Welcome, Kosovo Group 4!

Kosovo is the second-newest Peace Corps country. My cohort is the third group of volunteers here. (If you’re curious, you can see a full list of Peace Corps countries, including the length of their programs and the number of their currently-serving volunteers, here.)

In a week, the newest Kosovo cohort arrives! The feeling I have is not unlike entering my senior year of high school. You know how things are so much better when you’re a senior, because you’re the oldest and you know everything and you’re excited for the future? That’s how I anticipate feeling in the coming year. One year of service down, one more to go!

I remember how I felt this time last year … my last week in the United States. My emotions ran the gamut from happy, sad, excited, scared, anxious, and hopeful.

Last fall, I created some blog posts in order to provide helpful information to the new cohort, as they were beginning to receive their acceptance letters. With only a week to go before they arrive in-country, I thought I would re-post the links to those posts.

Other posts that might be helpful:

Pre-Service Training

All About Kosovo

Teaching

Lesson Plans and Activities

Albanian/Shqip Language

Guest Bloggers (Different perspectives from my fellow Kosovo Peace Corps Volunteers)

Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Travel Within Kosovo

We are looking forward to meeting you, Kosovo Group 4!

Friday Gratitude: I Followed a “Hajde,” and I Don’t Know Why

Teaching has been fine, but lately, I’ve really been missing social work. I’ve settled for listening to The Social Work Podcast.

Tuesday was a beautiful day, so I decided to take a long walk and listen to a podcast episode. I headed south on the road leading out of my village. I was about halfway through listening to the show when I heard someone say my name.

I stopped walking and turned around, coming face-to-face with a young girl on a bicycle. I am not good at assessing people’s ages (as I mentioned in this post), but I’d say she was about 12. She said something to me in rapid-fire Shqip (Albanian). I didn’t understand any of it, except she mentioned my Shqip tutor’s name.

“Sorry, what?” I asked, pulling my headphones out of my ears.

More rapid-fire Albanian, along with my Shqip tutor’s name again.

Nuk kuptoj (I don’t understand),” I said.

The girl shook her head. “Hajde (come here),” she replied, and gestured for me to follow.

We went up, up, up a steep mountain road. Eventually, we stopped at a house that was nestled between several other houses. The girl went inside and came out with a woman who I correctly assumed was my tutor’s mother. (My tutor and I meet for lessons at a restaurant, so I had never before met her family or been to her house.)

Then, the girl abandoned me. I was left standing in the woman’s yard, trying to explain why I was there.

To make matters worse, I wasn’t exactly dressed in my finest. I was wearing sneakers, hiking pants, and a windbreaker. Beneath that I was wearing my ugly khaki Peace Corps t-shirt.

“Hello! I’m a poorly-dressed American who decided to invite herself to your home.”

I introduced myself and tried to explain, in my broken Shqip, what had happened. “I was walking … the girl told me hajde … we came here …”

The woman was my tutor’s mother, and she knew who I was, too. She called my tutor (who was in Pristina) and passed the phone to me. I explained what happened, this time in English. “I think the girl thought I was lost on my way to your house,” I said.

My tutor laughed. Then she told me her mother wanted me to stay for coffee.

Hospitality is a big part of Kosovar culture. I followed my tutor’s mother inside and was presented with a glass of Coke, a Turkish coffee, and a plate of cookies. A short time later, my tutor’s sister arrived. Though she claimed not to speak English well, we had a pleasant conversation (about 70% was in English, and 30% was in Shqip). Afterward, they insisted on driving me home.

I think this story perfectly illustrates what it’s like to serve in the Peace Corps. I leave my house thinking things will go a certain way, something totally different happens, the language barrier gets in the way, but in the end, everything turns out fine.

Cases in the Albanian Language (Shqip)

Last week, we had an in-service language training, which was very useful. I got to learn more about the Albanian language (Shqip, pronounced “Ship”).

One concept I previously had a hard time understanding was that of “cases” in the Albanian language. I am going to explain cases as best as I can, based on my understanding of what they are. Cases show the grammatical function of the word in a sentence.

In Shqip, the word endings of nouns change to show their function in a sentence. Let’s use my name, “April,” as an example. The word April is actually considered a masculine word in Shqip, because it ends in a consonant (feminine words end in a vowel). Here are the ways my name would change, depending on its function in a sentence:

  • Kyo eshte Aprili. (This is April.) My name gets an “i” at the end, because I am the direct object.
  • Lapsi eshte Aprilit. (The pencil is April’s.) My name gets a “it” at the end, because I am the owner of the pencil.
  • Dje e pashe Aprilin. (Yesterday I saw April.) My name gets an “in” at the end, because I am the receiver of an action.

Now consider the following sentence:

The postman brought the parcel. The order of the words gives us information about the sentence. If we changed the word order to “The parcel brought the postman,” the meaning of the sentence would change.

Let’s look at that same sentence in Shqip. It translates to “Postieri ([the] postman) e solli (brought) pakten ([the] parcel).” Because the words “postman” and “paketen” change endings to tell us what their functions are in the sentence, we can use the words in any order.

  • Paketen e solli postieri.
  • E solli postieri pakon.
  • E solli pakon postieri.
  • Postieri pakon e solli.
  • Pakon postieri e solli.

All of these sentences have the same meaning, and all of these sentences are grammatically correct.

