Lion Hearted, SEE YOU LATER; never goodbye

A great friend in the Peace Corps left me a poem in my Peace Corps office mailbox a while ago. I didn’t get it until recently when this same friend talked about me in an inspirational way. You know how some people have the gift of seeing people for who they are at their best. These people can see someone’s strengths and ignore their weaknesses.

In honor of this dear friend I am going to write this quote down:

“A Poem for Jesse

your face like

summer lightning

gets caught in my voice

and I draw you up from

deep rivers

taste eery face if a

thousand names

see you smile

a new season

hear your voice

a wild sea pausing in the wind.”

I have a shoe box full of letters, photos, and different maps from where I have traveled. This letter was found in my shoebox today. I cried while reading it because it made me realize how lucky I am. I am lucky to have amazing friends that surround me every single day.

I thought about tributing this blog post to all the precious people that have touched my heart here in Macedonia. This number is overwhelming. Each and everyone of these people have seen me at a low. They have also shared a high with me. How lucky I am I am indeed.

I haven’t blogged in a really long time because the summer took my hand and ran with me all over the place.

I went on a trip to Italy and was able to see so many amazing places. I went on a trip from Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, to Serbia. I ran a summer camp in my village and I was an instructor at the young men’s leadership camp. I had an amazing friend, Jessie Pearl, come and visit. I have been able to explore the amazing Sharri Mountains right in my backyard countless times.

This summer has been a whirlwind landing me with only two precious months left in the country.

To my sitemates:

Jordan, David, Casey, Enid, Carly, Dave, Bonnie, Stacie, Sarah, and Hannah

Thank you guys for being there for me.

Thank you for believing in me and encouraging me to start off my time in the states very chaotically,

To volunteers that have supported me through my ups and downs vigorously: (excluding sitemates):

Jake, Britt, Alanna, Emily, Dan, Nick, Chris, Shea, Tara

Thank you for being my light.

Thank you for being my energy.

Thank you for being encouragement even when you didn’t know it.

To the MAK 18 Group:

You all have been the best co-volunteers I could ever ask for! Thank you for being inspiration every single day for me.

To other MAK Groups:

You are the reason why I came and why I persevered later in my service.

To all the HCNs:

Thank you for teaching me how to shine bright without permission! <3

In honor of all these amazing people I have learned a song and performed in through this link. I hope you enjoy!

Video of See You Again

The 8th Wonder of Peace Corps

As fitting as the title is for how I am feeling about my service, I am going to start out with showing one of my favorite Albanian songs. As many of you know, I service the minority Albanian population in Macedonia.

This song is something I love to dance and smile to.

Now, you must be thinking…what the heck does this song mean?

Here it is Albanian:

Mrekullia E Tete

Ty te sheh njehere ne njemije vjet
Ti je mrekulli e tete mbi k’te planet
Kur te kam ty prane
Gjaku neper vena rrjedh si nje vullkan
Per ty boten e leviz
Nje sekonde mbi buzen tende me braktis
A nuk e shikon
Se ti je per mua nje ne nje milion

Je i vetmi frymezim qe kam
Ti je nota ime e tete ne pentagram
A nuk shikon
Se ti je per mua nje ne nje milion

ku do qe je, ku do qe jom
menien un e kom te ti non stop
s’ka lidhje sa tjera jon perreth meje
une pervec teje tjeter nuk shoh
se ti jeee…
uji n’sahare, parajsa n’toke
engjell i bardhe, mrekulli e tete n’ket bote
se ti ma ndreq diten pa ty gjithcka osht e kot
ftyra jote o si lindja e diellit ne mengjes
zoni yt o kanga ma e mire qe e kom n’vesh
e nese ti don at’here une ton jeten t’pres
se ti jeee…

Do te dua ne cdo jete
Je parajsa qe me pret

Se ti je per mua qielli i tete
Si ti je ne toke i teti kontinent
A nuk e shikon
se ti je per mua nje milion
Nje ne nje milion
Nje ne nje milion

Se ti jeee…
Se n’ylber ti je ngjyra jeme e tete
Nje si ti vjen vec nje here n’jete
Se ti jeee..

Nje ne nje milion

That clears everything up right?

