Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 6, Scene 3 Happy Birthday!


I teach fourth grade. Ten-year-olds are an interesting lot. They are full of hope and dreams and sure they can do it all! They’re industrious and anxious to learn everything they can about the way the world works. Of course they’re still learning how to get along with others around them, but they keep trying, working out the nuances of communicating with people they didn’t know until coming into this class. I love my students.
I was at a huge birthday party this past weekend with some friends. Actually, it was a huge bash with thousands in attendance. It was in celebration of Kosovo’s Independence Day. Ten years ago, after a war at the turn of the century and eight plus years of NATO peacekeeping forces on the ground, Kosovo officially became a nation.
February 17th was a day of celebration. As some of my teacher friends and I stood together for the big celebration and concert on Mother Teresa Boulevard, it occurred to me a nation goes through many of the same growing pains we do as people.

Kosovo, so young and full of energy is still learning how the world works and how they fit into the scheme of it all. These are a people full of hopes and dreams, not only for themselves but for their descendants, the future of Kosova.

Half of Kosovo’s population is under thirty years old. There was an excitement in the atmosphere that evening that was almost palatable. Families and friends enjoyed the night of music and festivities. Children were hoisted on their father’s shoulders to see Prishtina born singer Rita Ora and enjoy the fireworks.

I felt so blessed to be a part of it all. But then, I’m a mom. I know the joy of ten-year-olds. I only pray the nation is ready for the teen years.

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, February 13, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 6, Scene 2 A Package From Home

When my daughters were away at camp or in college, I made it a point to send them  packages from home. I sent them cards or letters from time-to-time (this was pre-internet) but a package was a treat. In it I would put a few of their favorite treats along with a small gift. They appreciated it. I didn’t know how much those “little things” meant though until I moved to Kosovo.

This past week I received a special package from home. In it were a few of my favorite treats, packets of seasonings I can’t find here, and hot chocolate mixes among other things. It felt like a holiday as I pulled each item from the bag. Books, cards, a small compact and hairbrush were in there as well as a couple of things some of my friends needed…or wanted.

The best gift of all though was the one who delivered the package to me…my daughter, Kendall! Talk about a treat! Kendall presented at a conference in Berlin. When the conference was over, she grabbed a plane to Prishtina and spent the weekend with me!

Kendall arrived on Friday afternoon, so she was able to meet the students in my class, my friends at work, and tour my school. She even gave a talk to the eleventh and twelfth grade students about her career. 

Over the weekend, we rode the bus and took a walk in Germia Park. (Yes, that big yellow bus that inadvertently took me on my first tour of the city!  CLICK HERE for that experience!) I showed her where I shop for groceries and we walked through downtown Prishtina.  

On Sunday, Kendall went with me to my church.  It was fun to take her to some of my favorite restaurants where we enjoyed amazing food. Now she can envision my life here when I talk about people and places. It was exactly what I needed…and didn’t know it. It is one thing to live in an amazing place like Prishtina but another to get to share it with someone you love.

The treats from home are great. Touring the city with Kendall was wonderful. But my favorite part of her visit? The warm hugs and late-into-the-night talks with my sweet girl.

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, February 7, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 6, Scene 1 Learning Albanian...My Way


There. You have the extent of what I remembered of Albanian from 2005 when Tom and I were here last. “Good Morning” and “Thank You.” The two phrases were a start, but if I was going to be a part of the community, I decided I needed to learn more.

Reason #1-When you live abroad, it is respectful to learn the language of your host country. Albanian is the prominent language in Kosova.

Reason #2- Pointing to something will only get you so far. Communication is a valuable asset when you’re traveling.

Finding an Albanian teacher is easy... so of course you know I didn’t take that route. I wasn’t as anxious to learn verb tenses and a long vocabulary list as I was to talk with the man at the market or the woman on the bus.

I’m a teacher. I’ve studied human development and language acquisition. I see two-year-old children speaking Albanian and they don’t have a clue about letter names and their corresponding sounds.

