Friday Gratitude: One Year as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Sunday, August 20 marks one year that I have been a Peace Corps volunteer. (June 5 marked one year of my living in Kosovo, but August 20 is when I officially became a volunteer.)

Here are some previously unpublished (by me) photos of my swearing-in ceremony.

swearing in
Taking the oath (look for me on the far left)
April Gardner Peace Corps Kosovo
U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Greg Delawie, Peace Corps Volunteer April Gardner, Kosovo Country Director Darlene Grant,Β Deputy Chief of Mission to Kosovo Colleen Hyland

While swearing in to the Peace Corps was one of my proudest moments, I want to acknowledge the difficulty that came along with it.

First, there was all of the (probably usual) Peace Corps training stress … moving to a new country (and all the culture shock brought on by that), long days of lectures, intense summer heat with little relief, managing new and weighty expectations, etc.

I also had the added stress of missing my only sibling’s wedding, a wedding that was not on the horizon when I first moved to Kosovo. And I completely understand that decision. When you are with the right person, why wait? Especially when neither person cares about having a big wedding. But, knowing I would miss the wedding was difficult to process.

So yes, I look at the photos from my swearing-in ceremony and feel proud. There am I, looking my best, and standing next to a U.S. Ambassador. I also look at these photos and feel a mix of many other emotions.

On a lighter note … on Sunday, the countdown until I finish my service will drop below the one-year mark. Wow … less than 12 months to go, after starting with 27!

My Trip to Beijing, China 2012

This time of year (mid-August) always makes me think about the trip I took to Beijing, China in 2012. It was part of my graduate school program in social work. I traveled with 15 other students. Every morning, we attended classes on the topic of International Adoption Policy.

China was my first international trip (unless you count Canada and the Bahamas). I was 31 at the time, and had always wanted to travel internationally. Since my trip to China, I have been to nine other countries (Spain, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, France, England, Italy, Germany, and Hungary).

Before going to China, a friend told me, “This trip will change your life.” After I returned, it took me a while to see how much of an impact the trip had on my life. Sure, it was fun to travel and learn about another culture, but was it life changing … ?

Almost exactly two years after our trip, my professor lost her long battle with cancer. She was a compassionate woman, teacher, and social worker. She had this soft, sweet voice that mirrored her nature. BUT. She was totally capable of cutting right through b.s. (Not that I ever tried to b.s. her!) Since her death I have become very close to her family, especially her teenage daughter. I am so thankful to have them in my life. I don’t think I would be as close to them as I am were it not for our shared experience of going on that trip. So you see, the trip did change my life, just not in any way I could have predicted.

Lynn
My professor, Lynn Boyle

In Beijing, after we attended school in the morning, we would go on various excursions in the afternoon. Some were fun, cultural trips and some were work-focused. We met with several NGOs, visited an orphanage, and got to tour a medical facility where they performed minor corrective surgeries (to fix things like cleft palates and club feet) on orphans.

My second favorite photo
April and the Great Wall of China
View from the Summer Palace
A view from the Summer Palace
We took a ride in this boat.
At the Summer Palace
Me in the Forbidden City
April in the Forbidden City

Visiting the orphanage was an especially powerful experience for me. I have often thought I would be interested in doing some type of work with orphans. Well, an opportunity arose here in Kosovo for me to teach at an orphanage one day per week. I’ll start this fall. It is amazing how life brings us the things we seek, isn’t it?

At the Amazing Hands orphanage

Friday Gratitude: Woot for Secondary Projects

The temperature has been flirting with triple digits all week. There is no relief. 😦 I’ll be taking a short trip in November somewhere VERY far north. Though it is months away, I keep thinking about it and fantasizing about the cold …

A friend (who also hates hot weather) told me she’s been looking at pictures of herself wearing sweaters and feeling nostalgic. I was like, “I’VE BEEN DOING THE SAME THING!”

This week, I’ve been busy with secondary projects. I’ve written a bit about secondary projects previously. As a reminder, a “secondary project” is any project a Peace Corps volunteer takes on in addition to their primary job role.

