The Final Quarter is Here!

By my own method of counting, I have finished three quarters of my Peace Corps service! (Although my method is a bit off … the first three quarters were six months in length, while the final will be 8.5 months.)

Still … only 8.5 months left of service!

My third quarter was full of ups and downs, with a big DOWN at my mid-service mark (August). According to the Peace Corps “chart of emotions,” that’s when most volunteers feel the worst. It was very true for me. I was bored with Kosovo, tired of teaching and living with a host family, and just generally feeling angry.

But then October came … I love autumn, I love Halloween, and I took some fun trips (Sweden and Albania).

Since then, there has been a big shift in my thinking and feeling, one that I think will last. Another volunteer and I were talking and we had both independently come to this realization: we can either accept things the way they are, knowing they are unlikely to change, or we can be miserable the last few months of our service. I would rather choose the former.

In this June post, I listed some of my personal and professional goals for the summer/fall. Let’s check on the progress I’ve made so far …

  • Finish the grant for my school and (hopefully) be awarded funds  Done! Though I still have follow up paperwork to complete, I cleared the biggest hurdle and actually got sports equipment for my school!
  • Host workshops this summer (narrative writing and essay writing are the plans for right now) I only hosted one workshop this summer … (You can read about it here.)
  • Present to Peace Corps volunteers in Albania about starting a poetry competition there No, we didn’t get approval to do this. I don’t totally understand the reasoning, but it seems like Peace Corps doesn’t like cross-work between countries.
  • Help my friend organize the national poetry competition in Kosovo this fall Currently working on this!
  • Start volunteering at an orphanage in Pristina this fall — I found out last week that my application was approved! I am meeting with one of the orphanage directors this week. I’m hoping this new opportunity fills the social work hole in my life. I’ve been teaching once per week there. It is my favorite hour of teaching during the whole week.
  • Possibly do another secondary project for the fall (most likely, teach another English Club at my school) Currently doing some copy editing for KosovaLive and helping my students prepare for Po-e-Ze.
  • Continue teaching. This is kind of obvious, since teaching is my primary role here, but I suppose I should add it to the list. Yep …
  • Get my stuff together and help my friends with their “Faces of Kosovo” project No, I haven’t done this.
  • TRAVEL THIS SUMMER! There are so many places I want to go in Europe. It’s hard to narrow them down. But if I had to list everywhere I want to go, they would be: Tirana/southern Albania, Greece, Bratislava, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Prague, Vienna, Croatia, Bruge, England/Paris (again), Florence … SO MANY PLACES! Other than my trip to the U.S., I didn’t travel at all this summer. Money (dwindling) and heat (intense) were the two major factors. However, I just went to Sweden, which was awesome and cold. 🙂 (You can read about my trip here and here.)
  • Travel around Kosovo. There are still places in Kosovo I want to see, including Mitrovice (major city), Brezovice (skiing), Dragash/Opoje (conservative mountain villages), Skenderaj (Adem Jashari memorial), Rahovec (wine), Batilava Lake (sounds pretty), the Bear Sanctuary (uh, bears) … So far, I’ve been to Batilava Lake and Rahovec.
  • Get my face painted like a Kosovar bride … This is an experience I really wanted to have while living in Kosovo. I’ve checked into it, and the price would be 150 Euro. That’s a lot of money for me right now … almost all of my spending money for a month. I need to think about it some more … I think this is just too spendy for me at the moment, as much as I would love to do it. There are other things I’d rather spend 150 Euro on, like travel (or this rug).
  • Continue writing this blog regularly, and enter the Blog It Home contest this fall, assuming Peace Corps still hosts it Doesn’t appear PC is hosting the Blog It Home contest anymore, which is a big disappointment to me. Past winners got to fly to D.C. to attend a conference on media. I would obviously have loved to do that, assuming I won. (And I would have.) 🙂
  • Learn to speak better Shqip (This is not going to happen. It’s just not. I know I’m going to leave service wishing I could speak fluent Albanian, but I won’t.) My Shqip is terrible, and at this point, I don’t see a real reason to improve. I can clearly get by in my life here with the amount I do speak. However, as fate would have it, someone put me in touch with a new tutor and we will start lessons soon.
  • Continue to build/strengthen my friendships here. I have made an effort to have a breadth of friendships here, to try to be friendly with my entire cohort. However, I feel like I don’t have a depth of friendship yet. It would be nice to have a “best friend” in the Peace Corps. I don’t have one “best friend,” but I have been working to strengthen the friendships I do have.
  • Think about writing a second grant for my school NO! Never again. But I did set the wheels in motion to possibly receive a book donation for my school, so at least that’s something.
  • Continue to consider options when I finish Peace Corps. I’ll likely return to social work, but where/in what capacity remains to be seen Always in the back of my mind…