This fact blew my mind!

So when I return from having lived in Kosovo for two years, and you ask me, “April, why aren’t you fluent in Albanian?” My answer will be, “Because of the cases.” 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this mini lesson on the Albanian language.

Friday Gratitude: Language In-Service Training (IST)

Hello! I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday attending an in-service language training with the Peace Corps. I learned a bit more Shqip (Albanian) and got to spend time in my favorite Kosovo city with some of my volunteer friends. It was a good week!

language group kosovo
Language training

Other bonuses: the weather was gorgeous (I was outside without a coat most of the time), I got to visit Sweet Bean Bakery several times, and I spent the night with another volunteer friend who lives closer to the training site. We (well, mostly he) made a delicious chicken stir fry for dinner.

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Christian making stir fry. 🙂

As far as media consumption goes, I finally finished reading Stephen King’s The Stand. I’d seen the mini-series but don’t think I had previously read the book. I also caught up on Girls.

I’ll be writing a post soon about some of what I learned about the Shqip language, and I’ll be posting about a field trip we took to the Peja Ecological Museum. Have a good weekend and stay tuned!

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Field trip: Sarah Jessica, April, and Kushtrim

Friday Gratitude: Madness

Here are some things that are making me happy this week:

  • I bought plane tickets this week. Buying plane tickets makes my bank account sad. But it makes me very happy!
  • I finally decided to stop being lazy and upload my crochet projects to ravelry. You can see them here (not sure if you need an account): http://www.ravelry.com/projects/hellofromkosovo
  • I am heading to a language training for Peace Corps early next week. Good things: I’ll get to be in a city I like with friends I like. Bad things: I’ll be evaluated on my Shqip progress. *gulp*
  • I had a lovely dinner with another volunteer. You will get to “meet” him next week, when he guest blogs for me.

Media consumption:

  • I re-watched the movie Notes on a Scandal. It is one of the only movies I think is better than the book upon which it is based (the other is Revolutionary Road). In it, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett play teachers at the same school. The movie is told from the perspective of Judi Dench’s character, as she learns of Cate Blanchett’s character’s affair with a 15-year-old student. Though CB is the one having the affair, JD plays such a creepy, evil character you end up hating her more.
  • I decided to treat myself to a movie and went to see Beauty and the Beast. It was the second time I’ve visited a movie theater since I’ve lived in Kosovo. I didn’t care for the movie much. But these days, I appreciate stimulation of any kind.

On a sad note … They say things happen in threes and I know three families in the U.S. who have lost loved ones within the last week. A lot of people are on my mind, and a lot of people are in my thoughts and prayers. I am sending love to you all.

Guest Bloggers: Todd and Stephanee Smith (Serving as a Married Couple in the Peace Corps)

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” — Antoine De Saint-Exupery

stephanee-and-todd

Thanks to April for asking us to be guest bloggers on what it’s like to serve as a married couple in the Peace Corps. As one of two married couples in our cohort, we are probably having a different experience than our fellow volunteers.

Some background: We’ve been married over 20 years, no kids, and left behind steady, comfortable jobs. We were both ready for a life and career change. It was a decision that we took very seriously, and worked through the pros and cons together. We think that when you serve as a couple, you both need to be all in because if one person has reservations, it’s going to be a difficult experience for both of you.

Pre-service training (PST) was the biggest challenge of our service. Peace Corps required us to live separately (different home/different village) for our first 3 months of training. We knew this going into our service, so it didn’t come as a surprise. And while it did allow us to have our own, separate experiences while developing our own identities within our cohort, it was definitely a very challenging experience. PST has a lot of ups and downs and when you are used to sharing those types of life experiences with your partner, and he/she isn’t around, it can be difficult. While not being able to see your partner whenever you wanted was difficult, we will say that the PST set-up did allow for a lot of interaction. Our villages were only a few miles apart and there were plenty of hub days or sector training that, for the most part, we were able to see each other in person more often than not.

Once we finished PST, however, a sense of normalcy returned. We resumed living together, cooking for ourselves, having similar schedules and just a feeling of being a married couple once again. Some advantages of serving together is that you always have someone to hang out with, whether it’s at the café, at home, dinner, or simply riding the bus. We are in the same sector so we have that in common, and we even share tutoring lessons. We always have a travel partner. Loneliness isn’t as big of an issue as it may be with other volunteers. In the winter, the advantages are even better—never underestimate the power of body heat in an unheated bedroom.

However, there are some disadvantages as well. Our language learning isn’t progressing as quickly as we would like as we always have someone to talk to in English. As a married couple, our host family gives us plenty of privacy so we probably don’t have as much interaction as many other volunteers may have with their families which also hampers our language skills. We also sometimes feel that we probably haven’t formed as many close relationships with our cohort due to the fact we have a “built-in” friend. Of course, that could be because not only are we a married couple, but we’re also older than most everyone in our cohort!

Despite some disadvantages, being a married couple has only enhanced our experiences. Neither of us can imagine trying to go through this adventure alone. We rely on one another to get through our struggles and are able to enjoy small successes together. So far, our experience in the Peace Corps has been pretty much what we expected. Some ups, some downs; but all made easier by having someone to share it with.

April’s Note: Happy Valentine’s Day! If you’d like to read more from other guest bloggers, here are some links: