Friday Gratitude: Close-of-Service and Winding Down

Hi, Everyone! I’ve been in Pristina since Tuesday, attending my Peace Corps close-of-service conference.

Thanks to my parents for sending me this awesome care package:

care package

My parents have been ON their care package GAME since I came to Kosovo. I so appreciate it, and not just for the snacks. It is nice to feel remembered but it is also comforting. Thanks also to others who have sent me packages: my sister, my aunt, and my friends Katie, Dana, Lisa, Heather, Whitney, and SJ.

Remember when I was crocheting kids’ trick-or-treat bags? I wanted to get them lined so my mom sent me some cute material from the U.S. I hired a local friend’s mother to sew linings into the bags and I got them back this week. They turned out beautifully, SO adorable! She sewed pockets inside and I didn’t even ask for pockets! Here are just a few pics:

Media consumption this week:

  • I enjoyed recently reading Sarah’s Key, so I decided to read another book by the same author: A Secret Kept: A Novel. It was the story of a man who makes a discovery about the life of his long-deceased mother. I enjoyed it.

This post will be the last time I blog on any kind of schedule. For my first nine months of service, I blogged every week day. Since March of 2017, I’ve consistently posted 3x per week. I have enjoyed involving all of you in my life and service. However, by this point, my mind is consumed with topics other than this blog. I am bursting at the seams with ideas for jobs, new creative projects, travel, and people I want to see and talk to when I return home to the States. The last thing I want to do is post blog content just for the sake of posting. I want to provide interesting and useful information to my readers.

Please be sure to follow my blog via email so that you will receive a notification the next time I post. Also, I will continue to update my book list every time I finish a book. If you’re looking for something to read, be sure to check it out!

Finally, I am considering starting a monthly (?) newsletter once I complete my service to keep everyone updated on my first few months post-Peace Corps service. Due to anti-spam laws, I actually need you to opt in if you are interested. Please click here to sign up.

Guest Blogger, Christian: I Choose to Stay

April’s note: The following guest blog post was written by my friend Christian, who is choosing to extend his Peace Corps service.

This week is our close-of-service conference, a reflecting period on our two years here and marking the final sprint of our 27-month service. In 60 days, most of my peers will pack up and begin returning home to new careers, new lives, and wish lists of missed foods. However, I elected to continue my service for a third year. I choose to stay.

Not everyone understands my reasons for staying, I think. After living and working in Kosovo for two years, I finally think that I am beginning to hit my stride. I’ve realized that this time has been a relatively short period to adjust and integrate into a new culture and where my weeks are still marked new discoveries. Extending my service will allow me to continue with my work which I feel is making an impact. Formally switching into the “Community Development” portfolio allowing me to work with several non-governmental organizations and Kosovo’s vibrant youth culture. There are dozens of organizations filled with young, progressive Kosovars that I would have the privilege and excitement to work with as they shape the future of their communities and their newborn country.

During my service, I’ve struggled with the strict gender roles that exist within my community. Being the only male volunteer placed within a village from our cohort, which I’ve had difficultly reconciling my struggles with these gender roles since I am cultural permitted so much more than female volunteers, but exist within the same paradigm. The village’s traditional gender roles which promotes anachronistic masculinity; manual labor, football, and objectification of women exists as the basis or preface of most conversations admist lingering cigarette smoke. This has always left me in a strained position because this is not me. I don’t typically do manual labor (though I’ve chopped wood with a teacher once before, much to my community’s delight), I’m bad at football, and cigarette smoke leaves me nauseated. This has left me feeling alienated when I don’t align with the male sphere and a more sensitive sphere is not an option. Though spared the strict cultural boundaries of a woman, inclusion in the permitting café culture promotes a natural separation. Familiarity always ends at the family home.

IMG-1804
Christian’s village (Photo is courtesy of Christian)

I’ve tried addressing these challenges by working on learning the history of my village. My village was occupied by Serbian forces and sustained American bombing to dislodge them. Every summer, Halo Trust searches the various nondescript fields that comprise the village for the unwanted remnants of the war. Amenities such as water and electricity, everyday utilities that Americans and other developed world citizens take for granted, are relatively new to the village. Both of which were installed by USAID in an effort to rebuild the village and Kosovo in the post-war period. I have found my own solace with my difficulties by remembering theirs and their small, but significant gestures of showing me that I’m welcomed in their community, an honor that many wouldn’t receive.

Extending my service will require me to leave my quiet, farming village into the city of Peja. I adore Peja. I like the frequent rains and sipping makiatos by the soaked windows and walking between the scintillating trees and their ladel like leaves. Watching the fog banks roll down the mountains every morning and the blueish gray tones of the overcast skies melding with the light of Rugova Canyon. How the city exists almost in tandem with the nature around. The street dogs resting in sun lite patches through the parks’ canopy while the gyjshit nap on the benches, both in their usual spots. The gyjsha at the hole-in-the-wall pasta shop and how she slips between speaking Albanian and Dutch effortlessly, a skill she learned from husband who she met while studying cooking in Sardinia. Staying would let me become part of this dynamic rather than an observer.

