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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Kosovo: Growing Up, Chapter 1 Scene 5

I met a woman on the steps of my apartment building yesterday. She was holding a tiny baby.

“How old is she?” I asked.
“Three weeks.”

The baby was born three weeks ago? She arrived in Kosovo the same time I did. She fidgeted in her mother’s arms. I know how she feels.

I feel like a newborn here. I look in the smiling faces of people. They seem eager to help me, but their language is strange. I’ve been quite dependent on others. I’m just learning to get around on my own and when I go to the grocery store I look at the pictures on the labels of packages because I can’t read what’s inside.

Night Sky: A View From My Balcony
Yet, it is amazing what you can learn in three weeks. I’ve learned enough Albanian to greet people, say please and thank you, and order a macchiato at the school cafeteria.

I’ve been to the market, the park, church, and on a very long bus ride (if you missed that one, you can catch it HERE). I manage to get to school on time and make it home every afternoon.

I’ve made friends and been to their homes for coffee and pastry. This past weekend I had dinner with some other teachers and folks from the Embassy and then spent two days in teacher training at an Embassy sponsored event.

But here’s the big step I took this week. I called for a taxi.

That doesn’t sound like much to most people I guess, but it was the very first time I called for a taxi. Tom always took care of things like that. Here’s what happened.

I was asked to represent our school at the dinner hosted by the Embassy on Sunday evening. The dinner was being held at a local restaurant but I had no idea how to get there on the bus. Plus, it was Sunday and the buses run on a different schedule.

A friend at the school gave me the number of a taxi service. “A lot of them speak English,” he told me.

Another friend who lives in my building gave me the number of another taxi service. “They’ve been here before,” she said.

The only problem I could see was that I actually don’t know my address. Valdet wrote words down for me to tell the company. Jill told me how to pronounce them.

I practiced. A lot. As the time approached, I whispered a prayer and dialed the number of the service closest to me. The man answered in Albanian.
“Taxi?” I said. “In der tessa a per-per e mee, mot e chan.” My words weren’t terribly fluent, but I had written the pronunciation down phonetically and felt confident. Okay, only slightly confident. My stomach churned. I could see me missing this important dinner all because I didn’t know how to call for a taxi. I should have tried this out yesterday.

“Six minutes,” the dispatcher on the other end said.

“You speak English?”

“Of course.”

“Did I say it right?” I could feel my stomach begin to unknot.

“Yes, of course. Six minutes.”

In exactly six minutes the taxi arrived. I told the driver the name of the restaurant. He was a nice man and enjoyed practicing his English with me while I tried to practice my Albanian. I paid the fare and all but danced into the restaurant.

I had called for a taxi. It arrived. I rode in it and paid for it all by myself.

I guess I’m growing up. Not bad for a three week old, eh?

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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Kosovo: Teaching Abroad Chapter 1, Scene 4

Except for the tall ceilings and balcony
my classroom might look like any other in
the USA
Classes have now started at Prishtina High School. With fifteen students, I have the largest class in the elementary grades. Ten girls and five boys. I am learning how to pronounce unfamiliar names and listen carefully to the children who carry with them the accents of their homeland. Most are Kosovar Albanians, a few are Americans, and a few have one parent who is Albanian while the other is from somewhere else in the world. They are an interesting and fun group. Curiously, two of the boys in my class moved here from Tampa, Florida, my old stomping grounds.
A view from one of the classroom balconies.

Never in my classroom experience have I had so many bilingual children. Of course they all speak English in class as we are an English immersion school. They use a mix of Albanian and English on the playground.

The children raise their hands and say, “Miss?” when they address me. Bilingual and extremely polite. Nice.That’s where the differences in this class and my former classes end. They are, after all, fourth graders.

Reception at Prishtina High School
They pull their fidget spinners out of their book bags and I have them put them away. They mix up “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” And they have a ton of energy and a great sense of humor.

My students have gym class every day. They study art or music every day as well and all of my students are part of an Albanian language class. The class is divided into two groups: those whose first language is Albanian and those who find themselves as learners in the “Albanian as a second language” class.

I teach them the academic core subjects of English (language arts), Social Studies, Mathematics, and Science.

