Ajvar (pepper spread) and Darsm (wedding)

Several months ago when I was looking at my last month and a half I envisioned myself traveling every weekend to enjoy the maximum amount of the country and go to parts I have never been to, but I find myself in my city, Tetovo, every weekend because there are so many things to fill my days. I find myself drawn to the amazing people I have lived and worked with for the past two years. This last weekend I went to another wedding. This wedding was of my best Albanian guy friend’s best friend. His family brought Bonnie (one of my sitemates) and I to the wedding. We had a blast and enjoyed all the glamor and dancing. The groom was smiling ear to ear the whole night. This made me smile from ear to ear as well. His happiness was contagious and there were moments I felt like was I back in America with that smile. The Kasami family was extremely inviting.


This was outside of the wedding before we went in. left to right: Shemsije, Bonnie, me, and Selma. These are both of Emir’s sisters (my best Albanian guy friend). They looked stunning; I know.


Here’s another photo outside of the wedding building. left to right: Emir, me, Shemsije, and Bonnie. They are soo good looking and I guess I clean up well.

This wedding was very similar to the last I went to, but I didn’t go to the three previous days. It was wonderful to see everyone dancing and happy about it. I also loved the American company and spending time with this amazing family.


Here is another photo inside the wedding with drinks and salad. left to right me, Bonnie, the GROOM, Emir’s father, and Emir.

My heart sings every time I am included in one of these amazing celebrations. They are such giving and open people with weddings and I get so see everyone at their celebration’s best. I will miss Albanian weddings and hopefully soon will attend friends’ weddings back home so I can compare American traditions with Albanian traditions. Thank you again Kasami family for bringing us to a beautiful celebration.

In addition to this wedding, this week I helped the Alili family (the one I went with to the four day wedding celebration) make ajvar which is the traditional pepper spread everyone makes here every fall.

Antigona’s mother and aunt were absolutely amazing as always. I came to the house at sharply 9am and helped for several hours before I needed to run to school.

So the process of making ajvar is a two day process. The first step is to roast the peppers over a fire or grill. These peppers below were roasted and now they are in plastic bags to cool down.


These are tomatoes that will be added to the spread. Other additions are eggplant, garlic, zucchini, and spicy peppers.


After the peppers are roasted and cooled-down the peppers are peeled of their skin so that the skin doesn’t get cooked (that tends to ruin the texture). Then the peppers go through a meat grinder, that’s right these peppers are treated as ground beef. Below is beautiful Bonnie using the meat grinder.

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This is a lot of work to crank out the peppers but the texture and consistency is a lot better once they go through this meat grinder.


These are the peppers that have been peeled of their skin and ready to go through the meat grinder.


Here are two action shots of me thanks to the wonderful photographer Bonnie.

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These peppers need to be pushed through the meat grinder, but be careful not to get your fingers stuck. We did about 30 kilos of peppers (when they were purchased and before roasted and peeled) through the meat grinder. We were apparently very efficient.

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After we made this pepper spread dish, we were invited back to the Alili’s house that night to enjoy the fresh ajvar with bread, cheese, and olives. It was wonderful to enjoy this fresh pepper spread with these amazing women.

This week I also visited my first house family’s uncle’s house for dinner. I found myself laughing and content with where my language is at and just enjoying all their company. I will mess the time to have meals with other people on any given day.

My first host brother in Pallchisht just left for Vienna. Him and I went out dancing until 2:30am in the morning. We always have a blast together. He is studying to become an architect. I hope one day he will come with me and design a house for me.

Cheers to the end of my service and to many more amazing moments to come for my last 5 weeks in this country. This will forever be my second home!

Nuse, Darsme, dhe Dhëndër; Bride, Weddings, and Groom


Antigona, me, and Ardelina with makeup and hair for the final Albanian wedding. (Photo Credit Dave Strouse)

This week I was invited to the four-day wedding celebration. I have usually been invited to one or two parts of a wedding, but never all four days. My family through all my transitions here, the Alili family, invited me to experience four days of the wedding. I have always found weddings boring and too loud of music. Of course my first wedding was really exciting because I got to see all the traditional clothing.

