Courage

Everyone knows that the Peace Corps is never an easy slice of pie. Now, I have consumed several slices of pie during my year and three months of service. Something I thought would become easier over my service was all the stares. I thought I would get used to people starring at me when I went for a run or when I went for a bike ride. I came to terms with this struggle today. No matter how long I live in Macedonia, the stares, the shock, and the confusion from a female publicly exercising will never get easier. Today I went on a bike ride to my best friend’s house. She is really my second family in this country. Her mother, sister, and every other single relative has been warm and friendly. They accept me for who I am and nothing more. When I go to her house I truly feel like I can drop my guard down and be myself. I have found myself many times waking up from a four our nap on their couch. They relax me in a way that I cannot seem to find anywhere else in the this Albanian culture.

On the journey to and from her house I rode my bicycle. I endured mean, curious, and happy looks from complete strangers. Shouting from little kids and one child proceeded to run with me and shout at me in Albanian, “Why are you biking old woman? Why are you doing that?” Men and women alike starred at me. I was the first 15+ female they have ever seen riding a bike. I cannot help but hope that one day other women will be able to bike to Tetovo and around Tetovo on their bicycles. This journey takes more strength and courage that I ever thought imaginable.

Something I have been struggling in the Peace Corps thus far is people thinking it is the “posh corps” or a place “not very challenging”. This frustrates me beyond belief. I would love to see half those people endure what I have been through at my site and bounce back from those situations and keep moving forward. As a 21st Century volunteer in the balkans my service is very different to those volunteers in Africa and South America and remote islands, but my service has many challenges that they might not or do not have to experience. It has taken me a lot of time, and I am sure it will take a lot more time, but I have been learning and will continue to learn how to maintain my strength and courage to continue serving at the capacity I would like to.

Many things in my service I cannot disclose in a form of a blog or in email, but looking back on my service I have realized that I could really expand my experience into a complex novel full of detail and passion.

Culture shock, something that is experienced and illustrated differently in everyone. Today I experienced a different level of culture shock. I came home from my glorious bike ride, ready to face the rest of the night with enthusiasm when my host mom told me that I look fatter than when I arrived in their house a month ago. This sent me off my rocker. 15 months into service and this somehow touched a really sensitive area for me. Such a rude thing to say in American culture, but something completely appropriate and polite in Albanian culture. I broke down and needed my space immediately. Now, I have to find the strength and courage to accept the cultural differences. It is interesting what bothers you in the moment and what will ride you crazy, but in a completely different scenario does not mean anything to you.

Courage is something I have. Courage is something I need. Courage is something I hope to find more of in the next year.

A Chocolate Chip Cookie

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I have started to think that my Peace Corps service is beginning to look like my failures and successes with the delicious chocolate chip cookie. These amazing cookies seem to be a slight addiction that is reasoned in my head because it is a “cultural exchange” when I make them. In actual reality these cookies are a treat for me and something I can eat that tastes like America.

When I first came to Macedonia I thought I may be giving up this delicious cookie for the next 27 months. I ate oodles and oodles of cookies in hopes of overdosing on them–I tried this approach with Mexican food too. Neither were successful because deep down inside I am addicted.

Drawn to the baking world for stress-relief, during my first month in country I scrambled to find all the ingredients (with creative thinking) for these delightful desserts. I braved my host family’s kitchen and made cookies that were hard as rocks. Something was wrong with this recipe or the oven or something. The ingredients still made a tasty treat, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong. After all, I am a baker at heart that wants a warm, out-of-the-oven cookie.

I was determined to master the mystery of the “ingredient” in these delicious cookies.

Two months later I tried another batch in my pre-service training family. This was the end of my stay with this family so my emotions were high. I was anxious and nervous about the future family and site. What is a great solution? Eating cookies of course. These cookies…melted into one big odd monster cookie. My host family took it with stride and we just treated the cookie like an awkward cookie cousin. Cutting up parts and devouring what we could.

