How the *$@! have I been living in this country for half a year?
Wow. To say I’m a completely different person than I was in May would be a bit too dramatic, but I will say, without a doubt, that I’ve changed. Not every volunteer can say that, and not every volunteer that has changed can say that they’ve changed for the better. But I have. It’s such an unbelievable feeling to know that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be at this moment in your life. But I know.
My first blog post about saying goodbye to contentedness and seeking to be actually happy, so far, has been an absolute success. If I had told 20-year-old Christina that 23-year-old Christina would be happier living thousands of miles away from home and everything she was comfortable with, 20-year-old Christina would have profoundly responded: “nah.” But living thousands of miles away from home and everything I’m comfortable with has made me happier. Happiness has been easier to obtain, of course, by being surrounded by supportive peers and an incredibly loving host family and community.
Even though I’m happy here, it doesn’t mean the happiness is unconditional. So far, I’ve missed 4 weddings, scheduled to miss another one (lookin’ at you, Taylor!), family gatherings, holidays, concerts by my favorite artists, fun local events, etc. back in the states. But… with every major decision in your life (i.e. joining the Peace Corps and moving halfway across the world with complete strangers for 2 years) come pros and cons; it’s just a matter of weighing those. Would me staying at home and getting to experience these 5 weddings, family gatherings, holidays, concerts, local events, and more, be worth missing out on all of my experiences here in Kosovo so far? Absolutely not. And it’s just that simple: pros of being here outweigh the pros of being back in the states.
So… I’m happy… but how have I really been doing for the past 6 months?
Essentially, I’ve been surviving… at least in this context. It sounds funny but it’s true. I live in a small house without WiFi or central heating, with 7 siblings, age range from 3-17, in a host family that speaks minimal English (correctly saying: “good morning” isn’t too helpful when trying to carry on a conversation). Since winter unofficially started, I often wear gloves to bed and see my breath in my room every day. It’s not uncommon for me to walk 5 or 6 miles a day due to my house’s location in my village. I go days without carrying on conversations in English. My house can be unpredictable at times (most recently my siblings somehow managed to break the toilet seat so we haven’t had a toilet seat in over 3 weeks).
But would I change it? Nope (Well… not having to wear a winter coat inside my room would be nice. Having a toilet seat also sounds nice). I knew what I signed up for when I signed up for Peace Corps (or some variation of my current reality), so I just accept everything. With all these seemingly random “challenges” thrown at me, I’ve learned more about my own flexibility, resiliency, patience, and persistence than I could have ever hoped with this journey. I love self-growth and I truly, genuinely see it within myself.
Anyway. Aside from the entirely selfish aspects of service (I feel like there are a lot, actually), I’ve learned so much about:
The culture!! I’ve learned so much about Kosovar and Albanian culture from my short (but also kinda long to a 23-year-old) time living in Kosovo. Through observation, inquiry, and curiosity, I’ve discovered so much about this area of the world that is fascinating, thought-provoking, and continuous proof that there is so much more that connects us as humans than separates us.
The youth!! Kosovo is so young and vibrant. The youth here are inquisitive, passionate, and impressive (when they’re not jokingly shouting “Heil Hitler!” …Cultural differences and ignorance are fun). I’ve loved learning from them.
And last but not least:
The climate!! I’m not in Texas anymore. No AC, no heating (rarely used at my house in TX, but still available), no car to drive myself everywhere and avoid the weather as much as possible. It’s been a lot of cracked windows, layers and layers and layers of clothing, and walking… everywhere.
In Peace Corps we’re expected to live as the locals, and I have been (more or less). I miss driving every day; I miss being able to sleep without multiple layers on; I miss not eating bread with every meal; I miss my family and friends back in the states; I miss dryers… and the list goes on. Although I miss these things (and many, many more), these things seem insignificant when I reflect on the overarching theme of happiness of my time here thus far.
I had heard from so many RPCVs and currently serving volunteers that service goes by so quickly and I thought: “yea okay.” But damn. I cannot believe I’ve been here for 6 months in Kosovo and 4 months at my permanent site; it seems unreal to me. But rest assured that I’m very happy and very happy with the constant comfort of knowing that this is where I’m supposed to be at this point in my life.
Side note… I haven’t blogged in over a month and I feel like I always say that I’ll get better, but never do. So maybe if I don’t make any promises, I’ll actually get better. So. This is my promise to not promise. Until next time… (whenever that is. Hopefully soon)