Friday Gratitude: March Forth

Someone once told me that she likes her birthday, March fourth, because it is a sentence: March forth!

After a mild winter with almost no snow in my village, on Monday I awoke to a large accumulation with snow still falling. It kept falling. We got Wednesday – Friday off school!

kosovo snow.JPG
End-of-February, so cruel

Want to know something funny? My most widely-read blog post, by far, is Jennifer the Unicorn. Sometimes I can see the Internet search terms that lead people to my site. I was curious to know what this resent Cyrillic search term meant, so I Google translated it and …

unicorn crochet

Hahaha! People love crocheted unicorns, I guess.

Media consumption this week …

  • I FINALLY finished reading the 800-page behemoth that had overtaken my life: The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch. I was determined to finish it because Fitch wrote my favorite novel of all time, White Oleander. “Marina” had none of the poetry of “Oleander.” I didn’t like the main character, found much of the history confusing (it is set during the Russian revolution), and the ending takes a bizarre turn. It also isn’t much of an ending, as Fitch is apparently working on a sequel. UGH. (Are you ever glad when a book is out of your life? That’s how I felt about this one.)
  • I watched a documentary titled The Search for General Tso, which goes into who the man was and how the famous chicken dish came to be named for him. Watching this was pure torture because the food looked delicious (and there is no Chinese food to be found in Kosovo). 😦 Still, this was a quick, informative film.

Speaking of food, I invented a salad. (Being a poor Peace Corps volunteer forces one to think creatively.) I bought a package of frozen broccoli, warmed it with water from my electric kettle, strained it, and added a can of tuna salad from a care package my parents sent me and crushed some crackers on top.

broccoli tuna salad crackers
Food porn alert!

Before I joined the Peace Corps, I looked at a few other people’s blogs and always wondered why their care package wishlists included food. Now I TOTALLY get it. I use my care package food to supplement my often poor diet. Also … it wasn’t until I joined the Peace Corps that I realized so many Americans are crazy about peanut butter. I’ve always had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the stuff, but lately, I’ve been scarfing peanut butter like nobody’s business. My body is like EAT. MORE. PROTEIN.

This week, I bought plane tickets, much to the dismay of my battered and bruised bank account. A childhood friend is traveling from L.A. to meet me in Ireland for my spring break. I realized this will probably be the last time I will be on an airplane until I fly back to the United States for good. It is a strange feeling. I have become so accustomed to European travel being inexpensive and quick. But soon, European travel will once again become expensive and time consuming.

I am so grateful for all the travel I’ve been able to do recently. Traveling was always a goal of mine, but I didn’t take my first international trip until I was 31.

Another volunteer commented that I seem to take a lot of weekend trips and asked how I’ve budgeted my vacation time. I told her my longest trip was my first Christmas break (9? days in Paris). My only other longish trips were spring break last year and a week I spent in the U.S. last summer. Aside from that, I didn’t travel at all in the summer. I was afraid of blowing through all my money at once. It was hard at the time, sitting in my boiling-hot bedroom with a fan pointed at me while many of my friends were off traveling. But taking shorter, more frequent trips this fall and winter have done a lot for my mental health.

Since last summer, I have spent 2 nights in Sweden, 4 nights in London with my parents, took a bus trip to Serbia, and spent a long weekend in Amsterdam at my friend’s place.

Now that my time serving in the Peace Corps is starting to wind down, it is hard to think about all the places I didn’t get to see while I was in Europe. But, I don’t have unlimited time or money (who does?). I am happy with the places I’ve been able to go and to be able to spend time with my family and friends.

Let me know if you have any food/fun suggestions for my Ireland trip! Talk to you on Monday. I read an interesting book about the Balkans and will be sharing more about that. 🙂

Market in Tirana, Albania

I took these photos a while ago but never got around to posting them. I visited a farmer’s market the last time I was in Albania. Fruits and vegetables abounded, but I was also surprised to see other goods for sale. I really wanted to buy an antique clock (isn’t the one with the owl cute?), but the 30 Euro price tag was too steep.

vintage clocks Tirana market
Antique clocks

goods for sale tirana market

Though sheep’s head soup is a delicacy, I have never seen it or had it served to me (though my host family eats mutton). I was surprised to see sheep’s heads roasting on a spit (bottom row).

roasting sheep heads Tirana Albania

I’ve had chicken cooked in a clay pot (see below) in Kosovo, and it is really good!

earthenware Tirana Albania
Clay pots for sale
orange tree Tirana market
Orange (?) tree

I am not someone who visits farmer’s markets with any regularity, but Tirana’s is small, clean, not at all crowded, and had a variety of foods and goods for sale. I will definitely be back!