I didn’t think so…

So here is my translation:

The Eighth Wonder

i can see you once every thousand years
You are the eighth wonder of this planet
When I have you next to me
The blood in my veins like a volcano
For you I move the world
A second on your lips leave me
Dont you see
you are to me, one in a million?

You’re the only one breath that I have
You are my eighth notes in the staff
Do not you see
you are to me, one in a million?

Wherever you are, wherever I am
I think of you non stop
It does not matter how many more are around me
I besides you do not see any
Because you’re …
The water in the Sahara, heaven on earth
A white angel, the eighth wonder in this world
cause you make my day better, without you everything is useless
Your face is like the sunrise in the morning
Your voice is the most beautiful song I have in my ears
And if you want, then I’ll wait a lifetime
Because you’re …

I will love you in every life
Are you the paradise that awaits me

Why you to me are the eighth sky
Because you’re the eighth continent on Earth
Dont you see
you are to me, a million
One in a million
One in a million

Because you’re …
Because you’re my eighth color in the rainbow
Someone like you only comes once in a lifetime
Because you’re …

One in a million

My last blog post was discussing how hard the Peace Corps can truly be, but it wouldn’t be right to just talk about the hardships and none of the amazing benefits and experiences I have had.

This week seemed to be a turning point for me. Something clicked in my head about how to perceive the remainder of my service. I have about six months (give or take a couple of days depending on my departure date that I win, there is a lottery system in my country of service for when I will leave) left in my service. For some reason this number seems scary. I have six months left to savor the support system I have built here. I have six months to appreciate and cherish the culture I have become accustomed to.

This past Wednesday I went on a misafir (I was a guest in a local’s house). I have never been to this person’s house, but they have wanted to get to know me for over a year. As soon as I enter this house, I instantly felt at home. The man of the house greeted me with open arms and treated me with respect. He, from the start, understood that I was here to learn about him and his family. His wife was someone I will remember the rest of my life. She is from below the neck. In a culture like this and form of handicap is either approached patronizingly or ignored disrespectfully. Her face reflected many stories of hardship, but still looked at the world cup half full. It is amazing the second you step into someone’s house how you long to be with them. I had the urge to drop everything and move in with them. Their kindness and complete understanding for me was overwhelming.

On this misafir I found myself talking to them about a lot of my core beliefs and values about women’s gender roles, the challenges in Macedonia, and the rich Albanian culture. This family carried out huge plates of french cherries and strawberries while we sat and drank Turkish tea. They spent 20 years in Switzerland and had a unique perspective of their culture, family, and heritage.

This, this experience is the 8th wonder of Peace Corps. In the midst of hardship we find ourselves lifted from the bottom and seeing the world from a high. Meeting these kind people that treated me as family. Discussing topics close to my heart and them rating me with love and respect. How does this service manage to surprise me at every turn? I may thing I have everything figured out and then I find myself in amazement and wanting more.

“Peace Corps: the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

This statement seems to sing true through my soul.

After this awe-inspiring experience, I opened up my Facebook and find a compliment from a teacher at my school. She said (translated by me from Albanian): “Kelly, you have not only learned how to speak beautifully in Albanian, but also learned how to write eloquently in Albanian. Thank you for everything you are doing at our school.”

I was caught by surprise. Compliments are rarely given in the culture. They find compliments embarrassing (WAY MORE than in the states) and rarely give them because they do not want to embarrass the other person. So, yet again, I find myself in awe and truly thinking, wow Peace Corps this is the 8th Wonder.

I encourage you to listen to The 8th Wonder by Alban Skenderaj and think of it as an ode to Peace Corps:

The next day there was a package that arrived for my school. We expanded our English school library to 160+ books (including all of the Harry Potter books)! My students shower the books with joy and excitement. Currently the school has a twice a week book check-out program, but next year I hope to expand that to a reading reward system.

IMG_6943 IMG_6946

Courage

About a month ago I faced something terrible…and the month before that as well. My service has been filled with pain and fear. I felt emotions I didn’t know where possible and all in a foreign country that I thought was my home.

I apologize I haven’t blogged in a long time. There have been many events that have unfolded this spring that I needed time to process and understand.