All the recently married women (sometimes up to 4 years recently) dress up in their wedding dresses along with three other dresses and the traditional dimija. The dimija is this traditional pant/skirt that is a large amount of fabric collected at the waist and a long sleeve top that is embroider with gold thread. These brides/nuses dance around in a circle with these outfits in super high heels and lots of gold around their neck. The more gold a bride has the more wealthy the family she is marrying into is. It is a sign of status when these brides wear their expensive outfits and gold.

These past couple of days at the wedding have been the best. I couldn’t understand why the others weren’t as fun. Then, I realized, everyone at this wedding is smiling and laughing and truly enjoying themselves. If I ever get married and I decide to have a wedding I hope that everyone will be celebrating with laugher like at this wedding.

Antigona and Ardelina, the two sisters that took me in as their own sisters for the second I met them, created a safe and fun environment for me. The second I stepped into the dancing circle they grab my hand and smile. One of my goals in the Peace Corps was to make just two or three real friends. Make friends that I thought would last me the rest of my life. Little did I know that these two young ladies are more than friends, they are my sisters. Right now tears are falling down my face because I am scared to say goodbye to this precious family. Their mother calls me her daughter and defends me with passion. Their aunt teachers at my school and is the biggest advocate of any ideas I have. What more could you ever want? I knew the Peace Corps would be hard, but little did I know that honestly the hardest thing will be saying goodbye to this amazing family.

Anyways, back to the wedding, the first day of the wedding celebration is just with the groom’s family. This is the day that the groom’s family gathers all the clothing for the bride. This can vary from three dresses to eight dress…I know eight dresses for one night pretty intense. This night was filled with baklava, an amazing sweet layered dessert with walnuts and honey, loud music and lots of dancing. Something that I thought was really unique about this first night was half way through the night the loud music stopped and then the women got out traditional tambourines and sang traditional Albanian songs and danced. This was really enjoyable because I felt like I went back a hundred years. I was dancing to live music with the singers surrounding me. I am currently sick with a little scratchy voice and thus unable to produce any singing, but I clapped along and enjoyed the company.

While this was going on girls and women would take turns being in the middle of the circle and showing off their traditional dance moves. This is not an american wedding so keep in mind the traditional dance moves were very similar to some traditional Indian moves with the hands moving as graceful swans. My wonderful friend Antigona pulled me into the center. I was only used to doing the traditional dancing while holding hands with other people. So this was the first time doing with without the hand guide and looking at other people’s feet to get on beat. Needless to say, I was an epic fail on my first attempt. But, later in the night I was pulled into the center again and apparently rocked it. There was one point were some old women were standing and clapping around the outside just enjoying my terrible interpretation of the Albanian traditional dancing. I was later pulled into a room where all the outfits were being collected. There were outfits worth thousands of euros and gold necklaces worth even more than that. Everyone has their priorities and goodness did Albanian have their priority set on weddings and the pure enchantment with the whole ritual.

The Alili family is unique because part of her family is Macedonian/Bosnian Muslim where the other part is Albanian. So there was several family member at the wedding that didn’t speak Albanian. I struggled with my Macedonian while I enjoyed the night with them. One of the sister’s Aunts joined the dancing circle during the night next to me and taught me a Bosnian version of the dance. I later found out she never dances because she has some serious knee problems, but she took the time to show me her culture and her traditional dance. This is what I am going to miss. These kind individuals excited to show me their world and I try to embrace whatever comes my way. So by the end of the first night I was full of juice, baklava and my feet hurt from so much dancing. Luckily I didn’t wear heels (ya…I don’t think that ever is going to happen) and I can’t even imagine how those poor brides/nuses feel with their poor feet dancing all night in high heels. There were three nuses at this first day of the wedding. They were all dressed in use outfits for this occasion.

The second day of the wedding started in the evening with juices and sodas. Then everyone started dancing and singing songs about each member of the family that was going to get married. The mother, the mother-in-law, the father, the father-in-law, the sisters, the brothers…okay you get the point.  I was amazed at how many young women knew these songs. They were like girl scout songs of the culture, engraved in the young girls’ minds for when they would have to carryon the traditions.

