Friday Gratitude: Close-of-Service and Winding Down

Hi, Everyone! I’ve been in Pristina since Tuesday, attending my Peace Corps close-of-service conference.

Thanks to my parents for sending me this awesome care package:

care package

My parents have been ON their care package GAME since I came to Kosovo. I so appreciate it, and not just for the snacks. It is nice to feel remembered but it is also comforting. Thanks also to others who have sent me packages: my sister, my aunt, and my friends Katie, Dana, Lisa, Heather, Whitney, and SJ.

Remember when I was crocheting kids’ trick-or-treat bags? I wanted to get them lined so my mom sent me some cute material from the U.S. I hired a local friend’s mother to sew linings into the bags and I got them back this week. They turned out beautifully, SO adorable! She sewed pockets inside and I didn’t even ask for pockets! Here are just a few pics:

Media consumption this week:

  • I enjoyed recently reading Sarah’s Key, so I decided to read another book by the same author: A Secret Kept: A Novel. It was the story of a man who makes a discovery about the life of his long-deceased mother. I enjoyed it.

This post will be the last time I blog on any kind of schedule. For my first nine months of service, I blogged every week day. Since March of 2017, I’ve consistently posted 3x per week. I have enjoyed involving all of you in my life and service. However, by this point, my mind is consumed with topics other than this blog. I am bursting at the seams with ideas for jobs, new creative projects, travel, and people I want to see and talk to when I return home to the States. The last thing I want to do is post blog content just for the sake of posting. I want to provide interesting and useful information to my readers.

Please be sure to follow my blog via email so that you will receive a notification the next time I post. Also, I will continue to update my book list every time I finish a book. If you’re looking for something to read, be sure to check it out!

Finally, I am considering starting a monthly (?) newsletter once I complete my service to keep everyone updated on my first few months post-Peace Corps service. Due to anti-spam laws, I actually need you to opt in if you are interested. Please click here to sign up.

Friday Gratitude: Simple Life

“I’m a year ahead of myself these days
And I’m locomotive strong.”
— Elton John / Bernie Taupin (Simple Life)

A friend who is extending asked me what I will miss about Kosovo. I will miss the simplicity of life here. Case in point: I called AT&T this week to look into getting wifi at my parent’s house when I return there this summer. It took fifteen minutes to get two questions answered: 1) Do you provide service at this address? and 2) How much will it cost? Twice I asked for a number to call back when I am ready to order service and the customer service rep wouldn’t give it to me because I really needed to order it NOW in order to take advantage of THIS SPECIAL OFFER. I eventually hung up on the ho.

I’d like to point out that I have wifi at my house in my tiny village in Kosovo (but my parents in a semi-rural part of Michigan don’t have it). And wanna know how much I pay to have data on my cell phone? 3 Euro per month. I am not looking forward to a $60+ monthly phone bill when I return to the States, plus $100 per month for Internet.

(That’s another thing I’ll miss about Kosovo: how inexpensive life here is.)

I was invited to an impromptu dinner with friends on Wednesday night. It was nice to do something different from my usual weekday routine and I got to spend some time in my favorite city.

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Here’s my media consumption for the week …

  • I found a copy of Precious by Sapphire (2009-10-20) at the Peace Corps library. I’d seen the movie Precious, which is based on the book, when it came out to theaters. The book was just as powerfully sad. 😦
  • I read The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarity (she also wrote “Little Big Lies”). This is a story of, well, a husband with a terrible secret. I found myself disliking the book’s surviving victim, but I liked the other characters and their interwoven stories.
  • I watched a zillion episodes of Frasier.

Also, I forgot to mention this on a previous post but when I got back from vacation, I had a care package from my parents AND one from my friend. 🙂 ! (I’ve already eaten ALL of the snacks from both packages … help.)

I pass this church every time I take the bus into the city and I always wish I could visit it and take photos … I think I’d need a car to get there, though. I keep thinking maybe someday I’ll hire a cab to take me.

church on a hill kosovo
A view from my bus window.