Today, for the first time in over a month I went on a 5 mile run confidently by myself. Last night I walked home from one of my student actor’s houses through the dark.

The good news is I am safe and recovering in a wonderful and spiffy apartment across from the Green Pazar in Tetovo. I commute to work everyday and am involved in the American Corner (thank you American tax dollars) where I have an adult English class, Pippi Longstocking play practices, and GLOW club meetings.

This semester I have been focusing on teaching with each of my teachers for a full month will full month plans with goals, quizzes, tests, and different forms of assessment. I am currently on my fourth teacher at the “other” village school.

My school has successfully implemented the SPA Grant “from the American people” where this wonderful Technology Room is used by all the teachers trained with the technology. This like-smartboard gives students and teachers a different tool they can use that will engage students on a different level.

Two weeks ago, my students and community put on a school’s name day celebration that had the X-Factor, Name Day Celebration, SPA Technology Room, and a cocktail party. My Peace Corps director came with some other staff to show their support.

Besides all these amazing things go on around me, I have endured quiet a lot. I can’t go into details, nor do I want to full describe what happened to me.

Here is a poem written over a month ago about one of my experiences:

Tears

Tears run down my cheeks

Blurring my vision

The pain in my heart

The world keeps moving

I stare out into the cruel world

When will old “me” return?

Where is my hope and love?

A waterfall of angry

Confusion over what happened.

Nobody could ever prepare me

For what I have experienced and endured

I try all the coping mechanism

But I can’t find any that work

I close my eyes and wonder:

Will I be stronger or weaker

Because of all of this?

Will I ever trust a stranger?

Will I ever smile again?

Ignorance is not bliss

Ignorance is peace of mind

Knowing is painful and harmful

Can I move beyond this?

Can I have the courage to stand tall?

I look behind me constantly

Is there someone following me?

I am paranoid, paranoid of everyone

Is trust even possible?

This is not what I imagined it would be.

Tears in my soul

Tears in my eyes

Tears in every step I take

Please, hold my hand

And take me out of this place.

I have improved greatly since the situations I endured, but I thought showing the pain through poetry gives the experience a life of its own.

I am proud of myself. I am not proud of everything I have tried and worked on in the peace corps. I am proud of myself for waking up everyday and trying to improve and grow. I am proud of myself for trying to recover and become the person I know I can be.

Recently, I took an amazing trip to Turkey. This trip seemed to come at the perfect time.

Here I am with the beautiful scenery in Cappadocia:

IMG_6607

Here is my travel buddy and I:

IMG_6608

The beautiful sunset with the wonderful rock formations and the hot air ballons:IMG_6615

We met this guy that lived in this rock cave…sooooo cool!

IMG_6617

Me with the beautiful rock formations hiking.

IMG_6656

Early sunrise, worth it for the hot air balloon:

IMG_6662 IMG_6671

Flying in the sky seemed like a dream!

IMG_6683 IMG_6689 IMG_6700

In the Blue Mosque in Turkey:

IMG_6716

Even outside of the mosque was BEAUTIFUL!

IMG_6730 IMG_6737

The Grand Pazar and Spice Market were really hectic places

IMG_6765 IMG_6766 IMG_6767

The Bosporus was wonderful to chill on

IMG_6768  IMG_6801 IMG_6806

We walked around Fatih, the conservative neighborhood of Istanbul and ended on top of the wall…IMG_6793

We saw this colorful staircase and couldn’t resist. IMG_6830

Taoism the most classy part of Istanbul

IMG_6833

Besides my wonderful trip to Turkey I have been enjoying a lot of other things.

My amazing two old host sisters Alba and Fjolla went exploring with me one wonderful Saturday:

IMG_6847

My wonderful GLOW Club gave positive quotes, chocolates and roses to women on International Women’s Day

IMG_6265

I went on a camping trip to Lake Matka and got these beautiful views for two days:IMG_6344 IMG_6349

I was able to celebrate Easter with Jake’s wonderful Host family and was able to light a candle for the occasion:IMG_6500

Beautiful Kratovo in the spring:

IMG_6505

The Resource Technology Room lab is now in full use and successful!IMG_6585

Happy summer holidays to everyone! Congrats to all my family and friends for graduating this year!

Keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I continue using my courage in my last 7 months of service.

