove remaining debris. As one individual focuses on slowly pouring beans, the other uses a leaf blower to flush out unwanted material.
Within the next couple of weeks, sorting ensues. Spilling small sums onto a flat surface, beans malformed or gnawed by insects are discarded. What remains is either stored for consumption of whisked away to the nearest city and sold. Corn, depending on its strain, has two locales. A small granary houses a variation more red in hue used as fodder for chickens. Yellow corn is sent to the second floor of a neighboring building. A machine adeptly removes kernels dispelling bare cobs.

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Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

Friday Gratitude: GOING HOME!

YOU GUYS! I AM GOING HOME TO THE UNITED STATES FOR A WEEK! I’ve been waiting for this vacation since the day I left! It’s hard to believe it has been a year since I’ve seen my home country.

I still tear up when I think of saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. BUT I’LL GET TO SEE THEM TOMORROW! I AM SO EXCITED, CAN YOU TELL BY MY CAPS LOCK?!? I will also be excited to push them aside so I can hug our kitties, Sweeney Todd (mine) and Oz (theirs). (Who are we kidding here? Of course I miss the cats the most!)

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A photo of Sweeney Todd and me from last spring

“Being American” is my defining characteristic here in Kosovo. But once I am back in the United States, “being American” will cease to be remarkable. Identity is a strange thing to consider … we think of it as something so “fixed” (as I wrote about nearly a year ago, in this post), but it really isn’t.

I’ve heard reverse culture shock (returning to one’s own country, after a long time away) is even harder than the initial culture shock of being in a new place. I have a hard time believing that America may seem strange to me, but maybe it will. So much about my country has changed since I’ve been away.

On a lighter note, it’s hard to believe I haven’t driven in a year. While I miss the convenience of having a car, I don’t miss the physical act of driving (and I thought I would). I also miss cooking (and I thought I wouldn’t).

Here are some other things I am looking forward to, in no particular order:

  • Yoga class! In a studio!
  • Dunkin Donuts iced coffee
  • Del Taco!
  • Shopping with my mom at Target, the Dollar Store, Goodwill, and Kohls. (I’m a Midwesterner … what can I say? We like good deals.)
  • Buying presents to bring back to Kosovo.
  • Shopping my own closet at my parents’ house. I don’t have tons of clothing left behind, but it’ll be nice to do some swapping.
  • AIR CONDITIONING! OMG, it’s already a billion degrees here in Kosovo. (It’s possible I am exaggerating. I dislike hot weather.) Family, if you want to know where you can find me, I’ll be lying across the air conditioning vent in my bedroom, weeping softly.
  • Sleeping at night without the sound of a barking dog(s) to wake me. And let’s add my usual 4:30 a.m. rooster wake up call to this bullet point. Sleeping! In peace! With a cat at my feet! That’s what I like.
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Of course, I don’t actually mean this. I like my blog readers! But Cartman! He’s funny!

I won’t be posting next week. I’ll catch you on Monday, June 26!

Pristina Bazaar

A volunteer friend suggested visiting the bazaar in Pristina, so a small group of us went last week. I had no idea there was a bazaar in Pristina!

There was SO MUCH produce for sale, for prices even cheaper than what I can find in my village. (Fifty cents for a carton of strawberries, versus 1.50 Euro in my village.) You can also finds lots of other goods at the bazaar, everything from clothing and yarn, to household items, to cigarettes.

SO much produce! This was just one stall.
So delicious …
Dry goods, honey, and çifteli (2-stringed instrument)
Wall upon wall of cigarettes
We kept waiting for a box avalanche. It didn’t happen.

As far as I know, the bazaar is open every week day. You can find it here:

 

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Creating Worksheets for School

There are millions of teaching materials available on the Internet. I spend a good amount of time pinning worksheets and activities to my TEFL Pinterest board. The problem is, I don’t have an easy way to get things from my computer to the copier at my school. I either end up copying/drawing worksheets by hand, or going to the Peace Corps office in Pristina, printing a copy of something from the Internet, and taking it back to my school to make more copies for my students. (I recently learned I can use my school director’s computer to print directly from the Internet, but I don’t want to make a habit of it.)

