Friday Gratitude

“Thought I had an answer once, but your random ways swept me along.” — Little Dragon, Twice

Kosovo is lush and green, which means we get a lot of rain here. Monday morning I was awakened by a gorgeous thunderstorm. The weather has been dark and moody, reminding me that autumn — my favorite season — is coming soon.

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Night sky view from my bedroom window

I finished a book this week, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ open letter to his 15-year-old son sharing his experience of what it is like to grow up as a black man in America. Some of my favorite quotes are:

“But some time ago I rejected magic in all its forms. This rejection was a gift from your grandparents, who never tried to console me with ideas of an afterlife and were skeptical of preordained American glory. In accepting both the chaos of history and the fact of my total end, I was freed to truly consider how I wished to live — specifically, how do I live free in this black body? It is a profound question because America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men.”

“There are people whom we do not fully know, and yet they live in a warm place within us.”

“My wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.”

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I finished my second oral language exam. It was about as much fun as getting punched in the face, but it is over now. I only have one week left of pre-service training and then, a week from today, I will officially swear in as a Peace Corps volunteer! And then I’ll move to my permanent site. Next week is going to be busy and chaotic and emotional. But I am looking forward to settling in.

Guest Blogger: Chelsea Coombes

Hi, everyone! My friend and fellow Peace Corps trainee, Chelsea Coombes, graciously agreed to write a guest post for my blog. (I figured you all might appreciate hearing a perspective other than mine!) Her post is below. — April

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April and Chelsea

 

I am extremely grateful to April for including me in her blog as a guest. I find myself constantly reading her posts. We all acknowledge that we have our single stories, however it is great to be going through this experience with such an inspiring new friend.

I had a very hard time choosing what I wanted to write about. I myself have not started a blog. I have been thinking how I would like to document my time here in Kosovo and I am not much of a blogger, but this is a good chance to try it out! While I was pondering what I wanted to write about I asked myself “what do you love most about Kosovo?” the answer, my host family.

I am a 24-year-old grad student who has only been out of her mother’s home for one year. I lived in Florida most of my life. Last year I moved to New Hampshire for school and at the time I thought that was the biggest decision of my life. That is of course until I moved thousands of miles away to Kosovo for Peace Corps. These last few months have been incredibly challenging, but extremely rewarding.

With that being said, I have never felt more included. The beginning of pre-service training (PST) is a blur, but I do remember meeting my PST family. Standing at the school with fear radiating through my entire body I was paired with the family who would take me in for the next three months. I have a host brother around age 20, two host sisters one who is the same age as me and one around 27, and a host mother. We awkwardly stared at each other and made small gestures while they helped me with my bags to their car and drove me to the house. Once at home we all sat around the table outside and the first thing they asked me, that I had to later translate was “do you feel at home?” I look back at this moment often. Here I am, miles away from my home and everything I know with a family whom I couldn’t communicate with in Albanian or English, and all I can think about is how generous they are. How they went out of their way to make me feel at home, even from day one.

Every day they make sure I am included in their family plans. I was invited to my host sister’s wedding the second day I arrived in country.

Their kindness and closeness has been overwhelmingly gracious. But it was a few weeks ago that really solidified my place in this family. It was storming and our power was out. I opened my door to find them settling down in the hall, the door was open and they had a flashlight. My host mom pulled up a cushion and encouraged me to sit. We ate chocolate, laughed about the rain and huddled up to each other. I felt like such an important member of a family, I felt loved.

PST is coming to a close and I know that the hardest part is going to be leaving them. My permanent site is about a 6-hour bus ride, and though I know I will visit it still feels like goodbye. I have seen my host mom sick, my sister leave for school to Germany, my host brother in goofy moments and my older sister become a wife. Being with a family through big transitions and being a part of them really makes you feel connected.

To the family that put up with my strange eating habits, laughed at my poor language skills and constantly let me know I was not a guest but part of this family, thank you.

Istog, Kosovo

Last week Tuesday, each of our language groups was sent to a different part of Kosovo to learn more about the country. We gave presentations to the entire trainee group about each of the sites we visited. My group was sent to beautiful Istog, Kosovo (sometimes spelled, “Istok”).

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Istog is located at the base of the Mokna Mountains, and is known for its natural beauty. Nearby places to explore include caves, mineral springs, and hiking trails.

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Our group’s first stop was the Trofta Hotel, which is famous for its trout dinners. This was the first time I had eaten fish in Kosovo, aside from canned tuna (Kosovo is a landlocked country, ya know.) I got grilled trout and grilled vegetables. Both were declicious, and my entire meal (including an adult beverage) was less than 10 euro. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Kosovo.

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Language group

 

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These little pods are actually hotel rooms!

Next, we headed to a nearby spring. It was a very pretty area, and we talked to a few locals who were visiting for the day.

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Istog is about an hour and 15 minutes by bus from Kosovo’s capital. As our group was only there for a day trip, we didn’t get as much time to explore as we would have liked. Our last stop was dessert (of course!)

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I plan to return to Istog in the near future to do some hiking (and spelunking). It was nice to get a break in our training routine and go on a little adventure!

 

Q&A from my sister

Happy Monday! Today’s questions come from my sister.

  1. You blogged about YOU needing a hobby. Well, what do THEY do for hobbies over there? How do you see people spending their time? (00:13)
  2. What kinds of jobs do the people in your host family have? Do they have hobbies? (01:32)
  3. What is the family culture like? Is it a big family affair at mealtime? Do family members appear to have close relationships with one another? (02:27)
  4. What types of jobs are available in Kosovo? What types of jobs to people tend to emigrate to? (03:11)

Friday Gratitude

This week was better than last for a number of reasons.

I am sleeping better. 🙂

I discovered this brand of cookies:

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35 years of being alive has taught me that few situations cannot be improved by eating chocolate chip cookies.

I’ve been binge-watching Mr. Robot. I overheard two other trainees talking about it, and I was all, “What is this t.v. show you are talking about?” If you’re curious, you can find it on Hulu and Amazon Prime.

We went on a field trip to beautiful Istog, Kosovo. Our trip could not have come at a better time. I think we were all itching for a change of scenery. I’ll do a proper post about Istog next week. In the meantime, here is a preview:

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Today marks my 2-month anniversary of living in Kosovo. 2 down, 25 more months to go! Have a good weekend, everyone, and talk to you Monday!