Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Kosovo Chapter 5, Scene 3: Kosovo is a Coffee Culture

Kosovo is a coffee culture. In fact, I had my first taste of a macchiato in 2005 when my husband and I brought five of my teacher education students to Kosovo to work with Albanian teens learning English. The country was still reeling from the war. Restaurants were few and far between. Bakeries were starting up again but only sold bread. But coffee? You could find small caf├ęs serving coffee dotted across the land.

Coffee shops in today’s Kosovo are abundant. People gather before work, during work, and after work for coffee. Business is conducted over coffee. Deals are made and alliances formed with a macchiato or Turkish coffee in hand. But having someone "over for coffee" or "going for a coffee" has other subtle meanings.
On Saturday, some of my friends
gathered for coffee. 
First, most often when someone suggests you come over for coffee, they are opening their home to you in a gesture of friendship. Coffee in this case may mean coffee, tea, sweet baked goods or light snacks. It could also mean a spread of heavy cakes and pastries and on occasion something akin to a light meal. The real point of getting together for coffee is friendship. Talking. Sharing. Taking interest in you as a person.

Going out for coffee is also a gesture of friendship and an easy way to get an entire group of people together. A few weeks ago, several of us from the school where I teach went out for coffee at a place called Soma. It is part coffee shop and part bookstore. By US standards, Soma is a very upscale place to meet. Frazier would have approved. We gathered and chatted. Some people had coffee, a few had tea or a bottle of water. Everyone enjoyed the social hour. At the end of our time together, a few people went home to have dinner with their families while others strolled Mother Theresa Boulevard to shop or grab a sandwich and a couple of us slipped into a restaurant for a more substantial meal. Coffee was the start to our evening. Not the end.
Out for coffee after church.

The school where I teach offers a variety of specialty coffees. Teachers meet in the cafeteria over a latte to discuss student needs or make plans. And if you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know the cafeteria workers will even deliver a cup of coffee to your classroom if you find yourself in need. No one thinks anything of it. Kosovo is a coffee culture.

Of course there are a few cultural nuances to having coffee. I learned this the first few weeks I arrived in Prishtina. I often ride the bus to school. One of the older gentlemen who takes tickets quickly realized I was American. (Honestly, I sometimes think it’s stamped on my forehead.)

Anyway, he started talking to me in nearly perfect English. He told me how he and his sister studied in Paris many years ago when Kosovo was part of communist Yugoslavia. He said his French was much better than his English. As the bus came to my stop, he motioned to the restaurant across the street. Well, it is called a restaurant but they only serve coffee.

“Would you like to stop for a coffee with me?” he asked.

“No, but thank you. I have a meeting at school.” 

At school I told my friend Ruth about the nice man on the bus and his offer to have coffee.

“How old was this man?” she asked.

“Oh, about my age or maybe a year or two older. I think he liked practicing his English.”

Ruth laughed out loud. “Good thing you didn’t take him up on it! When a man asks you for coffee, it’s practically a marriage proposal!”

I was in shock. My teacher friends all found it funny. I’ll never know if they were right. I’ll never test those waters. I’d still like to think he simply wanted to practice his English.

And have a cup of coffee. Because, after all, Kosovo is a coffee culture.

Join me 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. And if you don't want to miss a post, simply add your email address in the box on the right where it says "Follow by email." 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 5, Scene 2 Back in the Rhythm of Teaching and Learning

I am enjoying my life in Kosovo. I love teaching fourth grade at Prishtina High School. I was surprised to discover as school started back after the winter break, I was as happy as my students for the start of our second semester.

Not that my break was bad. Several of us got together for meals and games. I went to the mall with friends to watch three movies over the break: Wonder, Jumanji, and The Greatest Showman. The movies are released here the same time they are released in the states.

Another plus was the weather. We had a dusting of snow one morning, but most of the time the weather was great. In fact, one of our math problems on the first day back was to find the average temperature for Prishtina during December. Actually, from December 5-31. We’re tracking Kosovo’s meteorological winter (December 5 through March 5). These are supposed to be the ninety coldest days of winter. Our average in December? Forty-two degrees Fahrenheit.  I kid you not. I’ve been told this weather is not typical.
Time for long division...

I worked a bit on projects for school as well. Of course that was by choice. The school is accessible anytime so I went to the building a couple of times. I mean, really…we were out December 22 until January 9. It was a decent break no matter how you count it.