Two months later, five months into service, I braved yet another kitchen my host family at my permanent site. I remember and reflected on my mistakes hoping that I could impress this new family with delicious desserts. These cookies got burnt because I was so distracted with everything else going on. The third batch and an epic fail. I was completely and utterly embarrassed. I know my way around a kitchen and an oven, but somehow here I failed in a brand-new house.

I took a break from this seemingly insolvable relationship i developed with the cookie Gods. I focused my attention in the cooking world with banana bread, no-bake cookies, Mexican, and Indian. All were great successes, but seemed to be greatly off task for what I really wanted.

Three months after the burnt cookie incident I received a package from a great friend’s mother, Mrs. Gardner. (I still cherish the items in this package daily.) This package had chocolate chip cookie mix! I could taste the ever so delightful cookie in my mouth finally, eight months after being in Macedonia. I made these cookies at my site mates house in order to avoid the “burnt” problem and they were a glorious celebration. This seemed to time well with what was going on at site. I accomplished at that spring with extra curricular activities for the school, but I was completely exhausted everyday from the different culture and trying to find my rhythm with my teachers, students, community, and family.

Three months after this success, nine months into site I attempting making these cookies yet again. Now, you would think the successful cookies from a mix would have satisfied me, but I did not think it was fair to settle for a mix being the success. I made these cookies at my counterpart’s house. These cookies were a gooey mess. I didn’t know what cooked and what didn’t cook. I was having some person struggles at the time, so this situation, looking back on it seemed to mirror my life in the Peace Corps.

Then the summer crazy created no time for cookies or for baking.

The whirlwind of life hit me and I wound up in a new family.

Yesterday I attempted to make chocolate chip cookies, thinking to myself this will be there very…last…time, if I don’t succeed. I would like to say with all my pride and happiness. These cookies are by fair the best cookies I have ever made in Macedonia. Now, as my good buddy Jake asked me, are these the best cookies you have ever made ever? No, not quiet, but I will settle for the best in Macedonia.

This has been one of the hardest 14 months in my life, but the most rewarding 14 months. I have made the best chocolate chip cookies yet because I do believe I have hit my stride. I am supporting my teachers; I have wonderful students that are engaged; I have a wonderful family supporting me in America and in my village; And I can only hope that the next 13 months will be powerful and amazing, if not more intense then the last 14 months in my service.

To cheers for me, have a chocolate chip cookie today and remember how hard I worked to make that cookie become a reality in Macedonia for me.

Long Time…No Write

Hello one and all!

I am alive and well, just busy with many transitions and trying to apply and work on different projects for my school and community.

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First order of busy…I have moved. Long story short. I moved. One year in one village and this next year in another village. These two villages are right next to each other and I teach at both schools. I am living with a different host family and they are as sweet as can be! This family has four people living in this cosy and friendly house. From youngest to oldest:

Fjolla: my youngest host sister who is in 7th grade. Her English is excellent and her curiosity for music, life, and anything is contagious. I already love her with all my heart. We have a cat, named Kitty, who she finds every free moment cuddling with.

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The amazing cat: Kiity

Alba: my older host sister, who is still younger than me, but is in the 2nd year of high school. She is at the medicine high school and very serious about her studies. She is passionate about art and music as well.

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Me, Fjolla, and Alba

Host father: my father is an art teacher and a junior high in a nearby village. He loves to paint and is very, very artistic. He loves to joke around and has a very accepting personality.

Host mother: my mother is patient, kind, and is always smiling politely with me. She is all about eating healthy and loves to talk about what I eat and why I eat it. She was an Albanian teacher before she had kids, which is very rare to find women with degrees as her age. She loves reading books.

This new family is very pleasant and I can’t wait to experience a full year with them!

In other news, I have been working really hard on a hopefully grant for my school. We are applying for a smart board that all the teachers will get trained in using. Along with the smart board hope, we have painted the lab, redone the flooring of the lab, gotten a shelf donation, and expanded the materials for all the English teachers. It is has taken a lot of energy, but completely worth it!

