Things I’ve Learned in the Peace Corps

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Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that I’ve actually learned a lot in the last two years – that, for instance, I can now understand when a storekeeper says to me, “That ice cream’s 40 denars, I only charged you 30 yesterday by mistake.” It’s not until I found myself throwing toilet paper in trash cans when I visited my family in July that I began to think I’ve changed in some pretty basic/instinctual ways and have learned a couple of things.

  1. Kids can tell if you want to be around them, and they’ll be better for you if you’re having fun. This realization turned my sixth-grade English Club into the most fun thing we did last year – when I realized it was okay to let my kids see that I’m human. Also that I have an endless supply of Silly Bandz.
  2. Kids will do almost anything for Silly Bandz or Beanie Babies.
  3. Third- and fourth-graders are the best, because they are so eager to learn and take seriously little things you throw together. When I started helping my teachers run English Stars last fall, I never would’ve guessed that eight months later our students would still be pulling their star-stickered notecards out of their books at the start of every class.
  4. You shouldn’t lie to kids…like that time I told A. she could come to America with me and told her that the passport I made for her was real. I need to keep this in mind as I prepare to move to Albania; I’ve already found myself starting to say, “You can come with me!” a couple times, only to rapidly correct to “I’ll visit you.”
  5. I know how to use squat toilets now. I even wish there were more of them – like, say, if the Skopje bus station changed all of its Western-style toilets to squatters. Soooo much cleaner.
  6. How to defend against mice: no mercy. Humane mouse traps don’t work. Putting all your food in jars doesn’t work. Hoping that the mice will move out when the weather improves doesn’t work. The only things that work? Poisoning, drowning, and gluing the mice to death. (I guess the last should actually read “letting my baba stomp on a mouse I’ve caught with a glue trap.”)
  7. It’s never a good idea to stock up on six months’ worth of basmati rice, because moths and other weird bugs will move into the bags before I can use it. (And rice, and cereal, and spices…) Nothing defends against the bugs like glass jars – as I discovered when I opened a yogurt tub of rice to find baby moths crawling around in it.
  8. How to lead the oro: I do this really badly, but I can do it. I never want to do it again, but I will if I have to. Because now, whenever they want to relive my host sister’s wedding, my family will get to see my goofy, sweaty self as I struggle to lead the dance, staring at my sister’s mother-in-law’s feet to get the steps right, and there’s something comforting in knowing that.
  9. How to speak Albanian and Macedonian: really poorly, I sometimes think, but for well over a year and a half now I’ve been able to have conversations in both languages. It is always exciting for me when someone hears my broken Albanian and wants to know my “family name” and when my parents moved to the States.
  10. Time can go really quickly. I’ve learned patience for the times when it doesn’t, though.
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