Zeqir and his family are patient with my Albanian
 as I order food in the cafeteria.
I decided to learn Albanian my way. I started by trying to communicate. Just as babies babble until they figure out the sounds that get the best responses, I listened and tried words out as my volunteer mentors helped me take “baby steps.” The man at the supermarket taught me the word for six when I bought a half dozen eggs. The bus driver taught me “miredita” which means have a good day, as he waved goodbye to me. My newfound friend on the bus worked with me on the pronunciation of “shehemi” which means “see you” as in “see you later.” I bought my macchiato when Zeqir in the cafeteria taught me how to say “A ban nje macchiato.”

My beautiful friend, Kuma is a great help!
My friend, Kuma and I went out to eat after church one Sunday afternoon. She teaches Albanian. I explained to her I want to learn to speak before I learn to read or write Albanian. That afternoon, she told me what to say and I practiced by ordering our food and getting the check. She helped me with my pronunciation and taught me to count. It was a wonderful lunch. Our next "lesson" is going to be at a store where I hope to learn how to ask for specific items and maybe know what to look for on a few labels.

In the meantime, I keep practicing by talking with the friendly people around me. They are happy to help. Albanian Kosovars are gracious people.

I was pretty sure I was making great headway. I worked hard to pronounce all of my students' names. Rina, Renea, Reina, Erina, and Mrika were my big challenges. I practiced rolling my r's. I was excited recently when the taxi service answered me in Albanian instead of English. Could he really not tell I'm an American on the phone? Wow! I was filled with pure joy and full of myself. I walked in my classroom ready to tackle the day...then one of my students laughed at the way I say my “r’s.”

“Miss, you say your r’s like you’re from Gjakova!”

Well, at least Gjakova is in Kosova instead of Ohio. Maybe I’m learning the language after all. One baby step at a time.

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 31, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 5, Scene 5 Permission to Rest

I don’t care where you live, if you are breathing, you have moments of stress. When those moments mount up on you it’s time to take action. Living abroad has it’s own measure of stress, I’m sure. I haven’t experienced much of it though.

Of course there are inconveniences from time-to-time. Like when the bus recently changed its route. They decided one day they were no longer coming to my neighborhood. I got on the bus fully expecting to travel up the hill to the stop in front of my apartment. The kind ticket taker said something to me and I showed him my bus pass and sat down. Another woman got on as well. Others were standing on the sidewalk arguing with the bus driver. Hmm…that’s strange. I sat there wondering what was going on. The ticket taker said something else to me and the other woman, shrugged his shoulders and closed the doors. We did a U-turn in the street, came to a stop on the other side of the road, and the doors opened for us to exit.

That could be an inconvenience leading to stress, but I’ve learned that living in a new country is peppered with those sorts of experiences and I simply can’t let them bother me. By the way, there must have been a lot of complaining, because the next day the route was reinstated.

No, my stress came by way of work. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. Teaching fourth graders in an international school is exhilarating. I’m also the principal for the elementary school. I was feeling a little under the weather, so this past week the demands of those jobs and enough cold weather to merit indoor recess came together to form a perfect storm. I had a meeting every day after school, a report to get out, and fifteen little fold out books to make for my students.

I like to stay busy so this should have been an energizing week for me. It wasn’t. I was frustrated with one of the reports, the fold out books looked like a nest of white origami birds ready to take flight in my living room, and I was tired. Bone tired.

So what did I do? First, I took the advice of my friend Jon who always says everyone should watch Patton at least once a year. I checked it out of the library and sure enough, I entered school the next day with my combat boots on ready for service.

By the end of the week, though, I was still tired. No. Exhausted.

When I left her house to come to Kosovo, my daughter, Danielle, tucked a stack of envelopes in my luggage. They were marked on the front “For the first day of school,” “On Thanksgiving,” and so forth. I opened them as each event or holiday arrived. Sweet cards with endearing messages of love and encouragement from my daughter were in each envelope.

