Friday Gratitude: I Followed a “Hajde,” and I Don’t Know Why

Teaching has been fine, but lately, I’ve really been missing social work. I’ve settled for listening to The Social Work Podcast.

Tuesday was a beautiful day, so I decided to take a long walk and listen to a podcast episode. I headed south on the road leading out of my village. I was about halfway through listening to the show when I heard someone say my name.

I stopped walking and turned around, coming face-to-face with a young girl on a bicycle. I am not good at assessing people’s ages (as I mentioned in this post), but I’d say she was about 12. She said something to me in rapid-fire Shqip (Albanian). I didn’t understand any of it, except she mentioned my Shqip tutor’s name.

“Sorry, what?” I asked, pulling my headphones out of my ears.

More rapid-fire Albanian, along with my Shqip tutor’s name again.

Nuk kuptoj (I don’t understand),” I said.

The girl shook her head. “Hajde (come here),” she replied, and gestured for me to follow.

We went up, up, up a steep mountain road. Eventually, we stopped at a house that was nestled between several other houses. The girl went inside and came out with a woman who I correctly assumed was my tutor’s mother. (My tutor and I meet for lessons at a restaurant, so I had never before met her family or been to her house.)

Then, the girl abandoned me. I was left standing in the woman’s yard, trying to explain why I was there.

To make matters worse, I wasn’t exactly dressed in my finest. I was wearing sneakers, hiking pants, and a windbreaker. Beneath that I was wearing my ugly khaki Peace Corps t-shirt.

“Hello! I’m a poorly-dressed American who decided to invite herself to your home.”

I introduced myself and tried to explain, in my broken Shqip, what had happened. “I was walking … the girl told me hajde … we came here …”

The woman was my tutor’s mother, and she knew who I was, too. She called my tutor (who was in Pristina) and passed the phone to me. I explained what happened, this time in English. “I think the girl thought I was lost on my way to your house,” I said.

My tutor laughed. Then she told me her mother wanted me to stay for coffee.

Hospitality is a big part of Kosovar culture. I followed my tutor’s mother inside and was presented with a glass of Coke, a Turkish coffee, and a plate of cookies. A short time later, my tutor’s sister arrived. Though she claimed not to speak English well, we had a pleasant conversation (about 70% was in English, and 30% was in Shqip). Afterward, they insisted on driving me home.

I think this story perfectly illustrates what it’s like to serve in the Peace Corps. I leave my house thinking things will go a certain way, something totally different happens, the language barrier gets in the way, but in the end, everything turns out fine.

Teaching Activity: Telling Time

The other week, my counterpart asked me to think of ideas for ways to teach telling time. I did a Google search and found this fun activity using paper watches.

classroom activity telling time

Materials Needed:

Markers and paper
A copier (if you don’t have access to a copier, you could have students draw their own watches)
Tape

  1. Draw a watch (without a time) on a piece of paper and copy it.
  2. Give a watch to each student.
  3. Have students cut out their watch and draw a minute and hour hand for whatever time they choose.
  4. Tape the watch to the students’ wrists.
  5. Have the students take their notebook and walk around the room, asking their classmates, “What time is it?” In their notebook, they should record each person’s name and what time he/she says it is.
  6. (Optional) Ask for student volunteers to read their list of names and times aloud.
classroom game activity paper watches telling time
My counterpart took this photo.

Our students had a blast with this activity! It was easy to prep and a lot of fun. 🙂

You can see my other classroom ideas here:

An American in Kosovo, Part 5

Remember when you were a kid, and it was sooo annoying when an adult would guess your age or grade, and low ball you? And you were like, “Ugh, I’m TEN! How can they think I’m nine?”

Well, a while back, I was at a neighbor’s house and they mentioned their daughter’s birthday was coming up. I looked at her and asked, “How old are you going to be? Twelve?” And she said, “Sixteen.”

***

There is a teacher at my school who greets me by saying, “Miredita, Amerikan.” (Good day, American.)

***

This is an old story, but I haven’t shared it yet.

I attended my host brother’s wedding last July. I had only lived in Kosovo for six weeks then, and was still feeling conspicuous and awkward. The female guests were beautifully dressed, and they would change their outfits throughout the reception. (Imagine being at a wedding where Cher is also in attendance. Now multiple that by 100.)

Everyone began circle dancing. I was trying to work up the nerve to join in. Seated at my long, nearly empty table was a woman I came to call (in my mind) The Beautiful Blonde Mermaid. Excuse the title, but I never caught her name. She was 1) beautiful 2) blonde and 3) had wavy, cascading hair, like a mermaid. I got the sense that she, like me, is a bit reserved, and not sure if she wanted to dance. But then she rose from the table, took me by the hand, and led me out to the dance floor. It was like, “I don’t want to do this, and you don’t want to do this, so let’s do it together.” It was an act of kindness I will remember.

Other funny stories:

A Quick and Belated Post About Easter

I’ve mentioned before that I live in a minority, Catholic community in Kosovo (the majority of Kosovars are Muslim). I was interested to learn two things regarding Easter in Kosovo:

  1. They dye eggs here. (I was gifted pretty eggs by students and teachers alike.)
  2. They do not have the Easter Bunny. Most of my students had never heard of him (her?). When they asked me if he is real, I said he is as real as Santa Claus. 🙂

Processed with MOLDIV

Another fun fact: Dyed eggs may or may not be hard boiled. I found this out the hard way as I was hiding eggs for my 3rd graders. I dropped one and it splattered on the floor. Oops.