A while back, my mom sent me some workbooks from the United States (thanks, mama!). I’ve been cutting them up and taping them to computer paper to create my own worksheets. This eliminates the cumbersome need to find a printer. Also, it’s kind of fun to make my own stuff. 🙂

Here are some examples of worksheets I’ve “created” recently:

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Fruits and Vegetables worksheet
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Summer fun worksheet
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Travel brochure for Kosovo

Here are some more links to materials and activities I’ve used in the classroom:

Friday Gratitude: Cuddling Baby Animals

I was in Pristina yesterday to attend meetings. At the end of the day, I felt inspired and motivated to get started on secondary projects for the summer (workshops) and fall (volunteering with an orphanage). 🙂

While I was in Pristina, I took advantage of some down time to visit a pet shop. It feels wrong to be enamored of these animals when there are so many strays everywhere, but it is also nice to see healthy, well-tended animals for a change.

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Why, yes, I did ask a pet shop employee to take photos of me.
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He kept licking me with his little black tongue!
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Selfie with a Siamese
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Aww, makes me miss my kitty at home.

This is my favorite photo. I posted it to Instagram and inadvertently cropped out the Chow Chow’s bear-paw feet! And you can’t edit Instagram photos once they’re posted (another reason to dislike Instagram). Anyway, here’s the un-cropped version:

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BEAR PAWS!

Media consumption this week …

I mentioned last Friday that I needed some light/funny things to watch and read.

  • My friend Katie suggested trying a Peter Mayle novel for something lighthearted. I downloaded A Good Year from the Chicago Public Library. It is a story about a man who inherits a vineyard in France (yes, please). It was a fun read.
  • I downloaded The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri. This was an easy-to-read, whodunnit murder mystery set in Sicily.
  • After seeing this author’s apartment featured on one of my favorite blogs, I decided to download her book Mirror in the Sky. I usually avoid books about teenagers. I had an atypical high school experience, and don’t really relate to “normal” high school stories. However, this was an engaging read. It’s a teenage love story that takes place during a time when a new, Earth-like planet has just been discovered.

I’ve been reading A TON lately. I just haven’t felt like doing much else. A friend suggested writing a post about my summer reading plan. I was like, “I don’t have one.” But I think it’s a great idea! I’d like to compile a master list of books to tackle in my free time this summer. If you have a book suggestion, please message me. I like reading a wide variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Also, I’d like to keep writing three times per week throughout the summer, but I’m already stumped for ideas. If you have a suggestion or questions, please also let me know!

My Favorite Photos from the Second Quarter

Without further adieu, here are my favorite photos from December 2017 until now. By my own method of counting, I have completed my second quarter of Peace Corps service.

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Peace Corps conference in December
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At the Po-E-Ze Competition

Vacation has started! #pristina #butnotforlong

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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Eiffel Tower

London calling! #cheesy #tourist #london #england🇬🇧

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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Chelsea and April, at a London Pub
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With Charlie, Chelsea, and Sierra, in Prizren, Kosovo

Serbian monastery in the snow. #peja #kosovo

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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A walk in Pristina in February
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Happy kitty!

#Skopje #Macedonia #church 🇲🇰

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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Fortress/castle from the Ottoman Empire, Skopje, Macedonia
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Traditional Kosovar clothing
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Visiting the Ecological Museum

April in Rome Favorite

April in Rome Umbrella Pines
Umbrella Pines
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Inside the Roman Forum
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April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
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Tim, Rachel, and April, in Berlin
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Easter Eggs
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Budapest

I am so excited to be able to send my grandpa a postcard from his mother's home country! #budapest #hungary #motherland

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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My village in Kosovo
April Mirusha Waterfall
April at Mirusha Wateralls
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April, under a waterfall
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Anniversary dinner! Shay, April, Christian, Val, and Charlie

As always, thanks for reading! You can see my favorite photos from the first quarter here.

The Year of Living Dangerously

Today marks one year that I have lived in Kosovo! It is hard, in some ways, to believe that a year ago today, I moved to Kosovo. I met a bunch of strangers at Dulles Airport, boarded a plane with them, and have been with them ever since. Only now, I call them my friends.

Lately, I have noticed a big shift in how I feel about being here. While I still feel like a foreigner, Kosovo no longer feels foreign to me. Does that make sense?