Parents’ Perspective: Mom and Dad’s visit to Macedonia

In January, Tony and I visited Kelly in Macedonia for about ten days. We hoped to meet the people most important to her: fellow Peace Corp volunteers, Peace Corp staff, her host families, her community friends, and her teacher counterparts. And we did. In the process, we also ended up getting a better understanding of some of the challenges and difficulties she faced.

Macedonia is a small, mountainous country. Kelly told us a joke that Macedonians and Albanians enjoy: Macedonians bombed LA. And they got no response from the US. They tried again, this time bombing NYC. No response. Frustrated, they bombed DC. And still the US ignored them! Finally, Macedonia called the President. “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you responding to our bombs?” The President replied, “We would have retaliated but we couldn’t figure out where Macedonia was.”

In case you don’t know, Macedonia is north of Greece, east of Albania, and west of Bulgaria. It’s a part of what used to be called Yugoslavia. The people of the Balkans have an affinity for Chili peppers that rivals New Mexico. They make a sort of salsa from the peppers called ajvar. I love ajvar!

The two largest populations in the country are the Macedonian (Slavic)-speaking Christian majority, and the Albanian-speaking Moslem minority. There are two languages, two cultures, two alphabets, and two religions. Macedonia is seeking to join the EU, hence the presence of the Peace Corps. Kelly works in the Albanian region, teaching English teachers to be better English teachers.

When we arrived in Tetovo (the city adjacent to Kelly’s village) by bus, we had to heave our suitcases over a four-foot wall of snow. Every curb, every street corner, every sidewalk was icy-dangerous. Here are some pictures of Tetovo. Beautiful mountains, no?

KellyBlogSnowTetovo

KellyBlogTetovofromHotel

The country was cold, about 0 degrees F at night. Central heating was a rarity. Despite sleeping in a hat, long underwear and a scarf, many tears were shed. By me.

KellyBlogPCV

Notice how the Peace Corp volunteers have lunch with their coats on.

We did a lot of walking, so we were never cold during the day. However, the snow did create conflict between parental units and the child. Tony and I, referred to as ‘senior citizens’ in some circles, always lagged behind Kelly, as we picked our way through the ice. Kelly was unhappy with our speed. We were wrecking her schedule because we took twice as long to get anywhere (our goal was always “right by that tree”). Finally I told her that we could have gone to Fiji instead. Kelly then cut us some slack. ☺

KellyblogCOLNIQUE

We spent most of our time in the Albanian regions. I learned about five words in Albanian. One of them was “katastrof.” It means catastrophe. The fact that I know this word suggests an overarching pessimism by Albanian-speakers. Many folks feel they are mistreated by the Macedonian majority. The unemployment rate is certainly high. Men linger all day at men-only coffee shops, smoking and, presumably, talking about their miseries. Some families find employment abroad, working in Turkey or Western Europe. Many houses in Kelly’s village stand empty most of the year, because their owners are abroad. Kelly’s Albanian-speaking younger-generation friends are planning a different future. They are studying to be MDs and dentists, architects and lawyers.

KellyBlogWeddingjewel

Tetovo is an exotic city: Hearing the call to prayer from mosques, shopping at the “Pazar” (open air market), window shopping for gold wedding necklaces, and listening to Albanian music in taxis and kombis. Even the pop music has a distinct Middle Eastern flavor.

Here’s a youtube link to one of Kelly’s favorite Albanian music videos. I love it too!

Kratovo was one of my favorite towns. Jake, Kelly’s boyfriend, also a PCV, lives and works in Kratovo. This ancient, cobble-stoned, Macedonian-speaking village is nestled inside the crater of an old volcano! (Hence the name Kratovo)

(Two pictures of Kratovo)

KellyBlogKRATOVO

Kratovo. Notice the smoke from wood fires for heating, juxtaposed against satellite dishes.

KellyBlogKratovocave

Kelly, Jake and the parental units discovering a cave suitable for hibernation!

Kratovo is famous for Pastramijka, an oval-shaped pizza with bacon and ham on it. Jake took us out to sample this traditional winter dish. The owner of the restaurant also offered us homemade wine, but we declined. Near the end of dinner, the owner poured us a lovely rose drink. What a generous gesture to give us wine on the house! We clinked our glasses together, and said cheers. And we drank. And we gagged. This was no wine. This was cabbage juice!

Jake, always the good sport, actually finished his juice. What happened to the other three half-full glasses? Let’s just say somebody snuck to the back door of the restaurant, and dumped the cabbage juice into the bottom of an old volcano.

A New Way of Life

Last week I moved to the city near my village. I can’t go into details why this happened, but my life has been changing pretty dramatically. Now, I find myself in a upper floor of a house with my own kitchen, bathroom, and room. The area is wonderfully spacious and I have complete control over my diet.

I will hopefully run in the Skopje Half-Marathon in May so I have been trying to get back into shape. I have been waking up early and going on 10 km runs to get myself pumped about running again. The teachers at my elementary school in my village are on strike right now so I find myself with a lot more time than I did this past semester. My days have been filled with running, working out in my room, baking, cooking, and enjoying life in a city.

This morning I have a large glass of homemade orange juice and listening to the call to prayer. The silence in this floor was an adjustment. I have never lived on my own and my outgoing personality is trying to adjust to this so much me time. I have been discovering the joy of reading once again and also just people watching and sipping a cup of warm tea. I feel more relaxed and stress-free than I have in all of my service.

The past month has been a world-wind of events from Christmas to New Years in Vienna to having my parents come visit me in Macedonia to moving. I was able to spend Christmas weekend with Jake and savor the glorious company of a best friend. Then I traveled to Vienna, Austria and celebrated New Years. I rang in the New Year by Waltzing for the first time with thousands of people surrounding me. Sadly that night my wallet was stolen from me, which had a lot of cash in it. After I got over that accident, I enjoyed Vienna with the Christmas Markets, flea markets, sacher tortes (chocolate apricot cake), brats, and delicious Mexican (yesssssss I got Mexican in Vienna, sometimes you get desperate and need real chips and salsa).

My parents met me in Vienna. Seeing their smiling and exhausted faces at the Vienna airport made me gloriously happy. It was amazing to be reunited with my parents. I couldn’t believe it had been a year and five months. I was so in shock to see them that I couldn’t express tears of joy. After a whirlwind of a couple days in Vienna I held their hands (metaphorically, though there was handholding happening throughout their visit) and showed them Macedonia for a whirlwind of 10 days. I was able to show them my two villages, my two schools, my big city, the capital, lake matka (a wonderous lake), kratovo (where Jake lives and the legendary pastramika is devoured), rromanli (my PST (Pre-Service Training) host family), and all my counterparts and host families.

I got a gift I never thought would be possible. I got to see the world, I have lived in now for a year and five months, through the eyes of my parents. This gift I will always appreciate the rest of my life. There are so many things to say about my parents’ trip. The power of controlling the travel plan (I forgot that I wasn’t traveling solo anymore) and the pure curiosity of what my parents thought of absolutely everything. It took me half the visit to adjust to traveling with my parents. The previous summer I had the amazing Sheryl Burt visit me, and she road on as I plowed through Macedonia and Greece. Thank you mom and dad for visiting me. It meant the world to me. I don’t think I would be happy and healthy right at this moment if you weren’t there by my side for those 10 days. You gave me the strength I needed.

I may be an adult now, but I am very dependent on my parents’ emotional support (and some financial boost…we won’t go into those details though). Dropping my parents off at the shuttle to the airport their final day in the country I found myself completely speechless with amazement. My parents were leaving me as soon as they came. I felt completely alone in this world. The urge to cry overcame me and I walked away knowing that my Peace Corps life will continue without my parents with me physically.

The next weekend my parents and I doing our weekly skype date I find myself eternally grateful that they understand my experience to a level where I really do feel like they get it. I love when my mom corrects me and says, “We understand a small amount of what you have endured.” And that small amount means the world to me. Advice: If you are ever in the Peace Corps, have your parents come visit.

As I finish this tall glass of orange juice, I think I am going to take a stroll through the falling snow. The next four months are the most important in my service because these are the months I will be implementing my SPA project, working with my teachers on unit lesson planning, and try to make the most out of my last full semester of school.

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

10799718_10204408025054980_133998489_n

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.