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I am still continuing with the running club, and the boys and girls basketball clubs.

The practice for the play Peter Pan has been hard, but is going pretty darn well. We hope to use a nearby school’s theatre to perform the play in December.

One School Year to Impact

One School Year to Impact

This year I have found myself very, very busy everyday and crawling into bed happy on how much I am helping at my school. One of the Macedonian teachers at the school pulled me aside today and personally thanked me for all the work I have done and will be doing this year. He told me I am a special person to be focusing on helping all the teachers, students, and community members. The love I feel when I entire my two schools is that of a super star of some sort. This thank you from this teacher that does not speak any English gave me the confidence and energy to continue going. I know my actions are appreciated and I hope to leave a mark that will keep teachers motivated to teach.

One of the projects that I have just started implementing is the recycling of plastic bottles. The idea behind this is to keep plastic bottles from being thrown into the river and streets and instead make a small profit on the bottles. One teacher two weeks ago complained to me that they have to pay for their own copies and bring their own paper to the school. I decided that this plastic bottle recycling will allow the school to have some money for paper. Teachers shouldn’t have to go to Tetovo (a 25 minute kombi ride) just to get some copies for their class. Instead this environmentally friendly movement will allow teachers to access paper from a green action. I hope over time to implement a paper recycling too where at least the other side of a page can be reprinted on. The teachers and students are behind this recycling because it is really easy.

Another project I am working on is trying to get a resource room for all the teachers in the school. Ideally I would love to have a smart board projector and more English books. It would be great to expand to Albanian books so that the reading level of the students could be expanded and worked on throughout the school year. This classroom that already has computers can be used by all the teachers and allow them all to have hands-on/technology classes. Right now we are using the classroom for power point presentations and getting the students excited for the potential here. So far one community member has donated bookshelves, another will be donating his time to paint, and the school will be buying paint for the resource room. Everything seems to be going well in wonderful happy way!

With this resource room, we are starting a school fundraiser. One class every Friday will bring baked goods from home and sell them at the bake-sale. All the other students in the school will buy these baked goods instead of going to the local store. This will allow us to acquire money slowly over time for the lab. This resource lab, if we get the funding for it, will need to have at least 30 % contribution from the community. I want to start these actions so that it illustrates the motivation in my community.

In addition, I am continuing with girls and boys basketball. Boys basketball has not met yet because they have been behaving badly every time we attempt to practice with the girls. There are less girls this year but who knows what’ll happen as the year progresses.

I have started a running club at my school which is adored and celebrated. All the students want to run around with me and have a blast together.

The other huge project one of my counterparts and I have started is having a school play. This has been a stressful, but successful endeavor. The plan is to perform the play this December at a private school in Tetovo. We are acting Peter Pan and I already see a huge progress in all the students’ English inside and outside of class. The trick will be costumes, but I am hoping they just work out in the end. Luckily my counterpart is really invested in this and will hopefully do a play after I leave–some level of sustainability.

My focus this year has been really giving it my all every school day and seeing what I could do that would be sustainable. I have fully implemented a grading system–engrade–and hope to implement it with the rest of the school.

In other news I just spent the last weekend celebrating Bajram with my tutor and best friend and her family. I got to experience Bajram with a half Macedonian, half Albanian family. I thoroughly enjoyed it and got to learn some different saying in Macedonian. This family has meant everything to me with teaching me how to make the creamy treleche, the sweet baklava, and the ever so spicy ajvar. I honestly feel like I could hang with them the rest of my life and I hope the two sisters I have grown to love I will stay friends with for the rest of my life: Gona and Dika.

Stepping into a World Unknown

 
Guest Writer Sheryl Burt
 
I had the opportunity and the privilege of being Kelly’s first American visitor during her first year of service in Macedonia! In my short week stay I was able get a glimpse into her new world. 
 
