Everyone knows that the Peace Corps is never an easy slice of pie. Now, I have consumed several slices of pie during my year and three months of service. Something I thought would become easier over my service was all the stares. I thought I would get used to people starring at me when I went for a run or when I went for a bike ride. I came to terms with this struggle today. No matter how long I live in Macedonia, the stares, the shock, and the confusion from a female publicly exercising will never get easier. Today I went on a bike ride to my best friend’s house. She is really my second family in this country. Her mother, sister, and every other single relative has been warm and friendly. They accept me for who I am and nothing more. When I go to her house I truly feel like I can drop my guard down and be myself. I have found myself many times waking up from a four our nap on their couch. They relax me in a way that I cannot seem to find anywhere else in the this Albanian culture.
On the journey to and from her house I rode my bicycle. I endured mean, curious, and happy looks from complete strangers. Shouting from little kids and one child proceeded to run with me and shout at me in Albanian, “Why are you biking old woman? Why are you doing that?” Men and women alike starred at me. I was the first 15+ female they have ever seen riding a bike. I cannot help but hope that one day other women will be able to bike to Tetovo and around Tetovo on their bicycles. This journey takes more strength and courage that I ever thought imaginable.
Something I have been struggling in the Peace Corps thus far is people thinking it is the “posh corps” or a place “not very challenging”. This frustrates me beyond belief. I would love to see half those people endure what I have been through at my site and bounce back from those situations and keep moving forward. As a 21st Century volunteer in the balkans my service is very different to those volunteers in Africa and South America and remote islands, but my service has many challenges that they might not or do not have to experience. It has taken me a lot of time, and I am sure it will take a lot more time, but I have been learning and will continue to learn how to maintain my strength and courage to continue serving at the capacity I would like to.
Many things in my service I cannot disclose in a form of a blog or in email, but looking back on my service I have realized that I could really expand my experience into a complex novel full of detail and passion.
Culture shock, something that is experienced and illustrated differently in everyone. Today I experienced a different level of culture shock. I came home from my glorious bike ride, ready to face the rest of the night with enthusiasm when my host mom told me that I look fatter than when I arrived in their house a month ago. This sent me off my rocker. 15 months into service and this somehow touched a really sensitive area for me. Such a rude thing to say in American culture, but something completely appropriate and polite in Albanian culture. I broke down and needed my space immediately. Now, I have to find the strength and courage to accept the cultural differences. It is interesting what bothers you in the moment and what will ride you crazy, but in a completely different scenario does not mean anything to you.
Courage is something I have. Courage is something I need. Courage is something I hope to find more of in the next year.