Friday Gratitude: And then there was a sheep …

“She left in the fall,
that’s her picture on the wall.
She always had that little drop of poison.” — Tom Waits

Because a barking dog and a crowing rooster weren’t enough … we had to add a bleating sheep to the mix. This is “Sheepie” (the name I use), who my host family purchased a few weeks ago. Don’t get too attached … Sheepie is scheduled to be slaughtered for some festival that’s happening December 5th.

sheep tractor kosovo

I finally stored away my summer clothes in order to create more space in my wardrobe. I didn’t bother doing that last fall, since I didn’t have a lot of clothing then. Since I’ve been living in Kosovo, I’ve purchased a few things, and I also brought back more clothes when I visited the U.S. I only have two shelves on which to store my clothes (the top shelf is for lines; the bottom for toiletries), so things were getting out of control. I feel much better now that things are thinned out and organized.

wardrobe

Media consumption this week …

  • I re-read The Time Traveler’s Wife, for the third time, I think. I was reading ferociously but then got stuck in the middle of a book I didn’t like and nothing seemed appealing. My goal is 52 books this year, so I’ve got to get back on it.
  • I finished the first season of Riviera. The ending was ridiculous.

Happy weekend!

Me, too

I’ve spent the last several days reading about Harvey Weinstein’s deplorable behavior and feeling sick to my stomach. As part of a larger social media movement, I shared a few examples of sexual harassment I’ve experienced to my Facebook page. I debated whether or not to share those stories here, but have decided against it because my blog is public. I don’t feel comfortable going into detail here. However, I do want to say I think the #metoo movement is an important one. I would encourage men who might be reading this to talk to the women in your lives, and ask if they will share their stories with you. Sexual harassment is something that happens to women all the time. In spite of some of the difficult stories I have read this week, I am happy they have opened a much-needed discussion.

Teaching Inspiration from the Best

This summer, I spent some time watching episodes of Sesame Street with my 12-year-old host cousin in order to help her with her English. It had been years since I’d seen the show (go figure). One interesting thing I observed is this: there is no common theme for each episode. Each skit operates as its own thing. I was starting to think of how I wanted to structure the English course I would be teaching at the orphanage in the fall, and this observation gave me hope.

I don’t love teaching. It’s okay. I can do it. But I don’t love it. I especially don’t love lesson planning (not that that really matters … lesson planning isn’t much of a thing here in Kosovo). I struggle to take one idea (for example: how to tell time) and stretch it into an entire class period with enough worksheets, games, etc. to keep students interested.
Sesame Street gave me an idea: since the course at the orphanage isn’t part of school (and I don’t have to follow a curriculum), why not structure it using a hodgepog of activities, rather than trying to commit to one theme every week?

But … what hodgepog of activities to do? I decided that each week would follow the same structure, but with each “lesson” being its own thing. I am now in my fourth week of teaching the course, and here is what I have been doing each week.

1. Each week, I pick 5-6 new flashcards to teach. We start each class by reviewing the flashcards from last week. We review them together, and then I go around the room and quiz each student.

beginning flashcards
Sesame Street flashcards

2. My friend, Sierra, put together this brilliant ABC booklet. A bunch of us have made copies of it. Each week, I give each student a different letter, and they have to practice writing it and then writing all the words they know that begin with that letter.

ABC
ABCs

a. (When we finish the alphabet, I plan to move on to the 50 states, using Xerox copies of an awesome workbook I bought at Target this summer when I was home.)

state worksheets
50 States

3. My mom had the awesome idea to send me a “Where’s Waldo?” book. I’ve copied several of the pictures. I hand them out to students and ask them to find different things in the pictures. “Find a man in a red hat.” “Find a woman in a green dress with a brown dog.” Etc.

waldo
Where’s Waldo?

4. I take out 5-6 new flashcards and we practice those as a group, and then individually.

5. I play a song for them twice in English. The first time, they just listen. The second time, I tell them to listen for a specific word or words, and count how many times it is repeated within the song. Songs I have played for them so far are: “Roar” by Katy Perry; “In My Room” by the Beach Boys; and “We are Family” by Sister Sledge. (Tomorrow’s song will be “Monster Mash.”)

jamberry speaker male-to-male plug
Trusty Jamberry speaker + iPhone

6. I read them a story from this easy reader I bought in the U.S. (I think it was at Five Below.) Then, I ask them follow-up questions about the story.

I have a tutoring background but no teaching background. I don’t know what the best pedagogical approaches are to teaching a new language. So, someone out there with more knowledge may argue in favor of a traditional, single-themed lesson plan. But, I’ve been having fun teaching in this more free-style way, and the students seem to like it, too.

SOS
Photo taken by the orphanage

I feel like I should clarify something: The orphanage where I volunteer has several locations, and the one where I teach is not a childcare facility. It is just an office. At our location, the organization focuses on family strengthening programs to keep at-risk families together. I refer to it as “the orphanage,” though, because I want to maintain privacy by not using the organization’s name.

Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa in Pristina, Kosovo

During my first visit to Pristina, my language training group got to go to the top of Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa to enjoy a great view of the city. The cathedral was under construction at the time. Now, it is finished. I visited again with some friends to see the new interior.

wall cathedral of saint mother teresa
Rainbows and stained glass
door cathedral of saint mother teresa
I love this door.
stained glass cathedral of saint mother teresa
The church has several panels depicting Mother Teresa’s life.
pristina kosovo church 2
Eagle pew
pristina kosovo church 12
Mother Teresa
pristina kosovo church 8
Stained glass + beams
pristina kosovo church 14
Ceiling
pristina kosovo church 10
Pretty stained glass

According to the CIA World Factbook, 2.2% of Kosovars are Roman Catholic. The country is primarily Islamic (95.6%).

I live in a Catholic village. You can see photos I took of my local church here.

Friday Gratitude: Friday the 13th in October

Boo! Happy Friday the 13th!

Media consumption this week …

  • Thanks to my friend, Dana, I’ve been watching an episode of Riviera each night before bedtime. This show reminds me of why I never want to be filthy rich. I want to be rich enough to care for my family and travel and own a home and not be chained to a job I hate, but I don’t need to be filthy rich to do that. I know some successful, well-off people, but no one in my circle is vacationing on a private yacht, you know? Perhaps, because I don’t know any actual rich people, I am assuming television is portraying these people accurately, and that is what makes me recoil. Juila Styles’ character discovers her husband has been burned to death in a horrific yacht accident, and in the next scene, she is impeccably dressed at the coroner’s office, prepared to identify her husband’s charred remains. If I were in that situation, I’d be wearing sweatpants and snot would be running down my make-up free face, but who am I to judge?

***

Kosovo had its first Gay Pride Parade this week. I did not attend. However, here is a photo released by the Embassy. I like the ambassador’s tie. 🙂

IMG_7212.PNG
Photo released by the U.S. Embassy

***
Because it is Friday the 13th in October, I thought I would post a photo of my favorite Halloween kitty, Oz. Oz owns my parents’ house and grudgingly allows them to live there.

Halloween kitty

Enjoy your weekend! 🙂

A Headache and a Half, or, The Story of My Grant Project

“I just get on the mic and spit it.” — Eminem 

I try to avoid talking about the Peace Corps as an entity on this blog. Technically, they’re my employer (or sponsor? over-seeing body?), and writing publicly about an employer is probably not a wise move. In all honesty, I have had a decent experience in my dealings with the Peace Corps. However, my grant project has been nothing but a headache from start to … haven’t finished it yet.

Peace Corps has a pool of money intended to fund grant proposals made by volunteers. To get funding, volunteers must write a formal proposal, submit it before the grant cycle deadline, and have it approved by the small-grants committee. I don’t know how this committee is structured in other host countries, but in Kosovo, the small-grants committee consists of selected volunteers and is overseen by Peace Corps staff.

My grant proposal was for about 1,600 Euro to buy sports equipment for my school. This proposal had been started by my site’s previous volunteer, but due to banking issues, never came to fruition.

After talking with my school, I decided to re-submit the project. I tweaked the original grant proposal and submitted it before the March deadline. I expected this process to be easy, since the project had received prior approval.

The months following turned into a quagmire. The small-grants committee would send me requested changes, I would make them and re-submit them, and then the committee would think of something new to change. After something like the 6th draft, I wrote an email to Peace Corps staff. I was professional in my email, but the gist was basically, “What the hell is going on?” I said that I would be willing to submit one more draft, but if the committee had changes after that point, I was going to drop the project.

A staff member offered to sit down with my grant adviser and me, and we hashed out the last round of changes. This was in May. Finally, my grant received approval.

Next, my counterpart and I had to set up a joint bank account. This process was also a bit of a quagmire. We had to go to the bank on two separate occasions. My host father had to come and sign a document stating that I live in his house. Then, the bank wasn’t satisfied with that document, so my host father had to go to the bank again and sign another document.

I then received word that the grant money would first be deposited in my individual bank account. I did not consent to this. The whole point of setting up a joint bank account is to add a shield from liability for the volunteer. But by the time I received word of this unsettling development, the money had already been wired.

Once the money landed in my account, I tried to transfer it into the joint account. It turns out, the joint account hadn’t been activated. The banker who helped us set it up had gone on a two-week vacation. I don’t know if this caused the delay or was just a coincidence, but in any case, it took another two weeks for the joint account to open. Then, I had to go back to the my bank to schedule another transfer.