Happy weekend. XO

Friday Gratitude: Straight Chillin

Happy Friday, everyone! I will be spending time in Pristina this weekend to celebrate my friend Chelsea’s birthday. 🙂 I hope you all have fun stuff planned, too!

I’ve updated the sidebar of this website to include a list of every book I have read since serving in the Peace Corps, along with a 1-10 rating of how much I enjoyed each book. If you are looking for something new to read, check out my list!

Media consumption this week:

  • I actually finished this a few weeks ago but think I forgot to include it on my Friday post: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. This took me a while to get into but it offered some good twists and turns by the end.
  • I read Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay. It’s a fictional WWII story about a young girl contrasted with the story of a modern-day journalist researching the girl’s life. I really enjoyed it.

So, let me run this idea by you guys. As my time serving in the Peace Corps winds down, I am thinking of how/when to end this blog. I have toyed with the idea of starting a new blog to write about my life as an RPCV (that means “returned Peace Corps volunteer,” and yeah, I think it’s a super awkward term). But, I don’t think I will write another blog. I am thinking of writing a monthly email newsletter, though. I’ve really enjoyed keeping in touch with my friends and family back home as well as “meeting” new people through this blog. I am thinking the newsletter would be a quick round-up of things going on in my life … stuff I’ve crocheted, places I’ve traveled, etc. I’m curious to know if any of you would be interested/would sign up for it?

Monday’s posts will be my final post about Ireland. (Stay tuned to learn more about the Cliffs of Moher!) And then Wednesday’s guest blog post will be about serving in the Peace Corps as an LGBTQ+ volunteer. Good stuff! Enjoy your weekend and I will talk to you soon.

Friday Gratitude: Double Digits

Hi, Everyone! I have a countdown on my phone until the day I COS (that means “close-of-service”) and I am now down to the double digits! WOW!

My media consumption list is from the last several weeks, since I took a break from blogging:

  • I read Looking for Alaska by John Greene. This is a book I found on my Kindle after a friend had downloaded a bunch of books for me. I hated Greene’s “The Fault in Our Stars” despite all the hype it got. “Alaska” was a bit better but … meh.
  • I read Killing Floor (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. My mom and grandpa love Lee Child’s books but this is the first time I’d ever read anything by him. It was an easy read though pretty violent. I probably won’t continue with the series. I’m not a big series reader in general … too much commitment. 🙂
  • I read Firefly Lane: A Novel by Kristin Hannah. This was a quick read but not very well written, especially compared the other novel of hers I read, “The Nightingale.” It is also the type of book I hate, which I’ve come to think of as “miserable middle-aged women” novels. If you’re a middle-aged woman who is married with children, you’re probably unappreciated and miserable. If you’re a single middle-aged woman with a career, you’re probably lonely and miserable.
  • I read Holes by Louis Sachar before giving it to a student. I’d been curious about this book for years given how much acclaim its received. It was very … strange.
  • I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It is a story that skips back and forth between the collapse of civilization and the time before and focuses on a handful of characters that are loosely connected to one another. It was one of the best books I’ve read since I’ve been in Kosovo (and I’ve probably read 100 or more books).

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I tried my hand at cross-stitch recently. I had fun doing it and am looking forward to completing more projects in the future.

Next week’s posts will be more about my trip to Ireland, as will the following Monday’s post. I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my trip. I’ve got posts about the Guinness factory tour, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher coming up … all exciting stuff!

Friday Gratitude: Erin go Bragh

Hey, Everyone! I got exciting news this week: I finally learned the date for my Peace Corps Close of Service (COS). Not only did I get my first choice of dates (there were three), but so did everyone else in my cohort. 🙂 I’ve already shared the exact date with my family and friends via email. Here, I’ll just say that I’m going home in mid-July!

