Shihemi

It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.

The first time I saw Peace Corps as a path I might some day take was between my freshman and sophomore year of college. That was an interesting summer, moving out of the dorms into the second floor of a falling down shanty that would be my college apartment for the next three years.

[My father visited only once, when my family ate sandwiches together in my gloomy wood-paneled kitchen after my graduation ceremony. As he was descending the crumbling concrete steps out front, he turned back to me. I remember I was lingering in the doorway, mentally packing up my life and preparing to leave the first home I’d ever had that wasn’t my parents house. He said, “When you’re older you’ll remember these as your Dresden days.”

He meant it looked as though the place had been fire bombed.

I’m not good at goodbyes, I’d much rather make a joke. Wonder where I got that from?]

But that summer was my first taste of adulthood’s freedom and I celebrated by flirting with the idea of changing majors. I took Intro to Anthropology and worked in the school library and daydreamed about being Indiana Jones. My professor, a grad student who was younger than my oldest brother and had her nose pierced on the same side as me, had served in Peace Corps Nepal. Her stories took root in my imagination and I began to dream.

Life is strange, isn’t it?

How do I want to say goodbye? Or see you later, as it were? I could talk about failings; Peace Corps’, Kosovo’s, mine. But I’d rather talk about lessons. In the seven months I’ve been here, I’ve learned a few. Here are some:

  • Promoja may or may not be real and it may or may not kill you by breaking your jaw/face. But if you don’t believe this know that someone knows someone who knows someone who, they’ve heard, that that someone’s best friend/mother/uncle died this way.
  • There are as many kinds of Muslims as there are kinds of Christians or Jews.
  • Always bring a personal fan to a Peace Corps Kosovo meeting, regardless of season. It will always be too hot.
  • You will never master the Albanian clitics system, you will never remember the gender of every single noun, and you will never quite nail it when you try to decline a noun to the accusative, dative, or ablative cases. Wonder of wonders, people will somehow manage to understand you anyway.
  • Drink a coffee before you meet your site mate for coffee, if you want to have any hope of keeping up with her.
  • But try to keep track of how many coffees you’ve had that day because you may not exactly know your limit but you will definitely feel it when you’re there. It will be unpleasant.
  • Walk home sometimes, and take the long way. Stop and appreciate how the late afternoon light stretches out over the fields and churches and mosques and houses and cows and how sweet the street dogs’ puppies are as they chase each other and how beautiful your friends look at that moment. Remember you’re alive and here and you chose this and while you could be almost anywhere, that you are here means something that you don’t necessarily need to understand right this minute but that maybe you will someday.
  • Talk to your taxi drivers because they often know what’s up.
  • If your taxi driver (or anyone driving you somewhere for that matter) invites you to a wedding, accept the invitation and go even if you feel sick or tired or don’t want to. There is no grudge like a “you didn’t come to the wedding” grudge.
  • Despite what I said about grammar earlier, never underestimate the importance of the participle form of verbs. Learn them.
  • Be careful with rakia.
  • Do not start participating in Hardhfest until at least 5 PM.
  • If you’re going to buy snacks in Topanicë, you can do no better than Lili Market.
  • Don’t mess with Durim while playing Mafia.
  • Or Leila for that matter.
  • Do let yourself wander around the old town of Prizren, climbing up and down the cobble stone streets and thinking about the centuries of people who have passed this way before you.
  • If someone asks you to be a judge in a pageant called “Queen and King of the Grapes”, don’t ask questions. Just say yes.
  • Pick a Turkish soap opera and devote yourself to it. It will help you learn lots of important vocabulary like “betray”, “kill”, “murder”,”theft”, “pregnant”, “anger”, “fail”, “hurry”, “shame”, “deceived”, and “kidney”.
  • Wine that is drunk while hiding under the grape vines of a vineyard with some of your best friends in Kosovo tastes better than almost any other wine.
  • There’s no avoiding the hugs from students, and most of the time they’re really sweet, but don’t eat food they’ve touched with their bare hands and wash your hands whenever you can. Or you might end up with pink eye. Or a cold that lasts for multiple months.
  • There is good pizza to be found in Kosovo, you just have to clap your hands and cry out, “I do believe in mozzarella!”
  • It really does just depend.
  • To thine self be true.

 

Unfortunately I won’t be sticking around to add to this list. I have no doubt that there is still an entire lifetime’s worth of lessons to be learned but for now someone else will have to learn them.

As for me, I’m going back to Hungary to teach English in a small town near the eastern border. It’s not necessarily where I want to be forever, but it’s where I feel I should be right now. Maybe some day I’ll be back. I hope to be. I spent the last 7-ish months looking at this country and despite whatever issues I may take, I liked this place. Plus, I went to the effort of learning Albanian and it is my personal philosophy that nothing is ever wasted. So we’ll see.

In the meantime, at least for the next six months or so, if any volunteer from Peace Corps Kosovo finds themselves needing a place to crash I’ll have a couch available. When you arrive you’ll be greeted with a “Mirë se vini!” and then a “Üdvözöljük!”. You’ll be treated to the finest Túró Rudi and lángos my town has to offer and then we’ll get down to the business of laughing about the epic struggle across Kosovo between host mothers and volunteers to let us clean our own dishes and clothes, about pasul farts, about the ridiculous amount of time we’ve all spent lounging in the parking lot cafe of Kamenicë’s Viva Fresh. I’ll bring out the pálinka and we’ll toast with “Gëzuar!”, then “Egészségedre!” and it will all be okay. It will all be okay.

Until then, shihemi.

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