Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kosovo: A Sunday Stroll Along the Boulevard Chapter 2, Scene 4

Here in Kosovo we are experiencing what we call in Ohio an “Indian Summer.” The days are filled with sunshine as if shining brighter could push autumn back a few weeks. Last Sunday I took the bus into Prishtina for church. I’ve had the privilege to meet with some wonderful people there.

 As the day was so beautiful and I had no agenda, I headed out after our gathering for a stroll along Mother Teresa Boulevard.

Many of the locals refer to this as “the walking street.” It is named after the Albanian nun who served the world by serving people in India. Mother Teresa was born in Skopja. The city, once part of the Kosovo province, is now the capitol of Macedonia, a few kilometers away.

The boulevard is lined with outdoor caf├ęs, street vendors, bookshops, and storefronts. A few five star hotels call the street their home as well.

I enjoyed an ice cream cone (in honor of my mother) and found myself tempted by the chestnuts roasting at stands along the way. 

The aroma was delicious and inviting. A few local farmers set up tables with the last of their raspberry crop for sale as well as a few blueberries.

Many families were in the street, taking in the last rays of sunshine before the sure to come colder weather is upon us. Children played in the fountains or rode the battery-powered cars on the stone pavers making up the boulevard. There is something comforting to be found in the laughter of children.

As the day winds down, the vendors string lights. People gather for a cup of coffee or buy a spiral cut fried potato on a stick. The community takes on the air of a carnival.  

I ducked into a shop that sells home goods and found a sugar bowl for my flat…uh…apartment. I have a guest staying with me for a few days from Wales so it seemed appropriate to have something new for her.

I made my way up one side of the boulevard and down the other. It was a day to hold onto. A day to remember when the snow comes or I’m feeling lonely. A day from which to draw energy and strength for many days to come.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kosovo: Making the Most of Every Opportunity, Chapter 2, Scene 3

if you look in the distance you'll see the mountains
bordering Montenegro. This is taken from the drive
in front of my apartment building.

People have a wide range of ideas about what it is like to live in a small country like Kosovo. Actually, I’m quite sure most of the people I know in the States haven’t even heard of this European country. The few who have ask me, “Is that the place where there was a war or something?” Uh…yeah. That was in the late 1990’s.

Others wonder about my safety or if I’ll starve to death or have to eat strange foods. I’ve had people ask my mother and kids why in the world I would risk everything to go to such a place.

Risk everything? I don’t see my journey as a risk. I view it as an opportunity.

Here are a few opportunities I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy that I never would have experienced in the States:

v Two days at the US Embassy in a training session with other teachers was fun…especially when we were treated to Oreo cookie milkshakes at lunch! (It’s the little things that count.)

v Attending a film premiere in Prishtina as a guest of my friend, Arijeta who happened to be the casting director for the movie. As such, she was able to cast another friend, Ruth in a supporting role. It was such a fun evening of dressing up and photo opportunities with the actors and actresses.

v The school where I teach celebrated its ten-year anniversary. It was a big deal. And rightly so. Prishtina High School is a model of excellence in education with 99% of graduates continuing their education at universities throughout the world. I’ve only been here a couple of months so none of the success is due to my efforts, yet I found myself filled with joy when the large prestigious crowd gathered to celebrate the school’s success.  I sat behind the Prime Minister of Kosovo who was one of the featured speakers.

My friend Arijeta (the pretty blond) being
 interviewed at the movie premiere.
The profile of the man on the left is
the Prime Minister of Kosovo.

Those are incredible experiences but the real opportunities…the true experiences of living in this little country come from the people I see every day.

I get to teach an amazing group of fourth graders.
I get to interact with a faculty and staff who care deeply about what they do.
I’m getting to know the little family that runs the market where I buy my bread, fruit and vegetables.
I’m meeting new people who live near me.
I’m spending time with new friends over a cup of coffee and enjoying an occasional dinner with people I’ve actually known for over twenty-five years.

The real opportunities are right out my front door and I want to make the most of every one of them while I’m here.

By the way, I found a terrific post about Kosovo on a travel blog. Check it out HERE to see what I see!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Kosovo: A Visit to the Doctor, Chapter 2, Scene 2

 One of my hesitations about moving overseas was the fact I have a problem with my right knee. I have to get a cortisone shot in it every three months. I was assured I could get the shot in Kosovo. Or, if I wanted a little side trip, the shot is also available in Greece.

I considered Greece. It sounded like fun. However, as the date approached, the logistics wouldn’t work out. I had a short time frame to get that much needed shot. I decided to stay in town. Caleb, a colleague from school made the appointment for me for Saturday morning.

What would I do without
my sweet friend, Arijeta?
My sweet friend, Arijeta, a truly gifted art teacher at Prishtina High School, offered to drive me to the orthopedic center. Here’s how our day went:

We arrive on time at the hospital to meet the orthopedic doctor. The facility is clean and nice and the people at the reception are friendly. It is what we in the States would think of as a medical center but I’m told it is actually a private hospital.

There is no wait time. Okay...that's cool. Then the doctor reviews my paperwork and asks me if I have the drugs. It turns out in Kosovo, if you go to the doctor for anything, including going into the hospital for surgery, you or your family has to go to the pharmacy and pick up the meds to be administered. Yep...didn't know that one.

The doctor’s office has 40mg of what I need available and my prescription calls for 80. I ask if he can give me two shots. He's worried about possible infection if he uses two needles in the same site.

I’m so glad my friend Arijeta with me. She is interpreting his Albanian into English for me. We leave and drive all over the city looking for 80mg of the drug. No luck. It is a drug produced in Serbia so we are finally informed there is a Barnatore (pharmacy) in a Serbian town nearby with a name I can't pronounce. They may have it.