My friend Val and I co-facilitated a writing workshop at KosovaLive yesterday. We had a blast! At the end, I turned to her and said, “That went exactly how I pictured it in my head.” πŸ™‚

Val Dema and April Gardner

I will be volunteering at the Anibar Film Festival in Peja all this coming week. I’ll be acting as the juror assistant, meaning I am the liason between the jurors and the rest of the Anibar staff. I’ll also be responsible for making sure the jurors get to where they need to go on time. I’m a little nervous, but on the bright side 1) I’ll get to see a lot of films and 2) I’ll get to spend time in Peja, my favorite city in Kosovo.

Anibar Film Festival Peja.jpg

I’ll be posting more about these projects in the coming weeks, so stay tuned …

Side note: Last Friday evening, I was in Peja. Some friends were showing me where all the film festival sites will be. Then, we stumbled upon a dog show in the park. You just never know what is going to happen in Kosovo …

Peja Kosovo dog show.JPG

Yesterday, when I was in the Peace Corps office, a care package from my mom arrived. That NEVER happens! And it only took two weeks to reach me! πŸ™‚ She sent lots of good snacks for me, and puzzles, coloring books, and toys for my little host cousins. Thanks, Mom! πŸ™‚

care package
I may have broken into the Muddy Buddies already.

Media Consumption this week …

  • I read A Mercy by Toni Morrison. While it was beautifully written, I didn’t find the story very interesting.
  • TV shows … do I have to say it? Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Sesame Street. (How’s that for variety?)

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Catch you next week! πŸ™‚

Friday Gratitude: Back in the Game

Happy Friday!

My mailbox has been very empty the last few months, until I got this postcard from my friend Katie! It is a picture of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington. The postcard looks almost exactly like the picture I took when I hiked in Olympic National Park in 2009. See:

washington state postcard
Postcard
Hurricane Ridge
A photo I took in 2009 πŸ™‚

And, just for good measure, here is a picture of me hiking in Olympic National Park.

April Hurricane Ridge
Moi, circa 2009

I realize the postal service goes both ways. So, I got back on my postcard game and mailed three this week. It has been my goal to send at least one postcard to every person in my address book before the end of my Peace Corps service.

If you’d like to send me a postcard or a letter (cough, cough), I’d love to hear from you! My address is:

April Gardner
Peace Corps
Str. Mujo Ulqinaku No. 3
10000 Pristina
Kosovo

***

Media Consumption this week …

  • I’m going to have to start adding Sesame Street to my list. My 12-year-old host cousin has been staying with us. Every day, she and I watch an episode of Sesame Street to help her with her English.
  • Otherwise, it’s just been the usual suspects this week: Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad.

Teaser: I am excited about Monday’s blog post. I’ll see you back here then! Have a good weekend, everyone. πŸ™‚

 

 

Friday Gratitude: Ain’t No Cure

“Sometimes I wonder that I’m a gonna do, but there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” — Eddie Cochran, Summertime Blues

The summertime blues have set in a bit (I’m BORED) … but, let’s focus on some good things about this last week.

I crocheted a mermaid using this easy pattern. I was inspired by the funkiness of the doll in the example photo, and decided I wanted my doll to have a Betty Boop look. I think she turned out okay (note: I think she’s actually much cuter in real life). Also, I ran out of yarn, but have since gotten more and will finish the fins for her tail.

crocheted mermaid

My (very kind and thoughtful) site mate brought me a bottle of wine from her vacation to Greece. I love a good port!

Greek port wine

And finally, here is what my new rug looks like in my current bedroom. Yes, this is the third photo I have posted of the rug. Because I love it and it makes me happy! πŸ™‚

hand made rug kosovo

As far as media consumption this week, I saw the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and have been re-watching Breaking Bad. I also finished reading A Year in Provence, which I thought was pretty “meh.”

