Friday Gratitude: Gearing Up

Last year, the K2 cohort took us newbies on a hike in Peja. This year, Rachel and I did the same thing for some of our new people.

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Since this has been my last week off school, I’ve spent some time crocheting. Remember my Betty Boop mermaid? I decided to give her some plastic surgery:

crocheted mermaid
Before
crochet mermaid
After

Media Consumption … this is an accumulation of the past few weeks:

  • A friend told me his favorite book is Where the Red Fern Grows. I had never read it, so I downloaded it from the library. It was a good story, but as my friend said, very much geared toward boys. I later pointed out that none of the sisters in the book have names … they’re just referred to as “the younger one” and “the oldest one,” etc.
  • I found The Perks of Being a Wallflower on my Kindle (I have lots of mysterious books on there, thanks to other people). The story was well-written but again, as someone who did not have a typical high school experience, I have a hard time relating to teen stories. I mostly just read this because I didn’t have anything else to read at the time.
  • A blogger I follow gave a great review to We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. It is a collection of essays written by Samantha Irby, a Chicagoan. While I got a few laughs out of this book, I had a much stronger reaction to her descriptions of life in Chicago. (She used to live in my old neighborhood.) When she mentioned restaurants and streets and el stops, I could feel the knife twisting in my heart. Chicago was my home for 12.5 years, and there are times when I miss it terribly.
  • A friend recommended The Kill Artist, which was a fun read about international spies.
  • The Silver Linings Playbook was another mysterious Kindle find. I had seen and liked the movie. The book was good, too, though a bit different from the movie.
  • I finished my binge re-watch of Breaking Bad. I had different perceptions of it this time around.
  • I finished watching Game of Thrones! That zombie dragon, though!

***

I am so thankful to have the time to write. I took a break while I was helping with the film festival the week before last, and when I got home, I just had words pouring out of me. I couldn’t sleep because I had so much on my mind, and so much I wanted to share.

I got a very sweet email recently, from someone who told me he was inspired to apply to Peace Corps Kosovo after reading my blog. That’s all I could ever really ask for from this blog — I try to provide information that is thoughtful, and useful, and hopefully inspiring to others.

Through this blog, I’ve also “met” several Peace Corps volunteers from other parts of the world. I recently got this postcard 🙂 :

Happy weekend! I am looking forward to getting back to school next week. I am someone who appreciates structure and a purpose for daily life. This summer has been feeling really long, and not in a good way …

August Landscape

Every month, I am posting a photo that captures the “spirit” of that month. Here is August’s landscape …

I took this photo in Peja, Kosovo, during the week I was volunteering at the film festival. I was walking over a foot bridge, happened to glance over my shoulder, and saw this view.

peja kosovo

Kosovars like to ask me: “What’s your favorite thing about Kosovo?” I always tell them how much I love the mountains, because where I live in the United States is very flat. (Shout out to the Midwest, yo.) And then the person’s face will kind of deflate. I finally figured out that I’ve been giving the wrong answer. Locals probably want me to say I love Kosovo’s people or culture. But, I try to always be truthful. So when I am asked what I love most about Kosovo, I will continue to say I love the mountains. 🙂

Friday Gratitude: Anibar Animation Festival

August 14-20 was the best week I’ve had in Kosovo. HANDS DOWN! I volunteered at the Anibar Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo.

The Anibar Animation Festival began eight years ago. It was founded by my friend’s counterpart, when he was only 17. (What was I doing at age 17? Certainly not founding international film festivals.)

My friend had asked me if I would be the festival’s Jury Coordinator. I told him I would think about it. The next thing I knew, I was having a meeting with his counterpart, where we discussed my role as the Jury Coordinator. I walked out of the meeting thinking, “Wait! Did I ever … agree … to be the Jury Coordinator?”

Anibar Film Festival Peja Kosovo 1.jpg
It was the end of the week, and we were still smiling …

I’m not going to lie, I was dreading the whole thing. I pictured a bunch of high-powered Hollywood types who would call me in the middle of the night to make strange demands. Turns out, I was wrong to be so worried.

The jury was comprised of five lovely people who came from Spain, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, and the United States.