On Monday, I was really excited to get my date. I got the email while I was on the bus and when I got to my house, I immediately began looking for flights home. Then Monday night, I cried as I got ready for bed, thinking of leaving my friends here. Then Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling restless and bored and wanting to just leeeeeave already. Such is the roller coaster of PC emotions. :-/

Media consumption this week:

  • I read Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer after two different friends recently brought it up in conversation. It tells the story of Pat Tillman, who famously left the NFL to become an Army Ranger. Though I don’t have an interest in football or war, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
  • I found a copy of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen in our Peace Corps library. It is the writer’s memoir of growing up as a Vietnamese refugee in Grand Rapids, Michigan during the 1980s. She is only a few years older than I am and though I’m from eastern Michigan (I don’t think I’ve ever been to Grand Rapids), I could relate to much of what she had to say about growing up in the state.

I wrote another article for LinkedIn about my experiences with mindfulness as a Peace Corps volunteer. If you’d like to read it, click here.

And finally, I am heading to Ireland on Saturday! My friend and I are spending 3 days in Dublin and 3 days in Galway and then returning to Dublin to fly out. We have tours booked for Trinity College, Kilmainham Gaol Prison, and the Guinness brewery. We’re playing the rest by ear. Can’t wait!

My plan is to take two weeks off from blogging and be back online Monday, April 16 with posts about my Ireland trip. I’ll be traveling next week and then the week after, I’d like to spend time making changes to the back-end of the blog.

As always, you can follow along with me on Instagram. I’ll be sure to post some photos from Ireland along the way. 🙂

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Image via weclipart

Friday Gratitude: I Won a Poetry Contest

Happy Friday, everyone! I am so happy to announce that a poem I wrote, titled “Addiction,” won third place in a “reverse poetry contest” for The New Social Worker Magazine. You can read it here.

Media consumption this week …

The book’s author, Michael Booth, is an Englishman married to a Danish woman. After living in Denmark for several years, he decided to write a book about Scandinavia. As he noted: “A journalist writing in the British Sunday Times recently described this part of the world as ‘a collection of countries we can’t tell apart.'”

This book is laugh-out-loud funny in parts. “In Sweden, the concept of being ‘fashionably late’ is akin to being ‘fashionably flatulent.'” (I think Booth is a funnier writer than Bill Bryson.)

Haha. Here are some fun facts I learned while reading this book:

  • People in Denmark like hygge (pronounced “hooga”) which, according to this book, basically means you sit around with your friends and family and make endless hours of small talk while avoiding more interesting and potentially controversial topics of conversation.
  • Iceland underwent a major financial crisis in 2008 when all three major privately owned banks defaulted.
  • Norway used to be a land of fishermen and farmers until they struck oil in 1969, which means it now has: “the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. And I don’t mean per capita — we are talking in absolutes.”
  • According to PISA, Finland has the best education system in the world. Why? It isn’t due to classroom sizes (average) or the length of the school day (only four hours). It is because all of their teachers have master’s degrees. “In Finland, teaching attracts the brightest students … teacher-training courses can be harder to get into than those of law or medicine.” I also learned that Finns are extremely taciturn but blunt when they do speak. I think these might be my people.
  • Swedish women have subsequently seen their position in society advance even more comprehensively thanks to a raft of policies concerning gender equality, childcare, and positive discrimination.” Can I move there?

This book contained many more interesting facts about Scandinavia. I wish I could include them all here. Maybe you should just read the book. 🙂

Edit 3.19.18: I saw a book about Hygge written in Albanian at a bookstore in Pristina!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow! I’m not sure if I have any plans to celebrate but I’ll be in Ireland in two weeks anyway. 😉

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Image: Amazon.com

Albania’s Mountain Queen

“Extreme hospitality overwhelms me.” — Edith Durham, speaking about her time in Albania

My awesome friend Val bought me the book “Albania’s Mountain Queen” by Marcus Tanner because she knew I wanted to read it. I never read history books, except for the very occasional historical fiction novel. I am someone who prefers to experience history rather than read about it in books. I’d rather visit Gettysburg than read a book about Gettysburg, for example.

However, after living in the Balkans for nearly two years, I have grown very interested in the history here. Tanner writes about the life of Edith Durham, an Englishwoman who became a passionate crusader for Albanian rights. Durham was born to an upper-middle class English family. While her younger siblings went on to fantastic careers, Durham was something of a late bloomer. She was stuck in England caring for her ailing mother. She hated her life and decided to set out on an adventure, visiting the Balkans in the early 1900s. She went on to become a writer and reporter, urging British politicians to take notice of what was happening in the Balkans. (And so much was going on at the time … the Ottoman Empire was collapsing and different countries were trying to invade each other. I was having a hard time keeping it all straight).

