My Favorite Photos from The Third Quarter

On Monday, I mentioned how, by my own method of counting, I have completed my third quarter of Peace Corps service. Here are my favorite pictures from the third quarter.

I love pets! 🙂

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Check out the bear paws …

I got a lot of good family photos when I visited the U.S. in June, but for privacy reasons I don’t want to post them here. Instead, I will post this picture of me eating Del Taco. Want to know why I love Del Taco? Because I can eat tacos and French fries AT THE SAME TIME!

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DEL TACO!

This is about the zillionth time I’ve mentioned my rug on this blog, but who cares? It’s my blog and I’ll talk about my rug as much as I want to. 🙂

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

My friend Chester and I spent a summer day at Batlava Lake in Kosovo.

Batlava Lake
Ridiculously beautiful view

Despite melt-your-face-off heat, Sierra, Chester and I made it to Pristina to have lunch together one day this summer.

These two … #friends #kosovo #100degrees 🔥

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

I volunteered as the jury coordinator for the Anibar International Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo. I can easily say it was the most fun week I’ve had in Kosovo!

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The jury

And, of course, there was partying after the film festival. 🙂

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

I crocheted this cute Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for a friend.

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Totally radical

And I crocheted a minion trick-or-treat bag …

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Minion

Summer had me feeling a bit down, but encouraging words from Peace Corps volunteers serving in other parts of the world made me feel better.

While my visit to Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia was a bit disappointing, I do like this photo:

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Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia

I loved this door at Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo.

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Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo

I WENT TO GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN! Sorry for the caps but I got a little excited. I loved my trip!

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Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
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View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
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Sunrise, Gothenburg, Sweden

This photo cracks me up for some reason. There are so many stories it could tell. Did the one lion get mad at the other, and shove him off his post? Or, did a drunk person walk by and kick the lion?

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Aww … what happened here?

I GOT TO SEE JOSE GONZALEZ IN CONCERT! (More excitement.)

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Third row from the stage … Jose Gonzalez!
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Jose Gonzalez performing with String Theory

The following weekend, I attended a wedding in Tirana, Albania. Though it poured rain, I had fun with my friends.

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Christian, Val, and April visiting the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.

The weekend after that, I went to a JFK photo exhibit with more friends …

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April, Rachel, Christian, Todd, and Stephanee, JFK photo exhibit in Peja, Kosovo

And then, it was Thanksgiving!

Giving thanks! #thanksgiving #kosovo #sharingculture #howiseepc

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

So, there is my photo summary of the last six months. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

The Final Quarter is Here!

By my own method of counting, I have finished three quarters of my Peace Corps service! (Although my method is a bit off … the first three quarters were six months in length, while the final will be 8.5 months.)

Still … only 8.5 months left of service!

My third quarter was full of ups and downs, with a big DOWN at my mid-service mark (August). According to the Peace Corps “chart of emotions,” that’s when most volunteers feel the worst. It was very true for me. I was bored with Kosovo, tired of teaching and living with a host family, and just generally feeling angry.

But then October came … I love autumn, I love Halloween, and I took some fun trips (Sweden and Albania).

Since then, there has been a big shift in my thinking and feeling, one that I think will last. Another volunteer and I were talking and we had both independently come to this realization: we can either accept things the way they are, knowing they are unlikely to change, or we can be miserable the last few months of our service. I would rather choose the former.

In this June post, I listed some of my personal and professional goals for the summer/fall. Let’s check on the progress I’ve made so far …

