As part of my language training the last week, we took an afternoon field trip to the Ecological Museum in Peja.
First, we saw two exhibits showcasing how things looked in a traditional Albanian home. Here is a living room. Men would be served beverages here. The long-handled pot you see in the left corner of the picture was used for washing hands.
Next, we saw a kitchen. Families used to sit on the floor or low stools around a table on the ground, which is called a soffit. (Note: I am not sure if I spelled that correctly.)
The clothing exhibit was probably my favorite part of the museum. This wool dress is 100 years old, and was based on an Illyrian design. The Illyrians are considered to be the first group of people to inhabit Kosovo and other parts of the Balkans.
The following is an example of what women used to wear in Kosovo. (I must have asked our tour guide three times, “They dressed like this EVERY DAY?” It seems an outfit this elaborate would get dirty … )
Here is what men in Kosovo used to wear. I was interested to learn the white cloth around their heads are actually burial shrouds. Men would wear their burial shrouds every day, in case they were killed.
As someone who likes to crochet, I appreciated this display of old sewing/looming tools.
The other part of the museum featured old coins and artifacts that had been discovered locally. I didn’t take pictures of those exhibits because it was dark in the room. (And honestly, I am just less interested in that stuff.)
Overall, my visit to the museum was enjoyable, and I learned a few tidbits about Kosovo that I did not know previously. Admission was only 1 Euro. If you ever find yourself in Peja, Kosovo, the Ecological Museum is worth checking out.
A while back, I asked my friends and family members to send me questions to answer on the blog. My Dad asked about sports and the outdoors in Kosovo. Since I’m not exactly Sporty Spice, I decided to outsource his questions to someone more knowledgeable than I. My friend Andrew has participated in a lot of outdoor fun since he moved to Kosovo. Without further adieu … –April
Përshëndetje! I am excited and honored to be taking over April’s blog this week. Apparently I have gained a bit of a reputation for loving the outdoors, especially in Kosovo. In fact, the nature here is so beautiful that I started documenting it, which led me to discover another passion of mine, photography.
Back in the U.S., I was just getting into hiking and kayaking before I moved to Kosovo for my service. I am from Atlanta, so it was quite common for my friends and I to flee the city for the weekend for some fresh air on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. I wasn’t sure what to expect once I found out I was moving to Kosovo. I had read that Kosovo was mountainous and forested, so I knew there was potential, but I wasn’t sure how accessible outdoor activities would be.
During my first year, I went on a lot of hikes with other volunteers and we usually found some great trails on our own through trial and error. The town I live in is pretty flat, so I usually relied on my friends who live in the more rugged areas to ask around and get an idea of where we should go. Unfortunately, unexploded landmines from the war are still a concern, especially in the mountainous border regions. It’s best not to get too adventurous, unless you really know where you are going and that the area has been confirmed to be free of mines. Luckily, there are many public and private organizations in Kosovo that are actively working to rid Kosovo of mines and other unexploded ordnance. There are also a lot of resources available, such as maps and local tour guides, that will allow you to safely enjoy the nature here.
I was talking with a local friend the other day and we were discussing how we have both noticed the recent increase in opportunities to take part in organized outdoor events. It has been amazing to watch Kosovo develop in this way during my nearly two years of living here because I truly believe that Kosovo has an incredible potential for ecotourism. Seeing that potential slowly turn into reality is pretty cool. Every week you can see new tour companies popping up on your newsfeed, advertising organized group hikes, bike rides, rock climbing, cultural tours, etc. These offers are usually at a pretty low price and they include transportation, food, and an expert guide. I recently took advantage of one of these opportunities and I went snowshoeing for the first time. We started in a village called Restelica and walked 10+ km over a mountain to the village of Brod. This was in one of the most remote regions of Kosovo and I never would have felt comfortable to do this without a guide, especially in the snow when visibility is so low and avalanches are such a risk. It was certainly a challenge, my legs are still burning three days after the fact, but it was an amazing experience. The guides were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and I was able to learn the basics. My only disappointment is that it is the end of winter and I only just now discovered that I love snowshoeing. Next winter I plan to snowshoe as often as possible. I am also hoping to pick up skiing. I went once when I was in high school, but I would hardly call myself an expert. Kosovo is definitely a great place to learn! Depending on where you are, you can find slopes for beginners, or more challenging ones if you already know what you’re doing. I’ve also seen a lot of snowmobiles during my visits to Brezovica (the main ski resort in Kosovo) and I think it would be awesome to learn how to do that as well. With that said, PCVs aren’t allowed to drive cars or motorcycles, so I assume there is some sort of rule about snowmobiles. If you are currently serving, it’s probably just best to wait until you close your service before you give that a shot.