But now it is time to get back into the rhythm of teaching and learning. It’s time to take all those fun experiences we had over the break and turn them into stories. It’s time to prepare for the science fair and get our reports on the history of Kosovo ready to share with our friends in the UK. (We’re teaching a class in the UK about Kosovo and they’re going to teach us about the UK.) It’s time for my students to learn how to do long division.
Sure, there will be days when the snow clouds form and inside recess makes us all a little crazy, but even those will pass quickly. In the meantime, I am enjoying my life in Kosovo and I love teaching fourth grade at Prishtina High School.

Join me 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. And if you don't want to miss a post, simply add your email address in the box on the right where it says "Follow by email." 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 5, Scene 1 A New Day, A New Year, A New Chapter in My Life

 A reader of my blog recently asked me about the book I’m writing. I started telling her about the romantic suspense novel I’m working on and where I am in the process. 

“No,” she said. “I meant the book about your adventures in Kosovo. I’ve been reading the various chapters on your blog.”

Kosovo- cut into the plaster covering a stone wall.
This was at an old house turned into a B&B.
“Ah…about that…”

She’s right. My blog, A Novel Creation, was originally about me as a new writer learning to craft a novel. My readers were other writers interested in pursuing the same dream.

In August, when I made the decision to come to Kosovo and teach fourth grade at Prishtina High School, I realized I am the novel creation (read “unique being”) beginning a new chapter in my life.

Each chapter on my blog is for the month I’m here. September was Chapter 1, Chapter 2 denotes October and so forth. Each scene represents one week in my life in Europe during that month. 
I came to teach.

So now I’m beginning a new year with the first week of January…Chapter 5, Scene 1.

This particular volume is about halfway to completion... if you think in terms of the school year ending in June. In a novel I should be hitting that point of no return. My character should be “all in” in her do or die situation.

But that’s where my story began. I started “all in.” I don’t think you can move halfway around the world with a half-hearted attitude. Sure, maybe some people do it, but I doubt they are happy.

Still, the story isn’t over so it’s the right time to assess where I am and what I’ve learned.

Convenience is a Killer
At the Market
What I’ve discovered in the first half of my journey is that there is a depth to living in Kosova that I never experienced before. Maybe it’s because everything is so readily available to me in the States, I rarely have to plan that far ahead. And if I need something in the States, I jump in my car and go get it.

As it turns out, convenience may be a killer. Walking or taking the bus to the market every few days for bread and fresh vegetables may sound time consuming but through those regular activities I’m exercising more and eating better. I’m also building relationships with others through these interactions.

The people at my corner market share in my joy when I use new words I’m learning. My “regular” bus driver teaches me a new phrase every day or two. And because I plan those activities carefully and according to bus schedules and weather, I use my time wisely. In America, I tend to have time to waste.

Connecting with Others is Essential
Some of my Albanian Friends from School
Kosova is a coffee culture. I could write an entire blog about this…and maybe I will. People often get together for coffee. “Coffee” may wind up as dinner or sweet treats thrown in, but it is central to gathering people together.

Because I live so far away from my family, I’m learning to “go for coffee.” I’m building strong relationships. Bonds are formed with other internationals in the area and my friends who are nationals are sure to be people I will love forever. I find myself investing in other people and I don’t take for granted they will always be there.

Communication is Key
I appreciate dependable communication. I marvel at the women of days gone by who traveled to parts unknown without the benefit of cell phones and internet. The pioneer days of westward expansion may sound romantic in books, but to leave everyone and everything behind and never know how those you love are faring? Not for me. God obviously created me for this time and place.

The postal system via stagecoach, train, or pony express?
Invented so moms and daughters could communicate.
The telegraph and telephone?
Invented for moms and daughters to communicate.
The internet, cell systems, and social media?
No matter what you thought in the past, these too were invented merely so moms and daughters could communicate. I’m convinced of it. The rest of you simply benefit from all the technology created for moms and daughters to communicate. Without it I would be lost.

Church is a great place to connect.
My pastor, Imir and my language coach, Kuma
who was filling in one day as a translator.
And there is another piece to communication. I’m trying to learn enough Albanian to communicate with people I meet and interact with here. I believe it is respectful to at least try to communicate with people here in their own language. They receive my attempts well and encourage me along the way. I quickly learned how to say a few phrases…polite words such as “please” and “thank you,” but also important phrases such as “I want a macchiato.” Now I’m learning more substantial words and phrases and my vocabulary is expanding.

An New Day…A New Year…a New Chapter in My Life
So in Chapter 5 of this Novel Creation, not only do I teach. I walk to the market. I eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and freshly baked bread. I’m connecting at deep levels with my coworkers, Kosovar friends and  internationals living here. I’m learning a new language. And with the advancement of technology, I keep up with the goings on of those I love in the States. Each day is new, exciting, and filled with opportunity. Not a bad way to start a new year at all.

