Tractor Rides and Mountain Top Picnics

Sundays are my only days off here while in training, so I told myself I’d sleep in—and I’m so glad that my body naturally woke me up early or I would have missed a great adventure involving tractors, abandoned homes, beautiful views of Kosovo, and some delicious flija.

I woke up on Sunday just in time for breakfast and while we were eating I kept hearing talk of a “piknik” and my cousin/fellow trainee’s name. After eating, everyone changed and was getting ready to go but I was still so confused. I had no idea whether a picnic here meant something entirely different than a picnic back home (Spoiler Alert: it both is and isn’t)! So I changed my clothes and headed down the road to my host uncle’s house, where we were greeted with a tractor and trailer in the front yard. My immediate thought was ‘heck yeah!’ and I hopped into the back of the trailer with the kids.

A little while later, the rest of the family joined us and off we went on a very bumpy ride. The views along the way were so breathtaking. When I just go to and from class everyday, it becomes harder to recognize just how beautiful this place actually is. So it’s good to be reminded by the air breezing through my hair every now and again.

At some point, we drove off the main road and onto corroded old dirt roads. I’ve experienced some in Mexico, but these were so bumpy and the inclines were so steep that I was definitely feeling a little scared on the hour drive up the mountain. We eventually reached the top, and that’s when I found out it was the old home and property of my host gjyshja (shqip for grandmother)! The houses were nearly reduced to stones and tiles—I couldn’t help but wonder how it made her feel to see her home like this.

But even if it was abandoned, there was something so captivating about it.

One thing I love so far about the summer is how many fresh fruits and vegetables I get to eat here–and cherries definitely seem to be the most common (and tasty)! After filling my belly with what seemed like hundreds of cherries from the property and watching the boys play football (I refuse to call it soccer now), I went back up the hill to join my host mom and aunt who were preparing a fire to cook flija.

I won’t go into detail about what flija is or how to make it, but it is very time consuming. Each layer is cooked in about five to ten minute intervals until the pan is completely full. I asked my host mom if I could try and, to my surprise, she let me! I went slice by slice pouring the mixture into the pan and honestly I felt so proud of myself. After I was done, my host mom told me it was very good for my first time. And when we gathered in the grass to eat it later that afternoon, I felt so much pride in the traditional Albanian dish I took part in making.

Përhajr Bajrami!

For those of you who don’t know, Kosovo has a predominantly Muslim population (approximately 95%) and is one of ten Muslim countries that the Peace Corps has a presence in, which means I am lucky enough to experience a uniquely different culture than my own every single day!

As you can probably guess from the title, today is Bajram, which marks the end of Ramadan. But what is Ramadan exactly? Well, in the simplest terms possible, Ramadan is a month long event where Muslims fast (yes, even water is included in that) from sun up to sun down as a means to remain humble and feel closer to god.

Yesterday, I told my host father and uncle that I would like to attend the mosque for Bajram—to which I was told “Okay, we are waking up at 5” and then given a demonstration on how to pray. It was nearly midnight at that point but I knew I probably wouldn’t have another chance to experience Bajram in this kind of setting, so I went to bed and woke up bright and early!

My host dad overslept a bit, so he told me to go on my own and he would catch up later. So, I made my way down the street to the xhami (mosque in Albanian), removed my shoes, and walked through the front doors. I couldn’t find my host uncle that I had talked to the night before, but I did see a different uncle and cousin and decided to sit with them. It didn’t take too long to realize that there were only men in the xhami—and it seemed like the whole village turned up because the inside was so packed that we had to sit in the entry way to the mosque! Still, I was excited to take part in an important religious and cultural tradition with my family. I think I was expecting (from my own upbringing) more of an hour long church service, but found that prayer only lasted about fifteen minutes and then we were all on our way out the doors and back to our homes.

I was told a little bit about what to expect during Bajram from staff, but it was still strange to find my family constantly moving from one house to another to give our congratulations before I could even finish my snack or drink. We started at our own house and then stopped by my uncle’s house—where again, only the men joined us—and we were off again to the next house! It was nice to meet new people and practice my shqip. (Plus, I’m always down for snacks!)

My little host brother and I at our first stop of the day!

My family is more relaxed, so we didn’t travel outside of our road to visit people, but I was perfectly okay with that considering how little sleep I got the night before. And I’m happy that my fellow Peace Corps trainees Matt and Kelly (who are my cousins via host families) were able to come over and enjoy dinner and conversation with us! The two things that I think I love most about Kosovar culture are: 1) the food and how it brings us together and 2) how important family is and our bonds with one another after only one week.

Overall, I had a very nice experience during Bajram. I have only been in my village for one week, and yet I’ve learned so much about Kosovo, its culture, people, food, language, and religion. There is nothing in the world I would trade for this experience. Përhajr Bajram/Eid Mubarak!