Let me begin by explaining how I got myself into traveling to such an unknown (by many Americans) place. It was senior year. Kelly and I were finishing up our education requirements, gearing up for student teaching, and excited about making a difference in the minds of the munchkins. She told me that she was seriously considering the Peace Corps and asked if I would visit her. Fresh off of our New Zealand Adventure, I was itching for more. So, of course I said YES without hesitation or knowledge of where Kelly would be placed. When Kelly found out she was placed in Macedonia (a country that I had never heard of and couldn’t locate on a map), I wasn’t swayed. The only stipulation was that I had to get a job…graduation was approaching and there were so many unknowns. 
Well, everything worked out. I started my first year teaching kindergarten and Kelly was making a difference halfway around the world. 
 
My Macedonia experience started with about 40 hours of travel (flights, layovers, time zone changes) and arriving in Skopje at about 12:30am. We did some exploring and traditional Macedonia hamburger eating before getting some sleep. With Skopje being a larger city, the first adjustment I had to make was the language barrier. I knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to understand or talk with the Macedonians but the experience was more than expected. I like to be able to do things for myself but the simple tasks like purchasing a bus ticket, ordering a meal, or paying for a purchase I had to entrust to Kelly. Don’t get me wrong, I’d trust this girl with my life, but there was a sense of helplessness that was uncomfortable. The biggest struggle was not being able to communicate with Kelly’s host family. She’d spent the last 8 months living with this family and I would have loved to get to know them more. During our shared meals, I would have liked to partake in the conversations or at least understand their discussions. Her host brother is fluent in English and I enjoyed the time I got to spend with him. 
 
Another thing that took me a while to grasp (and I still don’t understand), is some of their priorities. I understand that each culture is different and we all deem things more important than others. Kelly has told me from the beginning that Macedonia’s economy is in trouble and her village in particular is very poor with a high unemployment rate. However, while walking around the village, I didn’t see it. I expected to see the poverty in the buildings and houses, but it wasn’t there. The houses were aesthetically pleasing, a decent size, and the yards were well kept.  Kelly explained that appearance is a high priority. Poverty is not seen in the objects they own but in the hunger in their bellies. Along with appearance, family is one of their main priorities. Extended families usually live in the same village and are very supportive. They help each other out in any way they can. I was honored to be invited to dinner with Kelly’s extended host family. They welcomed me with open arms. Their love and support was evident even with a language barrier. The respect exhibited towards their elders was inspiring. Sometimes I feel like we have lost that in our culture. Kelly’s host grandmother was a remarkable lady with an awesome garden!! She let me sample some strawberries and dragon beans…oh my!! It makes me want to ditch the city and buy a plot of land!
 
Everywhere we went, we ran into some type of market/bazaar. I wish fresh fruit and vegetables were that easily available in our society. After I left, I found myself craving the watermelon that I had been indulging in for the past week. Another thing that amazed me was at the end of the day, the sellers left their produce/products on their  stands. Even in a poverty stricken community, there was a sense of honor and respect. Stealing was not an issue. This is not something we could find in our society. Just think about this for a second…high poverty, high unemployment, and hunger bordering on starvation, yet stealing is not a concern. I truly believe that speaks volumes. 
 
Macedonia is not one of those places you find in a destination book and you’ll never see it on the top 100 places to visit before you die. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything to offer! However, I wouldn’t recommend the trip unless you speak Macedonian or Albanian or you happen to have an awesome connection (like I did). It would be extremely complicated to navigate. 
 
I’d like to conclude with a shoutout to all the Peace Corps Volunteers who were apart of my Macedonia experience. Y’all are doing amazing work! I know that some days may be rough and you feel like your not making progress, but remember, your presence and attitude of caring is sometimes all that’s needed. I see it in the classroom all the time! Keep you head up and hearts open and never stop being awesome!!!
 
Kelly, thank you for an experience of a life time! Love ya girl!!!

Sheryl Burt. GLOW Camp. Traveling Camp. Traveling. And almost a year into service.