Then, there was a long time spent putting every woman, lady, and child in a car. I found this comical because in the states this would have already been planned out beforehand with charts and numbers. Alas, this is Macedonia. Finally we were in the cars and on our way to a village. This village had a family member of the groom in it. On the way to the village all the cars filled with women ready to dance into the night beeped and honked down the street with streamers decorating each car. Everyone in Tetovo (the city I live in) now knows that there is a wedding.

Once we arrived at the house we stayed in the front yard and danced for a long time. We sang the traditional songs that were sung at the groom’s house and were given by the hosts soda, water, and a piece of candy. Then, the most important thing, we were given several chickens. No, these were not live chickens. These were killed, plucked, and feathered chickens that had been roasted steaming hot and ready to eat.

In my head I was hoping we would just go home after that. We had some wonderful chicken to feast on and goodness what I hungry.  Jo, jo, jo (no, no, no) that would be too simple. We ended up going to seven more houses and singing and dancing. I learned when we went through all these different houses that they were literally asking for chickens from the hosts. This day is apparently called the chicken calling day. These houses were not next to each other either. They were at least 15 minute ride away from each other.

By the time the night was finished I was exhausted but lustfully thinking about all these roasted chickens we got from the families. Then, we returned to the groom’s house and THEN proceeded to go around to all the neighbor’s houses asking for chickens. Finally, at 2am in the morning we all sat down and enjoyed the fruit of our labor. It was the halloween of weddings. There were juices, sodas, chocolates, peanuts, cookies, chicken, rice, and lots of bread. I ate smiling and laughing at this odd but fun tradition. I fell asleep so quickly that night with chicken nestled in my stomach.

The third day of the wedding is where the groom’s family (who I was with) went to the brides family and danced to celebrate her coming their home.  So the bride lived up in a very high village above some other villages. It was an hour drive on some rough mountain roads. There were several cars along the way that had to stop for some poor women who got carsickness. Luckily it was an extremely hot day in Tetovo, 41 Celcius, over 100 F and so when we went into the mountains it was instant gratification for the cooler temperatures. A month before this wedding I went on a hike and it ended in this village, Novi Selo (in Macedonian means new village). I thought is was cool I got to see this village from a hiker’s perspective and from a local wedding perspective.


Celebrations on the third day of the wedding before they left for the village: at the groom’s house.

I am no expert on weddings, but oh, my, goodness this wedding at the brides house was intense! There were about 30 brides there. I have never seen so many brides in one place. The groom’s family speculates that the whole village was invited to the wedding. When I danced in the big circle to celebrate this young woman’s marriage with the man (that was not present, he is not allowed to come until the next day), I couldn’t help but realize how I have integrated over the past two years. Two years ago I would have just sat in the grass and watched the dancing taking place because I wouldn’t know how to dance or how to join the dancing. Now, I am confident and I “sort of” blend in. People didn’t know I am an American until they talked to me for a while and my accent stood out.


This is in Novi Selo village and the three women in pink are in the traditional dimija outfits. The woman in white is another nuse (recently married bride), but this is not her wedding.


Adorable Antigona dancing in the wedding in the village. Love her <3

We waited a good amount of time before the bride joined. She was in her house changing. She was in a red dress; this is the traditional color the day before the big wedding, which is the fourth day.  Something else that’s interesting in about eight other people were wearing red. It isn’t a taboo to wear the same color as the bride. I wore a white dress to this part of the wedding because it is appropriate in this culture. This bride was crying. She had tears running down her cheeks and wiping the expensive and extensive makeup that was on her face. I asked someone why she was crying so much. She was crying because she is leaving her family and having to live in a new family. She is going to have to leave her mountain village that she calls home for the city life. She is also going to have to live with several people for the first that she probably just knows from causal meetings.


The bride in red for the third day of the wedding celebrations.

I never envisioned a wedding that would have tears. Weddings seem to me to be a joyous occasion. Something to celebrate life, love, and future. Then again, in the United States when you get married you know you will easily be able to see your family again. In this culture when you want to see your family again you have to ask for your husband’s permission. Now, this is very traditional, there are families where the bride is free to do what she likes.

Then the bride changed into another dress. She changed into a queen-like green dress. She seemed to be happier, or just exhausted from the heels, but she wasn’t crying anymore. Another interesting thing is she never really looked up. Her eyes were always focused on the grass. Apparently good brides don’t make eye contact with anyone. Can you imagine? This is your day but you are not allowed to make eye contact?


