It feels like I left for the Peace Corps three months ago, but in reality it has been three weeks. If I had to chose three words to describe my journey this far, they would be community, challenges, and contentment.
I left Phoenix for Philadelphia on May 31st and spent two and a half days getting introduced to the global Peace Corps (PC) community and the other 36 volunteers that I will be with for the next 27 months. The other volunteers are among the most thoughtful and passionate people I have ever met. We have grown into one big community and support system for each other.
One of our first big challenges was checking in at the airport in Philadelphia. The Peace Corps two-person welcoming/training team put us on the bus for the airport with a bag full of passports and a list of phone numbers to call based on different situations, like someone deciding to leave PC and not go to Kosovo or if our connecting flight was canceled. What we did not anticipate was getting to the airport and having our carry-on luggage weighed. It was a great team building exercise to figure out how to redistribute all the weight between each others bags so we only had 120-ish pounds per person of luggage. There are a couple pictures in the video at the end that show the scale of the issue 😉 We made it through with humor and interdependence though. I hope those are two traits we can keep throughout our service.
Beyond my PC community, I have been welcomed by the Kosova community and my host family. Overall, I find Kosovars to be among the friendliest and most welcoming people I have ever met. From taxi cab drivers to restaurant staff to the PC host country staff, everyone is so considerate and often thanks us for coming to Kosova’s aid during the 1999 conflict. My host family is lovely and have been so welcoming. I think it is incredibly kind and takes very special people to invite someone to live in your home for three months and to care for them like family. I am so much more comfortable here than I thought I would be.
One of the challenges that I did not anticipate was getting strep throat in my second week. I woke up on Monday the 12th in the early morning with my throat burning and swollen. Luckily, we had just had a session on what to do if we needed medical attention, so I sent I email to the Peace Corps doctor for our country and took some pain pills. First thing in the morning, I called the doctor and he arranged for me to be driven to his office, which is two hours away in Skopje, Macedonia. I wish I could say I enjoyed the trip but I had a fever for most of the drive there and really only saw the doctor’s office. I came back home, slept for two days and recovered. While I was sick, I felt the love and community of my other PC trainees and my Kosovar family from getting text messages to check how I was, to my hosts making me chicken noodle soup. I am very happy to say that I am 90% recovered and feel so much better!
Other challenges that I did anticipate are the language barrier, the strange weather and lots of nature. The last time I learned a foreign language was French in Jr High/ early years of High School and I don’t remember being particularly good at it, so I knew coming in that learning Albanian was going to be quite the challenge. I really enjoy learning the grammar and structure of the language–there are four tenses to show possession for every noun–however; speaking the language is super difficult. It is especially hard when you want to talk about a complex subject like the 1999 conflict that comes up in about every conversation. I do find it super fun to have a new challenge though. After grad school finished two years ago, I did not have a lot of new learning taking place so overall learning the language is challenging yet fun.
Coming from Phoenix, the weather is quite the adjustment. It has been as cold as 48 F to as warm as 86 F with lots of humidity, which leaves me feeling never quite dry. We also walk a lot here. For the most part its nice, but today I swallowed a bug–definitely not what I thought I signed up for ;-).
The walks are nice though. Two or three times a week, we have Hub days where all the volunteers get together. We have to walk to a hotel on top of a hill that is the equivalent of A-mountain in Tempe. The other three to four days a week, we meet for small group language class at a local school, which is a 10-minute or so walk from my house.
Finally, I do miss my family quite a bit. I have always lived within an hour of my parents and most of my brothers. It is a nine hour time difference between Kosovo and Arizona, so I usually talk to my mom late in the evening here and early afternoon there. So much happens everyday and PC keeps us so busy that it is hard to fill in the pieces sometimes. One thing that I have loved and highly recommend is that my family has a secret Facebook for just us that I post all the ridiculously funny day-to-day stories and I get to hear from everyone just like if I was sitting at Sunday night family dinner.
Despite the challenges, I do feel a very deep sense of contentment here that I have not felt in a very long time. It is very freeing to have so few responsibilities and to live at the slower pace of life. So much is outside of my control at this point that I have no choice but to surrender and see what the next 15 minutes brings. I definitely feel like I’m living my best life and am so grateful for all the experiences that led me to this point.
Thanks for reading! You can always email me at rakaefisk at gmail dot com or message me on Facebook ❤
Slideshow of Pictures and Videos here: https://youtu.be/jh_Y3xwYWm8