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.

img_2687

 

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:

view-of-kosovo-from-pristina-airport

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!]

Hello, Goodbye from Washington, D.C.

I made it to D.C. last night! I arrived 3 hours late, waited 30 minutes for the free airport shuttle (now that I’m in the Peace Corps, I have to be frugal), wolfed down an overpriced and under-satisfying meal at the hotel restaurant (so much for frugality), and managed to swim at the hotel pool for 20 minutes before it closed.

Did I mention I also wrangled 118.5 lbs of luggage by myself? I didn’t even use a cart! I just bungee-corded my carry-on suitcase on top of one of the larger ones, and dragged everything behind me. It was a Herculean feat.

My parents drove me to the airport yesterday. My dad drove around the airport in circles while my mom helped me haul my luggage to the United counter. When we hugged goodbye, I said, “Thanks for not crying.” She said, “Of course. I’m excited for you.”

I don’t have kids, so I can’t imagine how it feels to put one on a plane, knowing you won’t see her for a long time. But my parents have been nothing but supportive. After my mom and I parted ways, I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder at her. Mommy. 😦

Now I’m off to the airport again, to officially register for the Peace Corps and get back on a plane. The next time I post, it’ll be from Kosovo.

IMG_2663

 

Hello from … Harrisburg, PA

Hello from the lovely green and forested Harrisburg, Pennsylvania! What am I doing here? Well, my flight to D.C. was grounded due to bad weather. Over 100 lbs. of my most important possessions are stashed in the belly of a plane … A plane I’m not currently sitting on. (I’m in the airport.)

I had grand plans for my first post. I’d be sitting in my hotel room in D.C., ready to write a thoughtful post about how it feels to leave my family and friends, and join the Peace Corps. Instead, my mind is on travel logistics. What if we don’t make it to D.C. tonight? What if I (or my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, who are flying in from all over the States) miss our flight to Kosovo tomorrow? What if the airline loses my luggage? (My phone charger is stupidly packed in one of my checked bags.)

I keep reminding myself that if the U.S. government wants me in Kosovo, they will figure out a way to get me there. Until then …I’ll just sit here.