This is the formal henna for the bride. She is given henna the day before the big wedding brought by the groom’s family.

She gave all the groom’s family a gift of henna. Heck yes! I got a little baggie full of powdered henna. I going to have a henna tattoo party with my girls at my school. We said our farewells and made the long mountain road journey back to Tetovo. I can’t wait to see what she looks like in a white wedding dress and the traditional dimjia. Te shofim, We will see!

The last day of the wedding started early in the morning with music cranked up and people dancing to celebrate. I did not go to this celebration because I had school. After I finished school I went over to Antigona’s and Ardelina’s work place and we walked over to a hair and make up place together.  This is the first time in my life I got hair and makeup done professionally.

Okay, once when I was in second grade (or third grade I can’t remember) for my birthday my mom  got a lady to come to my house and she did princess hair and makeup. I remember having a blast.


Me before the makeup and hair.

Anyways, so this was the first official time as an adult. As many of you know, I am not a makeup oriented person. This week for the wedding I put on mascara and some lip gloss, which was extravagant for me! Well this big day of the wedding I got all decked out. First was my hair. I wanted it up because it is always too hot at these events so I didn’t need to sweat more than I already do. They curled my hair and then the professional hairdresser teased my hair. I felt like a lion.


With my hair being teased.


Ardelina and I with our makeup and hair…pretty intense.

Then she put my hair in a very beautiful design. I never felt so glamorous or pretty with my hair. I feel like I go all out when I french braid my hair, so this was very special! Then came the makeup. She put on loads and loads of makeup. It was really intense…I felt like I was a movie star from the 60s or 70s. I had to admit she did a really good job on my lips and my eyes did really pop out. I got a really big compliment because she didn’t need to use fake eyelashes on me. Woot! ;)


My hair looked amazing!

Antigona and Ardelina got their hair and makeup done too. They both looked absolutely beautiful, but I think they look drop dead amazing without makeup on.

Anyways, we rushed to their house so they could throw on their dresses and then bust a move over to the wedding venue. The interesting thing about this wedding venue is the music teacher at my school, her father owns the wedding restaurant. So when we got to the wedding venue I got oodles of stares and talking. Many people said I looked like a princess. The sad thing was many young girls told me I looked prettier with makeup than without makeup. It is a shame that some of the women in the culture think this is true. I think everyone looks better without makeup on. They may look different, but they look more pure and natural that way.


Ardelina and I at the wedding. Her hair ins naturally curly. :)

So because I was attending the wedding with the groom’s family I ended up dancing almost the whole night. My feet and legs were exhausted the next day. I did enjoy doing the traditional dancing because I knew most of the groom’s family now because I got to know them throughout that week or I knew them before if they were related to Linda and Gona’s (their nicknames) family.


Antigona and I at the wedding. She looked like the beauty in Beauty in the Beast.

After an hour or two of dancing the bride came. She had a glamorous white dress on and everyone had their eyes glued to her.


The bride and groom at the final wedding day.

This wedding was different from the traditional weddings in the villages in that nobody was wearing dimjia (traditional bride outfit) and half the night they played Albanian and Pop music.


The dance floor and everyone doing the traditional dance called the valle.

There were a couple of slow dances in there where I had a blast playing around with some of the women. Thank you college ballroom dancing class!


Ardelina and I doing a slow-dance song together.

I also enjoyed dancing to the pop music because it made me think I was at an American wedding.

These four days of wedding preparation and celebration were by far my favorite wedding experiences in Macedonia. I want to thank the Alili family for including me and making me feel a part of everything! Faleminderit Shume!


Here I am during the final wedding night. I can’t even recognize myself.

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.

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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 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:


Here is my travel buddy and I:


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!


Me with the beautiful rock formations hiking.


Early sunrise, worth it for the hot air balloon:

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Flying in the sky seemed like a dream!

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In the Blue Mosque in Turkey:


Even outside of the mosque was BEAUTIFUL!

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The Grand Pazar and Spice Market were really hectic places

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The Bosporus was wonderful to chill on

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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


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:


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


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:


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?



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.


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. ☺


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.


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)


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


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.