Friday Gratitude: One Year as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Sunday, August 20 marks one year that I have been a Peace Corps volunteer. (June 5 marked one year of my living in Kosovo, but August 20 is when I officially became a volunteer.)

Here are some previously unpublished (by me) photos of my swearing-in ceremony.

swearing in
Taking the oath (look for me on the far left)
April Gardner Peace Corps Kosovo
U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Greg Delawie, Peace Corps Volunteer April Gardner, Kosovo Country Director Darlene Grant,Β Deputy Chief of Mission to Kosovo Colleen Hyland

While swearing in to the Peace Corps was one of my proudest moments, I want to acknowledge the difficulty that came along with it.

First, there was all of the (probably usual) Peace Corps training stress … moving to a new country (and all the culture shock brought on by that), long days of lectures, intense summer heat with little relief, managing new and weighty expectations, etc.

I also had the added stress of missing my only sibling’s wedding, a wedding that was not on the horizon when I first moved to Kosovo. And I completely understand that decision. When you are with the right person, why wait? Especially when neither person cares about having a big wedding. But, knowing I would miss the wedding was difficult to process.

So yes, I look at the photos from my swearing-in ceremony and feel proud. There am I, looking my best, and standing next to a U.S. Ambassador. I also look at these photos and feel a mix of many other emotions.

On a lighter note … on Sunday, the countdown until I finish my service will drop below the one-year mark. Wow … less than 12 months to go, after starting with 27!

A Light-Hearted Comparison of China vs. Kosovo

I was talking with my mom about my trip to China in 2012. She suggested I write a blog post, comparing and contrasting my experiences in China with those in Kosovo.

Please note that this meant to be a fun, light-hearted comparison of the two countries, rather than a deep cultural analysis. Also, I only got to spend 10 days in China, whereas I’ve lived in Kosovo for a year. I am more familiar with Kosovar culture than Chinese culture.

Having said that, here are a few fun observations about both countries.

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In both places, I’ve felt like this:

Going through customs.jpg

China and Kosovo are both mountainous countries.

Great Wall
The Great Wall of China
Novo Brdo, Kosovo
Novo Brdo, Kosovo

In both countries, I’ve used “squatty potties”:

We called these -squatty potties.-
Toilet in China
squatty potty
Toilet in Kosovo

There are scorpions in both countries!

Before I went to China, I was like, “I am totally going to eat a scorpion.” I imagined showing my friends and family a photo of me eating a scorpion, and all of them being suitably impressed by my bravery. Well, then I got to China and visited a night market. When I saw all the scorpions wriggling on sticks (they’re still ALIVE!), I lost my nerve. I have come to accept that while I am not a picky eater, that doesn’t mean I am an adventurous eater.

Yummy. Live scorpions on a stick.
Mmmm

For the record, I have never seen a scorpion in Kosovo. I’ve shown the following picture to locals here, and they claim never to have seen one, either. But! A volunteer living up in the mountains took this photo. I’m convinced.

Scorpion in a toilet
Don’t sit down!

American fast food. Yes, it exists.

The only American fast food chain that exists in Kosovo (as of right now) is KFC, although they offer a limited menu. What’s the point of going to KFC if you can’t order gluey macaroni and cafeteria-style mashed potatoes?!

I don’t remember what all I saw in China, aside from McDonalds. (No, I didn’t eat there.)

McDonalds!
McDonalds in China

I engaged with local superstitions in both countries.

In China, I hugged this tree to gain an extra year of life.

Tree hugging for an extra year of life.jpg

In Kosovo, I flipped over a tile on this roof to ensure I will get married.

IMG_2754

So, there you have it. A fun comparison of my experiences in China vs. Kosovo. I realize this post features a lot of toilet pictures. You’re welcome.

 

My Trip to Beijing, China 2012

This time of year (mid-August) always makes me think about the trip I took to Beijing, China in 2012. It was part of my graduate school program in social work. I traveled with 15 other students. Every morning, we attended classes on the topic of International Adoption Policy.

China was my first international trip (unless you count Canada and the Bahamas). I was 31 at the time, and had always wanted to travel internationally. Since my trip to China, I have been to nine other countries (Spain, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, France, England, Italy, Germany, and Hungary).

Before going to China, a friend told me, “This trip will change your life.” After I returned, it took me a while to see how much of an impact the trip had on my life. Sure, it was fun to travel and learn about another culture, but was it life changing … ?