Muzikë Monday

Seeing as it’s Monday evening here in Kosovo and I loooove me some Albanian music, I decided to start a weekly post dedicated to Albanian music that I’m currently loving and a little bit about it!

If you know me then you know I’m obsessed with the Albanian/Kosovar rapper Capital T! In particular, his song with singer/rapper Majk called Pasha Jeten.

Capital T was born in Prishtina when it was still part of Yugoslavia, which is now the capital of current day Kosovo!

Without further ado, here is the bop known as Pasha Jeten here in Kosovo!

A Day Trip to Novobërdë

On Friday I met with my cohort in Kamenica where we all got on a bus to Novobërdë! I’m not a historian, but the quick rundown about Novobërdë is that it is a small town in the north of Kosovo which houses a medieval fortress and is now an archaeological site.

After a reaaaally scary ride up a windy mountain road (where the bus rolled back a few feet, causing me to have a mini heart attack and my friend Christina to laugh at said mini heart attack) we made it to a restaurant that I’m blanking on the name of right now. The waiters must not see many Americans because I noticed one of them recording us all for the ‘Gram. I didn’t mind though because it makes me feel famous. And also their food and bread was delicious! After eating, my friends and I snapped a couple of cute pictures and went back on our way to the fortress!

I didn’t snap any photos, but I also got to see the inside of a mosque for the first time. I’m excited to actually attend with my family during Bajram!

Our final stop of the trip was to the mausoleum of a Serbian saint named Saint Lazar. There is a legend that says if you flip over a tile on the roof of the mausoleum you will be married within six months! Now, I’m not a superstitious person, but I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. Here’s to getting married!

First Four Days in Kosova

What has only been four days in the beautiful country of Kosovo (at the time I originally wrote this post) seems like five weeks! Not necessarily in a bad way at all, but because other Peace Corps Volunteers and RPCVs weren’t lying when they said you hit the ground running at orientation. It really has been nonstop bombardment of information since we stepped off the plane in Pristina but I understand it is mostly everything I need to know to set myself up for success here in Kosovo. I won’t talk too much about the details of orientation (it really isn’t all that interesting to read about), but I am happy that I’ve made so many good friends that I am excited to share this service with. When you’re forced to live with 39 other strangers in a hotel for half a week you quickly make some pretty strong bonds, it turns out.

But this is a blog to keep my family and friends back home updated on what I am up to so here’s a bit about what went down in Gjilan. We all shared hotel rooms with other trainees (I was unlucky enough to be on the top floor with two 50 pound bags and no elevator access). I took part in a lot of workshops about safety and security, gender, culture, language classes, and some other stuff. Exploring the city by myself and with my new friends was my favorite thing I did there. Just experiencing Kosovo for the first time with others was a great bonding moment.

I’ll leave this post with some pictures because they tell a better story than I can. And plus, I have way more to share about my time so far in my Pre-Service Training homestay; and I’ve only been here for three days!

P.S. I think I drank about 6 macchiatos a day while in Gjilan!

A Boy in Washington D.C.

Hey everyone! I know it’s been a little while since my first post but so much has happened since then and I’m just lying in bed in my hotel room anyway so I figured it’s time for an update!

If you really know me then you know I am the king of procrastination. So it’s only right that I finished my packing at 3 AM knowing full well I had to be up at 3:45 AM to catch my flight to Washington D.C. (One day I’ll stop the nonsense…but probably not any time soon!)

I arrived in Washington D.C. for my Peace Corps staging on May 30th and since I was a day early I decided to explore the capitol a bit. I figured I would just walk the couple miles to the White House, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial (and what a bad idea that was!) My new shoes hadn’t been broken in yet and cut up the back of my ankles pretty bad, which has caused me a lot of pain today!

A very pretty house… I wonder who lives here

I think Abe here and I would have been great friends!

As you can probably tell, I was really happy to see some really cool places and monuments—even if I did only stay for a short amount of time! But hey! I’ll just have to visit again.

Today (at the time of writing this) I officially became a Peace Corps Kosovo Trainee!!! Three exclamations!!! That’s how you know it’s serious business! The fact that I not only joined but am leaving for the Peace Corps for the next two years still hasn’t really hit me, but when I heard we were officially trainees my heart stopped a little bit. (Because of the realization and also the excitement)

All forty of my fellow trainees met together in a hotel conference room for a couple hours of orientation, which is what we call “staging,” and I got to meet and talk with some really interesting and great people. In fact, I even met a girl in my cohort from Fresno! It was a strange moment to hear her tell me she was from there as well but a good thing because now I will have that connection to home that I can share with someone during my service. I don’t know what all of our feelings are going to be like towards each other after we spend the next full day traveling to Kosovo together (because exhaustion + hunger + travel + 40 personalities probably isn’t an equation I want to solve!) but I’m really getting along with everyone here! I can see some great friendships forming in the coming months during PST.

By the next time I post I’ll have arrived in Kosovo! And hopefully I’ll have more interesting stories to tell by then!

For now, naten e mire.