I have yet to come up with a list of goals for this coming winter and spring. Two of my major projects (Po-e-Ze and hopefully, the grant paperwork) will be done, so I could potentially take on other projects. What other projects? I don’t know yet …

Friday Gratitude: i Shkurtër

It has been a good, easy week (love those) so this week’s recap is short …

Media consumption this week:

  • Since I’ve lived in Kosovo, I’ve read three historical fiction novels set in the WWII time period. I just read The Nightingale, and it was my favorite (the other two being All the Light We Cannot See and The Book Thief).
  • I watch plenty of videos on YouTube every week (mostly yoga, music performances, and sleep aids), and I rarely post about them. But, I found this video to be particularly interesting. Though the context is leadership (yuck), I think these tips can apply to other areas of life. I am trying to get into the habit of writing every day. A point made in the video is this: if you brush your teeth once, it will do nothing for you. But if you brush your teeth every day, the consistent behavior will keep your teeth healthy. Same thing with working out — do it once, no difference. Do it every day, and eventually you’ll get into shape. I began to think about how to apply this to writing. I can’t sit down and write a novel in one day, but if I write a little every day, I will eventually have a novel.
  • I had the chance to go to the movies Thursday night. I saw The Killing of a Sacred Deer. It’s been getting a lot of critical praise. I am not entirely sure why. The dialogue is flippin’ terrible. (Maybe it’s supposed to be a commentary on the falseness/woodenness of contemporary American ideals … or maybe it is just bad writing.) Minuses: aforementioned bad dialogue, characters were largely unlikable (seems to be a Nicole Kidman theme), very slow moving in the beginning. Pluses: creative premise once the movie got to the point, disturbing/thought-provoking ending.
chi-chis salsa cup
It is a sad day when the salsa runs out, my friends …

Talk to you on Monday! 🙂

Guest Blogger, Garrett Maltzan: Milestones and the Little Things

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

garrett m
Garrett Maltzan

As I reach the milestone of being in Kosovo for 6 months, I’ve found myself learning to appreciate the little things.

I’ve always approached life, and now my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, in segments. Some longer than others, some just brief moments in time. But, when looking back at how far I’ve come and the accomplishments (and failures) that are the building blocks to the larger narrative of my life, I find that the milestones are made meaningful by the small happenings of daily life.

In my service, I’ve found that breaking things down into manageable chunks is an amazingly effective way at approaching everything from projects to goals, hardships, relationships and everything in between.

These segments are both large and small. The largest being the 27-month clock relentlessly ticking down by the second, which serves as a constant reminder that, while I am here in Kosovo for more than 2 years that time is quickly slipping through my fingers. Sometimes those seconds can feel like an eternity, believe me. But when they converge into the spontaneous interactions, or events, or successful classes, what becomes clear is that it truly is the little things within the context of milestones that makes this Peace Corps experience completely worth it.

The little things in our day-to-day lives are the key to finding meaning in the chaos of it all.

For me, some of the highlights have been:

The time I took a small group of students to a English proficiency exam along with 500+ students from surrounding schools. While none of my students moved on to the next round (though their English levels truly are remarkable for their age), it was spending the day laughing and joking in English with them, grabbing coffee afterwards and seeing them be their true selves outside of class that I will always remember.

The times when I’m walking the 45+ minutes to the gym and a Kosovar pulls over to offer me a ride and insist on driving out of their way to get me to my destination. This happens for more often now that I’m known in my village and each time opens the door to a new connection, a new friendship, in my new home.

It’s the breakthroughs in my own language learning where all of a sudden something magically falls into place and I’m holding conversations long enough and well enough to get the ego-boosting response, “Hang on, you’re not Albanian?!”

It’s the friendships I’ve built from day one when we arrived at staging in Philadelphia and fostered through the turbulence of PST and seen blossom now that we’re all at our sites. There’s nothing quite like the bond one builds with those in their cohort and I think the KOS4 group is a truly special example of how diverse and close a cohort can become.

It’s the time spent over coffee with these newfound friends venting about life. Taking a brief moment to step back and express ourselves honestly and realize how lucky we are to be serving the people of this remarkably unique place.