Almost exactly two years after our trip, my professor lost her long battle with cancer. She was a compassionate woman, teacher, and social worker. She had this soft, sweet voice that mirrored her nature. BUT. She was totally capable of cutting right through b.s. (Not that I ever tried to b.s. her!) Since her death I have become very close to her family, especially her teenage daughter. I am so thankful to have them in my life. I don’t think I would be as close to them as I am were it not for our shared experience of going on that trip. So you see, the trip did change my life, just not in any way I could have predicted.

Lynn
My professor, Lynn Boyle

In Beijing, after we attended school in the morning, we would go on various excursions in the afternoon. Some were fun, cultural trips and some were work-focused. We met with several NGOs, visited an orphanage, and got to tour a medical facility where they performed minor corrective surgeries (to fix things like cleft palates and club feet) on orphans.

My second favorite photo
April and the Great Wall of China
View from the Summer Palace
A view from the Summer Palace
We took a ride in this boat.
At the Summer Palace
Me in the Forbidden City
April in the Forbidden City

Visiting the orphanage was an especially powerful experience for me. I have often thought I would be interested in doing some type of work with orphans. Well, an opportunity arose here in Kosovo for me to teach at an orphanage one day per week. I’ll start this fall. It is amazing how life brings us the things we seek, isn’t it?

At the Amazing Hands orphanage

Surprise Saturday Post

I don’t normally post on Saturdays, but I wanted to share a few photos and stories I’ve seen on the web recently and liked. Happy weekend!

These photos, a collaboration between Polish photographer Marcin Nagraba and costume designer Angieszka Osipa, are stunning.

pagan-slav-culture-photography-marcin-nagraba-angieszka-osipa
By Marcin Nagraba, Agnieszka Osipa

I have long been an admirer of Jim Carey and a blogger I follow posted this inspiring video. “I needed color.”

I don’t think I would be brave enough to decorate my home this way, but this place is one-of-a-kind.

And last, this made me smile. πŸ™‚

bride
From the Game of Slavs FB page

Friday Gratitude: Woot for Secondary Projects

The temperature has been flirting with triple digits all week. There is no relief. 😦 I’ll be taking a short trip in November somewhere VERY far north. Though it is months away, I keep thinking about it and fantasizing about the cold …

A friend (who also hates hot weather) told me she’s been looking at pictures of herself wearing sweaters and feeling nostalgic. I was like, “I’VE BEEN DOING THE SAME THING!”

This week, I’ve been busy with secondary projects. I’ve written a bit about secondary projects previously. As a reminder, a “secondary project” is any project a Peace Corps volunteer takes on in addition to their primary job role.

My friend Val and I co-facilitated a writing workshop at KosovaLive yesterday. We had a blast! At the end, I turned to her and said, “That went exactly how I pictured it in my head.” πŸ™‚

Val Dema and April Gardner

I will be volunteering at the Anibar Film Festival in Peja all this coming week. I’ll be acting as the juror assistant, meaning I am the liason between the jurors and the rest of the Anibar staff. I’ll also be responsible for making sure the jurors get to where they need to go on time. I’m a little nervous, but on the bright side 1) I’ll get to see a lot of films and 2) I’ll get to spend time in Peja, my favorite city in Kosovo.

Anibar Film Festival Peja.jpg

I’ll be posting more about these projects in the coming weeks, so stay tuned …

Side note: Last Friday evening, I was in Peja. Some friends were showing me where all the film festival sites will be. Then, we stumbled upon a dog show in the park. You just never know what is going to happen in Kosovo …

Peja Kosovo dog show.JPG

Yesterday, when I was in the Peace Corps office, a care package from my mom arrived. That NEVER happens! And it only took two weeks to reach me! πŸ™‚ She sent lots of good snacks for me, and puzzles, coloring books, and toys for my little host cousins. Thanks, Mom! πŸ™‚

care package
I may have broken into the Muddy Buddies already.

Media Consumption this week …

  • I read A Mercy by Toni Morrison. While it was beautifully written, I didn’t find the story very interesting.
  • TV shows … do I have to say it? Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Sesame Street. (How’s that for variety?)

