Guest Blogger: Sam Green (A Single Story)

Hi, Everyone. I asked my friend Sam if he would write a guest post for my blog. Sam is not only the first man I’ve asked to post, he is also the first person to write about Peace Corps Kosovo’s Community Development program. Enjoy! –April

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A Single Story

In Peace Corps there are several phrases that are repeated so often during training that they become ingrained. The one that’s stuck with me is “single story”. During training they refer to single stories in a few different ways. Primarily in the context of the recent conflict in Kosovo, and that when you hear a story of what happened in the war whether from an Albanian or a Serb, it’s key to remember that you are only hearing one perspective. But they also use the same term when talking about how each member of our cohort will have a completely different experience from the others.

I have been realizing how very true this is, as we have started at our different sites and organizations. I will be getting a unique experience. I am the first volunteer to working with a Roma organization, and I am living with a Catholic host family in a predominantly Muslim and Turkish melting pot. The languages on the street range from Albanian and Romani to Turkish and German.

In addition to the English teachers we have in Kosovo, like the amazing April, we also have Community Development volunteers. The community development sector in Kosovo has many wide-ranging goals, but at its essence we are here to help build capacity within NGO’s and civil society organizations. I’m currently facing the challenges that will come with working and living within two different minority communities. I’m excited to see Kosovo from their perspective.

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Photo by Sam Green

The largest challenge I’ve faced thus far has been language barriers. No one within my organization speaks English and my Albanian skills are sub-par. I’ve been taking Albanian tutoring and this week am starting with a tutor to learn the Romani language. It has been very hard to express myself to my counterpart, when trying to speak about vision or strategic planning through my limited Albanian and Google Translate. In an effort to do something meaningful with the rest of my time, I’ve started an English club with some secondary school students. I am daunted by the challenges ahead of me, but I look forward to overcoming them and can’t wait to be able to tell my single story.

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Photo by Sam Green

Other guest bloggers’ posts:

Guest Blogger: Valeriana Dema

Hi, everyone! My friend Val graciously agreed to write today’s guest post, where she shares her unique experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. –April

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April and Val at Novo Brdo

Thank you April for asking me to write a post which helped me reflect on my time in Kosovo. I’m very happy to contribute in a small way to April’s wonderful blog 🙂

The other day my host sister said to me in Albanian, “You are the border” — “Ti je kufi.” She was talking about the split in generations in my Albanian-American family, and how I was in between the two generations. For example, most of my older family members speak Albanian fluently, while many in the younger generation are losing the language. My language skills place me somewhere in between those two generations, and like a lot of children of immigrants, I’ve always felt in between two cultures, but not fully accepted by either. However, in many ways volunteering with Peace Corps Kosovo has helped alleviate that feeling for me.

The past couple months of having a group of Americans experiencing all the joys and maladies of Albanian culture along with me has been a wonderful experience. Being in between cultures can be alienating, so it felt very acknowledging that a bunch of my new friends, who had been immersed in Kosovar culture and living with Albanian host families, understood how both the warm love as well as the tight grip of a close-knit Albanian family feels. It also was really meaningful for me to make connections with Kosovar natives and hear their perspectives on issues and their stories and struggles. As an American, who in many ways has a comfortable life, I’ve had a hard time even imagining what my parents’ and my grandparents’ lives were like. So spending time in Kosovo and with Kosovars helps bridge that gap, helping me understand and making me feel closer to my own family.

Yet being an American volunteer in Kosovo also strengthens the feeling of being at the border. I’m in very close proximity to two different cultures, but I’ll never really know what’s it’s like to have grown up in this part of the world, and I’ll always have different experiences than an American whose family has been there for generations. Part of my experience in the Peace Corps has been accepting that I’ll probably always feel a little bit in between. In the Balkans, borders are constantly being disputed, controlled by foreign powers, cut, and renamed. Being at the border makes me vulnerable and self-conscious, always trying to define myself and defend attacks from both sides. But I’ve also realized the border is a blessing because I have a unique view of both sides.

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.