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!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Kosovo: The Cafeteria- Chapter 3, Scene 3

One of the most often asked questions I receive is, “What do you eat over there?”

Over there is in reference to my new, though temporary home in Kosovo.

Of course the snarky answer is “food.” But I’m not snarky. At least not today.

The food in Kosovo is wonderful. People here thrive on fresh vegetables and fruits. They cook delicious soups and stews.

An omelet made to order and a macchiato.
What could be a better start for the day?
And chicken.

Lots and lots of chicken. Oh, sure, I’ve eaten steak at a restaurant in Prishtina. And a delicious grilled trout at a restaurant close to my school. We have a wonderful Thai restaurant downtown. And I can always get Mexican, Italian, or authentic Spanish food if I prefer.

I cook a bit. Chili on a cold day. Grilled cheese on soft, freshly baked bread. And of course…chicken. Hey I like it, too.

But what I’ve enjoyed the most since I’ve lived here is the school cafeteria. Seriously. Our cafeteria is unlike any school cafeteria I’ve ever experienced. Choices on any given day might include Cordon Bleu, Beef with Vegetables, or Fish Filet. There is always pizza and an assortment of sandwiches available as well. Most entrees are served with potatoes and rice with sauces.

The salads are incredibly fresh. There is a wide assortment of fruits available or fruited yogurt if you prefer. And for breakfast I can get an omelet or an egg cooked to order. That is of course assuming I can resist the “pancake,” which is more like a light crepe filled with Nutella.

No, ours is not your run-of-the-mill school cafeteria.

And here is the best part. (My Blog…My Opinion.) The coffee.

Where else can you get a macchiato or a caramel latte delivered to your classroom? Espresso? No problem. Even the American coffee is freshly brewed.

So what do I eat over here? Food. Delicious food…and most of it from the school cafeteria! 

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.