I haven’t written a blog post in almost a month. I have been trying to process everything going on around me and soak everything up before I hit my first numb phase. Everyone reacts differently to the different phases of culture shock; I just wanted to get as much as the receptive phase as possible.
I run 3-4 times a week. It is a de-stressure, a mind-center, a village integrator, and a bold statement. Women do not exercise in my village. I am probably the first woman they have ever seen running in their entire lives. These mountains are amazing for running. The view is absolutely beautiful and it is a killer, uphill climb. I feel like I am back in Colorado for moments at a time. Then. I turn around. And a dog is behind me. Or a have to stop for a pack of sheep. Or an old man gives me a strange look. Or a woman speaks to me in dialect really, really fast.
While on one run, my assistant director at the school pulled me aside for a moment. I was a little taken off guard. I rarely stop running unless it is for hazardous or dangerous situations. He gave me a look that seemed important. I stopped my watch and faced him. He told me with a stern look on his face, “Kelly, take it slow. The road is going nowhere. Your health is fine. You are beautiful. Make sure you savor the coffee too.” This man in his mix between Albanian and Macedonian gave me the best advice yet. Sometimes the advice you receive come from mysterious people in mysterious ways. I never thought this man would be giving me advice I am trying to remind myself daily.
Indeed. I am trying to remind myself daily that I have the next 23 months. The next 23 months to make an impact, to feel the change and, to understand where I am and who I am.
Optimism is one of my strengths. It is an attribute that has gotten me through a lot in my life. And here, of all places, I am going to need my optimism to get me through some difficult and challenging moments. I try to focus on something positive everyday–whether it be a sunrise, a smile, or a joke.
One morning was a bit rough for me. I was dreading school. I was not feeling good. I took one look outside and I knew things were going to get better.
An odd situation has happen 3 times while I have been in the Peace Corps: almost 4 months. There is a song I used to listen to all the time growing up. It came from the movie Spirit–yes the horse movie. It was a movie that I adored and treasured. The song, “This is Where I Belong” used to inspire me and remind me who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life.
3 times. 3 times this song has been played by someone else when I have been a PCV.
The first time I was in a Doner shop during my first week in the country. I was in Tetovo eating a local sandwich. This song reassured me that I was in the right place doing the right thing. Little did I know the major city for my next two years would be Tetovo.
The second time I heard the song was with my host family in Rromanli. My host sister was jamming out to American music and she just happened to play this song. It hit me. I was 2 months into service and this song was reminding me: I am following my calling and no matter what challenges I will face, they will make me a better person.
The third time I heard this song I was shopping for a new coat in Tetovo, three weeks into my permanent site placement. I was among 2 of my site mates trying on different coats. I needed a coat because my heavy winter coat I left in America. I was surrounded by the love and support of my site mates. I knew that whatever would happen in the next two years, I would have the amazing support from my site mates. One of my site mates lives a 15 minute bus ride away. I love just knowing that she that close to me. It is a comfort and a blessing.
Below is a picture of my site mate Jordan and I before we went to a New Years Eve celebration with my host brother, my host cousin, and his friend. We are fiercely taking on the Albanian culture!
This is my other two-year site mate David. Two weeks ago we went to Kala Tetovo, which was a castle left over from the Ottoman Empire. The view from the castle was breathtaking.
I am where I belong. I am in a village that is embracing me. I am in a host family that wants to have me in their company. I am at a school that needs me. Now, I need to open my eyes and ears and slowly discover how I can impact this community through grassroots.
Many people in the Peace Corps acquire hobbies that are bold, different, and unique. Some read millions of books. Some watch every television show possible. Others, like my friend Heather Newell, discover their love of running–which I already have. I decided, what would be better than learn how to play the guitar. I have a guitar now. I just need to learn how to play it. I’ve learned some chords. It’s coming slowly, but I really want to master the basics because every time I strum a chord. I feel a bit at peace. It is indeed a great stress reliever.
Along with the guitar, running has been a stabilizer for me. As it always has been. This a new territory and it has allowed me to explore my village and the neighboring villages. There is a hot springs in my village. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but it is pretty neat to live right next to a hot springs. Not big enough to swim in, but I can put my feet in it.
The weekend after Christmas a plentiful amount of Peace Corps volunteers and I explored the capital. Everything was in the Christmas/New Years spirit. There was a large tree in the center of the city, next to Alexander the Great Statue. The walkway above was too beautiful not to try to take a picture. This weekend was filled with cheer, dancing, and exploring. One volunteer and I walked around the Skopje castle, got lost, and found ourselves in the Albanian side of the capital. Luckily I speak some Albanian and I was able to find our way out.
This last week I discovered the ‘MERICA in Macedonia! There is an American Corner in Tetovo. It is a building and an organization run by the Embassy in Skopje. The purpose is to education everyone about American culture and the English Language. It was odd walking in and seeing a beautiful map of my homeland. There are a couple hundred books in English and a hundred English movies. I think I will be visiting the American Corner every once in a while. I want to help at the organization, but I want to make sure my major commitment to my school is not neglected.
This last weekend, I went back to my host family in Romanovce/Rromanli. It was a glorious weekend spent with my host family, David’s host family, and volunteers placed in Kumanovo (the major city near my PST village). Yesterday was Macedonian Christmas, the Orthodox Christmas. David’s host family made us a feast for Christmas Eve of rich fish, bread, potato salad, and much more. The happiness shared around the table of food was overwhelming. This family opened their hearts and embraced each of us for who we are. I have lived in Macedonia for 4 months and my Macedonian language skills are dreadful. My Albanian language skills are at a slow march forward. This family knew my Macedonian was slipping away, but didn’t care. I was someone they were willing to spend time with.
I spent time with my PST host family. It was truly like going home for Christmas. It was exactly like I left. They opened up their hearts. I planned my visit perfectly. Family from Austria was there. I got to talk to the family understand a different layer to the amazing Merseli family. My visit consisted of hours and hours of UNO and my host family asking me a hundred questions, excited to see my language skills still improving.
After this weekend in Romanovce my heart was hit. Here I am. A Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia. This family that hosted me for three months treats me as their own daughter. Forever and always. I don’t know if I deserve their undying love, but sometimes we have to drop out guard and let people in, just as they did for us. Seeing my host family again made me realize how important host families are. They knew me what I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing in Albanian. They see me now, knowing intermediate level Albanian. They were the first. I will always regard them as my first family in Macedonia.
I head home with a heavy heart knowing I am going to live a very different life the next two years. I enter my home in Pallchiste and my host mother and father greet me with smiling faces. We had several deep conversations last night about heaven, hell, religions, and Ramadan. Although my language skills have a LONG LONG WAYS TO GO, I can happily say I can communicate with people and be content at the fact I am home.
The next two weeks I am going to enjoy my vacation from school. I am going to spend quality time with my host family, my counterparts, my fellow volunteers, and spend the time prioritizing what I want out of the next two years. Cause after all, the Peace Corps is what you make of it–taking it slow.