  • Finish the grant for my school and (hopefully) be awarded funds  Done! Though I still have follow up paperwork to complete, I cleared the biggest hurdle and actually got sports equipment for my school!
  • Host workshops this summer (narrative writing and essay writing are the plans for right now) I only hosted one workshop this summer … (You can read about it here.)
  • Present to Peace Corps volunteers in Albania about starting a poetry competition there No, we didn’t get approval to do this. I don’t totally understand the reasoning, but it seems like Peace Corps doesn’t like cross-work between countries.
  • Help my friend organize the national poetry competition in Kosovo this fall Currently working on this!
  • Start volunteering at an orphanage in Pristina this fall — I found out last week that my application was approved! I am meeting with one of the orphanage directors this week. I’m hoping this new opportunity fills the social work hole in my life. I’ve been teaching once per week there. It is my favorite hour of teaching during the whole week.
  • Possibly do another secondary project for the fall (most likely, teach another English Club at my school) Currently doing some copy editing for KosovaLive and helping my students prepare for Po-e-Ze.
  • Continue teaching. This is kind of obvious, since teaching is my primary role here, but I suppose I should add it to the list. Yep …
  • Get my stuff together and help my friends with their “Faces of Kosovo” project No, I haven’t done this.
  • TRAVEL THIS SUMMER! There are so many places I want to go in Europe. It’s hard to narrow them down. But if I had to list everywhere I want to go, they would be: Tirana/southern Albania, Greece, Bratislava, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Prague, Vienna, Croatia, Bruge, England/Paris (again), Florence … SO MANY PLACES! Other than my trip to the U.S., I didn’t travel at all this summer. Money (dwindling) and heat (intense) were the two major factors. However, I just went to Sweden, which was awesome and cold. 🙂 (You can read about my trip here and here.)
  • Travel around Kosovo. There are still places in Kosovo I want to see, including Mitrovice (major city), Brezovice (skiing), Dragash/Opoje (conservative mountain villages), Skenderaj (Adem Jashari memorial), Rahovec (wine), Batilava Lake (sounds pretty), the Bear Sanctuary (uh, bears) … So far, I’ve been to Batilava Lake and Rahovec.
  • Get my face painted like a Kosovar bride … This is an experience I really wanted to have while living in Kosovo. I’ve checked into it, and the price would be 150 Euro. That’s a lot of money for me right now … almost all of my spending money for a month. I need to think about it some more … I think this is just too spendy for me at the moment, as much as I would love to do it. There are other things I’d rather spend 150 Euro on, like travel (or this rug).
  • Continue writing this blog regularly, and enter the Blog It Home contest this fall, assuming Peace Corps still hosts it Doesn’t appear PC is hosting the Blog It Home contest anymore, which is a big disappointment to me. Past winners got to fly to D.C. to attend a conference on media. I would obviously have loved to do that, assuming I won. (And I would have.) 🙂
  • Learn to speak better Shqip (This is not going to happen. It’s just not. I know I’m going to leave service wishing I could speak fluent Albanian, but I won’t.) My Shqip is terrible, and at this point, I don’t see a real reason to improve. I can clearly get by in my life here with the amount I do speak. However, as fate would have it, someone put me in touch with a new tutor and we will start lessons soon.
  • Continue to build/strengthen my friendships here. I have made an effort to have a breadth of friendships here, to try to be friendly with my entire cohort. However, I feel like I don’t have a depth of friendship yet. It would be nice to have a “best friend” in the Peace Corps. I don’t have one “best friend,” but I have been working to strengthen the friendships I do have.
  • Think about writing a second grant for my school NO! Never again. But I did set the wheels in motion to possibly receive a book donation for my school, so at least that’s something.
  • Continue to consider options when I finish Peace Corps. I’ll likely return to social work, but where/in what capacity remains to be seen Always in the back of my mind…

I have yet to come up with a list of goals for this coming winter and spring. Two of my major projects (Po-e-Ze and hopefully, the grant paperwork) will be done, so I could potentially take on other projects. What other projects? I don’t know yet …

Guest Blogger, Linnea Neuber: Expect Nothing and Appreciate Everything

Hey, guys! I am happy to share a post from guest blogger Linnea Neuber. Linnea is the first person from the Kosovo 4 cohort I have asked to write for this blog (all my other guest bloggers have been from my cohort, group 3, or the previous cohort, group 2). I like inviting guest bloggers to post because they offer a perspective different from my own. Since Linnea is new to Kosovo (well, newer than me. I’m still new, too!), I thought she might have some interesting things to share. 🙂  -April

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Linnea Neuber

When April contacted me to write a guest blog for her, I initially felt hesitant. I thought to myself, “Your ability to write is maybe 3rd grade level at best,” but the idea of contributing to such a rich and informative blog intrigued me. I’m new here (to Kosovo, not to the planet) and I really appreciate April’s interest in expanding the seasoned perspective of her blog. Being part of the “New Kid Crowd” means that I have a fresh, wide-eyed and slightly bushy tailed take on this experience. (Mostly because I have yet to experience a winter here in the Balkans, so please, everyone cross your fingers for me.)

The Peace Corps is an interesting concept. Americans are dropped down into host countries, given a bit of training and then let loose (much like Girl Scouts once they’ve been given the go ahead to sell cookies door-to-door.) We’ve left our entire lives behind (we’ve sold cars, quit jobs, left apartments and packed up everything we own into 2 or more suitcases) and now find ourselves in the shocking situation of integrating into a new culture while speaking a broken form of whatever language we are learning.

And let me tell ya, it’s hard out here.

Personally, I find myself regressing back into a state of childhood. I’ve now become more forgetful (though I always lost my phone before, I now lose it at least 25% more throughout the day. I’ve made a pie chart.) I also find that I can’t work simple machines, such as microwaves, or knives, properly anymore.  And my shoes never stay tied. The English language is much more difficult for me to navigate. I have trouble recalling words that have more than 3 syllables (honestly, just now, I couldn’t remember the word “syllable”).

I love this experience but everyday is a struggle just to live and sometimes I’m not sure if I’m going to make it. I have 22 months left of me trying to figure out how to work different shower heads and sometimes I just don’t know if I have the strength.

