Money

“The best things in life are free
But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees
Now give me money (that’s what I want)” — The Beatles, Money (That’s What I Want)

So … money in the Peace Corps. There isn’t any. The end.

No, just kidding. Oh, not about the no-money part. That’s true. I just meant I have a little more to say about it …

I mentioned I am in PST (pre-service training) for the Peace Corps. Here’s how the money situation works right now. The Peace Corps gives me:

  1. Rent money, which they give directly to me, and which I give to my host family. This is to cover the cost of my expenses (feeding me three times per day, water and electricity I use, etc.).
  2. Transportation money (I take a taxi to training every day, 1 Euro each way)
  3. And … 2 Euro per day as “walking around money,” which I receive as a monthly lump sum.

I know! 2 Euro per day doesn’t sound like much, does it? But let’s break down the cost of some common things I buy:

  1. Macchiato — 50 cents
  2. Chocolate croissant — 40 cents
  3. Piece of pizza — 40 cents
  4. Chicken sandwich from our favorite chicken sandwich place — $1.50 Euro
  5. Postage to the United States (per item) — about $2.50, depending on what it is
  6. Package of gum — 40 cents
  7. Pack of travel tissue — 9 cents (Seriously, when was the last time you bought anything for 9 cents? Never?)

Here is a receipt from lunch at a nice restaurant. The total cost was 7 Euro for 3 people. We all had a bottle of water. Charlie and I each got a hamburger and fries, while Sierra got a margarita pizza. (This sounds like the beginning of a textbook math problem, but I promise, no math is involved.)

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For those of you who are all like, “I can’t visit you in Kosovo. It’s so expensive!” My response is: “Yes, it’s expensive to get over here, but once you’re here, you can live like a king!”

Think about it.

One Week in Kosovo!

Hi, everyone! Did you miss me over the weekend? I’ve decided on a goal of posting once daily Monday-Friday. I need a break from processing/writing about my life on the weekends.

Yesterday marked my first full week in Kosovo! Yesterday was also the first day I’ve had off from Peace Corps activities. While I was looking forward to having time to myself, I was also nervous about how I would fill that time. I ended up taking a walk around my village alone, calling a friend in the States, reading, and spending time with my host family.

My three host brothers all returned to Pristina last night, going back to jobs and school. All three speak English pretty well, so I’m getting to know them better. The youngest is the friendliest and also speaks the best English. He likes spending time with the bees (my family has 4 cows, several chickens, a cat, and a number of bee hives). He told me, “Bees have complicated lives. They work like humans.”

The middle brother is the one getting married next month. He is a bit reserved, so I probably spent the least amount of time talking to him. The oldest brother took a while to warm up to me, but seems friendly enough. He likes Game of Thrones, so I suspect we’ll get along just fine. He told me he watched the first season in one day. I told him that in the United States, we call that, “binge watching.” He works as an elevator technician, and asked if I am afraid of elevators (no). He assured me that elevator cables, “never, ever, ever break. That only happens in the movies.” Good to know.

My host parents don’t speak any English. After dinner, my host mother asked me something while waving her hand. It took me a moment to figure out she was asking if I wanted to go for a hike in the mountains (yes). Our 12-year-old neighboring cousin came with us, and picked tiny strawberries for me to eat along the way. On our way back, I asked if I could come to his yard to see the puppies (his dog just had a litter of ten).

I had heard pets are not really a thing here in Kosovo, and it’s interesting to see the different attitude people have toward animals. My host mother made a face when she saw me holding the puppy, and afterward, my 12-year-old cousin insisted we wash our hands. (Really, farm kid? You’re worried about touching puppies?)

My family has an outdoor cat. On my first day here, I asked my middle brother the cat’s name, and gave me a strange look and said the cat has no name. My family just calls her “mace,” which is the Albanian word for “cat.” (It sounds like “matzi.”) Here is a picture of Mace:

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(She is no substitute for Sweeney Todd, obviously, but at least I get some pet therapy.)

