Category Archives: Life After Peace Corps

A Really Vital Update on Life in America

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Ok, since my weepy last post I found a great job and apartment. No complaints! Although I am still occasionally startled by automatically flushing toilets and share way too much “wisdom” (usually centering on food safety – ie, expiration dates mean nothing) that starts with “When I was in the Peace Corps…” I am pretty well-adjusted. I survived the transition home!

This post is just to note how much my sense of my neighborhood has shifted since I got back…in that I am suddenly finding Albanians everywhere and every time it reminds me of Peace Corps/makes me miss my town and my host family. Today I checked my mail and found a letter addressed to a “Kujtim” who used to live in my apartment. I live a twenty-minute walk from our local Albanian Islamic Society. Last weekend I was walking home from CVS when I saw this frightening sign in Albanian:

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Last month I staggered onto the bus with about a million pounds of crap from Target, sat in the first seat I could find, and then realized I was next to a gjyshja talking about what was going on “ne shpi.”

Yes, folks, that’s right: without even being aware, I have stumbled into a “little Diber” right here in Philly. Oddly it makes me feel more at home and also is a constant reminder of what I’m missing back in the real Diber.

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Things I Will Do in America That Scare Me

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With the realization that in just over ten weeks I will be back! in! America! (after 26 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer and 9 as a Fulbright), a selection of things that most frighten me about returning to my homeland.

  • Go on a date. I have not been on one since August 2009.
  • Go on a job interview. I have not been on one since October 2008.
  • See hipsters.
  • Speak to people who won’t be understanding of the fact that my English is messed up for reasons out of my control, or that “opa!” has become my standard exclamation. (I can’t even remember what it replaced. “Oh”? “Ouch”? A shriek?)
  • Rent an apartment from any landlord whose vetting process is anything more than me taking a walk around the apartment, then taking the keys. No lease required.
  • My suspicion that I will be so excited to see American magazines again that I will end up with subscriptions to People, US Weekly, In Touch, Rolling Stone, and dozens more.
    • Related fear: that I will spend as much money on magazines during my layover at JFK as I did when I was flying back to Macedonia last summer. (See: $40.)
  • Ordering beer in any situation where I have to say more than “I’ll have a dark beer.” (See: how many Yuenglings I drank last summer because it was less confusing for me to ask for a lager than to parse beer lists that are now all but indecipherable to me.)
  • Learn that, apart from Breaking Bad, I missed everything about American culture, 2009 – 2012.
  • Own a “phone” with a touch screen. (I don’t really feel comfortable calling something a phone if it does not have T9 and Snake xenzia.)
  • That being an American will no longer make me the weirdest/most special person in the room.
  • That my host sister will no longer be a four-hour furgon ride away from me.

On Taking the GRE in the Peace Corps

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Yesterday I finally, finally took the literature GRE. I spent months making flashcards and reading poems for this exam, gaining an appreciation for Carl Sandburg, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Matthew Arnold. My most significant preparation, though, was probably either sharpening 10 pencils and buying a new pencil case, or training myself to get up at 5 am so I could wake up chipper and ready for my combi ride to Skopje.

Only, this being Macedonia, things didn’t really work out, and I wound up waking up at 6:30 on test day, and being kind of pissed at myself for having worked so hard on waking up really, really early and not taking any naps for two weeks. Because I was in Rostuse to help run the first two semi-final spelling bees in the regional competition I’m doing with Mere, I had to travel to Skopje from Rostuse on Saturday morning. Neither of us thought to question that on a Saturday there would be a 5:45 am combi, and on Friday we did the spelling bee in the morning, then about five hours of na gostis, and then I headed back to her place to study while she went on one last visit.

And, thank god, she went to visit the family that runs the combi to Skopje, and found out that there wasn’t an early combi on Saturday. She ran back down to her place, I threw my stuff in my bags and started frantically calling people to find a place where I could spend the night, and then we speed walked down her mountain to wait on the road for the last combi out of D., the 5:30 to Gostivar.

At 9:30 I was in Skopje, and got a cab to another volunteer’s apartment, but spent something like 25 minutes driving around making panicked phone calls to said volunteer saying, like, “I don’t know where I am! I think I should just go to a hotel!” until I spotted a familiar muddy street, yelled, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” and stumbled out of the cab with all my bags and 200 fewer denars and tried to calm down from my night of total, unadulterated panic enough to go to sleep.

I paid about twice as much as I should have for another cab ride in the morning, to the city library (this is why it pays to know something about Skopje, I guess, since my cab directions all go, “Yeah, this is the right way” until I realize it isn’t and direct the cabbie to head in whatever direction he thinks might be more suitable), where I was the only person taking the exam. Or, let me rephrase this: I was the only person taking a subject GRE, period, which meant that for the first time in my life I was able to take a test in total silence, without wanting to claw out the eyes of the person kicking the back of my chair or tapping their pencil or flipping pages too loudly. I guess there are some benefits to taking the GRE in Macedonia.

After finishing my exam at 12:13 I ran down the stairs and out to the street to see – yes! – a baby combi with the Hisari logo on its hood. I waved it down, it turned out to be heading to D. (they sometimes use this van when they run out of space on the regular combi) and after being chastised by the driver for not calling and telling him I would be waiting, I was on my way home. And since then I’ve been laying on my sofa recovering by reading The Hunger Games and making masks with A.

I’m sure I’ve learned some important lessons from this experience (like, don’t count on the combi schedule being what you think it is, ever, and don’t think you can find your way around Skopje at 10 pm when you’ve been in the city eight times your whole life) and unfortunately I am probably going to use them when I’m taking the general GRE and redoing the lit one.

In other news, Bajram is on Tuesday, which means a lot of sheep and ram slaughterings at my house. When I came back yesterday I got dropped in the center so I could buy an envelope and a couple groceries, and my host dad picked me up in the combi on my walk home. I looked behind me and the combi was full of sheep. Good to be back.