However, there are lights at the end of this seemingly never-ending, fun house tunnel. One of these lights is my cohort, the fourth Peace Corps Kosovo group, KOS 4. 150 days ago we boarded a plane to Kosovo after meeting just two days before, in Philadelphia, where we bonded like a chemical reaction over delicious food and cliché icebreakers. They are my anchors in this ever-changing tide.

Other lights include my host family, my counterpart, and my new found friends at site that praise me for speaking even a little Albanian and who help me navigate my new home. Any time I feel down, I think of all the children in my classes who clap for me when I walk in to teach, or who laugh when I make jokes in English even if they don’t understand them (like the true saints they are.)

The truth about the Peace Corps is that it’s difficult, mentally and emotionally exhausting work.  Any expectations that I had 5 months ago have been completely blown away. A tornado has whipped through my life and left me in a little house with red shoes under it. I’m an entirely different version of myself, complete with Technicolor. And increasingly everyday, I’m optimistic that this yellow brick road ahead of me will take me to great places, complete with knowledge of a thousand different shower heads.

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

A Headache and a Half, or, The Story of My Grant Project

“I just get on the mic and spit it.” — Eminem 

I try to avoid talking about the Peace Corps as an entity on this blog. Technically, they’re my employer (or sponsor? over-seeing body?), and writing publicly about an employer is probably not a wise move. In all honesty, I have had a decent experience in my dealings with the Peace Corps. However, my grant project has been nothing but a headache from start to … haven’t finished it yet.

Peace Corps has a pool of money intended to fund grant proposals made by volunteers. To get funding, volunteers must write a formal proposal, submit it before the grant cycle deadline, and have it approved by the small-grants committee. I don’t know how this committee is structured in other host countries, but in Kosovo, the small-grants committee consists of selected volunteers and is overseen by Peace Corps staff.

My grant proposal was for about 1,600 Euro to buy sports equipment for my school. This proposal had been started by my site’s previous volunteer, but due to banking issues, never came to fruition.

After talking with my school, I decided to re-submit the project. I tweaked the original grant proposal and submitted it before the March deadline. I expected this process to be easy, since the project had received prior approval.

The months following turned into a quagmire. The small-grants committee would send me requested changes, I would make them and re-submit them, and then the committee would think of something new to change. After something like the 6th draft, I wrote an email to Peace Corps staff. I was professional in my email, but the gist was basically, “What the hell is going on?” I said that I would be willing to submit one more draft, but if the committee had changes after that point, I was going to drop the project.

A staff member offered to sit down with my grant adviser and me, and we hashed out the last round of changes. This was in May. Finally, my grant received approval.

Next, my counterpart and I had to set up a joint bank account. This process was also a bit of a quagmire. We had to go to the bank on two separate occasions. My host father had to come and sign a document stating that I live in his house. Then, the bank wasn’t satisfied with that document, so my host father had to go to the bank again and sign another document.

I then received word that the grant money would first be deposited in my individual bank account. I did not consent to this. The whole point of setting up a joint bank account is to add a shield from liability for the volunteer. But by the time I received word of this unsettling development, the money had already been wired.

Once the money landed in my account, I tried to transfer it into the joint account. It turns out, the joint account hadn’t been activated. The banker who helped us set it up had gone on a two-week vacation. I don’t know if this caused the delay or was just a coincidence, but in any case, it took another two weeks for the joint account to open. Then, I had to go back to the my bank to schedule another transfer.

When my counterpart and I went to withdraw our money from the joint account, she didn’t have to sign anything. I am not sure what happened there, if she is actually on the account or not, but I have concluded that banks in Kosovo don’t understand what a joint bank account is.

Anyway, this process has been tedious. I have follow-up paperwork to do in the months ahead. I am just glad my school finally got their sports equipment, after nearly two years of waiting.

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This is the “gym” at my school, just a classroom.
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New equipment
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Physical education teacher
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Setting up the soccer/football goal
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Soccer
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Volleyball

I was talking to another volunteer and we agreed — a grant project is an easy thing to point to when people ask what you did in the Peace Corps. It is much harder to quantify relationships you’ve built or the impact you’ve had on students, but in the long run, those things are far more important.

I also feel like, as “the American,” I get a lot of credit from the school and community for bringing this project about. But, I share the credit with many people:

  • Our physical education teacher, who was the catalyst for the project
  • The volunteer at my site before me, who started the project
  • My counterpart, for being a huge champion for the project. Also, since she speaks both Albanian and English, she often got stuck with the role of translator.
  • My project adviser
  • The small-grants committee. Even though I hated working with them, the project wouldn’t have been funded without their approval.
  • The local municipality, who gave us an additional 250 Euro for funding
  • The store where we bought the equipment, for giving us a 20-percent discount on our entire purchase
  • My host father, for going to the bank twice
  • The students and other teachers, who helped set up the new equipment
  • Our school director, who allowed us to host a “Day of Health”
  • the Peace Corps itself

Well, now I can add “grant writing” to my resume, even though it is something I never want to do again.