When my counterpart and I went to withdraw our money from the joint account, she didn’t have to sign anything. I am not sure what happened there, if she is actually on the account or not, but I have concluded that banks in Kosovo don’t understand what a joint bank account is.

Anyway, this process has been tedious. I have follow-up paperwork to do in the months ahead. I am just glad my school finally got their sports equipment, after nearly two years of waiting.

gym at a school in Kosovo
This is the “gym” at my school, just a classroom.
gym equipment storage
New equipment
setting up soccer football net 2.JPG
Physical education teacher
setting up soccer football net.JPG
Setting up the soccer/football goal
soccer football in Kosovo.JPG
Soccer
volleyball in kosovo.JPG
Volleyball

I was talking to another volunteer and we agreed — a grant project is an easy thing to point to when people ask what you did in the Peace Corps. It is much harder to quantify relationships you’ve built or the impact you’ve had on students, but in the long run, those things are far more important.

I also feel like, as “the American,” I get a lot of credit from the school and community for bringing this project about. But, I share the credit with many people:

  • Our physical education teacher, who was the catalyst for the project
  • The volunteer at my site before me, who started the project
  • My counterpart, for being a huge champion for the project. Also, since she speaks both Albanian and English, she often got stuck with the role of translator.
  • My project adviser
  • The small-grants committee. Even though I hated working with them, the project wouldn’t have been funded without their approval.
  • The local municipality, who gave us an additional 250 Euro for funding
  • The store where we bought the equipment, for giving us a 20-percent discount on our entire purchase
  • My host father, for going to the bank twice
  • The students and other teachers, who helped set up the new equipment
  • Our school director, who allowed us to host a “Day of Health”
  • the Peace Corps itself

Well, now I can add “grant writing” to my resume, even though it is something I never want to do again.

Guest Blogger, Chelsea Coombes: Loneliness

Hello, readers! You might remember my friend, Chelsea, who has written two other guest posts for this blog. Here is a third post from her. -April

I really value April’s blog. It’s a great glimpse inside a single story of a Peace Corps Kosovo TEFL volunteer. I also think her idea of guest bloggers gives it something extra so you, her readers, get different sides to the many stories here. When April and I talked about my guest blog post it was originally supposed to be on my many thoughts regarding the term “posh corps.” However, I have been feeling this overwhelming sense of loneliness lately and since I myself don’t have a blog, I thought I would selfishly use April’s blog to unload my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

Peace Corps is one of the scariest things I have ever done. I moved across the world, away from my family and friends and dove into another culture. Learned a new language and threw myself into a profession I had absolutely no idea about. All in the hopes that, I could potentially make an impact on a life, while yes, learning something about myself. I won’t lie, I am in this for self-growth just as much as I am to make a difference. I applied to the Peace Corps wide-eyed at the age of 23. I knew nothing about the world, let alone myself. But, let me tell you, learning about the world is easy. It’s learning about yourself that is the hard part. I live in a pretty remote area. A mountain town that is underdeveloped and has limited transportation to and from the area. It can feel very isolating, especially in the winter. My daily routine is to go to school, teach, maybe grab a coffee with my fellow teachers, struggle through conversations even though I am pretty good at the language, come home, struggle through more conversations, and then head to my room where I lesson plan and then it occurs to me … Chels … you are alone. No, really, for the first time in 25 years you are ALONE.

I know what you’re thinking. Twenty-five, girl you’re too young to be this self aware and existentially crazed. I thought so too. The first six months were incredible, I learned so much about myself! It truly was the first time that I only had to worry about myself, that I was able to look within and take the time to get to know myself. But, then month seven rolled around and I was like, enough already, I get it!

What I mean is, there is only so much self-growth you can do so fast and when you’re in Peace Corps it truly is the first time you are experiencing loneliness. You call home and even your conversations change. You find you are relating less and less with friends and family back home. And that’s OKAY, it’s just different. So much in my life has changed. I have changed. It’s not good and it’s not bad, it just IS.

The time difference between Kosovo and Home doesn’t help. When I do find time to make a quick call to my mom she is at work or asleep, or vice versa. We will spend time on the weekends playing catch up and it’s really hard not to feel frustrated when I hear big news through social media. Or miss family events, deaths, births, etc.

We are over a year into our service. If I look back on that year I think it’s safe to say I have learned more about the person I am in that short amount of time and I don’t think I could have ever learned so much about her, so intimately, had I not been so lonely. Had I not learned what lonely truly is.

I’m looking forward to learning more about her, and where she might fit in when she goes back home. But I guess I have time to grow into that and reflect on that this winter. Wish me luck!

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