As Winston Churchill once said: “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.”

Tanner gives an unflinching look at Durham’s life and influence in the Balkans. At times, I get the feeling he didn’t like her much, though of course he never met her and was writing about her after her death.

Despite not liking history books in general and at times being overwhelmed by the amount of information, I greatly enjoyed this book and learned so much about the history here. It gave me a greater insight into much of my own observations of Kosovo and Albanian culture.

I highlighted a good deal of the book as I was reading. I’d like to share some quotes I found especially note-worthy. Please note that anything in quotes are the words of Marcus Tanner, the book’s author.

On the Albanian language:

“Language … also isolated Albanians from the outside world … the Albanians inhibited a linguistic island and spoke a language that had no close relationship to any Indo-European tongue. Albanian was also split into two very different, usually mutually unintelligible, dialects: Tosk in the south and Geg in the north. Very little was written in the language.”

On religion (April’s note: I found this particularly interesting because I live in a Catholic minority village):

“In 1468 … the Ottomans completed their conquest and most of the population [of Albania] converted to Islam. In the mountains of the north … the Catholic church retained a foothold. The clergy were a poor asset … some were beggars … most did not teach, or appear to know, elementary Christian dogmas.”

On women:

The poet Byron visited Albania and said of the people, “Their women are sometimes handsome also, but they are treated like slaves.” Byron’s companion, Hobhouse, further remarked that “Albanians … treated their women like animals.”

“None of the Albanians [Durham] had met had objected to the choice of wife that had been made for them because they considered all women the same — put on earth only to work and breed.”

On Kosovo:

“Of all the Ottoman vilayets [provinces] in Europe, Kosovo was reckoned the most lawless and dangerous. The Serbs regarded Kosovo with longing as their ancestral homeland, and the feeling of longing was increased by the fact that Kosovo was out of reach, under the thumb of the Ottomans. They wanted it back.”

“Crossing the lawless providence of Kosovo all the way to Peja and Decan in order to gain a more complete picture of Serbian life was a feat of a different order. Peja was one of the few places in the Balkans where Durham ever confessed to having felt afraid.”

(April’s note: I have visited the monastery in Peja.)

On Macedonia:

“[Durham’s landlady in Macedonia] got on Durham’s nerves, creating a fuss when she needed a wash and took a bowl of water up to her room. The Macedonians observed this with suspicion. They rarely washed, and when they did so, conducted the ritual outdoors and with solemn ceremony, one woman pouring a little trickle of water over the hands and face of the other. The women of Macedonia did not remove any of their heavy and elaborate garments for this infrequent event and were alarmed by reports of the action involving bowls of water that was said to be going on in Durham’s bedroom. An even bigger scandal followed when her landlady discovered she slept in a nightgown. Macedonian women slept in the same gear they had worn all day and that they had probably worn all year. The idea of lying in bed, semi-naked, in a flimsy shift, horrified them.”

“The Macedonians’ passive resistance to learning or trying almost anything new got on her nerves. When Durham decided to vaccinate as many of the refugees as possible against smallpox, the refugees wanted nothing to do with it. As she had found out earlier with the affair of the indoor washing bowl, Macedonian women considered it indecent to remove any of their cumbersome drapes, and would not even bare their arms for any inducement.”

Some things never change …

“[Durham] had to avoid the packs of wild dogs that roamed everywhere, attacked strangers and fought until 4 a.m. every night.”

On differences between Albania and Serbia

“Overwhelmingly illiterate, possessing only a handful of schools, without roads that anyone could use in winter, the Albanians were divided along almost every conceivable line.”

“The comparison between Albania and Serbia, which had liberated itself from the Ottomans in the 1830s, spoke for itself … Serbian towns now had electric lighting, decent roads and trams, and were linked by railways, while everywhere phalanxes of uniformed school children were to be seen marching off to school.”

