Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 8, Scene 4...The Beach Scene


 Who knew that a mere four hour drive from my apartment through the beautiful mountains surrounding Kosovo would take me to the seaside? Make that “Albania’s  beautiful shore on the Adriatic Sea.” 
Over the mountains and...

Durres.

I did not visit the Roman Amphitheatre there. I did not go to the castle or visit the museum. I did not stroll around the 9thcentury church with its mosaic walls. I didn’t even check those sites out. Nor did I ask about them. 

I went to the beach. I rested. I soaked in the sun and waded in the chilly water. I picked up stones washed smooth along the shore. I pushed my feet into the soft warm sand. I breathed the clean air and let the breeze wash over me like a sweet song to my soul.

But the best part of it all was spending time with friends both old and new. The church I attend in Prishtina partnered with a sister church in Kosovo to plan this retreat. In addition, a team of believers from the United States joined us as well as a couple of people connected to the church in other ways. Over seventy people, men women, and children gathered at a seaside hotel in Durres for a time of renewal. A time to fill our hearts with song and verse. A time to rest. 
...to the beach!



Gil, our speaker for the event, both entertained us and challenged us by retelling parables Jesus shared. The music, offered both in Albanian and in English, filled the room. One of the guests from America offered his testimony. Worship time in the evening and on Sunday morning brought with it yet another layer of rest, renewal, and peace. 

And there was more.

I met a woman named Harriet who lost her husband twenty years ago. Her care and counsel encouraged me. 

I rode there and back with a precious family of three whose two-year-old son sang all the verses to Ten Thousand Reasons. Many times. This is a song I’ve often struggled through since losing Tom. This sweet child wants to hear it over and over. Now I can sing the verse “And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come…” without reliving that day in the hospital when Tom died. My vision when I hear that song now will be a sweet two-year-old singing in his car seat all the way to Albania and back. It was wonderful.

Quiet time...
The retreat at the seaside was exactly what I needed. On those days when I feel spent…those times when I go to bed with my “to do” list undone…those times when I miss my husband so much it hurts…I know on those days, I’ll be able t
o close my eyes and relive the warmth of my retreat at the beach. I'll be able to feel the sand between my toes. I'll hear the voice of a precocious toddler.

“The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning,
It’s time to sing your song again,
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes.”


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 8, Scene 3 A Trip to the ER Wasn't on My TO DO List

I fainted.
It wasn’t that sweet, Scarlett O’Hara kind of fainting where you wake up, bat your eyelashes and look beautiful. I don’t do that kind. More about that later. First, I need to share what brought this on.

I developed acute bronchitis. (Yes, I self-diagnosed that one.) I started treating myself with a few home remedies such as tea, honey, and the like. 

Curiously enough you can get antibiotics over-the-counter in Kosovo so I started myself on a Z-Pack.  I took the first two of the three-day sequence without much improvement leading me to think my bronchitis may be viral instead of bacterial.  Still, I finished the tablets on Tuesday and headed to school Wednesday morning. 

I had that deep, chesty, “2 pack-a-day” cough even though I’ve never smoked. No other symptoms. No fever or anything.  Starve a fever, feed a cold didn’t apply, so I ate.  Wednesday, I had a light breakfast and went to work.  

I made it through the morning routine, English class, and math class before deciding I would have an early lunch.  My fourth graders were at recess and would be in the cafeteria shortly. I bought the chicken curry and rice (not spicy at all) with a salad and a bottle of water. It was great and I went for a whole twenty minutes feeling normal. So normal, I decided to go back to my classroom to work a bit. My kiddos were coming into the cafeteria for their own lunch.

I stood up. 
I felt dizzy.
I sat down.
I put my head down on the table. 
I felt myself sliding on the table.
I heard a freight train. (All in my head I suppose.)

The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by my coworkers. Some of the people who had been sitting at the table with me were now holding me up and talking while others were running here and there. 

I had fainted. As I said before, I’m not a beautiful fainter. I probably drooled all over the table. I didn’t ask. 

I knew I was on the mend because I felt remorseful. When I’m better I start apologizing. To everyone. I looked off to my side and saw a few of my students just sitting down with their lunches. They were looking my way, shocked and scared. I apologized even though they couldn’t hear me. 