My host father returned from his trip to Albania last night. I showed him the homework I’ve been working on for Peace Corps. He kept saying, “Bravos, Ah-preel!” when I got something right, and “jo mire” (no good) for things that were incorrect. I’d neglected to fill in part of one worksheet, an exercise on numbers, and he prompted me for answers while filling them in. It was cute. 🙂

Today, and every day for the next three months, I’ll have Peace Corps training all day Monday-Friday, and for half of the day on Saturday. I meet my language teacher and the two other trainees living in my village each morning, and we share a taxi ride into the next largest village. This morning, we set up our local bank accounts, had a break for lunch, and then completed two Peace Corps trainings. On training days, we walk up a steep road to a beautiful hilltop restaurant, and meet in the conference room there.

Here’s a picture of the restaurant’s view:

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Feeling Not Unlike a Puppy at the Pound …

WOW! Today was my most eventful day in the Peace Corps so far (okay, okay, it’s been a whopping 4 days and counting). But today was the day I met my temporary host family! After a morning of training and lunch at the hotel, our group packed up the bus and drove to a school about a half an hours’ drive away. Before we were released into the schoolyard, we were each given a printout with a different clip art picture on it. We were told to look for the family with the matching picture. My picture was:

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Stepping out of that bus was nothing short of terrifying. (One of my fellow volunteers said, “I hope my host family doesn’t hate me.” YEAH, DITTO THAT FEELING.) I had to remind myself that I’m not actually an orphan–I have a loving family … a family that is currently 5,000 miles away. *gulp*

We all crowded onto the school yard, and then the doors to an adjoining building opened and … out came our new families. I spotted an older gentleman also holding a yellow smiley face and when he approached me, I began to panic because he was alone. (Um, am I going to live with him alone? Just the two of us? How is this appropriate?) But then one of our Albanian-speaking Peace Corps staff members stepped forward to introduce us, explaining that the man’s wife and family were at home, and that they had hosted two other volunteers in the past. That made me feel a little better.

Short cut to, me following this man and getting into his car with all of my luggage. My host father speaks very little English. I speak very little Albanian. On the drive, I tried to inquire about his family. He didn’t seem to understand the words “children,” or “kids,” so I mimicked holding a baby. He told me he doesn’t have any babies, but then stated he has 3 sons.

So we drive up to this man’s house, where I meet his wife, who also doesn’t speak any English. After taking my things inside, we come back out to sit on the patio.

Before being matched with our host families, we had to fill out a questionnaire. I mentioned I like to hike, which is partly why I think I was matched with this family. My host brother stated his mother likes to hike, and then said, “Every day when you get home from school, you will go hiking with my mother.” (EVERY DAY? Geez. At least I’ll have tight glutes to look forward to.)

There is so much else I could write, but it is very late and this post is getting long. I met various other family members today, including a 12-year-old cousin/nephew, who speaks English pretty well and with whom I played games like tic-tac-toe and hangman; and my host brother’s fiancé, who speaks the best English of anyone in the family and who is completely lovely.

My host brother and his fiancé are getting married July 30, so, it’ll be my first Kosovar wedding! I was told that not only am I invited (of course), but I will be sitting at the family’s table. This goes to show you the level of kindness and hospitality being extended to me.

Here is a view from the balcony:

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And here is my new bedroom. Finally, I have unpacked!

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Eleanor Roosevelt said you should do one thing every day that scares you. Well, Eleanor, I did ten things today that scared me. And there’s a lot more to come …

First Full Day

The windows in our hotel are similar to those in the dorm room I stayed in while I was in Beijing. So my first thought upon awakening was, “I’m in China,” followed by, “No, I’m in Kosovo.”

(I realize I misspelled Mariah Carey’s name in my last post. I was deliriously tired when I wrote that). I went to sleep around 9:00 p.m. At 2:30, my roommate and I awakened by the call to prayer. I had trouble getting to sleep after that, maybe because I was jet lagged, or maybe because I tend to be a bad sleeper in general. When my alarm rang at 8:00 a.m., I struggled to get out of bed.

