Connecting the Dots: My Lesson in Gratitude and Mindfulness
I've been in Kosovo for a little over 6 months now. My cohort recently passed the milestone (at least it's a milestone in my mind) where we have been at our permanent sites longer than our training sites. Within this time, I also had my first low at site. I woke up one morning in late November and for no reason that I could name at that moment, I was extremely sad. As I laid in bed with my emotions, staring up at the ceiling for what felt like hours (and it possibly could’ve been) trying to figure out the cause of this unforeseen dilemma. Then it dawned on me, Thanksgiving was in two days, my birthday was in a little over 2 weeks, and Christmas was in a little less than 4.
I had all types of holiday blues and even though my language abilities were improving, I had no idea how to express in any language what I needed to pull myself out of this slump. I knew that staying in bed wouldn’t help plus I had two meetings with different municipal counterparts - I am a Community and Organizational Development (COD) Volunteer. I got dressed, took the back door to avoid my normal morning coffee and çaj (black tea) routine with my host mom, and headed to work.
I walked upstairs to the office and was immediately greeted with smiles and the infamous, “Oh Ashley, si je?” I couldn't do anything but smile and greet my friends with the customary handshake and 1 to 3 kisses on the cheek, which I still haven’t mastered. We spent about 10 minutes going over the particulars for the project and then what seemed like hours talking about how expensive winter boots are, when we were going to go to the capital to eat tacos, and traveling to different countries.
In those moments, it didn't feel like I was in a different country miles away from my friends and family, I was at work, joking and being goofy with my friends. My colleagues mentioned their excitement for the upcoming Kosovar Albanian holiday, Flag Day, which was coincidentally the same day as Thanksgiving. When I told them I didn’t have any plans, without hesitation, they immediately asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch to celebrate and of course I said yes. As I left the municipal building, I got a text message from my host mom. Because I had left the house with her knowing, which I never do, she thought I was still in bed sleeping and was worried. I apologized repeatedly for leaving the house without letting her know and assured her that I was well and would be home after work. She replied with, “ok zemra, shihemi” or “ok heart, see you”.
It was in that moment that I pulled out my phone and wrote a Facebook post to my family back in the US saying that, “I loved them and missed them” which they replied to within minutes expressing the same. I rode a high for the remainder of the workday and well into my after work coffee meeting with my other colleague from the municipality as we discussed possible projects for the upcoming year.
When I finally arrived home, my host mom greeted me with a handshake and the 1 to 3 kisses as usual but this time she added a hug at the end, which rarely happens, it’s like she just knew as mothers often do. Needless to say, the beginning and end to my day was literally like day and night. As I sat in bed texting my site mate about how well my coffee meeting went, I couldn’t help but reflect on the day. How did such a low day turn into one of my highest? It almost felt easy, like the universe was willing me to have a good day even when I wanted to have a bad one. How and when did I get to a point where the people I interacted with weren’t strangers from a different country, but they were my colleagues, friends, and family. They were a laugh, smile, or hug that I didn’t even know I needed.
Then I remembered something our Country Director said, and I am completely paraphrasing, but basically it's that, just by showing up and being present, you are putting in work. Even with language and cultural barriers, when you open your mind and heart to the people of Kosovo, you will find that love, kindness, and respect reaches far beyond any differences we may have.