My 5-Day Food Diary

Last week, I decided to keep a 5-day food diary to give you an idea of what it is like to live and eat in Kosovo.

(Note: At times, I am posting old photos or photos from other sites. I didn’t want to weird out my host mother by taking pictures of the meals she cooked.)

Also, I didn’t include snacks. I eat chocolate. A lot of it.


Breakfast: banana + a cup of coffee

Lunch: 2 speca (peppers), two small tomatoes with salt, a big hunk of homemade cheese, several glasses of milk

Dinner: A bowl of pasule (traditional bean stew here in Kosovo) with white bread and one glass of milk

Pasule (Photo Credit: Albania Adventure)


Breakfast: banana +  a cup of coffee

Lunch: Two pieces of reheated dough filled with egg (leftover from Sunday breakfast) and two glasses of milk

Dinner: Two fried eggs, a hunk of homemade cheese, and several glasses of milk

Kosovo food 2
Lunch: Reheated dough and egg


Breakfast: a cup of dry Cheerios + a cup of coffee

Lunch: one speca (pepper), one bowl of leftover pasule, 2 glasses of milk

Dinner: one bowl of leftover pasule, 1 glass of milk


Breakfast: a cup of dry Cheerios +  a cup of coffee

Lunch: I was in Pristina to work, which means I got to have a treat! I had a falafel sandwich from one of my favorite restaurants, Babaganoush. HEAVEN.

Dinner: Flia (traditional Kosovo food that’s just layers of dough cooked over an open flame)

Babaganoush Pristina Kosovo
Lunch at Babaganough. YUM!

#food #Kosovo #flia

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on


Breakfast: a cup of dry Cheerios +  a cup of coffee

Lunch: 1-1/2 (cold) fried eggs (ugh, couldn’t finish them), ½ of a tomato with salt, a piece of cheese, a piece of leftover flia, and a glass of milk

Dinner: penne pasta mixed with cheese and a glass of milk

Kosovo food 1

Eating a healthy diet is something with which I struggle in Kosovo. I live on a mini-farm. All the produce and meat I eat is organic, so you think it would be healthy, right? Some problems are:

  • Kosovars consume a HUGE amount of white bread.
  • Food is prepared with a lot of oil. If I were going to scramble an egg at home, for example, I would use a tablespoon of olive oil. When my host mother makes eggs, she dumps about 1/3 of the bottle into the pan. (I am not exaggerating.)
  • Americans eat a lot of sugar, yours truly included. But the amount of sugar I’ve seen Kosovars consume is staggering. If you can out-sugar an American, you are eating way too much sugar.
  • I am not vegetarian, but I try to avoid meat as much as I can in Kosovo. I don’t like the way it is prepared. It manages to be stringy, overcooked, and greasy all at the same time.
  • I think of a “meal” as being protein + starch + vegetable, but I don’t consistently get all three.

I hate having so little control over what I eat and when I eat. But cooking for myself would be difficult because:

  • There is no grocery store in my village.
  • Meals are the only time I really spend with my host family.
  • I think my host mother would be offended if I stopped eating her food.
  • I am not allowed to use the electric stove (too expensive), the gas stove is broken, and I don’t know how to cook on a wood stove.

Grocery shopping and cooking have always been two chores I’ve hated. Now, however, I am looking forward to that day in the future when I finally live alone again (!!!) and can prepare a meal for myself. I’m gonna put Jose Gonzalez on the stereo, pour myself a glass of white wine, and weep for joy as I cook.

A Light-Hearted Comparison of China vs. Kosovo

I was talking with my mom about my trip to China in 2012. She suggested I write a blog post, comparing and contrasting my experiences in China with those in Kosovo.