I am reading Island of the Blue Dolphins to my students and so far they are enthralled. As I said, they are fourth graders. Some things are the same no matter where you live.

The open library is beautiful!
The building is a beautiful structure. It has an amazing library. The piano on the main floor is a new addition this year, but the sound it makes is beautiful and feels as if the instrument has finally found its home. We have a few good pianists about who will at various times during the day sit down to play. The music rolls through the corridors like a gentle calming breeze.

Teaching abroad is interesting and fun. And because I can’t run to the nearest teacher supply store, dollar store, or Wal-Mart, I have to call on all the creative juice within me to meet the standards for fourth grade. But it is so worth it!

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.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kosova: The Bus Ride Chapter 1, Scene 3

My mother loves to tell the story of my first day in first grade. We lived in Arizona. My mother was excited for me as I began this lifelong journey of education, but when the school bus arrived at my bus stop at the end of the day, I wasn’t on it. I’m sure she panicked. Her only child was missing.

The school was able to confirm I was okay. I was on the wrong bus but they would make sure I was delivered safe and sound as soon as possible. My mother waited. Now her concern was how I would handle the situation. The thought of her daughter lost and alone made her chest tighten. Was I afraid? Crying? Anxious in any way?

Much to her relief, I hopped off the bus happy as anyone could be.
“I told the teacher that wasn’t my bus. But oh, Mom, I saw so many beautiful things and places I never would have seen!”

What does that have to do with my life now in Kosova? Everything. It is an experience I can draw from when things don’t go just right. Like yesterday.

Yay! The big yellow bus is here and I'm ready!
I’ve been getting up my nerve to ride the bus to Prishtina High School where I will be teaching fourth grade. (The school started as a high school but has morphed into an educational center offering grades 1-12.) I digress.

I’ve had rides with various people during the days of teacher preparation, but I know I need to be able to ride the bus when needed. This was going to be the day.

I bravely walked to the corner of my street, but the bus had just pulled away. Hmm…I walked to the next intersection and looked back for another bus.  I may as well walk a bit more. I hoped to find a bus stop. The ones in the city are nice little shelters. But alas, no such bus stop here. I reach the third intersection and have almost convinced myself that at this rate I can walk the two kilometers to the school and forget the bus. That’s when the big yellow bus appears. Yay!

I board and sit down. I learned the protocol from a friend. Board, sit down, and wait. The ticket taker will walk back and take your forty cents and give you a receipt. He does exactly as expected and I am one happy camper. Until the bus stops and he asks me a question.

He doesn’t speak English. I don’t speak Albanian. He asks again. I tell him I am going to the school and I point up the road.

“American?” he asks.

I assume he’s talking about me so I say yes. He offers me a few instructions I don’t understand and points to another bus heading the opposite direction. He points for me to get off and cross the road. What do I know? Maybe this bus is going to turn off? Still, I ask again about the school at the end of the road. He tells me to get on the other bus with words I don’t understand and hand motions that are clear.

It turns out 40cents can take you places!

The next bus has more people on it. That has to be a good sign, right? But as we pass my apartment without making any sort of turn I know for certain I am on the wrong bus. I’m not totally worried because I’ve been told by others that the yellow buses make a big loop around the city. I figure the worst case is I make a big loop and wind up at my school anyway.

The big yellow buses do not make a loop.

We make several stops. People get on. People get off. We finally reach the end of the line. I’m the only passenger left. My smiling ticket taker points to a new bus. “American shckool,” he says.

I get on the new bus. It drives only a few blocks before it opens its doors in front of the American University of Kosovo. The new ticket taker points to me. This time I do not get off.

“This is not my school.” I suddenly remember a booklet I have in my bag. It is a copy of the parent handbook for the school. I pull it out and point to the name of the school. But it is not the school’s name he recognizes. It is the logo. A distinctive tree logo found on every sign I’ve seen regarding the school. His face brightens and he has me sit down. A few more stops and we are in my neighborhood once more. We finally reach the corner of the street leading to my school and I hop off the bus, happy as anyone can be.

Hey, it only took me two hours to travel two kilometers to my school. Not all that bad. I saw so many beautiful things and places I may never have seen.