I think having lived here through all four seasons has made Kosovo seem like less unfamiliar. In some ways, it feels like I just arrived here. But then, I remind myself I have sweated through a summer, hiked in the colors of fall, shivered through a snowy winter, and marveled at a long, luxurious spring.

I also feel less like some weird American living among strangers. Living with a host family, day-in and day-out, is less exhausting than it used to be. Boundaries are better set, roles are more clearly defined, and I have grown more used to being a part of life here.

In December, I wrote a post about how I have mentally divided my time here into quarters. By my own counting method, I have now completed two quarters.

My second quarter offered two, distinct parts. The first four months, I was miserable. The last two months were happy, and filled with travel, and friends.

I am thankful to have come out of the blues I dealt with this winter. I suspected my first winter would be tough, and it was. But then the weather changed, and I got to go to Rome an old friend, and my feelings shifted.

As much as I love the friends I have made during the Peace Corps, those relationships are new. It was nice to spend time with someone who has known me for nearly a decade. Thanks for your support, Nicole.

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Nicole and April at the Colosseum

I figure now would be a good time to check in with the Peace Corps “chart of emotions.” (I don’t know what it’s actually called.)

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So right now (months 11-14), I can expect to feel:

  • Impatience with self, program, system (Hmm, I think I actually felt more of this a few months ago.)
  • Place blame on the program (Again, I think I felt this a few months ago.)
  • Constant complaining (A few months ago … )
  • Lethargy (Yes. I definitely have less interest in everything … teaching, blog writing, crochet.)
  • Haughtiness with new trainees (HAHAHA. I haven’t met them yet, but I can see myself feeling this way. These new people, they don’t know what they’re in for!)

At times, the idea of living in Kosovo for another year seems daunting … when do I get to go back to a Western life? But when I think of it as 1/2 of my service being gone, I realize there is still so much more I want to do.

Here are some of my personal and professional goals for my coming service year:

  • Finish the grant for my school and (hopefully) be awarded funds
  • Host workshops this summer (narrative writing and essay writing are the plans for right now)
  • Present to Peace Corps volunteers in Albania about starting a poetry competition there
  • Help my friend organize the national poetry competition in Kosovo this fall
  • Start volunteering at an orphanage in Pristina this fall — I found out last week that my application was approved! I am meeting with one of the orphanage directors this week. I’m hoping this new opportunity fills the social work hole in my life.
  • Possibly do another secondary project for the fall (most likely, teach another English Club at my school)
  • Continue teaching. This is kind of obvious, since teaching is my primary role here, but I suppose I should add it to the list.
  • Get my stuff together and help my friends with their “Faces of Kosovo” project
  • TRAVEL THIS SUMMER! There are so many places I want to go in Europe. It’s hard to narrow them down. But if I had to list everywhere I want to go, they would be: Tirana/southern Albania, Greece, Bratislava, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Prague, Vienna, Croatia, Bruge, England/Paris (again), Florence … SO MANY PLACES!
  • Travel around Kosovo. There are still places in Kosovo I want to see, including Mitrovice (major city), Brezovice (skiing), Dragash/Opoje (conservative mountain villages), Skenderaj (Adem Jashari memorial), Rahovec (wine), Batilava Lake (sounds pretty), the Bear Sanctuary (uh, bears) …
  • Get my face painted like a Kosovar bride … This is an experience I really wanted to have while living in Kosovo. I’ve checked into it, and the price would be 150 Euro. That’s a lot of money for me right now … almost all of my spending money for a month. I need to think about it some more …
  • Continue writing this blog regularly, and enter the Blog It Home contest this fall, assuming Peace Corps still hosts it
  • Learn to speak better Shqip (This is not going to happen. It’s just not. I know I’m going to leave service wishing I could speak fluent Albanian, but I won’t.)
  • Continue to build/strengthen my friendships here. I have made an effort to have a breadth of friendships here, to try to be friendly with my entire cohort. However, I feel like I don’t have a depth of friendship yet. It would be nice to have a “best friend” in the Peace Corps.
  • Think about writing a second grant for my school
  • Continue to consider options when I finish Peace Corps. I’ll likely return to social work, but where/in what capacity remains to be seen …