Sometimes Bus Strikes Are A Good Thing

This past Friday, I decided to visit Prizren for the day. I had been there once before, but it was only a short visit for our “non-majority community visits” during PST. I have a lot of free time during this break between Swearing In and school starting, so I figured it would be fun to just spend a day in a city that’s renowned for its beauty. And it definitely was fun!

I didn’t really have any sort of game plan for my day—just aimless wandering. But when you have views like this, aimless wandering is pretty great!

And then I stumbled upon an old Serbian Orthodox church! I wandered around the property and found myself reading the (thankfully in English) signs; which also told me that this church is actually called the Cathedral of Saint George. It was destroyed back in 2004 but has since been restored!

At this point I was starving, and you’d think “Hey Eric, you’re in a completely unique European country! Why don’t you eat some traditional food?” But let me tell you, friends, there’s only so many times you can eat byrek or some other type of bread. So where did I go…?

That’s right! There are KFCs in Kosovo! I may have overeaten, but feeling connected to America through food is something I really enjoy. (So if any of you ever want to send me snacks hit me up for my mailing address!)

And then I decided to sit alone and listen to the rush of the river. Taking in just how beautiful Prizren is.

I unexpectedly ran into some fellow volunteers, and that was definitely something I didn’t realize I needed. I’ll be honest, adjusting to my permanent site has been very stressful for me; so to be surrounded by such positive friends really helped to clear my mind.

…And then I missed my bus back home…and the next one never came. I checked the bus schedule over and over again but after two hours I realized the scheduled buses would never come. And that’s when I found out about the bus strikes! To say I started panicking would be an understatement! But after reaching out to staff, I got the okay to stay the night in Prizren and off I went to find a place to sleep! I eventually found a hostel with ONE available bed and my prayers were answered!

The place was actually very cute, but for privacy sake I’m choosing to exclude the name. There, I met a traveler from China who had been backpacking through the Balkans for just over a month. I thought it was a very interesting to hear the perspective of the Balkans from someone who didn’t know much about the culture, language, or history. To him, Kosovo wasn’t very exciting—and that’s completely fair. But Kosovo is so much more for me. I find excitement in finding caramel iced coffees at cafes. I find excitement in hearing the call to prayer five times a day. I find excitement in trying different versions of traditional foods. And I find excitement in just existing in a place with so much natural beauty. I have so much love and pride for Kosovo.

The caramel iced coffee!

As I rode my bus back to site the next morning, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the series of events that unfolded the previous day. It allowed me to view such a captivating place in many different lights. And it also taught me to never trust the bus schedule!

Muzikë Monday #4

I was recently sitting out in the garden with two of my host brothers and a neighborhood kid when I started humming Pasha Jeten. That definitely got their attention and they guided me to some new Albanian songs I haven’t heard before.

This week’s Muzikë Monday goes to…

Gjiko ft. Skerdi – Si Bugatti

I actually really like Gjiko as an artist, but have never heard of Skerdi before this (I’ll have to check out his other work!)

I think the best line in this whole song (and the part I can’t seem to get out of my head) is “Voom voom. Kawasaki!” Definitely A Boy in the Balkans™️ approved.

Oh! And don’t even get me started on the little dance that starts at 2:02…kills me every time!

The Time I Became a Peace Corps Volunteer

As most of you know by now, all Peace Corps services start with a 2-3 month long training we call PST (pre-service training). Mine was ten weeks and it was full of education, exposure to Kosovar culture, and lots and lots of stress!

But stress aside, it all culminated into this life-changing moment… becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Look mom! I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer!

The day technically started with me finishing packing (stuffing all of my clothes, books, and other random stuff into three bags) at 2 AM and waking back up at 5:30 AM! I showered, got all dressed up, and with the help of my amazing host dad lugged all three bags down to the center of my village for pick up to Swearing In!

Me looking as cute as I can for running off of minimal sleep

We arrived in Prishtina a little late so it was go! Go! Go! once we finally got to the venue. Soon after arriving, we were given our Peace Corps pins!