At the bottom of the stack she had placed a few random cards:

“For when you feel sick”
“For when you’re lonely”
“For when you’re tired”

There it was. I hope I bring the “sick” and “lonely” cards home with me unopened, but I tore into the one for when I felt tired. Here’s what she wrote:

Relax! The world will not stop if you take a needed break! Use wisdom, of course, and don’t be lazy, but I give you permission to rest and catch up on your physical, mental, and spiritual health! (Not that my permission means much, but maybe it will free you from condemnation!)
Love you,

She’s right…I don’t need her permission, but it certainly felt good to have it! I stretched and made a plan whereby I could finish one item on my list and move on. I read my Bible and found a great sense of peace.

And then I called Danielle to thank her for the cards and her words of wisdom. So if you’re reading this and you, too, feel tired, you have my permission to rest.

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." 

I love all the cards my sweet daughter
sent with me to Kosovo!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 5, Scene 4 "The White Stuff"

Now this is a decent snow...just not in Prishtina.

  I’ve been waiting for this. SNOW. When I moved to Kosovo, I brought my two warmest coats, my snow boots and Smart-Wool socks, my long johns and flannel nighties. I was convinced I was moving to a place that would be dark and cold from November to March. I came prepared.

When I woke up one morning in October to a smattering of snow on my balcony I was convinced I had landed in the land of Dr. Zhivago. I envisioned horse drawn sleighs and people cross-country skiing to school. Even though that particular snow didn’t last past breakfast, I was sure I was facing months of the white stuff. I got my coats, gloves, and boots out and ready.

The snowy mist lasted for hours! I was hopeful.
In Ohio, we usually experienced our first light snow or at least flurries around Thanksgiving. From my home in Kosovo I could see snow on the mountains bordering Montenegro, but the fields of my neighborhood still offered the passing cow some green grass well into November.

Temperatures were sure to drop. We were heading into winter, right?  Still, our average high in December was 43F. I know. My students and I tracked the weather as part of a science study and we calculated the average temperature as part of our introduction to long division when we returned to school in January.

I commented to one of my school friends about the incredibly mild winter. He’s a science teacher. He said we needed some good snows to help the water table. I hadn’t thought of that. I like warm temperatures, but I’m not so selfish as to want this warm weather to continue at the expense of next year’s crops and such. Besides, I came with the idea that this part of the Balkans was surely one of the coldest and snowiest places on earth. Or it would at least feel like it to this Southern Girl. (Florida is the place I’ve called home for more years than I can remember.)
Early on the weekend snow shower
 looked promising!

And so, showing great love and concern for my fellow man, I prayed for a good snow.

It snowed a ton…in Ohio. Actually, it snowed all the way into northern Florida.

Now, I know it wasn’t me. God is fully aware I live in Kosovo. Yet, I felt a little guilty enjoying the no-snow belt in which I was living and talking to my mother on the phone as she prepared for a blizzard.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had some cool temperatures and I’ve worn my coats. My coats and my socks. I’ve turned on the heat and snuggled under my blanket. We’ve had some blasts of cold air here. We simply haven’t had snow.

Until this past weekend. It snowed. It snowed hard. It snowed long. Tiny light flakes so dense it looked like fog filling the sky. It snowed on Saturday as a group of folks from the school where I teach went snow skiing in the mountains. It snowed through Sunday enough to make the field in front of my house begin to turn white. It snowed long enough for children to envision a day off of school. And then it stopped.

Not what I envisioned on Monday morning.
As Monday morning dawned and the misty snow induced cloud lifted, the roads were clear. Stubbles of brown grass and weeds poked through the snow in the field. Two full days of the white stuff coming down and so little to show for it!

I pulled my coat around me, donned my snow boots, and trudged up the lane to catch the bus. The air was crisp but not cold. The sun was shining. As I walked from the bus stop to my school, I couldn’t help but enjoy the calm the light snow brought to the small community where my school is located. I heard a rooster crow and felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Ah…Kosovo.

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."