Please note that this meant to be a fun, light-hearted comparison of the two countries, rather than a deep cultural analysis. Also, I only got to spend 10 days in China, whereas I’ve lived in Kosovo for a year. I am more familiar with Kosovar culture than Chinese culture.

Having said that, here are a few fun observations about both countries.


In both places, I’ve felt like this:

Going through customs.jpg

China and Kosovo are both mountainous countries.

Great Wall
The Great Wall of China
Novo Brdo, Kosovo
Novo Brdo, Kosovo

In both countries, I’ve used “squatty potties”:

We called these -squatty potties.-
Toilet in China
squatty potty
Toilet in Kosovo

There are scorpions in both countries!

Before I went to China, I was like, “I am totally going to eat a scorpion.” I imagined showing my friends and family a photo of me eating a scorpion, and all of them being suitably impressed by my bravery. Well, then I got to China and visited a night market. When I saw all the scorpions wriggling on sticks (they’re still ALIVE!), I lost my nerve. I have come to accept that while I am not a picky eater, that doesn’t mean I am an adventurous eater.

Yummy. Live scorpions on a stick.

For the record, I have never seen a scorpion in Kosovo. I’ve shown the following picture to locals here, and they claim never to have seen one, either. But! A volunteer living up in the mountains took this photo. I’m convinced.

Scorpion in a toilet
Don’t sit down!

American fast food. Yes, it exists.

The only American fast food chain that exists in Kosovo (as of right now) is KFC, although they offer a limited menu. What’s the point of going to KFC if you can’t order gluey macaroni and cafeteria-style mashed potatoes?!

I don’t remember what all I saw in China, aside from McDonalds. (No, I didn’t eat there.)

McDonalds in China

I engaged with local superstitions in both countries.

In China, I hugged this tree to gain an extra year of life.

Tree hugging for an extra year of life.jpg

In Kosovo, I flipped over a tile on this roof to ensure I will get married.


So, there you have it. A fun comparison of my experiences in China vs. Kosovo. I realize this post features a lot of toilet pictures. You’re welcome.


Pit Stop at Tartine, Pristina

Cafes are a big part of life here in Kosovo. (I’d love to see a report on the number of cafes per capita … there’s probably like one cafe for every five people in Kosovo. [I am making that up/exaggerating. But only a little.])

outside Tartine

Tartine is a popular breakfast place among the Peace Corps volunteers. Tartine primarily serves quiche, smoothies, and coffee.

During a low point this last winter, I remember lying in bed and scrolling through Google images of “fruit smoothies,” fantasizing about colorful, healthy drinks and feeling sorry for myself. (Pathetic.) A few weeks later, a friend introduced me to Tartine. And I got a smoothie! I also got a quiche and some coffee. 🙂

breakfast quiche tartine pristina kosovo

Although cafes are a big part of the Kosovar culture, in the smaller villages (like mine), they are frequented almost exclusively by men. I’ve heard that Tartine is owned by a woman. While I don’t know if this is true, every time I have been to Tartine I have only seen women working.

inside Tartine
Inside Tartine
vignette tartine pristina kosovo
Cute decor
wall decor tartine
A wall hanging … I’ll admit, I think this is weird.

If you’d like to read about other places I frequent in Kosovo, check out this post about Sach Cafe, and the (VERY SADLY!) now-closed Sweet Bean.

The Last Few Weeks Before Summer Vacation

I fully expected that the last few weeks of school would drag by. I thought I’d be eager for the school year to be over, so I could visit home and then enjoy my summer vacation. But surprisingly, the last few weeks went by quickly.

Above: One of my fourth graders wrote me a sweet letter, and drew some pictures for me.

It is a tradition in Kosovo for the 9th grade to have a prom. I’ll admit, I didn’t want to attend (I don’t even teach the 9th grade). In my experience, celebrations in Kosovo can go one of two ways: they’re either fun, or they drag on forever. I tried to get out of going to prom by saying I didn’t have any money (because everyone had to pay their own way). Well, then my host father insisted on paying for me. So I kind of had to go.

