Though my host family is Muslim, we still have a Christmas tree!

Though my host family is Muslim, we still have a Christmas tree!

The hustle and bustle of the holidays is ingrained too deeply into my cultural conscious to escape it, even living thousands of miles away.  I have come to realize that I actually miss the craziness of this season  – last minute shopping in crowded stores, awkward work holiday parties, and overindulging at Christmas dinner.

A group of fellow volunteers and I organized a Christmas gathering this year, complete with spiced wine, a white elephant gift exchange, and Home Alone.  The celebration somehow devolved into a dance party (a common theme of our gatherings). This year has certainly brought a slew of new experiences, which I think warrant a bit of reflection in light of  the approaching new year:

  • You can communicate without words (awkward, but effective)
  • Food makes friends faster than words
  • Few things are sweeter than communicating in a language that you are fluent in, especially after having said too many sentences that sound like “I hungry”, “I go shower, is good?” in a foreign language (or two)
  • There’s no easy way to handle political and ethnic discussions
  • Sleep, hot showers and privacy are priceless
  • Friends  and family are AMAZING and help to keep me (mostly) sane
  • Being in a completely foreign environment has made me incredibly appreciative of the many Macedonians and Albanians who have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, well-fed, caffeinated and comfortable
  • Humor makes awkwardness (and any other situation) bearable, and possibly enjoyable
  • The more I learn about the world around me, the more I realize how little I know –  time to load the Kindle with educational tomes
  • What is a comfort zone? I seem to have lost mine somewhere, along with an ability to be embarrassed
  • Bathroom doors with key locks should be avoided at all costs (for further explanation, read about my recent rescue)

Cheers to the New Year and the experiences that lie ahead!


The Rescue

The Scene:  Your first week working at a new job in a foreign country

The Location: The bathroom

The Action:  Realizing that you have become locked in the bathroom

Choose your own adventure…

A) Call for help (realizing that you only remember how to say help in Macedonian, not Albanian, the mother tongue of most of your colleagues)

B) Wait in stoic silence to be discovered

C) Knock on the door and hope that someone will eventually hear you (bear in mind that most people do not drink as much water as you do, and likely visit the bathroom less frequently)

D) Cry, and tumble into a useless heap on the floor

While I debated pursuing options A and B, I ultimately chose option B.  So if you chose option B, congratulations!  Great minds think alike.

Aside from this incident, my first two weeks in Debar/Diber have passed smoothly.  I adore my host family – they are warm and welcoming and have been incredibly kind in introducing me to their friends and family, the people who compose my social life.  The town is small, and I stand out a bit like the new kid who just transferred from another high school.  In that sense, I should be well-prepared given the transient nature of my teens; however, I still find myself struggling with certain adjustments (bathroom doors are enemy #1 currently, but kissing cheeks as a way of greeting without re-enacting the awkward hug scene from Just Friends follows in a  close second place).   

If you were concerned for my well-being, or simply curious to see if I am still trapped in the bathroom and blogging from there, have no fear, I was discovered.  The door jammed and could not be unlocked from the outside even using the key that remained in the lock on the outside, so a coworker had to break down the door to enable my escape.