“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” — Andy Warhol
I don’t know about being “world famous,” but I did briefly appear on Kosovo television in December. I was one of the organizers of Kosovo’s national “Po-e-Zë” poetry recitation competition. I didn’t realize I was on television until Sierra texted me that night to say she had seen me!
In this video, the first-prize high school winner and the Peace Corps Volunteer from her school are interviewed. I thought this might be interesting to post in case any of you are curious to hear what Albanian sounds like. Or, if you’d like to skip ahead to my (very brief) appearance, I come in at about the 4:09 mark.
(I hope my Vimeo channel doesn’t get flagged for posting this, although there are no copyright laws in Kosovo [or if there are, they aren’t enforced]).
This was probably the biggest, or one of the biggest, secondary projects I’ve undertaken (after my grant proposal). The actual day turned out to be a lot of fun!
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.
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.
On Saturday, my friend Val and I presented at Kosovo’s 7th annual KETNET conference. KETNET stands for Kosova English Teachers’ Network (their website is here).
I am helping Val organize Po-e-Zë, a national English language poetry recitation competition. The competition started in Albania. Val and another Peace Corps volunteer brought it to Kosovo last year. My students participated, which I wrote about in this post.
Our goal in presenting at KETNET was to spread the word and get more local teachers involved in the competition, even if they don’t have a Peace Corps volunteer at their school.
After our presentation, a student who competed last year gave a speech on what competing meant to her. Then, she recited her poem.
This is one of the bigger secondary projects in which I’ve been involved. I am looking forward to working with my students on memorizing their poems, hosting a local competition, and then organizing the national competition in Pristina in December.
On Wednesday, my counterpart and I hosted an adjective memorization contest at school. I had the idea for it at the end of last school year. I was tired of hearing students use the word “beautiful” to describe everything. “My friend is beautiful.” “The shirt is beautiful.” “The apple is beautiful.” All right. Time to learn some new adjectives.
I wrote a list of about 80 adjectives in English, and my counterpart wrote the corresponding words in Shqip (Albanian). We photocopied the list and passed it out to the students, telling them to memorize it over the summer. We told them we would host a content with prizes when they came back to school.
Between my counterpart and me, we came up with the following prizes:
(A stuffed dog and Venice puzzle that came in a care package from my parents; an American flag pencil from a pack I bought at Target; Hello Kitty candies I got in other care packages [I like Hello Kitty but don’t eat candy that isn’t chocolate]; and my counterpart brought in a book of Albanian poetry; a stuff bear; and a notebook.)
Seven students participated, and two girls actually memorized the entire list! Wow. 🙂
To put this into context, my second village school only averages about eight students per grade. So, a 7-student turnout is pretty good!
Today Kosovo goes back to school! Since this is the newest cohort’s first day teaching in Kosovo, I thought I would write about a very easy secondary project I have undertaken at my school. (My aunt called me out — she said she knows I am struggling for blog ideas when I post about teaching. Haha. That’s partly true.)
Anyway … another English teacher at my school approached me and asked if I would compile a binder of different games and activities that we could all use. (There are three English teachers at my school + me.) It was such a brilliant and simple idea, I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of it myself.
I bought a binder and some plastic sheets for under 5 Euro total. I bought them at the bookstore in Peja, but they’re probably widely available.
Whenever I bring in a worksheet or a game for my class, I make sure to bring an extra copy to throw in the book. We keep it on a shelf in the teacher’s lounge, so that everyone has access to it.
What I like about this book is that other teachers can contribute to it, and it is sustainable. My school can continue to add to and use it after I am gone.
Also, I was at one of my schools last week and snapped some pictures, so you can see the inside. 🙂
August 14-20 was the best week I’ve had in Kosovo. HANDS DOWN! I volunteered at the Anibar Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo.
The Anibar Animation Festival began eight years ago. It was founded by my friend’s counterpart, when he was only 17. (What was I doing at age 17? Certainly not founding international film festivals.)
My friend had asked me if I would be the festival’s Jury Coordinator. I told him I would think about it. The next thing I knew, I was having a meeting with his counterpart, where we discussed my role as the Jury Coordinator. I walked out of the meeting thinking, “Wait! Did I ever … agree … to be the Jury Coordinator?”
I’m not going to lie, I was dreading the whole thing. I pictured a bunch of high-powered Hollywood types who would call me in the middle of the night to make strange demands. Turns out, I was wrong to be so worried.
The jury was comprised of five lovely people who came from Spain, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, and the United States.
I met many new people from all over the world. At one point, I was at lunch, and all four of us spoke different native languages (French, Chinese, English, and Albanian). I love that my native language is the one used to facilitate communication between people who speak other languages.
I also saw many films. The festival had two theaters, plus two screens they set up in a local park.
I loved some films, and hated others. Below are two of my favorite films shorts that were shown at the festival. (Warning: Don’t watch these if your boss or your kids are in the room!)
Volunteering at the Anibar Animation Festival also meant I got to spend time in Peja, which is my favorite city in Kosovo. I mean, would you look at this view?
Even the weather cooperated, by backing away from the 100-degree mark.
I miss the little routine I developed every morning, where I bought iced coffee (!!!) and went to the Anibar theater to hang out with my friends (and the newly rescued theater kitten) before the start of the festival’s daily activities.
It was a week full of friends, film screenings, workshops, talks, a gallery opening, and free food and drinks.
The pouring rain on the night of the closing ceremony forced people to abandon the after-party at the park and stay at the theater. Group karaoke broke out across the theater’s stage and balcony. The night ended with a group of people dancing in the flooded streets of Peja.
“The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone.” — Toni Morrison
My friend, Valeriana Dema, and I had the honor of leading a narrative writing workshop at a local NGO, KosovaLive.
Our workshop focused on how we tell our stories. How do we choose what we share? How do we frame our experiences in order to find meaning?
I asked our participants, “How many people here have ever been on a date? How many people have ever had a coffee with someone new?” I pointed out that storytelling is not some lofty, academic thing. It is something we all do, every day, in order to build relationships with other people. We share our stories and tell who we
Next, we passed out an abridged version of this article from The Atlantic, titled “Story of my Life: How Narrative Creates Personality.” We allowed participants time to read the article to themselves.
After reading the article, we posed a few discussion questions to the group. Our participants shared some experiences from their own lives.
We then moved on to a group activity called “Overcoming Obstacles.” Participants divided into groups. We gave each group a slip of paper with three obstacles. We asked group members to come up with ideas of how each obstacle could lead to a positive outcome. (An example: “You failed a university exam.” Possible outcomes: You study more the next time. Or, you realize you aren’t interested in that class, and switch to a topic you would rather study.) Afterward, groups were asked to share their answers with the other participants.
For our last exercise, we gave our participants the chance to write a narrative of their own, and share it with a partner. Val and I each shared a story from our own lives to begin. You can read my story here: For KosovaLive.