I have to apologize for the delay in updates, especially after my last post may have left you wondering if I had sunk into a deep pit of despair, never to emerge again. Fear not! I hit a bump in the road – one of those days when every street dog seemed to be crying out for my help, where my brain was too sluggish to process any language other than English, where work seemed to going nowhere, and I felt out of place and out of sorts. This combination formed a kind of Peace Corps “kryptonite.”
After allowing myself a day or two to come to terms with these feelings, I began to brainstorm small steps to improve my situation and outlook. Part of that involved me re-evaluating my expectations of my work, my community, my relationships and myself. I have consistently struggled with identifying a purpose and use for my skills at my worksite. My background seems to have no connection with working at an institution of local self-governance, and while I have turned myself upside down and inside out trying to find ways to fit into this environment, I came to the realization that, at least for the the present moment, there are more opportunities and need for me outside of my municipality than within it.
Since my last post, I have helped to form a GLOW Club for high school girls (GLOW is an acronym for Girls Leading Our World), with the aim of helping young women in the community to develop leadership and life skills. I work with a leadership team of about six girls who participated in GLOW Camp this past year to put together twice monthly activities for club members. I am also working with my friend (and Macedonian tutor) to put together a youth theater club that will bring together high school students of different ethnic backgrounds in a positive activity. This project is dependent upon getting involvement from Macedonian and Albanian youth as well as funding from a grant, so I am nervously waiting to see how this activity pans out. All of these activities are in English (lucky me!) and are also designed to help youth to improve and practice their English language skills.
Since my last post, I have attempted to step down my expectations a bit – to recognize that I am doing the best that I can. Everything about being a volunteer is a balancing act, and I would sometimes forget that I needed to also balance my needs and interests with those of my friends, work and community. I also had some feelings of dissatisfaction with the relationships that I had developed in my community – I had very American expectations of friendship and family that do not align that closely with the concepts that exist here. In addition to relaxing my expectations of myself, I have learned to be more flexible with my expectations of others and to accept what they offer and not to extend my cultural expectations to them. I am planning to talk more about the cultural values and traditions of my host community as they relate to family and friendship in my next post, so stay tuned to hear more!