I apologized to my teacher friends helping me. I messed up their lunch. I apologized to Paul and Kelsie who caught me. I should have been thanking them for keeping me from landing on the floor. I apologized to Valmire. She’s pregnant and I didn’t want her upset.

The other sign that I’m better is when I start crying. I’m an ugly crier, too. I can always tell I’m recovering from something when I start crying that ugly, scrunch-your-face-up kind of cry. My middle daughter once saw an old Lucille Ball television program where she gives that big ugly cry. “She cries like you, Mommy,” Danielle said.

I just kept crying and apologizing.

My friend, Ruth is a nurse. She and others came running into the cafeteria like the cavalry to the rescue.  The decision was made. I was going to the doctor. I cried more. “I don’t want to go to the doctor,” I cried. “I don’t’ want to do it.”

At least I smiled.
I didn’t need a doctor. By this time I had figured it all out.

I had just eaten, so my circulatory system was directing all that oxygen carrying blood to my digestive system. My little brain was already short on the big O, so I fainted. I was married to a scientist for over forty years. I know this stuff. I didn’t need a doctor. 

I argued. 
I lost.

My friends helped me to the car. Okay, yes I needed a little help after all. Valdet drove me to the American hospital with Ruth offering me encouragement from the back seat. I actually didn’t feel great but didn’t want to admit they were probably right. I tried to look on the bright side. This was a new experience. (My friend, Gordon says I'll do anything for new writing material.)

We went to the emergency room armed with my resident ID and Insurance card. The hospital was clean and nice. The wait was short.  So far, so good.  

They drew blood. Not my favorite thing. Ruth held my left hand while they put a port in my right one. They took my temperature.  They wrote down what had happened.

No more sticky electrodes for an EKG
While we waited for the next round of inquiry by the medical professionals, I asked my friends to take pictures. A new experience should be recorded, right? 

The first doctor came in. A neurologist.  Really? This was a pulmonary issue. 

He had me perform several tasks such as eye tracking and strength in my hands. He had me pick up my feet and hold them up and several other “tests.” I guess it was my age. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t having a stroke or something. They even did an EKG. Not bad. Pretty thorough.  

The pulmonary specialist came in. She listened to my chest and back and asked me about the Z-pack. She asked me about my allergies and my asthma.  She ordered a chest X-ray. Again, very thorough. The nurses and orderlies were smiling and kind.  They spoke Albanian so Ruth and Valdet served as my translators. This was turning into a positive experience. I was already feeling better.

Stay calm. Let the IV drip.
The X-ray was unlike any I had before, but quick and extremely modern technology.  I was there by myself so no pictures, but it was over before I could have taken one anyway.

Now I had seen everyone. I had been examined and X-rayed, stuck with a needle, given up a couple samples of blood, and interviewed.  They had to review the results of all my tests, the EKG and the X-ray. Now we waited. Waiting on the backside of a visit to the ER is decidedly better than having to wait at the beginning. I felt confident and much better for having come. I thanked my friends for their help.

The doctor’s report offered nothing new. I had acute bronchitis as I suspected. The doctor ordered a steroid infusion to kick-start the cortisone inhaler she prescribed. I was quietly thanking God they had put the port in to draw blood so I didn’t have to face another needle. She also prescribed some meds and told me to come back on Friday to be re-checked. They handed over the prescriptions, reports, and my X-ray. Seriously. I got to take my X-ray home with me.

Now came the worst part of going to the hospital, right? The bill. 

Thank you, Ruth for your care.
My insurance covers thirty percent up front. Then I can turn in the receipts to the financial office and get back some of the seventy percent I had to pay. I hoped the hospital accepted my credit card. The woman at the counter checked everything and typed it all in her computer. 

I know health care is more affordable here, but I prepared myself for the worst. A thousand to walk in? More for the X-ray? The EKG? Then there was the intravenous infusion, not to mention a pulmonary specialist and a neurologist.

I stood tall and braced myself for the damage. 
I did not want to faint and start the process all over again. 

