I am never going to Wipe my Bottom the Same Way (don’t worry the post is appropriate)

I promise I am not going to go into grave detail about how I wipe my bottom. I woke up this morning realizing that there are certain things that are special and unique to me that will never be the same. I won’t use the restroom in the same way. I will always think about whether I need to throw the toilet paper into the trashcan or not. It has become habit. Just like I will always think about the culture with whom I am speaking to in a different way than I did before.

I remember reading “The Cave and the Light” in high school and not understanding it fully. For those of you that have read this book by Arthur L. Herman, I find myself watching people starring at the flame from inside the cave on many occasions. Several times I have tried to throw them out into the world that I see and realize that lifestyle and experience is not right for them. Who knew that I would be referencing a book in my head 8 years later.

In these past two weeks I have been reunited with my wonder and amazing family. I found myself really struggling to be around them because my view on a lot of things has changed dramatically and just like I will never wipe my bottom the same; I will never look at the world in the same way as I did before.

I want to highlight my family and thank them for all the support they have given me in the past three years through applying the Peace Corps to getting a placement to the 27 months in the field and slowly adjusting back. Each one of my family members has played in important role. I got them Peace Corps shirts for Christmas and they were kind enough to “sport” the shirts in a family photo.

Thank you my wonderful brother for finding silly sayings and things to tease me about. Although I may act annoyed, I really enjoy the time and creativity you take to come up with your teasing. I love you so much and am so amazed (not surprised) at the young man you have become. I can’t wait to see you run this spring! I also can’t wait to see how a genius of languages and culture will use his degree to better humanity (anthropology degree)! Also he is an amazing DI runner at his school. Check him out: http://www.davidsonwildcats.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=4639&path=mtrack

Thank you my amazing sister for giving me those hugs and just being with me and watching star wars with me and playing card games with me. My sister hosted me right before I left for the Peace Corps. I was a nervous wreck and I just remember being calmed because she was right there by my side. I love to brag about my sister the fabulous science writer who has officially graduated with her PhD. Ya, I know, she is the smartest sister EVER. Here’s one of her articles: https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/news_releases/tannenbaum_aps/#.Vok2Hlw1fzI

Thank you mom. I know I haven’t been the easiest to be around at times and I have had a difficult time communicating my emotions, but I am so grateful for everything you have done. You are know as the kick butt writer that sends her daughter many, many care packages in the Peace Corps. I would not be here today if it weren’t. I know I don’t say thank you enough. I am sorry I didn’t when you gave me your car, drove me down to Las Vegas, and spent a week with me riding the roller coaster I endured with me. Thank you will never be enough in my mind, but I am ever so grateful for your love and care. My pantries are stocked yet again from the amazing trip to a Wholesale store, which my mom suggested and facilitated. Thank you for helping me by listening to me process everything, and skyping me, AND BEING the transition QUEEN!

Last but not least, my daddy. Daddy everything you do for me is out of so much love and care I am about to cry from happiness that you are my father. From getting suck in the carwash with me to being super patient about where my wiper fluid is to helping me learn how to put on tire chains. Thank you. I know I never say thank you enough, but I love you so much and am ever so grateful for the the patience and love you bestow on me daily. Thank you for always just being a phone call away no matter the time or where you are. I am so glad we have a special bond of being “homies”. Dad thank you.

So, another thing I am grateful for is having a RPCV at my side for the next week and a half. Yesterday my amazing friend Emily drove with me from Denver to Las Vegas. This 12 hour drive went by so fast because she was there with me. She helped me process what I was going through because she is going through a lot of the same things. Emily I can’t describe how grateful I am to have you here on this trip with me.

Tomorrow I start school again and I think I am ready. The past two weeks have been very emotional coming home, seeing people after many years, and facing the new me where I don’t have many distractions of work to do at my side.