One of my motivations for joining Peace Corps two short years ago was to experience something different. Initially I was offered or interviewed for several posts; Jordan, Armenia, Ukraine, before fate aligned with Kosovo. During our COS conference, I’ll reflect on my village and the conclusion of my tenure here. The surprisingly vivacious topic of whether I am a “Berisha” or a “Gashi” (both are local family names). The innate skill of knowing which cows belong to which family. Knowing where the spring puppies will be hiding, nestling into the wild grass for its generous reprieve from the heat (This is behind the mosque and next to the barbershop if you must know). The villagers giving me assorted squashes and gourds from the back of their tractors from their autumn harvests. And of my creative, selfie-eager students preparing for their final year exams, trips, and prom. I was motivated to experience something different and being a member of this community for the past two years was surely that.

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

I am considering starting a monthly (?) newsletter once I complete my service to keep everyone updated on my first few months post-Peace Corps service. Due to anti-spam laws, I actually need you to opt in if you are interested. Please click here to sign up.

Saying Goodbye to my PST Host Family

In Peace Corps, all volunteers go through a three-month, in-country pre-service training (known as “PST”). During this time, each volunteer lives with a temporary host family. I went to visit my PST host family this past Friday to say goodbye.

I’ve done a bad job of keeping in touch with them. They live on the other side of the country from where I am now. Kosovo is a small country and the distance wouldn’t matter so much if I had access to a car, but I don’t, and so it takes me 4 hours and 3 buses to get to my former home.

It was nice to sleep in my old room one last time and to see my host parents. Unfortunately, my host brothers weren’t there. They are all working in Pristina (Kosovo’s capital city).

balcony
View from the balcony

My host mother and I went on a little hike shortly after I arrived. I miss my old village because it is so much more beautiful than where I live now. My host mom told me she takes a walk up the hill every day because she loves nature.

host mom
Host mom and me
hill 3
.
hill 7
.
hill 2
.

hill 4

I learned something sad during my trip. Remember the kitten, who I met on my birthday two years ago?

cheap-trick-t-shirt-tiger-kitten

I saw her last March and she had grown into a beautiful cat.

kitten-then-and-now

Unfortunately, she died. I texted my host brother about it and he said both cats got sick and only one survived. He doesn’t know what happened. 😦

The gray-and-white cat (who I think of as “Mace,” which is the Albanian word for “cat”) is thankfully still alive and well. She is a sweet cat. Still, I had a real soft spot for the tabby. Rest in peace, little one.

tabby-cat-blue-rug-grass
.
naughty kitty
Mace being bad and trying to get on the table during my last visit …

There have been times when my Peace Corps service has felt like it dragged on, but while I was visiting my old house, I could not believe two years have passed since I lived there.

Read more about my experiences (and my friend’s experiences) during pre-service training (PST):

I am considering starting a monthly (?) newsletter once I complete my service to keep everyone updated on my first few months post-Peace Corps service. Due to anti-spam laws, I actually need you to opt in if you are interested. Please click here to sign up.

Friday Gratitude: Starting to Say Goodbye

On this day two years ago, I quit my job to join the Peace Corps. I remember because today also happens to be my sister’s birthday. (Happy Birthday, Kris! Hope you and mom had fun at the Cat Cafe.) 🙂

Today I am headed to my training site to visit my first host family and to say goodbye to them before I leave Kosovo. They live on the opposite side of the country from where I am now. I haven’t seen them since March of last year.

My mom, sister and I have been talking about hosting a garage sale when I get home this summer. I’ve been working on various crochet projects so that I can set up a craft table and sell my wares. I like this purse so much, though, that I might keep it for myself. 🙂

Crocheted purse
For me?

You may have noticed that my Instagram account is now set to private. I was feeling a bit “Big Brothered” this week. Hopefully some time in the future I’ll feel comfortable making my account public again.

Media consumption this week … nothing, except Frasier. I started reading a new book, too.

All next week I’ll be in Pristina, attending my COS (close-of-service) conference. In PC Kosovo, we have four conferences total, two our first year and two our second. I am looking forward to seeing my friends. This is likely the last time our entire cohort will ever be together. (Wow … ) Also, the conference is being held at my favorite PC-chosen hotel and I am looking forward to a week of good food and access to a pool. 🙂

I’ve thought long and hard about how/when to end this blog. I thought I’d make it to the end of the school year but guys, I just don’t have much else to say. Over the last two years, I’ve shared as much about Kosovo and my experiences serving in the Peace Corps as I could. I *think* next week will be the last week I post with any regularity. I may post a few more times between now and the end of my service, but sporadically. Be sure to follow my blog via email in order to receive updates on when I post.

I am considering starting a monthly (?) newsletter once I complete my service to keep everyone updated on my first few months post-Peace Corps service. If you are interested, please click here to sign up.

