Reflecting on the past 9 months in Kosovo, roughly a third of the way done with my service.
It is unreal to me how I’ve been here for 9 months… It seems like 2 weeks ago I was writing my 6 months blog post. What a strange, strange feeling knowing that I’m 3 months away from being in country for an entire year of my life.
I’ve spent the last 9 months constantly adapting and growing as an individual with and in my surroundings. However, one of the things I’ve consistently struggled with is comparing my site and situation with other volunteers in my cohort. Now matter how many times I scold myself for doing this, I still find myself indulging in that toxic comparison.
The homes that the vast majority of volunteers live in have WiFi (lucky me, I’m one of the very, very small minority that does not), some volunteers have central heating (again, lucky me, my family has a wood burning stove in the main room that keeps that room warm, but the rest of the (small) house (including my room and only means of privacy) is cold as *%?# in the winter). A good majority of volunteers’ families have a car (lucky me, yet again, my family does not. We have some extended family and family friends that do, but they live a bit a ways in the village regardless). Some volunteers have a site mate, or site mates, they can easily meet up with; I do not. Volunteers often have a local cafe they can inhabit and/or stores nearby that have things they may need. My village does not have a cafe, nor a ‘store.’ We have a rather sketchy bar and a handful of very small markets that primarily sell many different kinds of chips and sugary drinks.
I am, however, about a 40 minute walk away from the biggest town in my municipality where I have a plethora of cafes to inhabit (and know which ones have fast WiFi I can use to download things off Netflix on my phone to watch at site, as well as the ones with copious men and cigarette smoke to avoid) and stores with everything I could want. I love having this as an option and as a resource, but sometimes the long walk to and from seems a bit daunting.
My site is generally in the minority of comfortability on the PC Kosovo scale, especially when you take into account the fact that I have 7 host siblings, ranging in age from 3 to 17, living under a small roof. I sleep with earplugs in (otherwise who knows how often I’d wake up, especially when I (rarely) get to sleep in), have noses wiped on me, am climbed on by multiple small children (what even is personal space anymore?), and have a diet that mainly consists of bread and eggs (which is mostly fine).
These are a few of my personal challenges that my site presents, but that doesn’t mean they’re worse or harder than others’. There will always be “worse,” “better,” “harder,” “easier.” Every site has its own challenges and its own struggles. Whether it be in the home (living with a host family can be very difficult), in the school, in the community, in the country as a whole, or within the volunteer themselves.
The past few months have definitely been the hardest for me since coming here. Partly because I didn’t realize how much the weather can really affect you. When you’re consistently living in below freezing temperatures, but still have to walk to and from school (roughly 20 minutes away), the bus stop (roughly 30 minutes away), and to town for WiFi and to get out of the house (roughly 40 minutes away), and then come back home to your room that’s the same temperature as outside… it’s rough. Since spending every waking minute with my host family in the warm room is not an option for my sanity (I adore them, but I also need space), I’ve grown used to regularly being cold and uncomfortable these past few months.
So, weather has definitely impacted me and my mental state. Additionally, the juxtaposition of having control and giving that control back up threw me for a loop. In early January during our winter break, I went to Budapest and was able to decide what to eat, when to wake up, and what to do. Then, I can back to site where I have minimal control; I eat what my host mom makes, if it’s a weekend and I get to sleep in, I still have to be up by 10:30ish or else my host siblings will bang on my door until I come out for coffee, and going into town or the nearest city for WiFi or to meet up with someone is an event that requires planning out my schedule so that I’m home before dark (a personal curfew I’ve set for myself due to comfortability and safety).
Aside from the stark contrast of vacation and having control and being back at site and having minimal control, teachers in Kosovo went on strike at the start of the semester that lasted 3 weeks. This was another very out of control feeling, and I spent way too much time inside at home during those weeks which did not bode well for my sanity. It’s so much easier to stay home when it’s below freezing outside and you know you’ll have to walk at least 30 minutes to get anywhere.
It was difficult, and I was genuinely glad to go back to school. My favorite thing about school is my English Club. I have 2. On Tuesdays I have 6th grade, and on Wednesdays I have 7th and 8th grade combined. This is the part at school that I get autonomy over, and I love it. This is where I feel I get to really contribute. Though it’s only been regularly going since the (late) beginning of this semester, we’ve gone over Black History Month, incorporated games into practicing vocabulary and asking/answering questions, and this week will be learning about and reflecting on powerful and influential women who have shaped our world for International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8th.
Though it’s been a rough winter, the weather is warming up, the snow is melted (save the mountain peaks), and things are looking up, not that they were ever really looking down, per say.
My site, though not perfect, is still my site. It’s mine and it’s my home. And I can’t wait to see what the next 2/3 of my service brings me here.