My friend Ruth was offering encouraging words of financial assistance if I needed it. And she lives here.This was going to be bad.

The young woman at the desk looked up and smiled sweetly.
X-Ray, Reports, Prescriptions.
I braced myself or the damage.
My seventy percent of the total emergency room cost came to a whopping €94.90.  I pulled two fifties out of my wallet and went home with change. (And a copy of my X-ray!) My two inhalers and cough syrup came to 13€. 

Total? €107.90. One Hundred Seven Euros and Ninety Cents for an ER visit and Meds? 

I almost fainted. 

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, April 11, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 8, Scene 2 Spring Break in Malta


Having the opportunity to fly to Malta for Spring Break is certainly a perk of living in southeastern Europe. While some of my friends took off for England or Austria (been there, done that) and another headed for Croatia (jealous), my friend Grace and I decided to head south to an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. 

We made the right choice. Malta is incredibly beautiful. While I’m sure I missed a number of tourist attractions, the water and sunshine called my name. 

My rendition of the Malta seashore.
Day 1: Grace and I both like to draw and paint so our first adventure was to take our art supplies, head to the water’s edge and sketch. Of course our supplies are limited. It was simply impossible to capture the true colors reflected in the sea. But it was fun trying.

That day we also found a great seaside restaurant with wonderful pasta and seafood. What a treat! We walked along the coastline taking in one remarkable view after another.

This is what the camera saw!
Day 2:  Day two turned out to be the best day of all. We decided to “go tourist” and plopped down our money for an island cruise. The boat took us past the smaller island (just offshore from Malta proper) that is widely accepted as the actual place where the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked. There is a monument atop the cliff to honor him.

The boat then took us by several smaller islands where caves and waterways have been cut into the stone by the shear force of the pounding sea. Some were known as pirate caves, though I don’t know for sure they were used that way. The water was crystal clear, calm, and the colors vibrant.

Coming into the Blue Lagoon
The boat finally dropped us off at a place called the Blue Lagoon. Protected on three sides by the rocky hills and cliffs of smaller islands, this is where we braved the cold water of the Mediterranean.  I couldn’t help but think of Tom. He would have LOVED this! We had hours to swim, picnic, and explore the island. We were tired by the time we got back to the Airbnb, but it was that good kind of tired. The kind where you know you’ll be able to close your eyes on a cold winter day and relive the experience.

That evening we found a place that sold pastizzi, a flaky pastry filled with warm cheese or mashed peas. It is known throughout the region. We also tried drinking “Kinnie” which is like an orange flavored cola drink. In time it may grow on you…okay, after a L-O-N-G time. The man who sold us our food said we were “going Maltese.”

Going Maltese!
Day 3:  On the third dayof our trip we caught a bus to a huge ferry to take us to the island of Gozo. It was here we sketched the harbor and toured the island via taxi.  Our taxi driver did his best to act as a tour guide. I think he was surprised to find we were more interested in the beautiful scenery than we were in shopping. But he would stop to let us photograph some of the waterfront, the almost volcanic looking rocks along the shoreline, and a grove of olive trees I found particularly interesting. He drove us to a beautiful church high on the hill above the harbor (apparently Gozo has 365 churches and one mosque). The inside of the church was very “old world” in d├ęcor but still very much in use.  Then it was back on the ferry, which is as I said huge…it carries cars and eighteen wheelers in its hold as well as passengers on the upper decks back and forth between Gozo and Malta several times a day.

Day 4:  Another walk along the sea took us to an experience we won’t soon
Getting our pedicures at the Fish Lounge
forget. We had a foot massage and pedicure…sort of. We dropped our feet into a tank where over 100 tiny little fish suck away any dry skin. My Florida family will remember minnows similarly nibbling away as we dangled our feet off the dock. Anyway, it was fun and actually fairly relaxing. Best of all my feet felt soft and smooth when the thirty minutes were up. This is apparently quite popular in Turkey.

We then caught a bus to Mdina, also known as the Silent City. It wasn’t all that silent…tons of tourists and at least one wedding, but for a good reason.  The walled city with its stone streets and winding passageways is stunning. And the view from the top of the Fontanella Tea Garden? Spectacular. You can see all of Malta from the balcony setting while enjoying great food and freshly baked specialty cakes. Sorry if I’m beginning to sound like a tourist magazine. 