I think a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers in Kosovo will tell you that winter is tough. My first winter was the most difficult part of my service. I didn’t know how to deal with it and I spent far too much time sitting inside and feeling sorry for myself. My second winter has been the exact opposite. Yes, it was still cold, but I got out as often as possible, enjoyed myself, and stayed busy. Winter was still there, it didn’t change, actually it was colder this winter, but my perspective changed and it made all the difference in the world. My family and friends back home have been shocked to see me enjoying the snow so much. I was never really a winter-type of guy, but I suppose you can count it among the MANY things I have learned to love during my almost two years in Kosovo.
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
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.
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.
I’m devoting this week’s posts to useful information for the next group of Kosovo volunteers, who are starting to get their acceptance letters for the Peace Corps. –April
The following is a timeline of my experience in 1) getting to Kosovo and 2) my first few months here. Your experience may differ from this, but it’ll still give you a clue as to what to expect.
“Staging” is the term Peace Corps uses to prepare you to go to your host country. My group (Kosovo 3, from this moment forward to be referred to as “K3”) was the first group to do everything totally in-country. This means we did not meet for a few days in the U.S. before flying to Kosovo. I first met my fellow volunteers at Dulles Airport, the day we departed all for Kosovo. It’s funny … I have very distinct memories of meeting select people, and no memories at all of meeting others. Now, of course, I know and love my whole group. (We’re very close. Hopefully your group will be close, too.)
The First Four Days
Oh, the first four days. I think back to everything that happened my first four days in Kosovo and I think, “How did all of that happen in only four days?” Here’s what you can expect:
Once you land in Pristina, the group will be greeted by staff, loaded into a van, and driven to a hotel about an hour away. (You can see my very first photo of Kosovo here.)
You will be assigned a roommate. You and your roommate will share a very tiny hotel room.
After hauling your luggage to your room, there will be a welcome speech/some kind of ice breaker activity. You will likely be tired/delirious/cranky. There will be a little free time, dinner, and then you can sleep. Zzzzz
All of your meals will be provided by the hotel. The food is not terrible. Expect a lot of meat and French fries.
You will spend the next three days in training all day.
There will be some language training, though likely not with your permanent LCF (that means “language and cultural facilitator,” in Peace Corps speak). You will get to meet your permanent LCF, though.
Moving to Your Pre-Service Training (PST) Site
On your fourth day in Kosovo, you and your group will re-pack all of your luggage, say goodbye to your tiny hotel room, and load back onto the van. You will now be moving to your training site. There are four adjacent villages that your group will be divided into.
This is the day you will meet your temporary host family. I have literally never been so terrified in my life. I remember getting into the car with my host father and thinking, “WHAT HAVE I DONE?” (Forever to be known as, “That Time I Went Home with a Strange Man … and Lived with Him for Three Months.”) Luckily, he turned out to be a lovely person, and obviously did not murder me. You can read all about my experiences meeting my PST family here.
Life During PST
You will have training 5 full days per week, plus ½ on Saturdays. Training will be a mix of language classes, mandatory Peace Corps training (safety, medical stuff, etc.), Kosovo-specific trainings, and TEFL/CD training. You can read about a day in the life of PST here.
The Peace Corps will give you money to then give to your host family. The amount for PST is pre-determined, so there is no haggling (there will be later, once you get to your permanent site). You can read more about the money situation here.
There are several bigger activities that happen during PST. They include:
A community project.
A visit to the Peace Corps office in Pristina.
