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Here are some previously unpublished (by me) photos of my swearing-in ceremony.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

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.” 🙂

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! 🙂 She sent lots of good snacks for me, and puzzles, coloring books, and toys for my little host cousins. Thanks, Mom! 🙂

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! 🙂

Guest Blogger: Chelsea Coombes, Summer Camp

Kosovo Summer Camp 5
Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Coombes

Hello again! My name is Chelsea. I am a currently serving Peace Corps volunteer and in the same cohort as April. I have guest blogged before and am so grateful to be back.

Kosovo Summer Camp 1
Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Coombes

As you already know, Peace Corps assigns their volunteers to primary jobs. Like April, I am a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteer. The wonderful thing about Peace Corps is the opportunity to develop secondary projects.  These projects can be anything from building a library or computer lab to creating lesson plans that will help our counterparts after we leave.

Kosovo Summer Camp 2
Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Coombes

Back in February our cohort attended a conference specifically designed to help us gain access to knowledge and resources about starting our projects. It was a three-day conference, but for one of those days we were encouraged to bring our counterparts. Unfortunately, both of my teaching counterparts were unable to attend. I asked a woman who works in our municipality if she would like to come as my counterpart, she agreed and we left for Pristina. I knew I wanted to work on a summer camp for one of my secondary projects but it was really helpful working with a local to develop a better understanding of what that meant.

Kosovo Summer Camp 6
Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Coombes

We began to plan our camp over the next few months. We even collaborated with UNICEF and UNWomen to sort out a theme and work on material. Overall the camp was a huge success! It lasted six days and we worked primarily with my 8th grade class, as well as 8th graders from the village a few kilometers over, Brod. The students heard presentations from locals working in the fields of environmental awareness, child rights, gender equality and advocacy training. They were then asked to prepare advocacy campaigns to solve an issue they saw in their own community as it related to these topics. It was so rewarding to see my students working together and showing such passion for their community! My favorite moment was an activity we did in regards to gender equality, where we talked about the importance of respecting individual’s rights to like and participate in activities regardless of their gender.

Kosovo Summer Camp 7
Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Coombes

On our third day of camp we took our students to Brod, a town very well known for its nature and beauty. Some of our campers were from this community and only spoke Bosnian. It was nice seeing all of the students use English as a neutral language to communicate. UNWomen even helped us hire a company to come out and teach our students some outdoor games!

Kosovo Summer Camp 8
Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Coombes

It was challenging working on such a large project, but I am so grateful I had the hands of counterpart who even came out during his summer break to help, our local volunteers and our partners UNICEF and UNWoman. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer camp!

Kosovo Summer Camp 4
Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Coombes

NOTE: If you would like to read Chelsea’s first guest blog post, click here.

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

The Peace Corps’ Work to Eradicate Smallpox

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I get a free copy of WorldView, the magazine Peace Corps puts out. I read an interesting article in their spring issue I thought I would share. (All information is pulled from an article titled “The Eradicators,” by Patricia A. Wand. I summarize parts of the article. Any direct quotes will be in quotation marks.)

In 1966, the World Health Organization (WHO) wanted to eradicate smallpox, so it enlisted the help of the Peace Corps. “In 1966 an estimated 10-million people had smallpox and two million died from the disease.” Due to the efforts of the WHO and its partners, the last cases of smallpox were reported in 1971. (Kind of amazing that they made such a huge change in just five years.)

The Peace Corps’ Office of Strategic Information, Research and Planning released the following information in a report:

“During the 1960s in Afghanistan only males worked in health care and tradition dictated that men could not touch women and children outside their families. Following a pilot project with Peace Corps nurses in 1966, Peace Corps recruited and trained volunteers for women-only groups. These American women traveled with Afghan male health workers into the far reaches of the deserts and mountains to vaccinate rural and nomadic women and children. Local men, seeing the activity, often stepped up with arms ready for vaccination. The program reached far more people than expected. The volunteers helped devise a way for Afghans themselves to continue the program after 1970 by instructing women and girls to extend only one arm through the tent door so no identification took place.”