And then we met the U.S. Ambassador Greg Delawie!

(Most of) my cohort with our Country Director and the Ambassador!

The ceremony started and I felt nothing but pride for my own, as well as my friends’, accomplishments so far. We heard speeches from our Director of Programming and Training, our Country Director, the U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, and the Kosovar Minister of Education.

Then, we took our oaths and officially became Peace Corps Volunteers!

I had the honor and privilege to deliver a speech at our Swearing In ceremony with my good friend, Michaela. I knew I wanted to deliver the speech since my first day in this country. And it was important for me to highlight our differences as Americans from my very first sentence. We talked about our differences, but also how united we are both because of and despite our backgrounds. And how welcomed and loved we have all felt every day in Kosovo since the very first step off the airplane in Prishtina. Oh! And probably the most interesting part of it all…we delivered it solely in Albanian!

After the ceremony, Michaela and I did small interviews with local news and then I proceeded to stuff my face with hors d’oeuvres! We had a little over an hour to hang out with our PST host families and say our goodbyes. (And in my case, take a ridiculous amount of photos)

Myself, Dr. Darlene Grant, and Michaela
Me and my best friend, Christina!

I nearly cried twice that day. The first time was when I had to say goodbye to my host family; who I never expected to become so close with over the course of ten weeks. And again when I said goodbye to my Language and Cultural Facilitator, Valmira. She has been such a reliable teacher, resource, and friend to me here and I didn’t realize I would miss her so much already.

My wonderful PST host family minus my little sister
My misfit-filled PST language class and teacher, Valmira

In all, Swearing In was a major highlight of my service so far. It proved to myself and everyone else that all our hard work over these past couple of months has been well worth it. And as I sit in my new home at my permanent site typing this, I can’t help but to be hopeful for the future of this community and country.

Thank you to Peace Corps for seeing the potential in me to be a successful volunteer and change agent over these next two years. I hope I can make you all proud.

Some Special Thanks Before I Swear In…

Seeing as my swearing in ceremony is in the morning and I’m too anxious to sleep, I figured I would take this time to publicly acknowledge some people who I could not have made it through Pre-Service Training without!

Christina, I thank the stars everyday that they brought me to you. I’m so proud of you and the woman you are and will continue to become throughout your service here in Kosovo. I never expected to bond so closely with someone here, but I am so glad it happened with you. There’s no one else I would rather be a mess with. You are such a genuine person and soul and I know that I can always trust you to be there for me; and I hope you know you have that in me as well. Of everything I’m going to miss about PST, you are at the top of the list. Thank god you’re only a short bus ride away! I’d lose my mind without you for two years! I love you and I can’t wait to start our service together!

Jasmin, the only way to describe her is with one word: goddess. Jasmin is someone I clicked with from the very beginning and it’s because she has the kind of heart that grows when she shares it with others. Jasmin, thank you for being such an amazing friend to me. Your kindness and constant hype will always be appreciated by me. I am so proud of the woman you are today and I can’t wait to see your light shared with the rest of Kosovo.

Katie, you’re another one I didn’t expect to click so well with, but I’m glad to call you my friend. You’re just so funny and kind-hearted. We can bond forever over memes and random stuff and it’s always so much fun with you. I know you will thrive here in Kosovo and it’s because you are such a dedicated and wonderful person and I appreciate that so much.

I’m not used to having male friends, but Genci, you’re a welcome surprise to my life as well. I know in the beginning I used to mess with you a lot, but that’s only because I really wanted to be your friend but had no idea how to bond or connect with you! I am glad to see that even now that we are actually friends, I still get to make fun of you though! You’re someone who I can always count on to be positive and happy when I need a dose of that in my life.

Valmira, I remember first meeting you at the beginning of service in Gjilan. I read your bio in the handbook and knew right away we would be good friends (I’m glad I was right)! You were forced to be my Shqip teacher and to teach me about the local culture, but you chose to be my friend and I value that friendship so much. Now that PST is over and we will be far apart, I hope we will still stay connected! I am so proud to see your successes as well and can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.