A mid-PST language test.
Practicum. If you are a TEFL volunteer, you’ll teach a 6-day summer camp for kids. If you are a CD volunteer, you’ll do …something else. I don’t know. I’m not in that program. You can read about my experiences teaching here.
A cultural day trip within Kosovo.
An end-of-PST language test. It was very stressful. I cried before mine. A lot of people cried before/during their test. This isn’t baseball, it’s the Peace Corps, so crying is totally allowed.
A final project and a “thank you” party for the PST families.
Week Five is stressful. There’s no getting around it. During week five, you will find out where your permanent host site will be. You will also meet your TEFL/CD counterpart for the first time. As another volunteer put it, it is a “blur of heat and misery.” You can read more about my experience here.
Once you complete PST, you will officially swear in as a member of the Peace Corps! And move in with your permanent host family. All on the same day.
My middle host brother got married on Saturday. It was my first Kosovar wedding!
From Tuesday night-Friday night, our house was busy with music and relatives every night. There was a long table set up in the driveway, and our family served snacks and beverages. Loud music played until about 11 p.m., and people would circle dance. The bride-to-be was absent during these festivities. Perhaps she was celebrating with her own family … I’m not sure.
Saturday was the actual wedding day. At about 11 a.m., a traditional band showed up, along with all of the relatives. People danced and took pictures with my host brother and his family.
Then, the family left to go pick up the bride. (I didn’t go — not enough room in the car.) It is tradition for the bride to be driven by a long procession back to the groom’s family’s house. Relatives and neighbors on our end were waiting to receive her when she arrived.
There was more music and picture taking. Then, there was a lull of about 3 hours. Most of the relatives left, and we all kind of sat around and waited until it was time to go to the restaurant.
(One thing I found interesting about this wedding is that there was no actual ceremony. I asked one of my host brothers, and he said the bride and groom go to the cleric at the mosque to sign paperwork about a month in advance. The actual wedding day is just the party.)
We left at about 7:00 p.m. to go to the restaurant, about a mile or so up the main road. There was a lot of circle dancing! The woman all had beautiful dresses (and some changed into other beautiful dresses midway through the evening).
We had appetizers throughout the night. Dinner was served at 11:00 p.m. I ran into a local friend (who I didn’t know would be at the wedding). She and her boyfriend drove me home at 1:00 a.m. The party was still going strong — the cake cutting didn’t happen until 1:30, so I missed out.
(You’ll notice I didn’t include too many photos of my host family. I want to balance sharing my cultural experiences while respecting my host family’s privacy.)
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” — Nelson Mandela
Last week, we took a mid-training oral language exam, just to see how our Albanian (shqip, pronounced “ship”) language is progressing. I did more poorly than I thought, which has really lit a fire under me to study more.
One thing I got marked down on was this: When I was asked what my profession was in the United States, I replied (in English) “social worker,” because I didn’t know how to say it in shqip. My language teacher later defended me, because “social worker” isn’t one of the professions listed in our textbook. (And for the record, the only professions listed in our textbook are: actor, ecologist, teacher, and businessman. I don’t know how many actors or ecologists I can expect to meet here in Kosovo. So, yeah, SUPER HELPFUL.) I have since asked my language teacher to teach me how to say “social worker” in shqip, in case I am asked that question in the future. He asked me what a social worker is, specifically. (HAHA, good question!) I told him about my last job, and he translated my profession as “këshilltare për të varurit e drogës,” which literally means “counselor for the addicted to drugs.” That’s a mouthful.:)
Shqip is a difficult language to learn for a number of reasons. Not only do verbs get conjugated — nouns do, too. (Even proper nouns). Before I moved to Kosovo, I did some research on the country and could not figure out why there were so many spellings for the capital city. I’ve since discovered the differences:
Pristina (rhymes with the name “Christina”) is the English word for the city.
Prishtina is the Albanian way of saying the name.
Prishtinë is the indefinite version of Prishtina (“in Pristina” translates to “në Prishtinë”).