In the past month and a half, I have managed to travel to Italy, Albania, Greece, be a counselor at  GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp, run a summer camp in my village, and have my dear friend Sheryl Burt visit me.  I thought my summer would be a long three months…little did I know it is officially over tomorrow with school starting.

Sheryl Burt, one of my bests from college and the ONE AND ONLY OTHER Early Childhood Education major from Hendrix College, came to visit me at my site. I filled our days with seeing different parts of Macedonia, visiting my village and the city next to mine, and a glorious trip to Greece. When Sheryl was here it opened up my eyes to the fact that my perspective on everything has changed a lot. It was wonderful to get Sheryl’s new perspective on everything and realize how pessimistic I have gotten about some things. I also realize how I have turned off and ignored some aspects that annoyed me previously. 

One aspect that Sheryl found overwhelming was the language barrier she was surrounded by in my village. I found this half funny and half my life all the time. I wasn’t able to translate for her all the time. It was also a good eye opening experience for her to see what I experienced everyday for my first three months and still today in Macedonian situations. Not understanding whats going on all the time is part of my service. I am happy that Sheryl understands this struggle and can empathize with me now about it.

Having my host family and friends meet her was delightful. They got to see a huge part of my life and someone that has been super supportive throughout the process. After the Macedonia experience we rushed down to Greece to get some sun, greek food, and relaxation. We ended up doing a lot of walking and exploring. I felt like I was back in America during that vacation because I had access to Starbucks, H&M, and feta. 

The oddest part of this trip was I ran into two different groups of Albanians on different accounts. I feel like the rest of my life I will be connected to this ethnic group. Sheryl and I were walking down the boardwalk next to sea and I decided to stop a group of older men, about the same age as my parents. They took a photo of Sheryl and I together. Then I noticed one of the men speaking in Albanian…so I boldly asked where he was from in Albanian. Then we had a side conversation for a bit in Albanian. It turned out he was from a village near Tetovo as well. Such a small world. 

After this encounter I felt sky high with my luck and Albanian language skills. It also may have been the amazing salads, pork, and greek greek greek food. The day Sheryl and I went to the beach we ran into another group of Albanians. We took a ferry to some beaches and on the ferry sitting across from us there were some Albanians speaking Albanian. Of course I interjected and talked to them for a bit. They were from Diber, which is a mountain town in-between Gostivar and Struga. I don’t know what Sheryl thought of the constant interaction with Albanians, but I thought it was hilarious. 

After Sheryl left me for Zurich I hurriedly prepared for Camp GLOW. Camp GLOW is one of the best and hardest experiences I have had thus far in my Peace Corps service. You take 80 girls from all over the country with different religions, ethnicities, and values and put them in the same school for 7 days together. The results are overwhelming and powerful. I found myself in tears of joy and the end of the camp. I was a counselor with host country national and we had a counselor in training…and 10 amazing young ladies in our group. We went through the stages of forming a group roughly and were performing like professionals by the end of the week. My group had a huge diversity of backgrounds, ethnicities, and perspectives on life. They learned to be a healthy family and support each other through all the challenging and thought provoking classes. I had a lot of sleepless nights pondering on how to support my group and how to approach different aspects. It was amazing to witness some young women lead with such strength. I don’t know if I can describe the week in a way to give it justice other than it was one of the most powerful experiences I have been apart of thus far in my Peace Corps service. Having everything in English gave a safe zone for all the girls.

In addition two of my wonderful girls from my village attended the camp. The grew and matured throughout the week. I can proudly say they are confident and amazing young women now. I can’t wait to be there to support them this year in developing their leadership goals. My Peace Corps service has been supported and enhanced through this camp. Thank you Camp GLOW Macedonia!