It’s in the ongoing afterschool course I’ve started that I’ve used to reorganize students into learning levels that fit their skills and needs, thereby allowing them to improve exponentially. I feared students would only show up to socialize rather than actually seek improvement, but in fact have been blessed to experience the complete opposite. I am most proud of the successes that have arisen from this course than anything else thus far in my service.

All in all, it’s truly the little things. Yes, I’m approaching the major milestone of being in Kosovo for 6 months. Yes, there are still plenty of milestones to go before I can even think about the end of my service. Yes, looking back, the entirety of these 27 months will be just another chapter in the narrative of my life. But, at the end of the day it’s the little things that make up my day-to-day life here that makes it a truly meaningful and life changing experience. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know what my service will look like a year from now. But I’m remaining present, I’m letting myself live fully in the moment and am opening myself to those experiences that I will fondly look back on and say, “Yes, that was so completely and overwhelmingly worth it.”

April’s note: This will be the last guest blog post of 2017. Read posts by other guest bloggers:

Friday Gratitude: Is This Thing On?

For last Friday’s gratitude post, I forgot to add a title. Haha. Sorry!

I am predicting blog traffic will be low today, as those of you in the U.S. are probably recovering from your turkey-induced comas. But I will soldier on …

Media consumption this week:

  • I read Let the Right One In. Since I was going to Sweden right after Halloween, I thought it would be fun to read a Swedish vampire book. Alas, I had to wait on the download from the Chicago Public Library, so I started reading it after my trip. I’d seen the movie version years ago and remember finding it dull and strange. But the book was outstanding. It is one of the most disturbing things I’ve read but in a good way. There were a few pages of gore I had to skip, though.
  • So then I re-watched the movie version. There was so much going on in the book that they had to cut a lot out of the movie. It is pretty slow moving. There are certain parts you wouldn’t understand unless you read the book first. (The book is much better.)
  • I finished watching Master of None. Many people had recommended the show to me. Some episodes really hit the mark for me, while others I thought were too twee. Overall, though, it’s a good show. Next, it’s on to season two of Stranger Things
coca cola with shqip albanian writing
“Thanks for smiles”
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April, Rachel, Christian, Todd, and Stephanee at a JFK photo exhibit in Peja, Kosovo.

Yesterday (Thanksgiving), I treated myself to my favorite pasta dish in Pristina, and then I taught at the orphanage. Then I went home and called my entire family. 🙂 I’ll be celebrating the holiday with friends this weekend. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂 Talk to you Monday …

Gobble Gobble (Thanksgiving Classroom Activity)

Last year, I bought a bunch of Popsicle sticks, thinking I would use them in my classroom. Then I had zero ideas for what to do. Recently, I was googling Thanksgiving classroom activities, and I came across this Pictionary-type game. Students choose a stick and have to draw the word on it while their teammates guess what it is. Yes! Finally, a way to use all those Popsicle sticks!

thanksgiving game classroom

I’ll also be playing Thanksgiving Bingo with my students and asking them to complete a “thankfulness” turkey worksheet.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are some other activities, materials, and lesson plans I have used in my classroom:

Holiday Gift Guide: Kosovo

Let’s say you’re a person living in Kosovo, and you don’t know what to get your friends and family this year. Or, let’s say you’re a person in another part of the world, and you have a friend/family member in Kosovo and you want to ask them for a gift but you don’t know something good to ask for. Look no further. Here is a holiday gift guide for you!

During the holiday season, Nene Teresa Boulevard in Pristina turns into a Christmas mart. In addition to mulled wine, you can also find cute gifts. I bought several of these magnets last year and mailed them home to my family. Normally, I don’t mail stuff other than postcards to the U.S., because that can get expensive and I am a poor Peace Corps volunteer. However, magnets only cost a few Euro to send.

kosovo magnet 3
Traditional male clothing
kosovo magnet 2
Traditional female clothing
kosovo magnet 1
Rugova canyon

These beaded necklaces are popular in Kosovo. Many local women make them. They cost around 5 Euro each. Someone in my cohort has a host sister who makes them, and I’ve ordered a number for my friends and family.

beaded necklace kosovo 1
Single color
beaded necklace kosovo 2
Multi-color

Postcards are a cheap, fun way to send a holiday greeting. There is a big selection at the Pristina Christmas mart.

kosovo-postcard
Pristina postcard

If you really, really like someone, you could buy them a handmade rug. I bought one for myself. 🙂

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

If you know someone musical, consider introducing them to the çifteli, a traditional stringed instrument.

çifteli (2-stringed instrument)

Last, a plis (men’s traditional woolen cap) could be a fun gift for the more adventurous gentleman in your life. 🙂

man-wearing-plis
plis