Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dear President Clinton

I teach fourth grade at Prishtina High School in Kosovo. Most Americans I talk with fall into one of two camps. Either they think of Kosovo as a war torn country or they have never heard of the tiny nation in southeastern Europe.

The beautiful capital city of Prishtina with its cosmopolitan feel doesn’t look like a war torn city, but the hearts of the Albanian Kosovars whose roots run deep in this region bear the scars of war. The war is part of their family history.

Despite its tone, this story isn’t about the sacrifices of the past. It is about the leaders of the future. My class.

The children in my class amaze me. They are industrious and smart. They love to learn. They are nine and ten-year-olds who can speak, read and write in at least two languages. They are deep thinkers.

And they care.

Every afternoon I read aloud to my students. I started the school year reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. My fifteen fourth graders listened intently each day to the events surrounding a young girl (Karana) left alone to survive on the island shortly after a battle with the Aleuts leaves the islanders devastated.

When the Aleuts return several years later, a girl with them wants to befriend Karana. As we finished the chapter, my students started talking about trust. They also started talking about fighting and wars. The class discussion turned to differences between the Albanians and Serbians.

The conclusion was that “not all Serbians were bad people.” They asked me to reread the opening chapter of the book to determine exactly what was said and who started the fight on the island beach. In the end, they decided Karana should take a chance and trust the Aleut girl. Only then were we able to move on with our reading and eventually finish the book.

Now we are reading a book called Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. This book takes place in Denmark during WWII when Nazi Germany occupied the small Scandinavian country. My students knew little about World War II and Adolf Hitler. I gave them a brief introduction but on their own they researched more about the time period. 

I told you they are amazing.

“Miss?” they asked. “What is ethnic cleansing?”
“Miss? Isn’t that kind of what happened here?”
“Miss? Why didn’t people stop Hitler sooner?”

They all had questions. It was Thursday so I worked hard to prepare my lesson for the next day to address some of their questions. December 7th. Pearl Harbor Day.

After a discussion of WWII and Hitler and Kosovo and Serbia, my students thanked me for being an American. While I appreciate their love, I suggested it might be more appropriate to thank those responsible for making the decision to take a stand for Albanian Kosovars.

They started writing letters to Bill Clinton. They know quite a bit about Mr. Clinton. Prishtina has a street named for him and a statue of him at the corner.

Here are a few excerpts:

"You have inspired me to become a
president of Kosovo and continue
to help my country..."
“…we are learning about the war in Kosovo and we are so thankful you helped save us…”

“…you have inspired me to become a president of Kosovo and continue to help my country.”

“I have a question. How does it feel to bring a whole army to save such a small country?”

“In school we are learning about the war. We are also learning about WWII. If you hadn’t stepped in, we might be in that situation.”

“It would be nice if you would come to Kosova and tell us how you brought NATO to save our country.”

As I said, this story is about the leaders of the future.

And yes...I mailed them.

If you’d like to meet my class, read more of their heartfelt letters, or learn more about Prishtina High School, check out our Facebook page: Prishtina High School or click on this link

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Kosovo: Chapter 4, Scene 1 Cinderella Goes to the Ball...Sort Of

I continue to have new and interesting experiences here in Kosovo. For example, I was invited to an event known as the Ballo Shqiptare. Don’t worry. I couldn’t pronounce it either.

A lot of famous people attended.
Of course the only one I recognized was
the prime minister.
I didn’t exactly know what it was, but I could tell by the invitation it was a very special affair. One of the organizers is the mom to one of my fourth graders. She also happens to be a former Miss Kosovo and fairly well connected in the social and political realm. Of course if you met her you would only recognize her beauty, both inside and out. She’s a humble and sweet woman. I was honored to be included.

As I said, I could tell it was a classy event… meaning I probably needed to get a new dress. And shoes. My friend Valmire said the Ballo was “fancy-fancy.” Her dress was a long evening gown and she already had plans for the hairdresser.

My friend Grace agreed to take me shopping. This turned out to be an event in itself. We started by going to the “fancy-fancy “ store for an appropriate gown or, as I decided, at least a nice dress. Grace planned to wear a shorter dress along the lines of what I would call church finery so I was totally ready to find something similar.

