In the past month and a half, I have managed to travel to Italy, Albania, Greece, be a counselor at GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp, run a summer camp in my village, and have my dear friend Sheryl Burt visit me. I thought my summer would be a long three months…little did I know it is officially over tomorrow with school starting.
Sheryl Burt, one of my bests from college and the ONE AND ONLY OTHER Early Childhood Education major from Hendrix College, came to visit me at my site. I filled our days with seeing different parts of Macedonia, visiting my village and the city next to mine, and a glorious trip to Greece. When Sheryl was here it opened up my eyes to the fact that my perspective on everything has changed a lot. It was wonderful to get Sheryl’s new perspective on everything and realize how pessimistic I have gotten about some things. I also realize how I have turned off and ignored some aspects that annoyed me previously.
One aspect that Sheryl found overwhelming was the language barrier she was surrounded by in my village. I found this half funny and half my life all the time. I wasn’t able to translate for her all the time. It was also a good eye opening experience for her to see what I experienced everyday for my first three months and still today in Macedonian situations. Not understanding whats going on all the time is part of my service. I am happy that Sheryl understands this struggle and can empathize with me now about it.
Having my host family and friends meet her was delightful. They got to see a huge part of my life and someone that has been super supportive throughout the process. After the Macedonia experience we rushed down to Greece to get some sun, greek food, and relaxation. We ended up doing a lot of walking and exploring. I felt like I was back in America during that vacation because I had access to Starbucks, H&M, and feta.
The oddest part of this trip was I ran into two different groups of Albanians on different accounts. I feel like the rest of my life I will be connected to this ethnic group. Sheryl and I were walking down the boardwalk next to sea and I decided to stop a group of older men, about the same age as my parents. They took a photo of Sheryl and I together. Then I noticed one of the men speaking in Albanian…so I boldly asked where he was from in Albanian. Then we had a side conversation for a bit in Albanian. It turned out he was from a village near Tetovo as well. Such a small world.
After this encounter I felt sky high with my luck and Albanian language skills. It also may have been the amazing salads, pork, and greek greek greek food. The day Sheryl and I went to the beach we ran into another group of Albanians. We took a ferry to some beaches and on the ferry sitting across from us there were some Albanians speaking Albanian. Of course I interjected and talked to them for a bit. They were from Diber, which is a mountain town in-between Gostivar and Struga. I don’t know what Sheryl thought of the constant interaction with Albanians, but I thought it was hilarious.
After Sheryl left me for Zurich I hurriedly prepared for Camp GLOW. Camp GLOW is one of the best and hardest experiences I have had thus far in my Peace Corps service. You take 80 girls from all over the country with different religions, ethnicities, and values and put them in the same school for 7 days together. The results are overwhelming and powerful. I found myself in tears of joy and the end of the camp. I was a counselor with host country national and we had a counselor in training…and 10 amazing young ladies in our group. We went through the stages of forming a group roughly and were performing like professionals by the end of the week. My group had a huge diversity of backgrounds, ethnicities, and perspectives on life. They learned to be a healthy family and support each other through all the challenging and thought provoking classes. I had a lot of sleepless nights pondering on how to support my group and how to approach different aspects. It was amazing to witness some young women lead with such strength. I don’t know if I can describe the week in a way to give it justice other than it was one of the most powerful experiences I have been apart of thus far in my Peace Corps service. Having everything in English gave a safe zone for all the girls.
In addition two of my wonderful girls from my village attended the camp. The grew and matured throughout the week. I can proudly say they are confident and amazing young women now. I can’t wait to be there to support them this year in developing their leadership goals. My Peace Corps service has been supported and enhanced through this camp. Thank you Camp GLOW Macedonia!
After the whirlwind of GLOW Camp I went on a wonderful vacation to Venice, Italy. Luckily there is this thing called Wizzair. You can find extremely cheap plane tickets. So I was able to escape and explore the city I have dreamed of visiting since I read The Book Thief when I was little. Here I was in my dream land of how I pictured it. I realized how thoroughly lucky I was. Here I am traveling the world tasting, smelling, and feeling the vibrant world around me. My week in Italy consisted of eating pizza, drinking spritzer, eating pasta, eating mozzarella, and exploring every nook and cranny of Venice (and the neighboring islands).
After Italy, I had a couple of days to decompress and then I left for a four day adventure in Albania with the “bros” and a bunch of other volunteers. I enjoyed fresh seafood, seaside comforts, a cold springs-syri i kilter-and exploring an ancient city left by the Romans. Albania is an ideal traveling location for me because I speak the language, I love the sea, and I love swimming. I plan on going back there again, but this time exploring the outdoor wilderness in northern Albania.
Then, I finished off my summer with a summer camp in my village. There were some complications because the people that originally were going to host the three boy volunteers helping at the camp couldn’t host the volunteers anymore. My amazing director ended up paying for the boy volunteers to stay in a hotel in Tetovo for the week. The four half day camp at my school was very chaotic but the students walked out of the school each day grinning and enjoying the activities thoroughly. I think my school was ab it confused all week because it was the week before school started, but in the end they realized how much the camp benefited the students and the community at large. The community enjoyed it so much that they bought our last lunch as volunteers. Some communities show different ways to say thank you. I think I will be hearing about this camp for weeks to come. A huge shout out to Aaron, Beverly, Jake, Nick, David, Jordan, Alanna for coming all the way to my village and helping me with the camp. I would not have been able to do this camp without your help, patience, and guidance. Flm shume!
As this summer ended quickly and abruptly I find myself realizing that I have almost done an entire year of service as a volunteer. New volunteers are coming in two weeks exactly and I have the honor to welcome them into the country and extend a hand for support for the rest of their service. I find myself writing down goals and hoping to accomplish a lot for the rest of my service. I have one year and three months to impact my community as much as I can. Send me luck, love, and support.
Thank you everyone that has been there for me this past year. I have appreciated every moment of support and faith that I have it in me to serve here. A determined volunteer is ready for another year of service!