The prom turned out to be pretty fun. My experience was in no way the night-long marathon my friend Chester experienced and wrote about here.

FullSizeRender (19)
My counterpart, another teacher, and me
circle dancing
Circle dancing (of course!)

The only “bad” thing that happened is that I was unexpectedly pulled in front of a microphone and asked to give a speech. Not only do I hate being put on the spot (who doesn’t?), I also don’t possess the language skills to spout off an impromptu speech in Shqip (Albanian). I managed to say, “Urime!” (congratulations), and then I ran away.

And last, my host family threw me a little birthday party before I left for the States. (I spent my actual birthday at home.) My host mother made all of my favorite foods: mish pule me patate (literally translated: meat chicken with potatoes), sallat shope (a salad with cucumber, tomatoes, and cheese), homemade cheese, and (not pictured), petulla (pronounced “pate-la”), which is fried bread with sugar on top. They also got me a chocolate cake.

Kosovo food
Kosovar food

chocolate cake

My host family invited my two site mates (Peace Corps speak for “other volunteers who live near you”) for dinner. Rachel brought Hello Kitty party hats.

happy birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me

Friday Gratitude: Back in Kosovo

On Monday, I arrived back in Kosovo after a week-long visit to the United States.

I didn’t experience any culture shock at all. After a day of being back home, Kosovo felt like a distant memory. Having said that, I missed Kosovo by the end of the week. Just a little, but it was enough to bring me back here. 🙂

I talked to a volunteer friend who had visited the States a few weeks before my trip. She told me the food made her sick. A small, mean part of my brain thought: “She’s weak. That won’t happen to me.”

Pride goeth before a fall.

The food in the U.S. did make me sick. (Fun fact: I puked down the drain while showering.) I stopped going to restaurants and only ate at home, which helped. If I had to give advice to any returning Peace Corps volunteers, it would be: Don’t go hog-wild eating all of your favorite foods. Ease into it.


I expected my reunion with my cat to be joyous on both our parts. I was joyous, while he was indifferent. I don’t know why I expected more. He IS a cat, after all. 🙂

Things I did in the U.S.: Went to the movies (Wonder Woman), went to yoga class 4x, ate a bunch of food, attended a family barbecue, painted ceramics, attended an art fair, and turned another year older.

I also got a bob hircut. I’ve had bobs before, and they aren’t my favorite haircut for myself. However, I was motivated by practical reasons and not aesthetics.

Anyway, it was a great trip and I am so grateful I was able to see my family. It helps to know that I’ll see my parents again in 6 months (when they visit Europe for the first time!). But, it is strange to think it’ll be another year before I see the rest of my family and friends. When I was home, I kept telling myself: “The next time I’m here, I’LL BE FREE.”

I haven’t posted about my media consumption for a few weeks, so here’s everything:

  • I watched the season finale of Handmaid’s Tale. It continues to scare the crap out of me.
  • I binged Orange is the New Black over 3 days. I am always impressed by the rich, complex, and varied female characters on that show.
  • As mentioned, I saw Wonder Woman while I was home. My mom and aunt liked it, but I thought it was only okay. It was a bit heavy-handed with the “love conquers all” messaging.
  • I read All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is told from a husband’s perspective, as he obsesses over his wife.
  • I read Beautiful Bodies. It was well-written, but irritated me to no end. Why are all books about 30-somethings (particularly women) all about the characters’ midlife crises? Is no one happy in their 30s? (For the record, I am. I’ve enjoyed my 30s far more than I ever enjoyed my 20s.)
  • I re-read White Oleander, which is probably my favorite novel of all time. It follows the story of a teenage girl as she moves through a series of foster homes in Los Angeles, after her poetess mother murders her ex-boyfriend.
  • When I was in the States, I was finally able to buy a hard copy of Feast of Sorrow, which was written by Crystal King. Crystal and I became acquainted when I lived in Boston. I was excited to have a chance to read her first novel, which was published this spring. It is a historical fiction novel set in ancient Rome. I started reading it on my long journey back to Kosovo. It is an entertaining, captivating novel, and I’m not just saying that because I know the author. I highly recommend it!