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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Another thing I did this weekend was reflect on ways I can keep myself happy, sane, and motivated during my time here. One idea is having things to look forward to. In the States, there’s always something going on with friends or family, even if it’s as simple as going to a movie with a friend (Oh, hai there, Dana!). And so …

Does anyone out there want to meet me somewhere in Europe (not necessarily Kosovo) for Christmas? One of my fellow trainees is meeting family in Germany (which would be awesome at Christmastime — hello, Kindermarts!); another is going to Prague. My (real) family doesn’t like to travel, so I thought I’d throw this idea into the universe to see if I get any other takers. (TRACY AND LEN, I AM LOOKING AT YOU. DON’T LOOK AWAY.) Lisa and Paul, you are also contenders. Nicole? Pauline?

Practicing Gratitude

Today, I expected to write a post about the trip our group took to a castle that’s being renovated (they had soil from the castle tested and it dated back to 1250 A.D.). But you know, that’s not really on my mind as I sit down to type (actually, I am lying in bed, listening to music saved on my external hard drive, and fighting a headache).

I am thinking about the stories we shared this morning at our pre-field-trip training session. Several of my fellow trainees mentioned that members of their host families gave up their bedrooms, and are sleeping on couches, in order to accommodate our group. (A Peace Corps requirement for host families is that they provide us with our own bedrooms, with doors that lock.) Our Country Director was at the meeting and shared a similar story of living with a host family. She asked us to consider what it means to know that someone gave something up for us.

It’s one thing when a friend or family member helps me out. That’s what they are there for. Having people to call upon in times of trouble is one of the reasons humans cultivate relationships. But here are people I don’t know — people living halfway around the world, who don’t share my culture or language (people who also practice a religion that’s not widely understood in the United States) — and they are making sacrifices so that I can have a comfortable experience in their country.

I’d also like to say how awesome my fellow volunteer trainees are. In 2012, I traveled to Beijing with the Ugliest Group of Americans That You Ever Did See (worse, these were social work graduate school classmates of mine). I wanted to throttle every one of them by the end of the trip because I was so tired of their whining and complaining. But, my experience in the Peace Corps has been completely different. My peers are gracious and happy to be in Kosovo. Being surrounded by positive people really does make a difference.

Also, I grateful for my favorite scented candle, a departing present from my friend Anna. This Chicago girl isn’t used to farm animal smells yet. 🙂

Last, thanks to all of you!!! Your words of support and encouragement have meant the world to me. (Here’s a special shoutout to everyone at my sister’s school! Thanks for following along.)

[P.S. Just a little clarification about yesterday’s post. I only think, like, 90 percent of men are boring. That wasn’t a barbed comment toward any of the men in my life. (And I certainly didn’t mean you, Leonard.). :-P]

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. Oh, boy.

So before joining the Peace Corps, I did some reflection and realized … I have never lived with a man other than my father. I don’t have brothers, never had male roommates, have never been married, and never had any interest in living with any of my boyfriends. I have always solidly been a woman’s woman. I prefer the company of women to men, hands down, any day. (I think men are kind of boring, to be honest, but perhaps that’s a post for another day.)

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.

Okay, another short cut. My host father leaves for a business trip to Albania. His son arrives, who looks to be in his twenties and speaks pretty good English. It turns out, there are three grown sons in the family, none of whom live at home. Whew.

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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My Hello Kitties are ready for bed! (I can’t help but feel they are staring at me with accusing eyes … “Why did you bring us to Kosovo?”)

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 …

Video of my Hotel Room

I figured out how to upload the video I took of my hotel room. It’s not the most entertaining video you’ll ever watch (sadly, no kittens are featured), but if you’re interested to see what a Kosovo hotel room looks like, here you go. It’s only a minute long. (I say the word “little” multiple times. Maybe to emphasize how small the room is? It’s really not bad at all.)

 

IMG_2683 from April G on Vimeo.

Homesick is for Real

Yesterday was rough. I’d say it was my roughest day in Kosovo so far, but that’s a bit premature, considering I’ve only been in the country since Sunday. I haven’t been sleeping well at all, and I think that compounded with being homesick just made for a long day.

We arrived at the hotel Sunday afternoon. Training began Monday. So far, we’ve had basic safety training, Albanian language classes, and pedagogy lessons. We go from 9 a.m. until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. All of our meals are provided by the hotel.

After training ended yesterday, I went to my room and slept all the way through until this morning. My roommate, who is awesome, left a granola bar by my bed. I had that and a chocolate marshmallow for dinner.

We got our SIM cards yesterday, and I was actually able to call home and speak to my mom for a few minutes before my phone cut out (I don’t think Peace Corps had added any money to my account). I was feeling so low yesterday. Hearing my mom’s voice was exactly what I needed to feel better. That, and a lot of sleep.

I’m feeling better physically and emotionally today. Tomorrow, our group (35 of us, including two married couples) will leave the hotel and move in with our temporary host families. I have mixed feelings about this. Being in the hotel with all of my fellow volunteers has been a comfort. However, living out of suitcases in a shared, small hotel room is not without it’s challenges. Every time I or my roommate needs to find something, we have to go on a scavenger hunt. I’m looking forward to being able to unpack and settle in a bit. I also think I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something, like, hey! I made it through the first phase of training!

It’s been amusing to witness the little quirks here that are different from the U.S. For example, each hotel room only has one key. 1) The front desk doesn’t even have a copy and 2) I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel room that had an actual key. Our rooms lock from both the inside and the outside. When my roommate was out Tuesday night, I discovered I was locked inside my room. (Good thing there wasn’t a fire! I’d have to jump off the fourth floor balcony.) Also, one of my fellow volunteers asked for more toilet paper and was told to wait “until tomorrow.” Hehe.

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!]