We had a full day of training today. It was held onsite, in the hotel conference room. I got to meet my Albanian language coach, with whom I’ll be working for the coming three months.

Ramadan has just begun. People throughout Kosovo will be fasting on different days throughout the month. They don’t consume food or water when the sun is up, which means dinner is after 8:00 p.m. and breakfast can be as early as 2:30 a.m. Peace Corps volunteers are not expected to fast. We were also told it is not rude to eat in front of someone who is fasting, nor is it rude to ask our host families for something to eat.

Below is the view from my hotel window. I took a video of our hotel room to post, but the Internet connection here has been reeeeallly slow today. I’ll upload it later if I’m able.

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First Impressions

“And I think it’s going to be a long, long time
til touchdown brings me round again to find.” — Elton John, Rocket Man

Hello from … Kosovo! We touched down today around noon local time. My first thought when I saw Pristina (the capital) from the plane was, “Home!” I’ve been thinking about Kosovo for over a year now, and now I am finally HERE!

First impressions: It’s beautiful. Here’s what I saw when I walked out of the airport:

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The second thing I noticed is that the houses are spaced … differently. In the States, you know how suburban house are close together, while houses in rural areas are spread out? Here, the houses aren’t close or spread out … They seem randomly spaced. Also, the houses are HUGE. Many of them are three stories high. As we were driving to our hotel, we’d round a corner and come upon a cluster of houses, along with a few little shops (auto repair, beauty salons, gas stations, etc.). And then there would be a long stretch of nothing.

My architecture vocabulary isn’t great, but if I had to describe the houses, I would call them Spanish style? I saw roofs that reminded me of those found in southern California, stacked orange tiles that look like cylinders cut in half.

My life for the last day and a half has looked like this: check-in at Dulles airport, a flight to Vienna, a brief layover, an hour flight to Pristina, a bus ride to the hotel, hauling luggage up four flights of stairs, a quick meeting, a nap, dinner, a walk, and now an updated blog.

Peace Corps staff were at the airport in Pristina to greet us. It had been strongly suggested that we change out of our “travel clothes” and into something more presentable during our layover. (Years ago, I saw a picture of Mariah Carey stepping out of an airplane wearing a bikini, a full-length fur coat, and stilettos. While I think this would’ve been an awesome getting-of-the-plane outfit [especially if I wore an American flag bikini] I opted for a more conservative look.) I swapped my t-shirt and hiking pants for a blouse, dress pants, and a string of pearls. I bought the pearls on a graduate school trip to Beijing and almost didn’t pack them due to their sentimental value. But, pearls are a fast and easy way to class up any outfit.

Tomorrow starts a full day of training. Until then, I’m signing off to catch some zzzz.

[Side note: Yes, mom, they do have chocolate in Kosovo!]

Hello, Goodbye from Washington, D.C.

I made it to D.C. last night! I arrived 3 hours late, waited 30 minutes for the free airport shuttle (now that I’m in the Peace Corps, I have to be frugal), wolfed down an overpriced and under-satisfying meal at the hotel restaurant (so much for frugality), and managed to swim at the hotel pool for 20 minutes before it closed.

Did I mention I also wrangled 118.5 lbs of luggage by myself? I didn’t even use a cart! I just bungee-corded my carry-on suitcase on top of one of the larger ones, and dragged everything behind me. It was a Herculean feat.

My parents drove me to the airport yesterday. My dad drove around the airport in circles while my mom helped me haul my luggage to the United counter. When we hugged goodbye, I said, “Thanks for not crying.” She said, “Of course. I’m excited for you.”

I don’t have kids, so I can’t imagine how it feels to put one on a plane, knowing you won’t see her for a long time. But my parents have been nothing but supportive. After my mom and I parted ways, I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder at her. Mommy. 😦

Now I’m off to the airport again, to officially register for the Peace Corps and get back on a plane. The next time I post, it’ll be from Kosovo.

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