Welcome!

Hello! My name is April Gardner. I am a writer and social worker who served in the United States Peace Corps in Kosovo from June 2016 – July 2018. Welcome to my blog.

I have lots of useful information here, whether you are joining Peace Corps Kosovo, traveling to Kosovo, or just want to learn more about the Balkans. Below is a list of suggested posts to help you get started.

About Kosovo

Facts About Kosovo

Traveling in Kosovo

Pre-Service Training (PST) for Peace Corps

Guest Bloggers

Challenges While Serving in Peace Corps Kosovo

Teaching Resources

Albanian Language (Shqip)

Traveling in the Balkans

I’ve written many other posts so be sure to check the blog archives or use the search function if you are looking for something specific!

What I’ve Been Up To (May-June 2018)

In May, I attended my Peace Corps Close-of-Service conference. The U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, attended on our last day. I had met him twice before. At lunch I sat at his table and was able to speak with him for longer than I had before. It was an honor.

Ambassador COS photo
The ambassador is seated in the front row, wearing a blue tie.

Since I decided to stop blogging regularly around the time of the conference, I didn’t take many photos. It was an emotional week and I wanted to sit back and process my feelings. However, I did take this photo and it is one of my favorites:

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Sierra and Chester

As I mentioned in this post, my friend Ingrid visited from Amsterdam at the end of May/beginning of June.

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Stephanee, Todd, April, Ingrid
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Visiting Rugova
Ingrid visit
Group dinner with Ingrid
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Visiting Prizren

My friend Val and I presented another writing workshop at KosovaLive.

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Photo courtesy of KosovaLive

Sierra came to my site for a sleepover. I made her watch my favorite bad movie, Boxing Helena.

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April and Sierra

Chester came to my site the next day and the three of us had lunch.

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Famous chicken restaurant!

I attended a Faces of Kosovo exhibit at the National Library.

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Faces of Kosovo exhibit
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April at the National Library

I visited Mitrovice for the first time. Mitrovice is one of Kosovo’s largest cities, but I had never been there. Mitrovice is divided, Albanians in the south and Serbians in the north. The bridge behind us in this photo famously links the two halves of the city:

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Mitrovice bridge

I made a few “goodbye” gifts:

I attended my director’s retirement dinner, said goodbye to my students, and took my counterparts out for a “thank you” lunch.

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April, director, counterpart
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Grades 1-5. Yep, it’s a tiny school!
A and D
Saying goodbye to students
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Lunch with my counterparts

In other news, I turned 37. Spending another milestone far away from home was rough. I really miss all of you at home and can’t wait to see you! xoxo

A Little Writing Assignment

I recently took a little 4-week writing class through Coursera, called The Craft of Plot. I thought I would share my final, 1,000-word writing assignment here.

But first, I also wanted to share the following quote. I’ve been reading The Best American Short Stories of 2011. (Why 2011? Because it was available to rent online through the Chicago Public Library.)

“My advice to young writers is, read this book. Enjoy the stories, admire the craft. Then put it in your backpack and go. As far as you can, for as long as you can afford it. Preferably someplace where you have to think in one language and buy groceries in another. Get a job there. Rent a room. Stick around. Do something. Whatever it is, you will be able to use it in the stories you write later. And if that story turns out to be about grungy sex in an East Coast dorm room with an emotionally withholding semiotics major, that’s okay. It will be a better story for the fact that you have been somewhere and carried part of it home with you in your soul.” — Geraldine Brooks

Yes!

Here’s what I wrote:

Howard Plans to Ride a Tiger by April Gardner

Howard was an old man. His memories tricked him all the time. He remembered riding a tiger, for instance. He was sure he had once done it – he could feel the tiger’s course fur rubbing against his thighs. But then his nurse would come by with a treat or something to drink. His desire for carrot juice would override his memories of tiger riding. Sometimes, he wouldn’t remember the tiger again until the next day. He could feel the heavy bolt in his hand, and the screeching sound it made as he opened the tiger’s cage.

Howard felt like he was in a cage, mentally and physically. Not only could he not trust his memories, he couldn’t trust anything about himself. He would be halfway to the can and his bowels would explode. Filthy and embarrassed, he would have to wait for the nurse to come by and change him. Life wasn’t good anymore.

Howard knew he was going to die soon. His prediction was practical. He was nearing his 90th birthday. Of course he was going to die soon. Accepting the fact of his own death became easier every day. His body was failing, his mind was failing, and he didn’t have much to live for anymore. His only daughter lived in Europe, because she and her husband both had careers with the embassy. Howard couldn’t remember the last time he had seen her.

With the approach of his birthday, Howard wanted to do something outlandish. As a child, his mother had doted on him, and always made certain his birthdays were gloriously celebrated. There had been clowns and magicians, ice cream bars and chocolate fountains, swimming and games. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember the last time he celebrated his birthday. He and his wife used to treat themselves to a nice dinner and an expensive bottle of wine. After Luisa died, so did Howard’s desire to celebrate. But with his 90th birthday approaching, he devised a plan.