Bear Sanctuary, Pristina, Kosovo

Chelsea, my favorite Peace Corps volunteer*, had a recent birthday. Since she is a known bear enthusiast, a group of her friends got together and we took her to the Pristina Bear Sanctuary. (*She told me I had to write that.)

bear sanctuary entrance
Entering the bear sanctuary

Some restaurants in Kosovo used to keep live bears in cages as a way of attracting customers. The bears were poorly fed and kept in deplorable conditions. They have since been rescued and brought to the bear sanctuary to live (since they are too domesticated to be returned to the wild).

My fear was that we wouldn’t see any of the bears, but we saw quite a few!

sleeping bear
First sighting, a sleeping bear!
just chillin
Second sighting, two bears!
ahhhh
Ahhhh!
close up
A close up

This bear was so roly-poly, I wanted to cuddle him. It’s a good thing they have fences up to keep people like me from trying to do that.

smell the flowers
A good lesson from a bear: It is important to stop and smell the flowers.
passed out
Look. At. Those. Feet!
Chelsea and bear
Chelsea and the bears!
bear biography
Bear Biography
bear facts
Information about different types of bears
bear mural
Chelsea and a bear mural
walking the path
Friends walking the path

This blonde bear was a favorite. She kept digging and digging.

blonde bear
Blonde bear
bear in a cage
A photograph of a bear in captivity. 😦
the view
A view of the sanctuary
bear chilling in the shade
A bear enjoying the shade
pristina bear sanctuary
Leaving the sanctuary

As another friend pointed out, calling this the “Pristina” bear sanctuary is a bit of a stretch, as it is several kilometers outside of the city. We had to take taxis to get there — two taxis for 9 people for 40 Euro round trip. Our taxi drivers went to get coffee for an hour while we explored the sanctuary. That’s Kosovar hospitality for you. 🙂

april bear sanctuary
April at the bear sanctuary

The bear sanctuary was very well done — very beautiful, lots of good information, cute touristy stuff to buy, and a cafe and places for kids to play. I highly recommend visiting!

***

I am collecting email addresses for my new newsletter. Please click here to sign up.

 

A Visit to the Deçan Monastery

My friends and I visited the Deçan Monastery a few weekends ago. We were fortunate to go on a mild spring day.

Decan monastery 1
A view from the road
Decan monastery 4
Entering the Decan monastery
Decan monastery 2
Doorway
Decan monastery 3
Decan monastery
April
April at the monastery

Some interesting facts about the monastery:

  • There are 10,000 portraits in the monastery.
  • St. Stefan’s tomb is inside and every Thursday at 7:00 p.m., they open to tomb to show visitors St. Stefan’s “uncorrupted” hand (meaning, it has not decayed). Sadly, I did not visit on a Thursday evening and did not get to see his hand.
  • The monastery has a rare fresco that depicts Jesus holding a sword. It is one of the only images of Jesus holding a sword in the whole world.
Jesus sword
Christ as Protector (Image via johnsanidopoulos.com)

Here are posts about other monasteries I have visited in Kosovo:

***

I am collecting email addresses for my new newsletter. Please click here to sign up.

 

Friday Gratitude: Simple Life

“I’m a year ahead of myself these days
And I’m locomotive strong.”
— Elton John / Bernie Taupin (Simple Life)

A friend who is extending asked me what I will miss about Kosovo. I will miss the simplicity of life here. Case in point: I called AT&T this week to look into getting wifi at my parent’s house when I return there this summer. It took fifteen minutes to get two questions answered: 1) Do you provide service at this address? and 2) How much will it cost? Twice I asked for a number to call back when I am ready to order service and the customer service rep wouldn’t give it to me because I really needed to order it NOW in order to take advantage of THIS SPECIAL OFFER. I eventually hung up on the ho.

I’d like to point out that I have wifi at my house in my tiny village in Kosovo (but my parents in a semi-rural part of Michigan don’t have it). And wanna know how much I pay to have data on my cell phone? 3 Euro per month. I am not looking forward to a $60+ monthly phone bill when I return to the States, plus $100 per month for Internet.

(That’s another thing I’ll miss about Kosovo: how inexpensive life here is.)

I was invited to an impromptu dinner with friends on Wednesday night. It was nice to do something different from my usual weekday routine and I got to spend some time in my favorite city.

IMG_8356.JPG

Here’s my media consumption for the week …

  • I found a copy of Precious by Sapphire (2009-10-20) at the Peace Corps library. I’d seen the movie Precious, which is based on the book, when it came out to theaters. The book was just as powerfully sad. 😦
  • I read The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarity (she also wrote “Little Big Lies”). This is a story of, well, a husband with a terrible secret. I found myself disliking the book’s surviving victim, but I liked the other characters and their interwoven stories.
  • I watched a zillion episodes of Frasier.

Also, I forgot to mention this on a previous post but when I got back from vacation, I had a care package from my parents AND one from my friend. 🙂 ! (I’ve already eaten ALL of the snacks from both packages … help.)

I pass this church every time I take the bus into the city and I always wish I could visit it and take photos … I think I’d need a car to get there, though. I keep thinking maybe someday I’ll hire a cab to take me.

church on a hill kosovo
A view from my bus window.

Happy weekend. XO