Guest Blogger, Chelsea Coombes: Loneliness

Hello, readers! You might remember my friend, Chelsea, who has written two other guest posts for this blog. Here is a third post from her. -April

I really value April’s blog. It’s a great glimpse inside a single story of a Peace Corps Kosovo TEFL volunteer. I also think her idea of guest bloggers gives it something extra so you, her readers, get different sides to the many stories here. When April and I talked about my guest blog post it was originally supposed to be on my many thoughts regarding the term “posh corps.” However, I have been feeling this overwhelming sense of loneliness lately and since I myself don’t have a blog, I thought I would selfishly use April’s blog to unload my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

Peace Corps is one of the scariest things I have ever done. I moved across the world, away from my family and friends and dove into another culture. Learned a new language and threw myself into a profession I had absolutely no idea about. All in the hopes that, I could potentially make an impact on a life, while yes, learning something about myself. I won’t lie, I am in this for self-growth just as much as I am to make a difference. I applied to the Peace Corps wide-eyed at the age of 23. I knew nothing about the world, let alone myself. But, let me tell you, learning about the world is easy. It’s learning about yourself that is the hard part. I live in a pretty remote area. A mountain town that is underdeveloped and has limited transportation to and from the area. It can feel very isolating, especially in the winter. My daily routine is to go to school, teach, maybe grab a coffee with my fellow teachers, struggle through conversations even though I am pretty good at the language, come home, struggle through more conversations, and then head to my room where I lesson plan and then it occurs to me … Chels … you are alone. No, really, for the first time in 25 years you are ALONE.

I know what you’re thinking. Twenty-five, girl you’re too young to be this self aware and existentially crazed. I thought so too. The first six months were incredible, I learned so much about myself! It truly was the first time that I only had to worry about myself, that I was able to look within and take the time to get to know myself. But, then month seven rolled around and I was like, enough already, I get it!

What I mean is, there is only so much self-growth you can do so fast and when you’re in Peace Corps it truly is the first time you are experiencing loneliness. You call home and even your conversations change. You find you are relating less and less with friends and family back home. And that’s OKAY, it’s just different. So much in my life has changed. I have changed. It’s not good and it’s not bad, it just IS.

The time difference between Kosovo and Home doesn’t help. When I do find time to make a quick call to my mom she is at work or asleep, or vice versa. We will spend time on the weekends playing catch up and it’s really hard not to feel frustrated when I hear big news through social media. Or miss family events, deaths, births, etc.

We are over a year into our service. If I look back on that year I think it’s safe to say I have learned more about the person I am in that short amount of time and I don’t think I could have ever learned so much about her, so intimately, had I not been so lonely. Had I not learned what lonely truly is.

I’m looking forward to learning more about her, and where she might fit in when she goes back home. But I guess I have time to grow into that and reflect on that this winter. Wish me luck!

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

 

Friday Gratitude: Mid-Service Conference

Hello! I’ve been spending the week at a nice hotel, for a Peace Corps conference. We have four conferences during our service. This one was number three. The next one won’t be until May.

It has been rejuvenating to get away, spend time with my friends, and re-focus a bit. It has also been helpful to talk about and understand that everyone goes through a “mid-service crisis,” which I have definitely been experiencing as of late.

To give you an idea of what a Peace Corps conference is like, here is the list of sessions we had:

  • Intercultural Competecies
  • Personal Leadership Development
  • Project Check-in with Program Managers
  • Exploring Secondary Projects
  • Working in a Post-Conflict Setting
  • Open Forum with Local Staff
  • Opportunities to Work with Gender Focal Points
  • Volunteer Resiliency Strategies
  • Updates on Peace Corps Policy

We did a team-building exercise where we passed around sheets of paper and wrote down words to describe one another. Here is my list. 🙂

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It is always interesting to learn what others think of me. I don’t consider myself particularly witty, so that was nice to see.

I am now participating in a second, optional Peace Corps conference, this one focused on youth development. I will be heading back to my site this afternoon.

A care package from my parents arrived yesterday, and PC staff brought it to the conference for me. I am excited to open it when I get back!


Media Consumption this week:

  • I read Born to Rock, which was okay. It’s a quick read about a teenager who discovers his biological father is a famous punk rocker.
  • Goodreads suggested I try The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket. Though I like Jim Carrey and Neil Patrick Harris, I’ve never been able to get beyond a few minutes of either of their screen versions of this story. The book was better, though I’m not interested in reading the rest of the series.
  • I started on season 3 of Broad City, after not watching the show for months. Lately, I’ve needed a laugh.

Happy weekend!