After the whirlwind of GLOW Camp I went on a wonderful vacation to Venice, Italy. Luckily there is this thing called Wizzair. You can find extremely cheap plane tickets. So I was able to escape and explore the city I have dreamed of visiting since I read The Book Thief when I was little. Here I was in my dream land of how I pictured it. I realized how thoroughly lucky I was. Here I am traveling the world tasting, smelling, and feeling the vibrant world around me. My week in Italy consisted of eating pizza, drinking spritzer, eating pasta, eating mozzarella, and exploring every nook and cranny of Venice (and the neighboring islands).

After Italy, I had a couple of days to decompress and then I left for a four day adventure in Albania with the “bros” and a bunch of other volunteers. I enjoyed fresh seafood, seaside comforts, a cold springs-syri i kilter-and exploring an ancient city left by the Romans. Albania is an ideal traveling location for me because I speak the language, I love the sea, and I love swimming. I plan on going back there again, but this time exploring the outdoor wilderness in northern Albania. 

Then, I finished off my summer with a summer camp in my village. There were some complications because the people that originally were going to host the three boy volunteers helping at the camp couldn’t host the volunteers anymore. My amazing director ended up paying for the boy volunteers to stay in a hotel in Tetovo for the week. The four half day camp at my school was very chaotic but the students walked out of the school each day grinning and enjoying the activities thoroughly. I think my school was ab it confused all week because it was the week before school started, but in the end they realized how much the camp benefited the students and the community at large. The community enjoyed it so much that they bought our last lunch as volunteers. Some communities show different ways to say thank you. I think I will be hearing about this camp for weeks to come. A huge shout out to Aaron, Beverly, Jake, Nick, David, Jordan, Alanna for coming all the way to my village and helping me with the camp. I would not have been able to do this camp without your help, patience, and guidance. Flm shume!

As this summer ended quickly and abruptly I find myself realizing that I have almost done an entire year of service as a volunteer. New volunteers are coming in two weeks exactly and I have the honor to welcome them into the country and extend a hand for support for the rest of their service. I find myself writing down goals and hoping to accomplish a lot for the rest of my service. I have one year and three months to impact my community as much as I can. Send me luck, love, and support. 

Thank you everyone that has been there for me this past year. I have appreciated every moment of support and faith that I have it in me to serve here. A determined volunteer is ready for another year of service!

Summer Time.

This summer time started out with a bang. After the last day of school, which was very chaotic with inspectors from the bureau of education of Macedonia and external testing, I headed to language IST (In-Service Training). This was in Struga, Macedonia. We had a hotel on the lake and after the language sessions everyday we had the freedom to cool off in the lake. These language sessions were honestly frustrating for me. All the Albanian speaking volunteers are at a hugely different speaking level and putting us all in the same level of classes is challenging. It was really nice to be reunited with everyone again. Odd to see how everyone has grown and changed at site, but really nice.

After the four intensive days of language–which reminded me why I was so tired during PST–I went for a quick transition back at site before heading off to the Boy’s Leadership Summer Camp, or more correctly called: Young Men’s Leadership Project Summer Camp or YLMP Summer Camp. I packed everything I needed and said good-bye to a bed for two weeks.

YLMP

To most people’s surprise, this was my first time working at a summer camp. I have always wanted to work at a summer camp, but those jobs never paid well enough for me during college. My position was a facilitator of democracy. I co-taught classes on democracy with a host country national. We planned and prepared months in advanced. We wanted each lesson to build off of each other and for each class to be shaped by the young men’s passions and discussions. My co-facilitator was extremely passionate, which made planning and preparing a lot easier.

I was fairly nervous because the last time I worked with 14-18 year olds was the previous summer with conservation trail crews. I felt a bit rusty with that area because I have been extremely focused on elementary and junior high aged students. And addition to that, I haven’t taught high school aged students in a classroom setting, ever. My domain with them is outside.