I was prepared to shop. I had to be. This was Friday night and the gala was on Saturday.

It turns out shopping in Prishtina is a bit different than what I’m used to in America. The shopkeeper and her assistant picked out several dresses for me then followed me into the dressing room where the assistant literally dressed me like a porcelain doll. She placed very high heels on my feet (the backs cut out so anyone could try them on) and escorted me out to the viewing area where Grace grabbed my hand to keep me from falling over.

I turned to the mirror to see an ill-fitting dress hanging on my wobbling frame. “Beau-ti-ful, Madame! Beau-ti-ful!” The shopkeeper exclaimed.

I shook my head no and wobbled back to the little room where the assistant proceeded to do the doll thing again, shoving my arms into another ugly garment. “Beau-ti-ful Madame! Ah! Beau-ti-ful!” She turned to Grace and told her in Albanian about the high quality of the fabric.

We said we needed to leave but at their insistence I was the stiff doll model to two or three more dresses. And they were all “Beau-ti-ful!” I was just happy to finally get out without breaking my neck parading about in the high clunky heels.

We found our way through several more shops. Our persistence paid off and by the end of the evening I had a suitable, though not so fancy dress, jewelry, and shoes. All ready, right?

=Rolling my hair in rags!
Wrong. Saturday morning looked promising until the electric went off. I didn’t know where to go for a hairdresser and without internet I couldn’t search for a place. By the time the power came back on three hours later, I had a new plan. I’d curl my hair myself.

The "After" shot.
The only problem was that I have no curlers and no curling iron. When I was a little girl, my mother used to roll my hair with socks. I pulled out my skimpy supply of SmartWool socks. Nope. Not gonna work. So I did the next best thing. I cut up an old pillowcase I brought with me from the States and “rolled” my hair.

My friend Jill helped me calm down some of the crazy wild curls and by the time my friends picked me up, I was feeling downright fancy if I do say so myself.

The event was everything…no, more than I hoped for. It was a celebration of Kosovo’s rich culture. Musicians, artists, dancers, singers, members of Parliament, people with embassy connections, high society, and a few smiling teachers from Prishtina High School enjoying traditional foods, music, and folk dancing.  I even managed a “selfie” with the prime minister of Kosovo.

The whole evening was indeed “Beau-ti-ful!” But maybe pictures say it best.

Friends from PHS...hey we clean up pretty good, right?
I couldn't resist a selfie with
 the Prime Minister of Kosovo
Ramush Haradinaj

Traditional dancers take a break to eat.

Traditional Singers at the Ballo

Traditional musicians and singers performed.

Join me as I spend these next months in Kosova (the Albanian pronunciation for Kosovo) in Southeastern Europe. Each week I share my experiences. Leave your comments and questions below. I’ll try to address each as best I can.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Kosovo: Chapter 3, Scene 5- The Holiday

 Here we are in the midst of the holiday season. My favorite, Thanksgiving, is now a warm memory and my friends are starting post pictures of their Christmas trees on Facebook.

I spent Thanksgiving Day with fellow teachers and friends from Prishtina High School, where I teach. It was a day filled with food and laughter. Of course the real treat for me came when I returned to my apartment and had the chance to spend the holiday with my family in the States via Google Hangouts.

That sort of holiday would have been enough. Like a slice of warm pie. Perfect by itself but add a little ice cream or whipped cream on top and you have a dessert that is truly memorable.

The cream in my case?

Stephanie, me, Gordon, and Christopher
(Thank you Christopher for most of the Pics here!)

Four friends with four backpacks and four more days of fall break. We caught a flight to Budapest where Stephanie had booked us lodging at a great Airbnb. A comfortable place to crash late in the night and play games after a long day of sightseeing.

Bridge over the Danube at night.