Happy New Year and thank you for reading this heartfelt blog. <3

 

 

 

 

Thankful (falënderues) and Grateful (mirënjohës)

This Thanksgiving I find myself laying next to the fire and drinking hot chocolate as it is snowing thick, fluffy snow. This morning I woke up early to find snow on the ground. I got ready and enjoyed my tea while watching the snow fall from the sky. This is my first snowfall in America since…well…a long time.

I had a wonderful friend from high school pick me up and I ran a 4 mile fun run with her and her sister. It was amazing to run with many other people that share the joys of running just like me. I heard the national anthem for the first time since I swore in to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. As snow was falling on my face and I was looking all around me, I thought I was in some kind of dream. Here I was in the downtown of my hometown running a race with two great friends from high school.

Sometimes I am super prepared for things and sometimes I am underprepared beyond belief. I remembered to bring my yaktraks to Colorado for the week. I ran in them this morning and was grateful to avoid slipping and sliding too much. The crisp air and everyone cheering me on was delightful.

I am so thankful to be surrounded by the love of my parents, friends, brother, sister, and loved ones as I adjust back into the world of the United States.

Right now the bird is in the oven and all the other amazing side dishes are being prepared or waiting until the bird is ready. The warmth of the fire by my side and the complete calmness I find within.

As I venture into the future I want to reflect on several things.

First, I am so grateful that I have a warm place to live and wonderful food I can celebrate with. Refugees around the world don’t have access to the necessities. Take a look at one of the major country’s refugee population’s home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKP3_dqwuIQ&feature=youtu.be

It is important to look at where you are at and reflect on where other people are at in the world. My home country and the other neighboring countries are impacted greatly by the people seeking asylum. Here’s an article about that region: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e48d766.html

Second of all, I am ever so grateful for everyone that has supported me in my last two years of service and has held my hand as I have tried to adjust back.

List of things I am grateful for:

  1. Family
  2. Seeing my brother and sister again for Christmas!
  3. Friends
  4. Food (ha the three Fs)
  5. Running outside and not having to worry about stray dogs
  6. Blending in (I do miss standing out oddly though)
  7. Central Heating
  8. Allowed in coffee shops anywhere
  9. Baking with all the American ingredients
  10. Cooking in America
  11. New friends I am making in Las Vegas
  12. Friends I have been able to see and ones I will be able to see soon
  13. Loving Life
  14. The beauty of Colorado
  15. Learning how to live on my own
  16. I could keep going…but I am going to just say I am grateful for my past and present well-being!

Happy Thanksgiving to anyone far away from home and to anyone very close to home! Gezuar! Cheers!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving here is a great read on being grateful this thanksgiving:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/opinion/sunday/choose-to-be-grateful-it-will-make-you-happier.html?_r=0

 

 

 

 

 

Reverse Culture Shock Part 2

The odd part about coming “home” is processing what home really is. Thursday an amazing friend picked me up at the airport and then took me to my favorite burrito joint. Anyone from Fort Collins is familiar with the amazing Big City Burrito. While sitting there and enjoy the amazing burrito I dreamed about for two whole years, I found myself tense up. I was anxious, worried, and scared. Why were these feeling going through my head? I was scared of coming back to my home and realizing how much I have changed, but my surroundings haven’t. Granted, if you leave a place for over two years, you are going to find some differences, but wow my hometown was very similar. I felt like a white mist took over my vision and I had to try everything to stay focused. I tend to ramble when I am uncomfortable. It is a nasty habit, I know.

Here I am in my beloved hometown and I was anxious to even go exploring in my favorite part of it. I enjoyed good company for the rest of the day and was brought home. It felt great stepping into my parent’s house once again, knowing I will have a couple more days to process and reflect on what I am experience.

The rest of the night I found myself buzzing with words. I was doubting myself. I was questioning myself. I was also overstimulated. My room has been neglected for quiet some time. I tended to each college summer cover the walls with another layer of excitement and artistic experimentation. With each layer, came beauty and love, but also came another layer of expression very different from the previous one.