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Catch you next week! πŸ™‚

Pit Stop at Tartine, Pristina

Cafes are a big part of life here in Kosovo. (I’d love to see a report on the number of cafes per capita … there’s probably like one cafe for every five people in Kosovo. [I am making that up/exaggerating. But only a little.])

outside Tartine

Tartine is a popular breakfast place among the Peace Corps volunteers. Tartine primarily serves quiche, smoothies, and coffee.

During a low point this last winter, I remember lying in bed and scrolling through Google images of “fruit smoothies,” fantasizing about colorful, healthy drinks and feeling sorry for myself. (Pathetic.) A few weeks later, a friend introduced me to Tartine. And I got a smoothie! I also got a quiche and some coffee. πŸ™‚

breakfast quiche tartine pristina kosovo

Although cafes are a big part of the Kosovar culture, in the smaller villages (like mine), they are frequented almost exclusively by men. I’ve heard that Tartine is owned by a woman. While I don’t know if this is true, every time I have been to Tartine I have only seen women working.

inside Tartine
Inside Tartine
vignette tartine pristina kosovo
Cute decor
wall decor tartine
A wall hanging … I’ll admit, I think this is weird.

If you’d like to read about other places I frequent in Kosovo, check out this post about Sach Cafe, and the (VERY SADLY!) now-closed Sweet Bean.

Learn How to Play Te Rrethi, a Card Game

Do you like to play cards? Would you like to learn a card game from another country, so that you can impress your friends and family at your next barbecue, party, or picnic? Read on, because I will give you step-by-step instructions (with pictures) for how to play Te Rrethi (meaning, “to the circle”), a popular card game in Kosovo.

Te Rrethi Card Game 6

Number of Players: Two to as many as you like. You can add additional decks if you have a large group. (Note: This demonstration uses three players.)

Objective: To be the first player with no cards.

Important Thing to Note: Cards are played “up,” or in ascending order, starting with the Ace and then building 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, and then starting over again with an Ace.

Another Important Thing to Note: Cards are played first in the center of the circle, and then on the other players’ stacks.

Rule: If a player makes a mistake, all of the other players must give him or her a card from the bottom of their own stacks.

  1. First, take a deck of cards and remove the Jokers. Next, shuffle the deck and lay the cards face-down, in a circle.
    Te Rrethi Card Game 1.JPG
  2. Go around the table. Each player draws a card from anywhere in the circle, and lays in face-up in front of himself or herself. Keep going around the table until someone draws an Ace.Te Rrethi Card Game 2
  3. The person who draws the Ace lays it in the center of the circle.
    Te Rrethi Card Game 3
  4. The person who lays down the Ace gets to play again. He or she can either play the top card from the face-up stack in front of them, or draw from the circle of cards at random.
  5. The player will either first play off the Ace in the center of the card, or will add to another players stack, or will have to discard into their own stack. (Example: I lay down an Ace in the center of the circle, and then draw a 2. I will play the two in the center. Then I draw again. Or, I lay down an Ace in the center of the circle, and then draw a 5. I see that a fellow player has a 4 face-up on their stack. I will lay my card on top of their card, adding to their pile. [Remember, the object of the game is to get rid of all your cards.] Then, I draw again. Or, I lay down an Ace in the center of the circle, and then draw a 10. I don’t see anywhere to lay the 10 [none of my fellow players have a 9], so I must discard the 10 face-up on my own stack. My turn is over.)
    Te Rrethi Card Game 4
    Remember, always play on the center FIRST, if you have the appropriate card.

    Te Rrethi Card Game 5
    If you DON’T have a card to play in the center of the circle, you will THEN look to see if you can discard your card on another player’s stack.
  6. The next player goes.
  7. When all of the cards from the circle have been picked up by the players, the game still continues. Each player will flip over the stack in front of them (so that the cards are now face-down) and will pull a card from the bottom of the stack to continue playing. (Keep repeating this step as long as you have cards. Once you have played them all, flip your stack over [face down] and again, play the first card from the bottom of the stack.) You will continue to place cards on the center stack (which was the middle of the now-nonexistent circle) first, the other players second, and your own stack last.
    Te Rrethi Card Game 7
    .

    Te Rrethi Card Game 8

    Te Rrethi Card Game 10

  8. Continue until one player has no more cards in his or her stack. This player is the winner!
    Te Rrethi Card Game 9
    No cards in front of me … I win!

    (Note: I first played this game with my counterpart months ago, but I couldn’t remember all the rules. Special thanks to my site mate and her co-worker for agreeing to play with me and allowing me to take photos.)