Things are starting to pick up for me in Montenegro.
I have classes to teach, appointments to attend, a workout schedule to (sometimes) stick to, and a social life to build. In short, living in Podgorica is beginning to feel more like “real” life rather than an exotic break from my reality back in Michigan. This transition of a place from destination to home excites and fascinates me. Isn’t it amazing how quickly one can adapt when needed? What seemed foreign and intimidating is beginning to feel natural and, although I struggle and get frustrated on a daily basis, I see myself progressing as I begin to really settle in.
I have spent my first three weeks acting as a sponge; trying to soak up knowledge in every situation and interaction. Going to the market is an adventure. Buying a phone is a challenge. Even ordering the right kind of water in a restaurant can prove frustrating. It can be exhausting; it can be exhilarating. Some days I am eager to seek out each and every new experience and friend I can, while others I literally have to convince myself to leave my apartment. Luckily, the former outweigh the latter. Progress.
Perhaps most enlightening has been the realization of the type of knowledge I am soaking up. I am, of course, learning a lot about Montenegro, its people, and its culture. That is to be expected. But it’s the daily epiphanies of self that surprise me. I have learned things about myself that I didn’t expect. It is interesting to realize how culturally programmed we are and how what you may think of as being “normal” is so often just an United States perspective. Even as someone who has experience studying and working within the realm of Social Justice and International Education, these realizations have taken me aback on multiple occasions these past few weeks. I am a product of my upbringing, of my culture. I am myself, but I am also so American.
I tend to laugh when I have those epiphanies. Sometimes the laughter comes after a bit of crying.
One of those funny realizations came just after I finished reading Have A Nice Day: From the Balkan War to the American Dream by Dubravka Ugrešić, a Croatian writer who lived in the U.S. for a brief period during the conflict. The book is a collection of short essays that chronicle her perceptions of America, her struggles adjusting to life between her two worlds, and a variety of other topics. Some of the essays were more interesting to me than others. In one essay, Ms. Ugrešić equates the U.S. to “organizers,” devices for arranging one’s belongings. She talks about going to the store and seeing all of the different types of organizers; for our closets, our books, our mail… basically anything you can think of. This description did not really resonate with me. I’ve never thought of myself as an organized person- nor does anyone who has seen my closet.
A few days after reading the book, I found myself on a mission to find a day planner. Back in the U.S., I am so dependent upon my calendar on my iphone, I wanted something to replace it during my time here. I didn’t just want a planner, I craved a planner. I needed it. I went to three different bookstores and could not find one anywhere. Finally, I found a ridiculous, bright blue school planner, probably intended for a 12-year-old girl. I nearly squealed with delight. I didn’t care what it looked like- it had a calendar! And notes sections for to-do lists! I took it home and sat for an hour, filling out every appointment I had, marking every important date I could think of, and listing every task I wanted to accomplish for the coming week. Finally- structure! It was cathartic to have my schedule mapped out, even a little bit. Suddenly, I stopped writing and just started laughing. Apparently, I am more of an “organizer” than I had ever realized.
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I failed to update my blog last week so I will try to post twice this week. Before I write about the amazing time I had traveling to Perast this past weekend, I must take a moment to note the phenomenal hike Joanie and I went on last weekend. We spent the night in the cute mountain town of Žabljak, then woke up and went for a “light” hike around Durmitor National Park. Really, we ended up walking much farther than we intended, but it was worth it once we reached the top of the Planinica summit and took in the amazing views.
Žabljak and Durmitor were both wonderful. Joanie is a great hiking companion because she points things out that I would have never noticed- like wild strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries on our trail! Other highlights of the trip included two delicious meals at our favorite restaurant in Žabljak, Konoba Luna, where we had our first, Kačamak, a delicious Montenegrin mixture of potato, polenta, and cheese; a hilarious slumber party; and so many spectacular views of mountains, lakes, and forest. The vast beauty of this small country is truly breathtaking.