That evening we flew back to Skopje in Macedonia. The flight was only about an hour and forty minutes. It took us a bit more than that to taxi back to Prishtina.

I grabbed my backpack, said goodbye to Grace and headed up to my apartment. A vacation is great, but its always good to be home. 

That’s when it hit me. 

Prishtina is like coming HOME.

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, April 3, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 8, Scene 1 The Wedding


 Right when I wonder what I’ll write about next, I’m invited to a wedding. An Albanian wedding for one of the night guards at our school. I was honored to be included. 

I asked my friend Jill about protocol. I wanted to know if there was a gift registry or something I should be checking. I asked about what I should do or not do at the wedding and, of particular interest to me was what I should wear.

Jill patiently walked me through each question. May I just say how wonderful it is to have friends here who have had these experiences and willing share everything they know? 

My friend and coworker, Fitim, was picking me up. The wedding started at 7:00. At first he said he would come for me at 6:30. Then 6:50. I guessed the wedding was close by. He arrived a couple of minutes after seven and we still had to pick up someone else. I asked him about the time. 

“Oh, it starts at seven which means guests can arrive between seven and eight. We don’t want to be on time because then we would be early.”

“Uh…Okay.”

We drove for forty minutes out of town. I was a little concerned because I didn’t bring my passport and I was sure we’d be in Macedonia or Albania before too long.



We arrived later than the invitation said which turned out to be right on time. I think. 

Once seated at our table, the food started coming. Salad, and a plate of meat and cheese. Then there was a beef patty, chicken, and a beef sausage. Fruit and more salad. Colas and water and fruit juices. The food kept coming. All evening. 

It turns out there is no gift registry. Everyone does give money. I tucked mine in an envelope and slipped it in my purse. That was perfect. I was instructed to write my name on the front of the envelope and there was a box to drop it in as we arrived. 

The wedding is not so much a scripted program as it is a feast and a party. I pretty much knew what to do: Simply act as I would at an American reception. Eat, dance, visit, take pictures, eat some more, dance some more, take some more pictures. Of course the dancing is different. Most of the dance was a traditional Albanian dance I learned at the Balla. Not bad.

There had been that “what to wear” question. Jill told me to go all out. Get my hair done, do make-up, and dress to the nines. She asked if I had high heels. Uh, no. I would fall and kill myself. I wound up wearing a simple black dress, strappy black sandals, and costume jewelry I bought for the Balla. I counted going to the beauty shop last week as "getting my hair done." (If you missed it you can read about it here.) I put on my mascara and lipstick. I was ready to go. 

I'll admit I was a little concerned when I arrived. It looked like the Oscars. Women were dressed in ball gowns and looked very fancy. But as it turned out, there were women dressed as I was as well, so I was fairly comfortable. I decided to throw caution to the wind and didn’t even stop dancing after I discovered a run in my stockings!  

The bride and groom finally arrived.  

But enough rhetoric. I captured some of the wedding in pictures so I could take you along.

The bride and groom arrived.

The bride descended down one set of stairs
while the groom came down the other.

After meeting at the bottom o the staircase the couple walked through
 this "aisle of fire" to  the front of the room where  they sat in thrones.

A traditional Albanian band played their horns and drums.
There was also a live band and singer who played
during the bride's dance. Guests brought money
 and tucked in her tiara. When the groom joined her, guests
 tucked money in his jacket pocket.





I love this. There was a procession to bring these traditional
Albanian garments to the couple and then they danced
the traditional dance with the drums and horns playing.



There was one bit of protocol Jill neglected to tell me. Do Not Leave the Wedding Until the Cake is Served. Of course I know it is not fitting to leave the wedding until then. That makes sense. But by two in the morning, I wasn't all there anyway. 

There is so much more I could share. Perhaps another time. 

Suffice it to say, it was fun and beautiful and a true celebration of this couple dedicating their lives to each other. And the next time I'm invited to a wedding I may go for a little more glitz and glamour...or not.

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."