On Enver Hoxha, the dictator who ruled Albania from 1944 to 1985

“Hoxha had a cosmopolitan background. Born in 1908 to a Muslim family of land-owners and cloth merchants … [he was educated in France, and traveled Europe surviving on family money]. He was also intellectually superior to most of his Eastern European comrades. His belief in his own superior knowledge fixed in him a determination to become the Soviet bloc’s ultimate pedagogue. This was a task he never laid down and in the pursuit of which he created the most paranoid and xenophobic regime in Eastern Europe.”

“Hoxha’s goal was … to extirpate religious belief and practice … Albania was proclaimed the world’s first atheist state. Not even China had gone that far.”

“In April 1985, Eastern Europe’s longest serving leader [Hoxha] died of diabetes.” The book notes the positives Hoxha’s leadership brought, including increasing the literacy rate, creating railroads, providing electricity even in remote villages, and a rise in overall life expectancy. But … “the population paid a high price …” There were labor camps, the death penalty could be handed down for 34 different offenses, and whole families were punished for the crime of one member.

In reference to Albania during the Cold War years: “The west … all but ignored the country. Occasional reports referred in a semi-jokey fashion to a ‘hermit kingdom,’ as if it were some kind of Shangri-La, not a boot camp. The Albanians of Kosovo and Macedonia were preoccupied by their own struggles inside Yugoslavia, and some romanticized the situation in Albania. When the Albanians of Yugoslavia were finally able to cross the border, many were shocked by what they found there.”

enver hoxha house tirana albania
Enver Hoxha’s former residence in Tirana, Albania, as it looks today

On Durham’s life and legacy

“Edith Durham never returned to Albania, or to anywhere else in the Balkans. She was only in her late fifties but her health had been damaged beyond repair by years spent in Albania in all weathers. Now lame and in constant pain from sciatica, she found travel difficult. Almost a quarter-century of life lay ahead of her, but for the rest of it she was often housebound.”

“Over the border in Kosovo, Durham’s name and likeness made an equally sudden reappearance. She was less associated with Kosovo than northern Albania. After all, she had been Queen of the Mountains, not Queen of the Kosovo plain.” (April’s note: Funny to hear Kosovo referred to as a “plain.” This Midwesterner thinks of Kosovo as being mountainous. But anyway … ) Her denunciations of Serbian atrocities in Kosovo in the 1920s ensured that she had a following there, too … as power finally passed into the hands of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.”

edith durham street pristina kosovo
Edith Durham street in Pristina, Kosovo. Photo courtesy of Chester Eng.

On the region today

“[Durham] had not wanted Albania to remain a fossil and she had not idealized the traditional Albanian way of life. She had always been appalled by the poverty, dirt and disease, and by the stupider superstitions. She had condemned the custom of taking child brides and perpetuating blood feuds, and she had deplored the lack of education. What she did not care for in the new Albania was … a tendency in certain traditional societies to lose their equilibrium and ape the cheapest aspects of western society.”

“Whether Durham would recognize much of today’s Albania, or Kosovo, is another question. Pristina [Kosovo’s capital] and Tirana [Albania’s capital] are alike in their embrace of flashy modernity and apparent indifference to history. ”

I disagree with Tanner’s statement here. While it is true that Pristina and Tirana are westernized cities, anyone traveling to one of Kosovo or Albania’s villages (or anyone living in a village, like me) will notice many customs and traditions that are stuck in the past. Even Tanner himself notes that: “Many men still expect to marry virgins, and there are still a few ‘sworn virgins‘ around. The code of blood vengeance lingers on in the form of honor killings.”

(I once had a Kosovar man tell me he wanted to marry a woman who hadn’t had a previous boyfriend, even if she was still a virgin. Good luck with that, buddy!)

A take-away

I have visited Tirana, Albania a number of times and I love the beauty of Albania and the richness of its capital city. It is shocking to remember that as little as thirty years ago, no one was able to cross its border, either going out or coming in. Albania has long been a remote part of the world, first because of its inaccessibility due to its mountains and poor roads, and later due to Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship. I feel lucky I have been able to visit there.