Friday Gratitude

I am one of those weird people who doesn’t like summer.

Summers in Chicago are miserable endeavors (much like winters in Chicago). I would fantasize about lake houses in Wisconsin, about spending long days by the water. But no one I know owns a lake house in Wisconsin. And so I used to sit in my small, humid apartment, the inadequate window air conditioning units rattling so loudly I had to turn them off to watch television. To go outside meant to be in a public space. It meant cement and sticky crowds.

What I am most grateful for this week is my host family’s garden. It is lush and shaded. I sit there to read with a kitten at my feet and a richly green mountain to my right. I have not spent this much time outdoors since the summers of my childhood.

I discovered the kitten’s eyes have changed from gray to brown, a much more suitable color for a tiger-striped kitten, in my opinion.

Kosovo is teeming with life. On hikes with my host mother, we’ll sometimes stop to sit and rest. When I peer at the ground, every inch is crawling with bugs.

Bugs are everywhere. Our windows don’t have screens. Flies swarm. Ants scatter across our kitchen counter. I crush daddylonglegs in my bedroom, only to find that new ones have taken their places in the morning. Moths tuck themselves into the slats of my window blinds. A dead wasp lies upturned in my doorway. I keep forgetting to dispose of its body.

The vegetables I eat are organic, but they were not purchased at the expensive grocery store, the one I used to go to only on rare occasions. The vegetables I eat were plucked from the garden where I sit every afternoon, and read.

I am reading All the Light We Cannot See. I have not read such a gorgeously written book since The Goldfinch. The story is about a blind French girl and a German soldier set during World War Two. I’ve been recommending it to my loved ones. The other night, I recommended it to my grandfather (he usually reads what I tell him to).

This week, I am grateful for the deep quiet I find in a shaded garden. I am grateful for a warm kitten who purrs in my lap. I am grateful to find moments of contentedness during a time in my life when change feels constant and unrelenting.

May you find your own quiet this weekend.

 

Hobbies

Two things happened last week that got me thinking.

When I visited my permanent host site for the first time, I was able to meet the K1 volunteer (someone from the first Kosovo Peace Corps group, who is finishing up 2 years of service) I would be replacing. He asked me, “What’s your greatest fear?” And I told him, “Honestly, boredom.” I’m used to living in Chicago, and I worked both a full-time and a part-time job for 18 months before moving to Kosovo. I’m not used to living in a small village and having a lot of free time. The other volunteer told me, “You need to get a hobby.”

Then later I had lunch with a fellow trainee, someone I always suspected I would like, but with whom I hadn’t previously spent time alone. Inevitably the question of hobbies came up, and I kind of froze. I never know what to say in that situation. I’ve dabbled in a lot of things, but am not really passionate about any one thing.

The following is really more of a brain-dump exercise for me, but if you know me and care to weigh in with ideas, feel free. Here is a list of past hobbies I have tried.