In addition to Afghanistan, Peace Corps Volunteers also served in smallpox eradication programs in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Swaziland, and Togo. (The full report is available online, if you search “Peace Corps Global Smallpox.”)

WorldView magazine is full of interesting stories related to the Peace Corps. I don’t know where you can get a copy in the United States, but it appears to be for sale, as it has a price marked in the corner. The spring issue largely focuses on the world wide refugee crisis and brings to light an interesting question — should Peace Corps Volunteers be placed in refugee camps? It draws comparison to smallpox eradication efforts, noting that Peace Corps has been recruited to partner with other organizations in the past.

WorldView magazine

 

 

Peja Technology Camp

So, there is this thing in Peace Corps called “secondary projects.” A secondary project is anything you do for your host country outside of your primary job role. (Writing this blog counts as one of my secondary projects, because I am sharing information about my host country with my friends and family back home.) LOOK AT ME, SECONDARY PROJECTING AT YOU!

The Peace Corps (at least here in Kosovo) takes a pretty non-directive approach to secondary projects. Volunteers are expected to do secondary projects, but we have a lot of autonomy in the projects we choose. The basic attitude seems to be, “Go forth and … do stuff.”

One of my friends and another volunteer took on an ambitious project — hosting a 7-day technology camp for middle-school kids in Peja. I attended on the first day to show moral support. 1) My host brother did a presentation on graphic design and 2) One of my students attended, and I wanted to shepherd her and make sure she knew where she was going.

The day started with a series of ice-breakers, followed by my host brother’s presentation. After a lunch break, we took the kids over to Anibar, an NGO that primarily focuses on teaching kids about animation. Using old, broken, donated computers, Anibar hosted a “junkyard robots” workshop. Students got to tear apart computers to make their own “robots.”

technology camp peja 2
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technology camp peja 1
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technology camp peja 4
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If I learned anything that day, it’s that kids get very excited when they’re encouraged to break stuff.

technology camp peja 3
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As far as my own secondary projects go this summer, I am putting together some ideas for a few writing workshops I’d like to host. I’ll also likely help out with Anibar’s big film festival in August.

It’s been about a billion degrees here lately. I have to say — at this point, my desire to help Kosovo is about equal to my desire to lie around with no clothes on and read books. 😛 Let’s see if I can rally …

The Year of Living Dangerously

Today marks one year that I have lived in Kosovo! It is hard, in some ways, to believe that a year ago today, I moved to Kosovo. I met a bunch of strangers at Dulles Airport, boarded a plane with them, and have been with them ever since. Only now, I call them my friends.

Lately, I have noticed a big shift in how I feel about being here. While I still feel like a foreigner, Kosovo no longer feels foreign to me. Does that make sense?

I think having lived here through all four seasons has made Kosovo seem like less unfamiliar. In some ways, it feels like I just arrived here. But then, I remind myself I have sweated through a summer, hiked in the colors of fall, shivered through a snowy winter, and marveled at a long, luxurious spring.

I also feel less like some weird American living among strangers. Living with a host family, day-in and day-out, is less exhausting than it used to be. Boundaries are better set, roles are more clearly defined, and I have grown more used to being a part of life here.

In December, I wrote a post about how I have mentally divided my time here into quarters. By my own counting method, I have now completed two quarters.

My second quarter offered two, distinct parts. The first four months, I was miserable. The last two months were happy, and filled with travel, and friends.

I am thankful to have come out of the blues I dealt with this winter. I suspected my first winter would be tough, and it was. But then the weather changed, and I got to go to Rome an old friend, and my feelings shifted.

As much as I love the friends I have made during the Peace Corps, those relationships are new. It was nice to spend time with someone who has known me for nearly a decade. Thanks for your support, Nicole.