***

I continue to try to find ways to fill my time, now that I’m on a break from teaching. As I mentioned previously, I’ll be hosting a writing workshop next month in Pristina. I had wanted to host a different workshop at a nearby NGO, but they are closing for the month of August due to extreme heat/no air conditioning. So, that project will have to wait.

I had a meeting in Peja about helping out with a film festival next month. It’ll be nice to work on a project that has nothing to do with teaching English. I’m ready for a change.

Aaaand … it took almost 5 months, but my grant proposal has finally been approved. πŸ™‚ I’ll be posting more about that project this fall.

***

The weather has been slightly cooler (though humid) this week. I took an evening walk with my host mother and 12-year-old host cousin. Along the way, we picked up a neighbor and her granddaughter. There was a wedding going on down the road, and the sound of traditional dance music filled the air. The sun was just setting and the moon was a sliver tucked among the clouds. Occasionally, someone at the wedding would set off a burst of fireworks. I told myself to remember the walk, because someday I won’t live in Kosovo anymore, and I won’t have nights like that to enjoy.

***

If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed I made some updates to the sidebar. <—- I added links to my photography portfolio (non-Kosovo, non-Peace Corps stuff) and to my Vimeo video page (all are videos I’ve previously published within blog posts). I keep playing around to see how I like the layout and if I need to add or remove anything. Feedback is welcome!

Happy weekend! Talk to you on Monday.

Friday Gratitude: Short and Sweet

yoga in kosovo
A friend sent me this photo from the Spark Yoga Festival. I hadn’t seen it prior to this week. (I’m the one in purple.) πŸ™‚

It has been a quiet week, mostly filled with errands. I had to go to the police station and court house to get documentation confirming I am not a criminal, in order to extend my residency in Kosovo.

Media Consumption this week:

I (strangely) read two books about parenting, though I am not a parent.

  • My friend Dana (hi, Dana!) sent me an audiobook version of Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan. This was after I mentioned on an earlier blog post that I’d like to read it. (Good looking out, Dana.) It was a cute, light-hearted book that nicely balanced the other parenting book I read, which was …
  • A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold

I also:

  • Saw the new Spiderman movie.Β The lead actor was a squeaky-voiced, adolescent ball-of-energy. I spent the entire movie wanting to smack him.
  • Caught up on Game of Thrones. (!!!) Happy it’s back on … finally.
  • Binge-re-watched episodes of Breaking Bad. The Chicken Man Cometh …

In other news …

I BOUGHT THE RUG!

I promise to love it forever.

Happy weekend! πŸ™‚

Friday Gratitude: Torpor

Summer induces a sense of hibernation in me; an urge other people probably feel in the winter. (I get a little “hibernation urge” in winter, but not like I do in the summer.) During the hottest months, I like to stay inside. Period. I recently bought a fan for my bedroom — GAME CHANGER. One of the best purchases I’ve made in Kosovo.Β It has been in the upper 90s this week …

I haven’t been terribly productive. I had a meeting to discuss my small grants proposal, a project that has been dragging on since March. Oh, and I got my teeth cleaned. That’s about it. I’ve mostly been hiding from the heat and re-watching episodes of Breaking Bad.

Here’s a funny story … my sister was trying to sneak into Costco with her friend’s membership ID. The security guard complimented the crocheted purse she was carrying (which I made) and was so distracted, she didn’t look at the ID. Hahahaha.

Media Consumption this week …

  • I re-read The Horse Whisperer, a book I first read as a teenager, when this book came out in the 1990s. It was an enjoyable re-read, though its ending ties up a bit too neatly.
  • Per my mother’s insistence (Hi, Mom!), I watched True Detective, season two. I tried twice and could never get into the first season. The second was much better … less gruesome, though the plot line was a bit confusing. This is one of the only times I’ve liked Vince Vaughn in something.
  • This article from Balkan Insight highlights a new cafe in Kosovo that employs people with Down’s syndrome.

My friend Val and I are co-leading a writing workshop at Kosovalive in August. They posted the information on Linkedin this week. πŸ™‚

narrative writing header

Have a good weekend! Talk to you on Monday.