  1. Community theatre: As a kid, I was always interested in films and acting. My tiny private high school didn’t offer drama, so in my senior year of high school, I got involved in community theatre. I had a blast hanging out with people of all ages, and I met one of my closest friends there (HI, LISA! XOXO). I moved to Chicago the next year, but most of the acting opportunities there are for professional actors only. So, no more community theatre. [My Aunt Tracy suggested trying to start a theatre group for the locals while I am in Kosovo. Hmmm … thinking about it.]
  2. In college, I minored in photography. Darkroom photography is something I really love. I can get lost for hours in the darkroom, trying to create the perfect print. For me, photography is as much of a tactile experience as a visual one. So, digital photography is something I’ve never really connected with. Every idiot with a digital camera is a “photographer” these days. It’s like, oh wow, you can afford an expensive camera and you know how to work the buttons? Why don’t you take a picture of your dinner and post it on Instagram, Ansel Adams? Seriously, I look at someone like my best friend–who actually studied photography and has actually worked on film sets and actually spends time honing her craft–and get pissed off by all these posers. Ugh!
    So yeah, darkroom photography isn’t an option for me here in Kosovo (though my dream is to build my own darkroom some day). And I thought I would be into taking digital photos for this blog, but so far, I’m more excited about writing. [Side note: if you’d like to see some pictures I’ve taken, you can click here. Some of my darkroom stuff is on there, in addition to photos I’ve taken while traveling.]
  3. I spent a year taking guitar lessons at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. I loved the social aspect of it. I met some awesome people there (hi again, Dana!) and loved listening to the teachers and more experienced students play. But, I don’t think making music is my thing. Even if I could play guitar or piano well, would I play for my own enjoyment? Probably not.
  4. I lived in Boston from 2008-2010, and toward the end of my time living there, I went through a tough romantic breakup. I signed up for an improv class as a way to get out of my own head for an hour a week. There was a huge age range among the students, and everyone was there just to have a laugh. It quickly became the highlight of my week.
    I continued doing improv when I eventually moved back to Chicago. I was in graduate school then, and it was a way to incorporate some fun into my life. But, the improv scene in Chicago is much different than the one in Boston. My classes were full of 20-somethings who had moved to Chicago to “make it” as professional actors. While they were nice enough, they weren’t really “my people,” and so I quit. However, I did learn a lot of fun ice breaker games, which I am looking forward to playing with my students in Kosovo.
  5. I’ve always liked creative writing (and yes, I’ve even written a novel!) But I’m not sure how much writing I’ll do in Kosovo beyond this blog. It seems to be fulfilling a need for me. (And blogging is so much fun, now that I actually have a life interesting enough to write about!)
  6. Yoga: I’ve been practicing since 2005, though you probably wouldn’t know it to look at me (I still can’t reach my toes when I bend over). While yoga is my favorite form of exercising, I’ve never been serious enough to want to become a certified teacher.

I’m really trying to think of things I can do at home, during the long Kosovar winters. In no particular order, some ideas include:

  1. Getting better at crocheting (I can make scarves and blankets, but maybe I should try to make something more complicated, like clothing or dolls).
  2. Reading up on social work theories. I’m a social worker by profession, and I want to be sure I’m staying current with my field.
  3. Reading more about spirituality. I’ve read a few books by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, and I’d like to learn more about Buddhism (another dream is to attend one of her workshops at her monastery in Nova Scotia.)
  4. Learning more about interior design. I’m interested not as a profession, but just for my own personal growth. A blogger I read wrote this article about an online design course she is taking. It sounds awesome, but the $1,200 price tag is steeper than I can afford at the moment.
  5. Continuing to practice yoga, even though I’ve never been very disciplined about practicing alone at home.
  6. Researching jobs/career paths for when I get out of Peace Corps
  7. Jewelry making?
  8. Whittling/carving/sculpture?
  9. Creating mixed media/found art?

As you can see, I am leaning toward creating things with my hands (though please don’t suggest drawing, as I hate it/stink at it). Hmm … anything else I could add to the list?

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Here’s a picture of my niece, Mia, enjoying the blanket I crocheted for her. She is also rocking the pumpkin jumper I bought her.

 

 

 

Kosovo Facts

[Note: When I recently asked for suggestions for what people would like to see on my blog, my sister mentioned she would like to learn more about Kosovo’s culture. I realized I haven’t said much about Kosovo itself. I figured that when I joined the Peace Corps, my friends and family probably did some research on Kosovo. But, I still think it’s worthwhile to post something here. I’ve listed my sources, too, so you know I’m not pulling stuff out of thin air. 😉 Also, I’m going to be mindful of writing more about culture in the future.]

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“The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” — Winston Churchill

So what are “the Balkans”? The term refers to a region in southeastern Europe and currently includes the countries Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. (U.S. State Department website) [I don’t know why the map below highlights countries other than those on the State Department’s website, but it was the best map I found.]