Even though you’re over 6,000 miles away back in the US, I still need to thank you Mama. You have supported me from the very first steps of my application to Peace Corps and I want you to know that I appreciate you so much. You constantly reaffirm my goals and dreams and I hope I can make you proud.

Probably the most uncertain aspect of Peace Corps for me was knowing I would be living with complete strangers for 10 weeks. I’m so happy to say now that these are no strangers, but my family. They taught me about Kosovar hospitality, family, and how to make a delicious flija! I am emotional thinking about having to leave them. And that’s so strange considering how short a time I’ve lived with them, but they really have embraced me like a son and I will always have a place in my heart for them.

My Month in Under 5 Minutes: July 2018

I’m sorry for the delay in posting this month’s video, but the original file got corrupted and then I was hit with an end of PST rush; but here it is!

I figured this time I’ll write a sentence about each day/moment featured to give you all a bit more context about my days in Kosovo!

June 1: Eating delicious pitë me spinach outside; our dog, Boki, enjoying being let off his chains

June 2: Michaela and I enjoying a bus ride!

June 3: The celebration of the day a goddess was born, AKA my best friend Christina! We attended the PC office in the capitol for a 4th of July BBQ and were free to explore with a current Kos4 volunteer!

June 4: A fun gathering at a fellow PCT’s home!

June 5: Never tried this food before and forgot what it was called!

June 6: Finally, the rest of my village got to see the goats and sheep!

June 7: An organized simulation of buying/ordering food in Shqip, my host brother and cousin feeding the chickens!

June 8: More corn!

June 9: Beautiful views!

June 10: Kosovo’s stinkiest dog, Snowball, the cab driver bought us all ice cream!

June 11: My host mom making flija!

June 12: Christina being beautiful and our visit to Prizren!

June 13: Ushqimi! Little Messi!

June 14: PCT Sam’s yard!

June 15: I tried to teach myself Shqip by reading Harry Potter… it’s harder than it looks!

June 16: Medical visit to Skopje!

June 17: Walking home!

June 18: Village kids being active!

June 19: Practicum

June 20: A canoe is not a boat.

June 21: We visited a Serbian Orthodox monastery!

June 22: Town carnival!

June 23: A lesson I taught!

June 24: Final day of practicum!

June 25: My talented friend and the day we learned our permanent sites!

June 26: Bros playing piano together!

June 27: Meeting our host families and off to site visits!

June 28: First full day visiting site!

June 29: It’s beautiful isn’t it?! That sunset!

June 30: Me being an idiot! And also I waited 2 months to try the KFC in Kosovo!

June 31: I got to see my favorite Kosovar artist, Capital T, live!

Faleminderit dhe shihemi me vonë!

Muzikë Monday #3

This week’s Muzikë Monday is dedicated to my ten year old host sister who listens to this song at least five times a day at full volume!

When I first got here I kept hearing about this “Çika Çika” song and everyone had strong feelings about it. So, being the pop music aficionado I am, I went to Ardian Bujupi’s YouTube account and gave it a listen. My instant verdict: BOP! (Also tell me why so many of my fellow PCTs don’t know what the word bop means!? I’m honestly disappointed)

Çika Çika is by Prishtina-born artist Ardian Bujupi. It always blows my mind to see these wildly successful artists making such great music coming from Kosovo. Not because Kosovo doesn’t have talent, but because it has so much—especially being a tiny little state hidden in the heart of Europe. I think the most interesting thing about Ardian Bujupi is that he was born in Kosovo, but moved to Germany as a baby. He embraces both his Shqiptar (Albanian) identity and his German identity and makes songs in both languages. I was fascinated to read the comments on his Albanian songs which were all in Albanian of course, and then the comments on his German songs which were all in German; showing that he has two completely different fan bases but still consistently makes hits that are true to his ethnic and national identities.