He couldn’t get the image of that tiger out of his mind. Of course, the image came and went. But it would sneak up on him and torment him. Sometimes, he would awaken in the middle of the night. The tiger’s roar would still be ringing in his ears. Trembling, he would go to the bathroom and pour himself a glass of water.

Once, he was sitting in the Great Room, looking out at the expansive lawn of his nursing home. Without warning, the hair on the back of his neck prickled, and he whipped around, certain that the tiger was lying in wait behind him. There was no one in the room, except old Mrs. Pinkle, shuffling along with her walker and her ratty cardigan sweater.

Howard wasn’t usually the type to save postcards or letters, but he had saved one. It had a photo of a tiger on the front. The back was blank, except for his name and address, scrawled in a strange hand. The postmark was from Thailand.

With his life winding down to a miserable conclusion, Howard used the times when his mind was still lucid to piece together a plan. He would ride a tiger again, one last time, before he died.

He wrote out his plan on a piece of lined paper, which he kept tucked between his mattress and box spring. When he remembered, he would pull out what he had written and re-read it. Then, he would close his eyes and repeat it back to himself, trying to plant the words into the small, still-healthy part of his rotting brain.

Once, his night nurse had almost found his written plan. Howard had lost control of his bowels in the middle of the night (after dreaming about the tiger again, he was sure, though he could not recall), and the nurse came to change his sheets. As she pulled the fitted sheet free, the piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

“What’s this?” she asked, bending to retrieve it.

Though he was old and feeble, Howard somehow bent and grabbed the note before she could.

“Never you mind about this!” Howard snapped, waving the piece of paper. “A man has got a right to his privacy, even in a hellhole like this.”

“Mr. Jones!” she exclaimed.

As she reprimanded him for his negative attitude, Howard read the list again, and tried to commit it to memory.

His plan: First, he would ask Brad the orderly to take him on a walk to the corner convenience store. Brad was a big fellow, blond and handsome, but he was dumb, from what Howard could assess. He needed dumb people if his plan were going to succeed.

At the store, he would insist that his bowels were bothering him, and ask to use the restroom.

While in the restroom, he would call to Brad through the door that he had soiled himself badly. He would ask Brad to run back to the nursing home to get him a chance of clothes. Orderlies weren’t supposed to leave the seniors unattended in public, but Howard was certain he could convince Brad to leave him alone for a few minutes.

Once Brad was gone, Howard would leave the store and walk to a bus stop in the opposite direction, two blocks away. He used to wait at that same bus stop to take his daughter to school. The bus route passed right by the zoo.

He would have his “shopping” money tucked into his wallet. Since he wasn’t going to buy anything at the store, he calculated he would have more than enough to purchase one-way bus fare and entrance to the zoo.

Once inside, he would check the zoo map and find the tigers’ pen.

After that, he would admit, his plan got a little fuzzy. He was going to walk to the pen, climb the fence, and attempt to ride the tiger.

He knew he might die. But he didn’t care.

Narrative Writing Workshop at KosovaLive

“The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone.” — Toni Morrison

My friend, Valeriana Dema, and I had the honor of leading a narrative writing workshop at a local NGO, KosovaLive.
Our workshop focused on how we tell our stories. How do we choose what we share? How do we frame our experiences in order to find meaning?

I asked our participants, “How many people here have ever been on a date? How many people have ever had a coffee with someone new?” I pointed out that storytelling is not some lofty, academic thing. It is something we all do, every day, in order to build relationships with other people. We share our stories and tell who we 

Val found this video of Toni Morrison giving a commencement speech at Wellesley College, titled “Be Your Own Story.” If you have time to watch the entire video, I recommend it. (For our presentation, we began the video at 18:34.)

Next, we passed out an abridged version of this article from The Atlantic, titled “Story of my Life: How Narrative Creates Personality.” We allowed participants time to read the article to themselves.

After reading the article, we posed a few discussion questions to the group. Our participants shared some experiences from their own lives.

We then moved on to a group activity called “Overcoming Obstacles.” Participants divided into groups. We gave each group a slip of paper with three obstacles. We asked group members to come up with ideas of how each obstacle could lead to a positive outcome. (An example: “You failed a university exam.” Possible outcomes: You study more the next time. Or, you realize you aren’t interested in that class, and switch to a topic you would rather study.) Afterward, groups were asked to share their answers with the other participants.

For our last exercise, we gave our participants the chance to write a narrative of their own, and share it with a partner. Val and I each shared a story from our own lives to begin. You can read my story here: For KosovaLive.

Also, here is a link to our PowerPoint presentation: Narrative Writing Workshop

We closed with a few brief remarks and thanked everyone for coming. Val and I had a great time leading our workshop, largely because our participants were so engaged and eager to share.

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Photo courtesy of KosovaLive

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Photo courtesy of KosovaLive

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Photo courtesy of KosovaLive

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Photo courtesy of Valeriana Dema

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Photo courtesy of KosovaLive