Nicole and April
Nicole and April at the Colosseum

I figure now would be a good time to check in with the Peace Corps “chart of emotions.” (I don’t know what it’s actually called.)

Processed with MOLDIV

So right now (months 11-14), I can expect to feel:

  • Impatience with self, program, system (Hmm, I think I actually felt more of this a few months ago.)
  • Place blame on the program (Again, I think I felt this a few months ago.)
  • Constant complaining (A few months ago … )
  • Lethargy (Yes. I definitely have less interest in everything … teaching, blog writing, crochet.)
  • Haughtiness with new trainees (HAHAHA. I haven’t met them yet, but I can see myself feeling this way. These new people, they don’t know what they’re in for!)

At times, the idea of living in Kosovo for another year seems daunting … when do I get to go back to a Western life? But when I think of it as 1/2 of my service being gone, I realize there is still so much more I want to do.

Here are some of my personal and professional goals for my coming service year:

  • Finish the grant for my school and (hopefully) be awarded funds
  • Host workshops this summer (narrative writing and essay writing are the plans for right now)
  • Present to Peace Corps volunteers in Albania about starting a poetry competition there
  • Help my friend organize the national poetry competition in Kosovo this fall
  • 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.
  • Possibly do another secondary project for the fall (most likely, teach another English Club at my school)
  • Continue teaching. This is kind of obvious, since teaching is my primary role here, but I suppose I should add it to the list.
  • Get my stuff together and help my friends with their “Faces of Kosovo” project
  • 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!
  • 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) …
  • 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 …
  • Continue writing this blog regularly, and enter the Blog It Home contest this fall, assuming Peace Corps still hosts it
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • Think about writing a second grant for my school
  • 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 …

Friday Gratitude: Food for Thought

On Tuesday evening, I attended a school dinner with teachers from my school, plus the surrounding villages. In typical Kosovo style, I found out about this event just a few hours beforehand. I was told it was free. When I asked who was paying for it, the answer I received was, “The president.” And I was like, “The president of what? Of Kosovo?”

Indeed, the president of Kosovo came and gave a speech! I would have taken his photo, but I didn’t expect him to leave so quickly. 😦

I haven’t ever posted a photo of my current host parents, as I try to respect their privacy. But since we all look so fancy, why not? (They both work at my school and attended the dinner, too.)

host family2.jpg
Apologies for the weird cropping … I was trying to cut out distracting stuff in the background

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Media Consumption this week …

  • I caught up on Handmaid’s Tale
  • I watched the documentary There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane. The filmmakers interviewed the family of Diane Schuler, who, in 2009, drove the wrong way on a New York freeway and caused an accident that killed 8 people.
  • At the prodding of my friend, I watched the documentary Tickled. The filmmakers intended to make a documentary about tickling contests (yes, that exists), and found themselves being threatened with legal action. The resulting story is deeply bizarre.
  • I binge-watched The Keepers on Netflix. The documentary follows the unsolved 1969 murder case of a nun in Baltimore. Along the way, sexual abuse in the Catholic church and a massive cover-up are discovered.
  • I finished reading Far From the Tree. It centers on the ways children can turn out to be very different from their parents, due to reasons like disability, mental illness, genius, or life choices (like crime). This was a riveting book and yet, parts were very hard to read.

Here are some quotes from Far From the Tree that I found to be particularly thought-provoking (and there were many):

“Little is more gratifying than successful and devoted children, and few situations are worse than filial failure or rejection.”

“It is often ourselves we would like to see live forever, and not someone with a personality of his own.”

” ‘In America, every kid has to be well rounded. They have ten different activities, and they never excel at any of them. Americans want everyone to have the same life; it’s a cult of the average.’ ”

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The things I’ve been watching/reading lately have all been heavy. I could use a laugh! If you can recommend something funny, please do so. 🙂

Have a good weekend, and I’ll talk to you on Monday.