Our Peace Corps trainee group, K3, elected two members of our group to give a speech (entirely in Albanian) at our swearing-in ceremony. We elected Valeriana Dema and Michael Kuriyama. With Val and Michael’s permission, I am posting the English version of their speech below.
Welcome all and thank you for being with us today. We would like to especially thank Mr. President Hashim Thaqi for coming here today. We also would like to thank the U.S. Ambassador, Greg Delawie. We would like to thank volunteers, teachers, the Peace Corps staff, and most importantly we would like to thank our host families.
Michael: Eleven weeks ago, when we got on the plane in Washington DC and took the first step in our PC journey, we never imagined that we would have the honor of addressing you today, as we take the next major step in our service as PCVs
Val: We have spent the past eleven weeks training and preparing for our two year service in Kosovo. We got through it with plenty of laughs, some tears, and a lot of sweat. Most importantly, however, we got through it together with many of the people in this room.
Michael: When looking at our fellow volunteers, we see a group of intelligent and kind people working together to do something good here in Kosovo. We come from different places and backgrounds that give us unique perspectives.
Val: And as an Albanian American, the volunteers here have opened my eyes to seeing Kosovo from new angles. One day when I was feeling down some volunteers showed me a new path in the hills behind our village. When we finally made it all the way up the mountain, the sun was setting. The view from the top was breathtaking, and I asked myself why people would leave this beautiful place? The family rituals and slower rhythms here in Kosovo seemed to make more sense to me than the more hectic and faster paced lifestyle I had in America. I thought about Albanian families, my own and others, split up across continents and realized leaving was no easy decision for them. I’ve realized that my biggest hope as volunteer is that I can help Kosovo in some small way become a place that people don’t feel that they have to leave. I don’t think I could have come to these sentiments about myself and the people here in Kosovo without having my fellow volunteers and host national children show me the way. They’re the ones who took me up the mountain to a new path that I’d never seen before, and I think they’re the people that are going to continue to show me new and beautiful things about Kosovo throughout my two years here.
Michael: There is a contagious energy that makes us hopeful that anything is possible, that every project or task we set out to accomplish will succeed. We have been a great support network for each other, and we will continue to be so after we move to our permanent sites across Kosovo.
Val: I’m sure that we are all anxious about moving to our new homes in just a few hours, but we are prepared for this move thanks to a special group of people – our teachers. Our teachers have worked hard to provide us with a foundation to learn the languages of Kosovo, but they were way more than just the people who taught us.
Michael: They were the person who helped us interpret a new culture, the person who watched us grow, and the friend we’re grateful to have. Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe, and seeing how intelligent and driven our teachers are has made us extremely hopeful for the future of Kosovo.
Val: We spent time with our teachers every day, but there was also always staff working hard behind the scenes to help us. They helped us with whatever we needed: from providing medical care and giving technical training, to meeting us at the airport and helping set up our bank accounts.
Michael: Regardless of the task, the Peace corps staff was eager to help. However, we believe what we’re most thankful for is the hard work they put into finding the perfect host families to live with.
Val: Throughout the summer, you cooked us delicious pita, pasul, and flija and poured us endless juice, Turkish coffee, and Russian tea. But more than just providing a place to stay and something to eat or drink, you welcomed us into your homes and invited us into your families.
Michael: I remember when we arrived at the school in Kamenice with our luggage and no idea of with whom we were going to be living with. I had a few phrases memorized and could say shume mire and s’ka problem relatively well. My host dad picked me up and brought me back to his home, showed me to my room, and invited me to have coffee with him and his wife. I nervously sat down and frantically used my phrase book and google translate to come up with small talk. When I said I didn’t understand something, they didn’t give up and kept on trying to communicate with me. We smiled and laughed at my mistakes, and sometime before I had finished my coffee, my nervousness disappeared. Despite not being able to communicate with words, we always understood your hospitality, your generosity, and your care. While the volunteers didn’t always have the words to say how much our families meant to us, we hope you understood through our actions.
Val: We’re so grateful to have spent the past few months with you. You invited us to your celebrations. At weddings, you grabbed our hands and took to us to dance in the valla. My family even threw me a wonderful birthday party.
Michael: During Bajram, you took us from house to house to meet your families who served us countless dishes of delicious baklava like we were your own sons and daughters. You introduced us to your family who came back home from all over Europe and who were just as nice as you are. You were some of the kindest, warmest, and most welcoming people we have ever met.
Val: We might be moving to different parts of the country, but no matter where we go, we will always have a home and family with you all.