Successful Failures and Stepping Outside of the Box

As the New Year approached and passed I spent a lot of time thinking about the goals I initially made for myself professionally as a Peace Corps volunteer and personally as a young adult. I reevaluated some of the projects that I have set in place and looked into what other things I originally wanted to implement, but haven’t started yet.

In 2013, during my initial six months at site I started two courses at the Culture Center. I had a class for beginning English that met once a week and a class for Dance that also met once a week. For those avid readers, you may remember that I originally had some issues with these courses. Some of the issues being sustainability – I did not have an Albanian counterpart who was helping me run the courses, lack of materials/supplies for the English course, behavioral problems with the students, and inconsistent attendance. After holding these courses for six months I decided that with the New Year that I would end these courses and begin to focus my energy into other projects. This was not an easy decision for me because I went into these extracurricular activities with the highest of hopes, but as time continued on I realized that these projects were not working out for one reason or another. Even though these classes did not necessarily work out I consider them to be “successful failures” because they have allowed me time to grow and have given me perspective and experience. Now I know what works and what doesn’t work. This knowledge and experience will help me to lead more sustainable and successful projects in the future.

Another setback for following through with some of my original goals has been my own mental state. For a long time I felt constrained by society here and felt like I was “put in a box,” whether it be restrictions because of my age, gender, health volunteer role, placement, cultural differences, etc. As I have taken time to meditate and seriously consider this “box,” through much thought I have realized that it is not society that has placed me into this box. I have placed myself into this box because I am afraid of what I am truly capable of and I am afraid of failure – just like everybody else (whether we want to admit it or not). This box followed me from America and continued to have an effect on my life here in Albania. I am trying to make small steps towards stepping outside of this box, but still avash avash. For a long time I was worried about having coffee in my community alone because it is not something that women do often. I am beginning to do more things on my own, whether it be grabbing a coffee, networking in the community, etc. I was also worried about interacting with members of the opposite sex on the streets because I did not want to give off the wrong impression. I have realized that a friendly hello makes all the world of a difference. I am trying to talk with more community members and spend more time outside of my house. Slowly slowly, I am feeling more connected and integrated with my community and neighbors.

In 2014 I have several major goals that I want to implement as part of my service.

  • Start an Outdoor Ambassadors youth group at the high school
    • Do a community volunteer project in my city
    • Hold a beach clean-up over the summer
  • Begin a short “Write On!” creative writing course for students at the high school
  • Network with other members of the community outside the Health Center
    • The Center for Children with Disabilities
    • The Cultural Center
    • The high school life skills teachers and psychologists
    • Other health agencies – local NGOs, Red Cross, etc?!
  • Write a grant
  • Commit myself to the volunteer committees that I serve on
  • Run a successful GLOW “Girls Leading Our World” Camp over the summer

It is time for me to step outside the box and really begin making a difference. These successful failures are serving as stepping-stones to integrating in my community and having thriving community projects in the future. I am very excited for 2014 and all the new challenges and successes.

Personally I am also trying to take time to grow and have begun working out daily again, riding my bike to new places, following the Blogilates calendar, practicing yoga (I may even have a community yoga class in the making – we’ll see!), and taking time to meditate and becoming more self-aware. I have started a “365 Grateful Project” where I document one thing everyday that I am grateful for. This project has already helped me realize all the wonderful things that I have to be grateful for in my everyday life. I think this project will help me become happier and healthier person that is more aware and appreciative for the little things in life. You can check out my 365 grateful blog “Becoming a Piece of Everything that Grows” here.

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Spending more time in my community and less time traveling is also a goal for 2014. This is a picture from this past weekend. I went on a bike ride to the coast to watch the sunset. It was perfect.

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Beginning 2014 in Kosovo

After my short 3-day trip to Croatia I was excited to go on another adventure outside Albania for New Years.  My friend Brendan had been interested in visiting Kosovo, so we decided “pse jo” why not go to celebrate the New Year.  We started off the trip by staying a night in Tirana, the capital city of Albania.  He took me to some bars and restaurants that I had never visited before, so it was nice to see a different side of the city.  We had drinks at Sky Tower, a rotating bar from which you can see the whole city.  It was very beautiful at sunset.

The view from Sky Tower.

The view from Sky Tower.

Hanging out in the rotating bar.

Hanging out in the rotating bar.