Join me 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. And if you don't want to miss a post, simply add your email address in the box on the right where it says "Follow by email." 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Kosovo Chapter 4, Scene 4: The Christmas Gift

The Decision
Like most schools, Prishtina High School has a couple of weeks off over the holidays. Since the day I arrived, I’ve had people ask me if I would be traveling home for Christmas.


I made that decision before I came to Kosovo.

 I know myself. I made a commitment to the school. Going home would be fun but seeing my family may make it difficult to return to my teaching. I would return. I know that. But I may do it under duress. All it would take would be one of my grandchildren begging me to stay and I would feel like a heel for flying off again. Already, my four-year-old granddaughter asks me to come home every time we talk on the phone.

The Plan
Many of my school friends planned trips for Christmas. I wasn’t sure who would be around so I formed a plan. For my own good mental health, I planned projects I wanted to complete over the winter break. The list was much too long, so I pared it down to four projects I need to complete: Two for the school, one book to read, and a writing project. The two I’m working on for the school involve other people who are in town so we arranged a day to knock those out after Christmas.

Of course, I have a few things I’d like to do for my class. Teaching when you feel prepared always makes for a better January. But those can wait until just before school starts again on the ninth.

With much to do, I figured I’d sail through the holidays. You see I had a plan.

The Dilemma
Then a wise man …this time from the west… arrived bearing gifts. Not many, just one from each of my daughters and one from my mother. Small gifts he could stuff in his backpack. Small wrapped packages to place under my tree along with a few gifts from students.

This was NOT part of the plan. I’m being honest here. I wasn’t sure what to do. To me, opening gifts from home all alone in my apartment sounded sad. Pitiful. I don’t want to be either.

I thanked Dave for delivering the gifts, emailed my family thanking them for their thoughtfulness and then walked around the apartment trying to figure out what to do. 

I shared my plight with another woman who suggested we could open gifts together…as soon as and if her package from home is released from customs. I considered trying to get my family all together on Google Hangouts so we could talk and sing and open gifts, but the chances of that happening weren’t likely.

I fretted over the situation. I prayed about it and finally decided I’d simply leave the wrapped packages there until I was good and ready to open them. Even if it meant months.

I know this sounds silly. Even as I type it I wonder at how I stressed over something so trivial. But I did. I have no answers and offer this blog post in hope it will ultimately serve someone else.

Dave gave me the gifts on Thursday evening before Christmas. I worked a bit on Friday at school and had lunch with our first grade teacher and her husband. I ignored the presents under the tree.

Saturday I went to the opening and dedication of a new church in Pristhina (Very cool.) It was as much a dedication as it was a celebration of freedom of religion in Kosovo. The music was beautiful. I loved hearing “Mary Did You Know” in Albanian and the children acting out the story of the birth of Jesus were adorable. There were over 300 people in attendance. It was quite an event. I returned home several hours later and managed to ignore the gifts under my Christmas tree.

Sunday, Christmas Eve Day, was wonderful. I went to church as usual, but then we all went out to eat as a church family at Hotel Sirius. Their food is delicious and the view from their rooftop restaurant is spectacular. I left for church a little after ten in the morning and returned home around five in the afternoon. No time to worry about gifts or anything. I took a nap.

The Gift
Then, late that evening, something wonderful happened. That Christmas spirit filled my apartment. I turned on some Christmas music complete with a crackling fire on my computer. I fixed myself dinner and began singing along with the carolers. I could picture them gathering on a snowy street corner singing just to me over the internet.

I looked at the collection of wrapped presents. Opening one from one of my students wouldn’t hurt anything, right? And then another. And just one more.

The carolers were in full swing now.

Tentatively, I reached for one of the gifts from my family. My mother sent me a pair of tech friendly gloves.

“I was just thinking this afternoon I need to get some of those!” I cried out loud.  I tried them on. I swiped my phone. They were the perfect gift.

Okay…one more. But you already know where this is heading.

Allison, my oldest, had a calendar made for me with pictures of my family. Perfect!

Danielle went to the Jelly Belly factory and bought me a full bag of my favorite popcorn flavored jelly beans. Perfect!

Kendall sent me a palm tree necklace. (If you want to know why this is so special, clickhere.) Perfect!

I opened each gift and danced around like a child. There was nothing sad or pitiful about it at all.

It was all in the timing.

But isn’t that the story of Christmas? The gift was delivered and it’s all about when we are ready to receive it. The only sad and pitiful part, is not accepting it at all.

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.