Budapest is so much bigger than I expected. It is a beautiful Eastern European city with ornate architecture and cobbled brick streets. The city is divided by the river…Buda on one side and Pest on the other. We stayed on the Pest side but walked across a bridge spanning the Danube to the Buda side where we explored the Castle District. This was my favorite of our sightseeing ventures. Castles, churches, and caves. One cave still serves as a church and the other one we explored was the underground Labyrinth that once served as a prison. Dracula was one of the more infamous guests there. The castle, poised high on the mountain overlooks the river and the entire city beyond.

Matthias Church on the Buda side of the river.

On the Pest side we poked around markets and second hand stores and an antique flea market of sorts. We visited several Christmas markets. The vendors selling crafts were fun, but the food was amazing. Chimney cakes baked over an open flame in front of us. Chocolate…everything. Pastries and grilled foods of all sorts. And instead of mulled apple cider they serve mulled red wine. Seriously.

The Christmas market in front of St. Stephens Church.

The very best part of the trip was spending time with friends. Eating breakfast in small cafes, enjoying a coffee at an out of the way shop, and being comfortable enough to enjoy being “tourists” together.

This was my favorite breakfast place!
Love the way the people in the background photo bombed! Great faces!

As I’ve said before, teaching in Kosovo has its perks…and easy, affordable travel is definitely one of them!

 Join me as I spend these next months in Kosova (the Albanian pronunciation for Kosovo) in Southeastern Europe. Each week I share my experiences. Leave your comments and questions below. I’ll try to address each as best I can.
 A yellow rose outside the castle.
This one's for you Danielle.

One of the castle windows.
Can't help but wonder if another woman once
looked out to view the river beyond.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kosovo: A Kosovo Thanksgiving Chapter 3, Scene 4

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of the day and the traditions.  I know many countries celebrate a day of thanksgiving, but Americans hold a special place in their heart for this day of family gathering.

I grew up on a farm. My early memories of Thanksgiving all include time spent with my extended family at my grandparents' house. The menu was predictable. Grandma roasted the turkey and made mashed potatoes. Each household contributed to the feast.

As it turns out, we had a dusting of snow
on Monday before Thanksgiving.
The mountains in the background got more!
While the women fussed over the food preparations in the kitchen, the men gathered in the “front room” to watch American college football on the small television. We children played with toys on the floor or poured over Sears catalogues to choose what we wanted for Christmas.

Generally speaking, we expected our first light snow around Thanksgiving. The major chores of the fall season were complete and Thanksgiving was about the right time to open some of the treats canned from the garden. Sweet pickles, beets, green beans and the like. And of course there were pies. Apple pies, pumpkin pies. Cold pies, hot pies.

This year I am in Kosovo.  There is a chill in the air and American families living here are busy assembling the makings of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Invitations have been extended for friends, families, and coworkers to attend gatherings around the city.

I’m trying to find everything I need to make my roasted vegetable recipe. My search has been hampered by the language barrier to a degree. Imagine three middle-aged American women standing in the spice aisle saying, “It kind of looks like thyme…can someone Google  ‘majcina dusica usitnjena’ for me?” And of course I needed a butternut squash…which I couldn’t find. I mentioned it to my friend who just happened to have one! 

My family is meeting in my house in Ohio for Thanksgiving. My mother will help with the turkey. My daughters and their families will gather together, bringing their specialty foods. The men will likely watch football and the children will play on the floor. With luck, I’ll be in the mix via Skype. But even if that doesn’t work out, I’m thankful.

I’m thankful my family is together. I treasure their love and support.

I’m thankful I’ve been “adopted” by so many precious people here in Kosovo and will spend Thanksgiving with some of them.

I’m thankful for the opportunity God has given me to teach fourth grade at Prishtina High School.

I’m thankful that unlike the Pilgrims of 1620, I have a warm, comfortable apartment to see me through the winter instead of struggling with makeshift quarters.

I’m thankful that just as the Pilgrims had Squanto to guide them through the raising of corn and other foods in the area, I have friends willing to help me figure out seasonings in a foreign language in the middle of the market.

Finding that squash? I'm truly grateful!

And there is this...I am thankful for readers like I share with you my mantra: Live Knowing You Are Loved. Happy Thanksgiving!