I didn’t enjoy myself in my room. I was upset at how cover my walls were. So, the next day when I woke up I immediately took down every layer from my walls. At this point in my reverse culture shock I needed an environment that was free from expression. I was experience so much expression as it was. I didn’t need expression and emotion smacking me in the face every time I walked into my room.

Yesterday I got to celebrate my mom’s birthday. She turned one year younger. I know, I was surprised too, but apparently chemists can figure out how to reverse the ticking clock. It was great to enjoy the day with both my amazing parents. I take them for granted far too often. I am lucky that I have such wonderful and supportive parents. I would have not been able to transition from the Peace Corps into a teaching job in Las Vegas without them. They made my transition far less painful than it would have been on my own. (I imagine I would have ended up in a seedy motel room crying and questioning why I made such a bold move.)

After my mom’s birthday I pulled up my sleeves, literally it was hot in my room (imagine that Macedonians and Albanians, it was snowing outside and HOT in my room) and I came to terms with my hoarding problems. I got rid of A LOT OF STUFF. Some of my possessions that I still hold dearly I couldn’t convince myself to keep them. My parents and I didn’t know at a young age that I would be so into traveling, but I think a clear sign when I was little was asking for a world globe. I touched this cherished globe for the first time in two years and realized that several of the countries I visited during my service were not on the globe. How could I possess something that isn’t accurate? I hope a child somewhere else will cherish this globe. I am tempted to sharpie in the countries the globe is missing.

It was a refreshing feeling after many hours of going through all my stuff and finishing. Rewarding myself for the hard labor and focus I decided to adventure out into that hometown world that created a misty and blurry feeling just two days before.

I discovered H&M while I was abroad and I loved the quality, style, and cheap prices. I decided, since my town just got one, I should check out this store state-side. I am also in high need of clothing. I have two pairs of pants, which is just not going to cut it this winter at a school. I ended up getting a pair of pants and running into my favorite chocolate place, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Lately I find myself, treating myself far to often. I say, hey I haven’t had this in two years, why not? Hopefully this doesn’t turn into a habit.

Now the part of the day that broke the camel’s back was going to the brand-new Trader Joe’s in my hometown. I thought this would be a perfect pit-stop. I could savor all the things I have missed and be around like-minded Americas.  I stepped into this store and was immediately overwhelmed. I tunnel-visioned and just found one thing I liked. I took that item off the shelf and walked to the checkout counter. The poor check-out clerk saw tearing coming from my eyes and was confused. He thought I was crying because I couldn’t afford the ginger beer (non-alcohol) that I was going to buy. Yet, that is not what it was at all. I was crying from all the choice and selection.

A wise friend recently told me that for many people and places limited choice and selection makes for happier people. I think right now that’s me. I have become the most indecisive person ever and I cried at Trader Joe’s.

Luckily now I am at home with my amazing parents savoring their company and starring at the mountains anxious to explore my biggest love in Colorado.

Thank you everyone that has reached out to me and sent encouraging words. It is bizarre to find your home more scary, overstimulating, and overwhelming than where you lived for two years.

I also find it harder to process when I am in my hometown than in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a new adventure whereas Colorado in the last 6 years has been a transition place.

 

Goodbyes, Farewells, Hellos, and Reverse Culture Shock

The past couple of weeks have been an emotionally numbing process. It all started with my school’s “goodbye party”. They threw me a goodbye party about a two weeks before I was leaving the country and a week before I was leaving the school. One of my favorite classes organized the party and actually did a bake sale fundraiser for the entire party. They decorated the teacher’s lounge and had delicious bread and cheese to go with the the festivities. Two of the star English students gave a speech in Albanian and English about me. I didn’t cry because I was already too numb at that point.

The eighth grade students who arranged the celebration:

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The two students that gave a speech and the decorations:

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I was absolutely shocked at the surprise and kindness of everyone. They truly made me feel special and appreciated that day!

Then, one of my counterparts brought out a cake they got for me. I have always been called a “Queen” at my school and here they brought me a crown and everything. It was a cake indeed fit for a queen! I thought the cake was worthy of a wedding.