Yep, a Serbian town in Kosovo complete with Serbian flags, language and everything. It is a fifteen-minute drive from Prishtina. Undaunted, Arijeta drives me there. It turns out Arijeta is fluent in Serbian as well.

It seems there's a pharmacy on every corner.
The Serbian pharmacy doesn't have it either but can order it for us and maybe have it Monday. Or Tuesday. Or sometime next week. I'm ready to cry. Arijeta is too. I can tell. Arijeta calls the doctor’s office back to tell them we can’t find the drug. She asks for direction on what we should do. It turns out the doctor is in surgery and will need to call us back.

It has been a long morning so Arijeta and I take the logical next step. We go to the mall and self medicate with KFC. Yes, it turns out the colonel is in town and it is delicious. It tastes like home. The receptionist at the doctor’s office returns the call while we are finishing up our fries. She tells us to return to their office.

My doctor and his colleagues have discussed the problem. They have decided on a plan to inject one of the ampules in my knee, leave the needle in and attach the second ampule. The three doctors hover around as my doctor makes the injection. Arijeta is reluctant to watch so she interprets for me from across the room. Meanwhile, I sit on the examining table praying silently through it all.

I’m a little scared. This may not be like it was when my doctor in the States did it. What if I pass out? What if…? I know I can go down a long list of “what ifs” but what good will it do? I decide to simply pray and trust this will all work out.

Because "Everybody needs a little KFC!"
And it did. It felt like it did in the States. It didn't hurt any more or any less and it seems to be working. Before I leave, the doctor assures me he will have the drugs ready for me in December. I smile and say, “Faleminderit.” At least I know how to thank the man in Albanian.

Arijeta and I make our way to the receptionist. There is the bill to pay.

From experience I know paying the bill is usually the most painful part of any medical procedure. I have insurance through the school where I teach. I approach the receptionist, still not altogether sure they will accept my insurance. I brought my Visa card in case, but I’m hoping I have enough cash on me to take care of the bill. I’m carrying all I have.

At home I pay the $20 copay up front before I ever see the doctor and after the insurance is billed and pay their part I still have to pay $65 or so for the shot.

Here it is a little different. The office accepts my local insurance card and I pay the balance. Five Euros and 40 Cents. Yes you read that right: $5.40. Not bad.

Well, there was all that gas we wasted… or was it a waste? I spent time getting to know Arijeta better, indulged in a little Kentucky fried, visited a town I didn’t know existed, came home with a whole new perspective on health care, and I can walk without a limp. All-in-all it was a great day!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kosovo: Day-to-Day Living, Chapter 2 Scene 1

 I’ve had many friends and family members ask about my day-to-day life in Kosovo. All I can say is that life here is basically the same as it is in the States. You get up, get ready for work, eat breakfast and head out the door. After work, you make your way home, figure out what you’ll eat for dinner, relax a bit and crash. Sound familiar?

The mosque across from my apartment.
Of course there are a few minor differences for me. For example, my apartment is across the street from a mosque. It isn’t quite completed yet, but in use. There are advantages to living so close to the mosque. (And no matter where you live in Prishtina you are close to a mosque.) The one advantage I readily recognize is that I don’t need to set an alarm clock. The morning call to prayer that is broadcast over a speaker system for the neighborhood usually wakes me up between 5:15 and 5:30 am. Perfect.

Another advantage is that since this particular mosque is in the “being built” stage, it serves as a landmark.  All I have to say is, “You know where they’re building that new mosque in Matiqan?” (pronounced mah-tee-chaun) That’s how people find my place.

Need I say more?
My balcony overlooks the city. I have the best sunsets in the region. Well, I think so, anyway. The balcony also serves as my dryer. Most places here have washers but few people have dryers. I hang my clothes out on a handy-dandy drying rack that folds up neatly and stores in my laundry area. The air here is dry and there always seems to be a breeze so the clothes dry quickly.

My meals? I usually have an egg for breakfast with some fruit. Pretty much the same as I always do. Of course here the eggs are fresh from the farm and the fruits are freshly picked daily as well.

These horses make a daily trip by my apartment.
I frequently stop at the little market near me on my way home and pick up a few items such as a fresh baked loaf of bread for twenty-five cents or some peaches and vine ripened tomatoes. I’m told that while the fruits and vegetable are grown around here, when winter comes the fresh produce is shipped in from Greece or Turkey. “Shipped in” is a relative term when I think of the oranges Ohioans get from Florida and California. Actually, from Kosovo you can get to the southernmost part of Greece in less time than it takes to drive from Cincinnati to the citrus groves in Arcadia, Florida.

I do make it to one of the larger stores from time-to time. The big stores, like those I’m used to in the States, have a wide selection of canned goods and packaged foods. I’m not always sure about what I’m buying but I’ve learned that the cheese with the picture of the man on it is much better than the cheese with the picture of the woman on it.

The road to my school.
And if all else fails, there are a ton of restaurants around. Curiously enough, it is cheaper to eat out than to cook at home. Go figure.

My commute home from school is pretty much the same as anywhere else. Except for the part where I have to walk the dirt road from the school to the bus stop. That’s only because a new road is being built. And of course I ride a city bus to get to my apartment. And there is the occasional cow in my front yard getting into the trash or eating the shrubs. Of course there's the horse-drawn wagon making its way daily up the road beside my building. But other than that, it’s the same old, same old.

Yep, life in Kosovo is not so different than life at home. The truth is this: The people here are friendly, kind, and generous. They love Americans. The city is beautiful and boasts great shops and restaurants. Life is good here and only different enough to make it interesting.

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