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, 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.