The Kosovo War ended in 1999. On February 17, 2008, “[Kosovo] declared independence, becoming the world’s newest and most controversial of states.” (Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know by Tim Judah)

According to this unofficial website, Kosovo is “slightly larger than Delaware.” So why is this small country so important?

“Look at the map. Kosovo and the rest of the Western Balkans are countries that are now surrounded by the territories of two of the most important and powerful organizations on the planet. On every side the region is enveloped by the European Union and NATO. So Kosovo and its neighbors are not some place out there in Europe’s backyard, but rather they constitute its inner courtyard. Nobody wants trouble here.” (Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know by Tim Judah)

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Here are some facts about Kosovo’s population. I pulled all of this information from the CIA Worldfact Book.

  • Population: 1,870,981 (July 2015 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Albanians 92.9%, Bosniaks 1.6%, Serbs 1.5%, Turk 1.1%, Ashkali 0.9%, Egyptian 0.7%, Gorani 0.6%, Roma 0.5%, other/unspecified 0.2%
    [note: these estimates may under-represent Serb, Roma, and some other ethnic minorities because they are based on the 2011 Kosovo national census, which excluded northern Kosovo (a largely Serb-inhabited region) and was partially boycotted by Serb and Roma communities in southern Kosovo (2011 est.)]
  • Language: Albanian (official) 94.5%, Bosnian 1.7%, Serbian (official) 1.6%, Turkish 1.1%, other 0.9% (includes Romani), unspecified 0.1%
  • Religion: Muslim 95.6%, Roman Catholic 2.2%, Orthodox 1.5%, other 0.07%, none 0.07%, unspecified 0.6% (2011 est.)

Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe. According to the CIA WorldFact Book (again), 43.56% of Kosovo’s population is age 24 or younger. Kosovo has the second highest unemployment rate for people ages 15-24 in the world.

The following quote comes from a PowerPoint presentation I received as a Peace Corps trainee:

“According to the United Nations Human Development Report, one out of every four Kosovars lives outside of the country. Remittances from the Kosovar diaspora account for one fifth of Kosovo’s entire GDP. Because of limited economic opportunities in Kosovo, many families choose migration as a way to support the family unit, primarily to destinations in Western Europe.”

On a personal level, it is easy at times to wonder how much of an impact I’ll have when I’m serving in the Peace Corps as an English teacher. But then I remind myself that by teaching Kosovar children English, I am helping to set them up for a brighter future, one where they will potentially have greater education and job opportunities.

 

Q&A From: Dana

My friend Dana emailed me some questions regarding food, specifically about Kosovar habits around shopping vs. growing their own food. Here is my long-winded response, where I talk about chickens (again) and milk. 🙂

Questions:

  1. How much would you say groceries for a family of four run per week? (0:22)
  2. Where do folks get most of their food? Markets? Regular old grocery stores? Mostly from their own gardens and land? (0:38)

(Remember, if you have questions, please post them in the comments section or email me. Also, I can see from my blog’s statistics that I have several readers from Albania. I’d love to meet more locals so if you feel comfortable, please send me an email and introduce yourselves! [And of course, feel free to introduce yourself if you are a blog reader not from Albania!])

 

Accompanying photos:

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Friday Gratitude

The temperature has climbed back up into misery, but here is a list of things I am focusing on to maintain a positive outlook.

I visited my new host family last weekend. On the day I was leaving, I had gone upstairs to brush my teeth. When I came back to my room, there was a chocolate bar on my bed. It’s like my new family knows me already! 🙂

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While traveling back to my site on Monday, I stopped in Pristina to have lunch with a fellow trainee. I wasn’t sure what to expect of Kosovar Mexican food, but it was good! I’ll go back!

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I am grateful that my time here is a shared experience, so I have others I can lean on when I am feeling down.

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Yesterday, we had our mid-training assessment and language exam. I was nervous about it, but everything went smoothly. And then I met some friends at the local pool. It ended up being one of the best days I’ve had since joining the Peace Corps.

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