Friday Gratitude: Reflections on Travel

April Gardner Rome Italy
Contemplating Rome … (Thanks to Nicole for taking this photo.)

This week, I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to travel. I didn’t start traveling internationally until I reached my 30s. I’d always wanted to, but I didn’t have much money when I was younger. And, many of the jobs I had in my 20s were contract positions (meaning, time off = no pay).

Once, I had a boss who made the comment, “I’ve already done Europe.” At the time, I’d never been to Europe, and I thought, What a stupid (and privileged) thing to say. (How does one “do” Europe, exactly? Check it off the list with a plan to never return?)

I had a conversation with several friends last week, where we discussed travel and being able to appreciate it. (As we were climbing the Spanish Steps in Rome, Nicole heard a kid protest, “I’m tired of traveling!”) I didn’t grow up in a family that took fancy trips abroad. And if I had, how much of that would I really remember now?

I am grateful for travel even when it isn’t fun. Like that time when my brain was fuzzy from consuming half a bottle of wine and prosciutto with the texture of butter, and I stuck our key in the wrong door. (Insert whatever joke you want here.)

Oh, and that time Nicole and I tried to stop someone from slipping into our building without a key, and got screamed at in a colorful mix of English and Italian. (How considerate of you to use the F-word, lady, so that we could understand you!)

But overall, Rome was a dream of a vacation. Our airbnb had a private, enclosed garden, where Nicole and I would have our morning coffee and our evening wine (and write postcards). I have always fantasized about living in a city apartment with a private garden. 🙂 This place was perfect.

Postcards from Rome
Postcards from Rome

While Berlin wasn’t my jam, I am privileged to be able to have an opinion about which cities I like and which cities I don’t.

The ease with which I am able to move about the world is astounding. Twice, I stopped people on the street to ask for directions in Berlin, and they were able to speak English. One man was on his bike at a stoplight, and the other was walking down the street in the rain. And both took the time to kindly point me in the right direction. I am lucky to have the money, time, unrestricted passport, and language to be able to explore other parts of the world.

***

I read three books while I was on vacation:

  • Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter. This was a terrible, violent book. Don’t read it.
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbury. While I’m all for an existential crisis, this was a bit too much pontification for me. I did like the two main characters, though.
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. She’s one of my favorite authors, and this novel didn’t disappoint.

I also watched the series finale of Girls. Was anyone else disappointed by that slap-dash ending?

***

I am grateful to be back in Kosovo. And I am grateful for a host family that will come and pick me up on the side of a two-lane highway, where the bus dropped me off (because the bus directly to my village wasn’t running on Sunday.)

Finally, one last note (and a plug!). My friend Crystal wrote a novel and got it published (by a real New York publishing house)! I am so impressed that someone I know published a book (which has long been a dream of mine). Crystal’s novel will be released this Tuesday. You can pre-order it on Amazon here. (It’s an historical fiction story set in ancient Rome — how appropriate!)

Feast of Sorrow

Notes on Traveling Through Tirana

When doing research on flying to Rome, I discovered it was going to be much cheaper for me to leave from Tirana, Albania than Pristina.

At first, I considered renting an airbnb in Tirana the night before my flight. But then I would have to spend time/money getting back out to the Tirana airport (which is 18 kilometers outside the city center). Also, the bus from Pristina to Tirana stops at the airport on its way into downtown Tirana.

I had United Airline miles that were set to expire soon, so I decided to use them to book a room at the Hotel Airport Tirana. My cost for the room was only 16 Euro, after I used my miles.

***

As my bus crossed the border from Kosovo into Albania, I looked out the window and thought, “Albania is so beautiful.” A second later, someone coughed on me.

***

There isn’t much to do by the Tirana airport. I bought some snacks and spent the afternoon reading on my balcony (a fine way to begin a vacation, by the way). When I got hungry, I debated ordering room service. I’m not keen on eating in restaurants alone when I don’t have to, but room service is generally expensive. I’ve only ever taken one business trip (to Nashville, TN), and that was the last time I ordered room service. The fee was something like $16. Sixteen dollars is an obscene amount of money to order a mediocre cheeseburger, even if someone else is paying for it.

I called the front desk, and learned that the fee for room service at the Hotel Airport Tirana is 1.50 Euro.

WHAT?! SEND IT UP!

I ended up getting two room service meals during my stay, and the total cost for food + fees was 11 Euro. (Oh, Eastern Europe, how I love thee!) I got to eat dinner in my pajamas! In bed! 🙂

So, my total cost for traveling through Tirana, Albania was 10 Euro for the bus, 16 Euro for the hotel, 11 Euro for room service, and probably 3 or so Euro for snacks. (Free breakfast was included in the price of my room.) The 40 Euro I spent (plus my 70 Euro flight) was still significantly cheaper than flying to Rome from Pristina.

tirana airport
The airport view from my balcony

The Tirana airport is across the street from the hotel, which makes this the only time in my life I have ever walked to catch a flight. 🙂