The next two weeks at the summer camp was a complete blur. It was held in Krushevo a small town tucked into the mountains near Prilep (a city in the center of Macedonia). Our camp was about a 20 minute walk away from the town, which means close enough to get a chocolate bar for staff when needed, but far enough away to build a health dynamic within the camp. I ended up teaching far more than my democracy class. I taught some environmental classes, including Leave No Trace, and things like mafia and tie dye. I am happy to report there are 20 young men (yes 20 men did the tie dye course) that are walking around their communities in tie dye shirts. That’s why I did this summer camp, to change their perspective on these type of things. You can still be a man, and wear tie dye…huzzah!

I became friends and older sisters to many of the young men there and got to know all the peace corps volunteers and local staff on a different level. Those two weeks of traveling there, teaching, and coming back were absolutely exhausting, but absolutely worth it. I also felt like I changed every single young man that attended my classes. Not to think of democracy as a good thing, but rather to critically think and understand that questing everything is a part of a deep thinker. I want to do a huge shout out to Mr. Russ Brown one of my amazing high school teachers. He gave me the lesson plans for one of the lessons I facilitated (the island simulation) and I wanted to say it was a huge success.

I came back to my community in high spirits. These young men were show smart, talented, and truly a big breath of fresh air. These young men are the start of the next generation and if they can change where this world is going, I have hope, high hope.

Since YLMP camp I have been chilling with my host family, visiting some neighbors, and now just processing the ever proceeding Ramadan.

Right before Ramadan happened, there was a basketball tournament in Tetovo. Now, this tournament was a perfect opportunity for my young women. We entered the competition, and were the only women that showed up…so we played each other.
Here are a couple of photos from the tournament against ourselves.

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Ramadan.

Now, I have had friends that have fasted. I knew it involved fasting from sunrise to sunset, just like passover fasting. What I didn’t know is how spiritually inspiring and overwhelming it is when an entire community fasts together. So you can break your fast when the call to prayer is sung from the mosque. These meals are called Iftar.  It is basically thanksgiving, every single meal. It is fabulous because everyone around to is eating loads of food and drinking loads of liquids. You can enjoy everything you want until about 2:30- 3:00 . This is two hours before the sun comes up and this is because (I think) it is two hours before sunrise and your stomachs have processed most of what you ate. So everyone goes without water and food for 18 hours. That’s so impressive and mind boggling. This is for 30 days. 30 days.

Now, pregnant women, women on their period, and men working outside are not suppose to fast because they don’t want it to damage your body. Also if your too sick and if your a child (9 years old for girls and 11 years old for boys) you are not suppose to fast. Everyone believes when you fast that Allah gave you the strength to do everything you needed to do.

I thought because everyone around me was fasting that I would give it a shot. I fasted one day from 2:30 am to 8:30 pm. It was a long 18 hours. The hardest part for me was going without water. I could handle going without food especially if I was being lazy and relaxing. But without water on hot summer days was very challenging.

What this experience provided me was ultimate respect for every Muslim I have ever met and every Muslim in my community and Macedonia at large. I can see how these 30 days are challenging and a spiritual journey. Women go to the mosques during this time and I like that everyone is in this spiritual mindset.

Tetovo is a ghost town during the day and a crazy chaotic city at night. It is nice to get some peace and quiet there during the day, but yet again I can get that here in my village since everyone sleeps in and people that don’t have to work, don’t.

My host family has been very respectful that I decided not to fast more than one day and are fine with me cooking my meals when they are fasting. As one Albanian told me the other day, “Ramadan is a very personal experience and whatever you do as long as you respect what they are doing, they’ll respect you.”

In other news, I have had and will have some basketball practices at 9:30 pm once all the girls have gotten some proper food and liquid in them. The basketball court has some lights and hopefully we’ll be able to use it until a soccer tournament starts next week. Other than that, there’s not a lot of projects I can do because everyone is fasting and not exactly game for doing work.

I tried to do a city of Tetovo Fourth of July celebration, but it fell through do to some funding issues.

Overall, I have been relaxing a lot this summer and reading away. I just picked up my guitar again and plan on studying some more Albanian.

Keep living the dream and drink some of that sweet tea or lemonade for me wherever you are in this world.