2017 Jury Anibar Peja Kosovo.JPG

I met many new people from all over the world. At one point, I was at lunch, and all four of us spoke different native languages (French, Chinese, English, and Albanian). I love that my native language is the one used to facilitate communication between people who speak other languages.

I also saw many films. The festival had two theaters, plus two screens they set up in a local park.

Anibar Animation Festival

Anibar Peja Kosovo

I loved some films, and hated others. Below are two of my favorite films shorts that were shown at the festival. (Warning: Don’t watch these if your boss or your kids are in the room!)

Volunteering at the Anibar Animation Festival also meant I got to spend time in Peja, which is my favorite city in Kosovo. I mean, would you look at this view?

Peja Kosovo.JPG

Even the weather cooperated, by backing away from the 100-degree mark.

I miss the little routine I developed every morning, where I bought iced coffee (!!!) and went to the Anibar theater to hang out with my friends (and the newly rescued theater kitten) before the start of the festival’s daily activities.

theater kitten.JPG

It was a week full of friends, film screenings, workshops, talks, a gallery opening, and free food and drinks.

Puppet Anibar.JPG

The pouring rain on the night of the closing ceremony forced people to abandon the after-party at the park and stay at the theater. Group karaoke broke out across the theater’s stage and balcony. The night ended with a group of people dancing in the flooded streets of Peja.

Yeah, it was my best week in Kosovo …

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

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 …

Ecological Museum, Peja, Kosovo

As part of my language training the last week, we took an afternoon field trip to the Ecological Museum in Peja.

Ecological Museum, Peja, Kosovo
Ecological Museum, Peja, Kosovo

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.

ecological museum peja living room

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.)

ecological museum peja kitchen

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.

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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 … )

ecological museum peja female dress

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.

ecological museum peja male clothing

As someone who likes to crochet, I appreciated this display of old sewing/looming tools.

ecological museum peja sewing

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 Visit to Patriarchate Serbian Monastery in Peja, Kosovo

The other weekend, some fellow volunteer friends and I visited Patriarchate of Peja, a Serbian monastery that was built in the 13th century.

snowy-peja-kosovo-road
Walking down the snowy road to the monastery …

If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed I post a lot about Albanian culture. This is because Kosovo’s population is largely ethnically Albanian. I have lived with two Albanian host families, and during pre-service training, I learned to speak Shqip (Albanian). Some members of my cohort opted to learn both Shqip and Serbian, but I decided against that since I figured learning one new language would be challenging enough.

Anyway, I haven’t written about Serbian culture because I simply don’t know as much about it. I was happy to have a chance to visit the monastery and learn a bit more about Serbian tradition.

Patriarchate is a medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery. Serbian Orthodox is an autocephalous Christian church. Autocephalous means that the church operates as a hierarchy, where the head bishop does not report to any higher ranking bishop.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the monastery, but I was able to take this pretty (if I say so myself) shot of the exterior.

Serbian monastery in the snow. #peja #kosovo

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

Sweet Bean Bakery, Peja, Kosovo

Hi, everyone! I am just settling in here at home. I’ll be posting about my Christmas trip to Paris soon, once I get my photos sorted. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos I took at Sweet Bean Bakery in Peja, Kosovo.

Sweet Bean Bakery Peja.JPG

Sweet Bean is an American bakery. Word on the street is that it was started by Christian missionaries, though there isn’t anything particularly religious about the space.

sweet-bean-sign

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I last went to Sweet Bean the week before Christmas, before doing a little shopping in Peja and meeting some friends for lunch. I arrived at 9:30 a.m. and their coffee machine hadn’t been turned on yet. I had to wait 1/2 hour for the American drip coffee I was so looking forward to. (Patience is one of the few virtues I possess, but Kosovo can test it sometimes.) As a treat to myself, I bought my favorite Sweet Bean cookie (chocolate chip dipped in chocolate), and a peanut buttercup to go with my long-awaited beverage.

chocolate-breakfast

Sweet Bean’s treats are awesome, and I always make it a point to stop by whenever I am in Peja!

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chocolate-donuts

white-truffles

(This is like, the third time I have broken my own “no food porn” rule on this blog. I have no excuse … )

Edit (07/11/17): Sweet Bean Bakery has closed. Noooo!