The next day we took the early 6am bus to Pristinë, the capital city of Kosovo.  It only took us about 4 hours to travel from Albania to Kosovo.  We stayed in Pristinë for 3 nights, including New Years night.  Kosovo is very similar to Albania in many ways.  Many consider Kosovo to be Albania’s modern cousin.  The people who live in Kosovo are ethnically Albanian because back in the day Albania used to include parts of Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro.  Many ethnic Albanians still live in many of the cities bordering Albania.  Kosovo is Europe’s newest country and recently split from Serbia after the Kosovo War in 1999.  Kosovo is Albania’s friendly neighbor and close ally, which is part of the reason why Brendan and I were interested in visiting.  In Kosovo we were still able to get by speaking Shqip because that is the primary language of the country.  Kosovo was also to similar to Albania in what kind of activities there are to partake in, hence – not many.  We spent most of our time hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop, stopping to see random mosques and churches along the way.  My favorite coffee shop was also a bookstore full of literature and it was decorated with bell jars hanging from the ceiling.  In Pristinë, we celebrated New Years Eve in the center of the city.  From there we watched the fireworks commence.  However, these fireworks were very different than firework shows I experienced in America.  On New Years Eve it was basically a free for all with fireworks.  Fireworks were available to buy all over the place on the roads and there are no age restrictions for who can purchase fireworks.  This was a vast difference from what I have experienced back in Colorado because all firework sales have been banned due to fire safety.  In Albania and Kosovo, it is common to see children as young as 4 or 5 shooting off intense fireworks.  On NYE seeing all the fireworks setting off from all over the city was beautiful.  It was different, but just as lovely (although at times a little scary because people don’t exactly take the best of precautions when lighting off these deadly fireworks).

Our hostel in Pristinë

Our hostel in Pristinë

Skanderberg statue - Albania's favorite hero

Skanderberg statue – Albania’s favorite hero

We found spongebob. :P

We found spongebob. 😛

Albanian/Kosovar fashion

Albanian/Kosovar fashion

Coffee at my favorite shop.

Coffee at my favorite shop.

Pretty cool interior

Pretty cool interior

Street art in the park.

Street art in the park.

Mother Teresa is also a big figure in Albania and Kosovo

Mother Teresa is also a big figure in Albania and Kosovo

Good advice for life

Good advice for life

Fun wall we stumbled across

Fun wall we stumbled across

Interesting architecture

Interesting architecture

Hanging around in front of the Newborn sign - supposedly one of the bigger tourist attractions in Pristinë

Hanging around in front of the Newborn sign – supposedly one of the bigger tourist attractions in Pristinë

This cat was all over the city.

This cat was all over the city.

Hanging around in the back of dark European coffee shops.

Hanging around in the back of dark European coffee shops.

An old Serbian church

An old Serbian church

The library - more interesting architecture.

The library – more interesting architecture.

We found Bill Clinton! Kosovo loves America just as much as Albania.

We found Bill Clinton! Kosovo loves America just as much as Albania.

Here is that cat again...!

Here is that cat again…!

Found a JFK quote - gotta love our Peace Corps founder.

Found a JFK quote – gotta love our Peace Corps founder.

They love America.

They love America.

More cool street art

More cool street art

Explored a run down amusement park.

Explored a run down amusement park.

Another interesting culture note regarding New Years Eve in Albania and Kosovo is how the people celebrate the holiday. As I mentioned in my previous blog many people will give each other gifts to celebrate new beginnings.  On the 31st Brendan and I headed down to the center of the city around 10pm hoping to grab a few drinks and dinner before the clock struck midnight, but to our surprise the streets were a ghost town.  There was barely anyone on the streets and almost all the businesses were closed. After searching around for almost an hour we were finally able to find a pizza shop that was open.  The reason that no one was out was because the people will go into their homes and have a big dinner with their family until midnight.  At midnight they will shoot off fireworks and then afterwards the younger generations will go out to the clubs and bars to party until sunrise. This is very different from America because most people will party out with their friends/family for New Years before and after midnight.

LOVE <3

LOVE ❤

New Years Eve - the streets were empty!

New Years Eve – the streets were empty!

After Pristinë, we headed to Prizren, another city closer to the Albanian border. Prizren was definitely our favorite city.  It was more beautiful than Pristinë and had a castle, a river running through the center, and street art.  The hostel we stayed in Prizren was also very hip, full of modern art and flags from around the world.  We spent our time in Prizren exploring the castle, having more coffees, taking photographs of the landscape, and just relaxing.  We did not spend as much time in Prizren, but it was just enough to experience the culture.

Castling in Prizren

Castling in Prizren

It was a gloom day, but we made the best of it.

It was a gloomy day, but we made the best of it.

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They had recycling bins! But as you can see there is still trash nearby. Nice idea...

They had recycling bins! But as you can see there is still trash nearby. Nice idea…

I love to explore

I love to explore

More beautiful street art near the river

More beautiful street art near the river

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Sleepy heads

Sleepy heads

We saw lots of mosques on our trip. Brendan counted over 15 from the castle.

We saw lots of mosques on our trip. Brendan counted over 15 from the castle.

Overall, I enjoyed my time spent in Kosovo and now I am excited to begin exploring more of the Balkan countries and the rest of Europe while living abroad.