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Here’s a photo of this eighth grade class and I at the celebration:

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Here’s a photo of all the teachers that came to my surprise good-bye party:

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There were several students that got emotional. I was really sad how numb I was. I couldn’t show my emotions. This detachment was a big part of the end of my service.

During my last week I went to the satellite school, Kallnik and they threw me a birthday party.  I ate a cake with Jake’s and my face on it. It felt odd eating myself but it was so thoughtful!

A cake with myself on it:

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During that one week in Kallnik I was able to, with the help of the geography teacher, the assistant director, and four students create a world map on the wall of the school. These are the pictures with the world in process throughout the week. It took 9 hours to create with all of their help.

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Saying goodbye to all of the amazing people in Macedonia was harder than saying goodbyes in high school and college combined. These amazing people have touched my heart in such a special and rare way. I hope to see many of them in the future, but it is so hard to predict where I will find myself in the years to come.

i was also surrounded with love by so many peace corps volunteers and friends recently with my birthday. Jake and Bonnie threw me a surprise karaoke party the weekend before I flight back and on my birthday I was able to spend my birthday with so many amazing Peace Corps Volunteers.

This last Thursday I hopped on a plane back to the United States. I was so drained and numb. I had a travel partner, Tara, which made the journey so much more enjoyable. Her and I got delicious pretzels and brats in Munich for a layover and kept each other’s company on the long flight to Phili. Finally, 24 hours later I was in my bed in my home in Fort Collins Colorado.

Since then I have packed up a lot of my belongings and have driven through Utah on my way to Las Vegas for my job. Today I am going to move into my brand-new apartment and tomorrow I will starting at my elementary school in Las Vegas as a first grade teacher.

Reverse Culture Shock:

Positives:

  1. Everyone is so nice here. The waiters are overwhelmingly on top of it; I am honestly I am going to tip too much all the time because I am easily impressed after Macedonia’s terrible service at restaurants.
  2. Everyone is super polite and friendly. I made friends on my flight to Denver from Phili. This older couple wanted to hear all about my service and I was just in shock how genuine they were. Also people say “sorry” and “thank you” ALL THE TIME. I am overwhelmed with these phrases and I forgot what to say in response.
  3. The hearty food is AMAZING. The bacon, the steak, the wonderful gushers and huge assortment of candy is heaven.
  4. I am able  to see my parents. I love having them right by my side right now, i know they are just a phone call away instead of a message, wait and hour (if they are awake) skype.
  5. I will be able to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family for the first time in over 2 years.

Negatives:

  1. The fruits and veggies in the United States thus far suck. Serious, everything has no flavor. I am going to have to find a farmer’s market pronto in Vegas.
  2. The bread here is also not good. I will need to find fancy bread for a while.
  3. There is too much going on. I feel overwhelmed with my sensors when I walk into a grocery store or even a gas station right now. How come there are 10 brands of milk? One of my PCV friends, Sara told me when she came back for two weeks she was so overwhelmed in the grocery store she walked in and grabbed something off the shelf and then ran out. I feel the exact same way.
  4. Everything is so gosh darn expensive. Seriously, why?????
  5. I am not allowed to stare at people the same way. I still find myself starring…I was at the Village Inn last night (best bacon and hash browns thus far) and I kept starring at a couple. I have to watch out because I am turning into a creeper.

Neutral:

  1. I find myself speaking Albanian and Macedonian at inappropriate times. Kelly, nobody knows those languages here (okay some do, but not many).
  2. There is a shaking of the index finger that locals do and I find myself doing. It’s rude to do in the states, but perfectly natural in Macedonia.
  3. My mother thinks this is a bad habit I have picked up, but I keep throwing toilet paper in the trash cans. Can the plumbing really handle toilet paper in America? Can it?
  4. You have to drive everywhere…can’t I just walk to the Pazar now?

Well, the reverse culture shock to be continued until next time…See ya later!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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With my hair being teased.

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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! ;)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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