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, 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.

My PST Host Family

I spent last weekend visiting my pre-service training (PST) host family. I lived with them last June, July, and August. I hadn’t been back to visit them since.

My trip was exactly what I needed. I was in a familiar place, but a place that is no longer a part of my daily life. It gave me a break from the tedium I’ve been feeling lately. My previous village is also much prettier than where I am now. Kosovo is the first land-locked place I have ever lived. It didn’t bother me last summer, when I was surrounded by beautiful mountains. But my current village is located a valley, so it’s a flat/boring landscape with no water. It was so nice to be back in the mountains again!

I also hadn’t realized how much I miss my previous family. It’s funny — there are parallels between my two host families. Both sets of parents are ages 50-55, and both have grown sons/no daughters. But they live on opposite sides of Kosovo and have never met. Also, one family is Catholic and the other is Muslim.

Having been away from my PST host family for so long meant I had plenty to tell them. That’s one struggle I have in living with a host family — my day-to-day life is the same, so all I ever have to say is, “I went to school today. It was good.” I don’t have the language skills to talk about anything deeper or more meaningful, so I run out of topics to discuss. It was nice to be able to have a longer conversation in Shqip.

My trip there took 3 buses, 4 hours, and cost 5.50 Euro one-way (a lot, on a tiny Peace Corps budget). I was pulling my little wheelie suitcase up our dark country road I ran into my host parents, on their way to greet me. 🙂 Back at the house, I told them about life in my new village. I answered a million questions about my new host family, including “Do they make their bread or buy it?” (Yes, that was a real question.) When my host sister-in-law arrived, my host parents recounted everything I had just said to her. Then, when my host brother arrived, they recounted everything again. It was funny.

And, of course, I was excited to see the cats again!

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The Kitten then and now

Have a good weekend, everyone! I’ll talk to you on Monday.

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She looks like she’s smiling. 🙂