Further complicating things is that there is “standard Albanian” (ex: the language that is spoken on the news) versus “dialect,” which is an informal language typically spoken at home, among family. Not everyone speaks standard Albanian, and dialects can vary by region. Our language classes mostly focus on standard Albanian. But, at home, some of our families speak only in dialect. It gets confusing.
The only way in which I think shqip is easier than English is that words are pronounced the way they are spelled. So if you understand the shqip alphabet (36 letters to our 26) and the sounds the letters make, you can sound things out. (Unlike English words like “knife” or “through” or a million others.)
A few weeks ago, we took a test to determine what type of learners we are: visual, audio, or kinesthetic (carrying out physical activities). I would’ve guessed that I’m an audio learner, since I prefer lectures in the classroom. But, I actually scored as a visual learner (with kinesthetic coming in second place).
I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised. Flashcards are my favorite way to study. There are a number of things I didn’t pack and wish I had. Index cards are at the top of the list. I could kick myself for not thinking to bring any. I can’t find them here, so I’ve had to make do by cutting up pieces of paper.
I need to study more! We have another oral exam coming up at the end of training. *gulp* The good news is that once we move to our permanent sites, Peace Corps will pay a tutor to continue working with us individually. That’s something I definitely want to take advantage of. I might never have another opportunity to be immersed in a language. I want to learn shqip! Help!
[Note: When I recently asked for suggestions for what people would like to see on my blog, my sister mentioned she would like to learn more about Kosovo’s culture. I realized I haven’t said much about Kosovo itself. I figured that when I joined the Peace Corps, my friends and family probably did some research on Kosovo. But, I still think it’s worthwhile to post something here. I’ve listed my sources, too, so you know I’m not pulling stuff out of thin air. 😉 Also, I’m going to be mindful of writing more about culture in the future.]
“The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” — Winston Churchill
So what are “the Balkans”? The term refers to a region in southeastern Europe and currently includes the countries Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. (U.S. State Department website) [I don’t know why the map below highlights countries other than those on the State Department’s website, but it was the best map I found.]
According to this unofficial website, Kosovo is “slightly larger than Delaware.” So why is this small country so important?
“Look at the map. Kosovo and the rest of the Western Balkans are countries that are now surrounded by the territories of two of the most important and powerful organizations on the planet. On every side the region is enveloped by the European Union and NATO. So Kosovo and its neighbors are not some place out there in Europe’s backyard, but rather they constitute its inner courtyard. Nobody wants trouble here.” (Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know by Tim Judah)
Here are some facts about Kosovo’s population. I pulled all of this information from the CIA Worldfact Book.
Population: 1,870,981 (July 2015 est.)
Ethnic groups: Albanians 92.9%, Bosniaks 1.6%, Serbs 1.5%, Turk 1.1%, Ashkali 0.9%, Egyptian 0.7%, Gorani 0.6%, Roma 0.5%, other/unspecified 0.2%
[note: these estimates may under-represent Serb, Roma, and some other ethnic minorities because they are based on the 2011 Kosovo national census, which excluded northern Kosovo (a largely Serb-inhabited region) and was partially boycotted by Serb and Roma communities in southern Kosovo (2011 est.)]
Language: Albanian (official) 94.5%, Bosnian 1.7%, Serbian (official) 1.6%, Turkish 1.1%, other 0.9% (includes Romani), unspecified 0.1%
Religion: Muslim 95.6%, Roman Catholic 2.2%, Orthodox 1.5%, other 0.07%, none 0.07%, unspecified 0.6% (2011 est.)
The following quote comes from a PowerPoint presentation I received as a Peace Corps trainee:
“According to the United Nations Human Development Report, one out of every four Kosovars lives outside of the country. Remittances from the Kosovar diaspora account for one fifth of Kosovo’s entire GDP. Because of limited economic opportunities in Kosovo, many families choose migration as a way to support the family unit, primarily to destinations in Western Europe.”
On a personal level, it is easy at times to wonder how much of an impact I’ll have when I’m serving in the Peace Corps as an English teacher. But then I remind myself that by teaching Kosovar children English, I am helping to set them up for a brighter future, one where they will potentially have greater education and job opportunities.