When I was young I went to a Girl Scout Camp–Meadow Mountain Ranch in Colorado–every summer. I was not an actual girl scout, but I went to this camp each summer because it felt like home away from home the instant I was there. One of the camp counselors I had when I was really little left for two years in the Peace Corps and came back two summers later. I remember how drastically she changed from the two years before.
When she left for the Peace Corps, she was a high spirited and fun loving counselor. She never stopped having intense energy and a bubbly personality. When I met her after she got back, I felt like I was staring into the eyes of a complete stranger. The way she looked at the world was completely different. I saw pain; I saw knowledge that I had yet to understand. It is amazing how perceptive I was. That I had a sense that this experience she did not need to explain or describe. I would never be able to understand her experience, but I was there to show her the world she left behind and how she could enjoy it again.
I remember asking her how her experience was in some African country I can’t remember. And then I immediately corrected myself and told her that she didn’t need to tell me “Good”. From that moment forward. I knew. Deep. Deep. Deep down inside that the Peace Corps was meant for me. I wanted to understand this counselor and so many other Americans that have had this lifestyle.
I always doubted whether I would have the ability to do the Peace Corps. Yet, here I am. Sitting in my room. In my Albanian Muslim host family’s house. In an Albanian village of 800 houses. 20 minutes by car away from Tetovo. In Macedonia. One of the smallest Balkan Countries (besides Kosovo).
My life has been full of adventures here. There is indeed a never dull moment from school, basketball practice, running, weekend traveling, and constant challenges along the way.
Several weekends ago I went skiing with 16 Peace Corps volunteers up at the Ski resort near my village. It was a delightful and hectic experience. So many volunteers in one small space, but it was amazing how this time was a delight. I got to hit the slopes…with very old skis…and just enjoy speaking English constantly.
Have discovered the golden trail near my village. A bit muddy, but this view!
Then I had a weekend filled with good-byes. My fabulous host brother departed back to Vienna. He had a short month in Macedonia during his “winter break” from school. His intelligent, fun, loving personality will be greatly missed in the family. He is indeed key glue to the family and he makes sure I understand what’s going on all the time, which is exhausting for him, but wonderful for me. I went out clubbing with him and his friend along with another volunteer in Skopje. It was interesting to see the night life there.
This last weekend I went on a grand adventure to Pristina, Kosovo, which is a Albanian country just north of me. It was absolutely amazing to tromp around a country where they speak English and Albanian. It was a glutinous weekend filled with food and glory. I ate large fists full of Mexican food, savory pizza, and adult drinks that I could not find in Macedonia. I don’t remember not grinning ear to ear the entire weekend. The group I was with was really laid back and willing to try anything. We went to a rooftop party on one of the highest points in Kosovo and I couldn’t help but stare out and taste the freedom. I am doing exactly what I am meant to do. Travel the world and live it out thoroughly.
My basketball team is challenging, but worth every effort. These girls. These girls have never played a sport besides volleyball taught in gym class. This is their opportunity to show the entire country women are strong and able to play sports. This secondary project is my baby. It is my prized possession and I think all the fabulous ladies sense that. They have started calling me their queen. Queen Kelly. I in return call them my princesses because after all they are. In spirit of that I have been reading one of my favorite children’s books: The Little Princess. My beautiful team has transitioned into scrimmaging and discussing different strategies with playing basketball. A team from Stip (southern Macedonian city) has challenged us in a game coming up. I don’t know if we are ready, but just letting them experience basketball against a different ethnic team would be mind blowing for them. I can’t pass up that opportunity. Also, one of the pictures is I made my girls do a giggle party. Ya. That’s right! We also do a team cheer after every practice!
I have two English clubs that are currently working on a school newspaper AND deciding what books they want to read for their book clubs. The strength and excitement in these clubs is contagious. It keeps me fueled. Along with a newspaper and reading books, these students have a journal that they write to me every other week. They tell me their thoughts, stories, experiences all in English. Every other week these journals hit home for me. They hit a part of my heart never hit before. I truly feel like these students are my young girls. I would do anything and everything for them. I want them to feel my love and embrace it. They tell me about their struggles at home, in school, and living in this village. I empathize with them and challenge them to think and question. What goes on in these journals is gold. Pure gold. If I could bottle the experience, I feel like the entire world would be floating on clouds, not grounded at the reality.
Four girls on my basketball team got down on their knees, literally, and begged me the past two weeks to start a running club. They have seen me running around the village for the past 3 plus months and they want to join. Knowing I already have quiet a bit on my plate. I decided, I can’t resist their interest. So I will start a boys and girls running club…we’ll see how long this lasts.
Teaching is a struggle, but a successful struggle. Everyday I see improvement in a teacher or a student. There are subtle changes, but if I keep my eyes wide open I can notice them. Hopefully when I walk away in two years they adjustment and change will be slow, that they will continue the hard work they have put in and it will all be sustainable.
I want to thank everyone that has been especially supportive lately. Indeed when it rains, it pours. xoxo.