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.

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." 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Kosovo Chapter 5, Scene 3: Kosovo is a Coffee Culture

Kosovo is a coffee culture. In fact, I had my first taste of a macchiato in 2005 when my husband and I brought five of my teacher education students to Kosovo to work with Albanian teens learning English. The country was still reeling from the war. Restaurants were few and far between. Bakeries were starting up again but only sold bread. But coffee? You could find small caf├ęs serving coffee dotted across the land.

Coffee shops in today’s Kosovo are abundant. People gather before work, during work, and after work for coffee. Business is conducted over coffee. Deals are made and alliances formed with a macchiato or Turkish coffee in hand. But having someone "over for coffee" or "going for a coffee" has other subtle meanings.
On Saturday, some of my friends
gathered for coffee. 
First, most often when someone suggests you come over for coffee, they are opening their home to you in a gesture of friendship. Coffee in this case may mean coffee, tea, sweet baked goods or light snacks. It could also mean a spread of heavy cakes and pastries and on occasion something akin to a light meal. The real point of getting together for coffee is friendship. Talking. Sharing. Taking interest in you as a person.

Going out for coffee is also a gesture of friendship and an easy way to get an entire group of people together. A few weeks ago, several of us from the school where I teach went out for coffee at a place called Soma. It is part coffee shop and part bookstore. By US standards, Soma is a very upscale place to meet. Frazier would have approved. We gathered and chatted. Some people had coffee, a few had tea or a bottle of water. Everyone enjoyed the social hour. At the end of our time together, a few people went home to have dinner with their families while others strolled Mother Theresa Boulevard to shop or grab a sandwich and a couple of us slipped into a restaurant for a more substantial meal. Coffee was the start to our evening. Not the end.
Out for coffee after church.

The school where I teach offers a variety of specialty coffees. Teachers meet in the cafeteria over a latte to discuss student needs or make plans. And if you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know the cafeteria workers will even deliver a cup of coffee to your classroom if you find yourself in need. No one thinks anything of it. Kosovo is a coffee culture.

Of course there are a few cultural nuances to having coffee. I learned this the first few weeks I arrived in Prishtina. I often ride the bus to school. One of the older gentlemen who takes tickets quickly realized I was American. (Honestly, I sometimes think it’s stamped on my forehead.)

Anyway, he started talking to me in nearly perfect English. He told me how he and his sister studied in Paris many years ago when Kosovo was part of communist Yugoslavia. He said his French was much better than his English. As the bus came to my stop, he motioned to the restaurant across the street. Well, it is called a restaurant but they only serve coffee.

“Would you like to stop for a coffee with me?” he asked.

“No, but thank you. I have a meeting at school.” 

At school I told my friend Ruth about the nice man on the bus and his offer to have coffee.

“How old was this man?” she asked.

“Oh, about my age or maybe a year or two older. I think he liked practicing his English.”

Ruth laughed out loud. “Good thing you didn’t take him up on it! When a man asks you for coffee, it’s practically a marriage proposal!”

I was in shock. My teacher friends all found it funny. I’ll never know if they were right. I’ll never test those waters. I’d still like to think he simply wanted to practice his English.

And have a cup of coffee. Because, after all, Kosovo is a coffee culture.

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 10, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 5, Scene 2 Back in the Rhythm of Teaching and Learning

I am enjoying my life in Kosovo. I love teaching fourth grade at Prishtina High School. I was surprised to discover as school started back after the winter break, I was as happy as my students for the start of our second semester.

Not that my break was bad. Several of us got together for meals and games. I went to the mall with friends to watch three movies over the break: Wonder, Jumanji, and The Greatest Showman. The movies are released here the same time they are released in the states.

Another plus was the weather. We had a dusting of snow one morning, but most of the time the weather was great. In fact, one of our math problems on the first day back was to find the average temperature for Prishtina during December. Actually, from December 5-31. We’re tracking Kosovo’s meteorological winter (December 5 through March 5). These are supposed to be the ninety coldest days of winter. Our average in December? Forty-two degrees Fahrenheit.  I kid you not. I’ve been told this weather is not typical.
Time for long division...

I worked a bit on projects for school as well. Of course that was by choice. The school is accessible anytime so I went to the building a couple of times. I mean, really…we were out December 22 until January 9. It was a decent break no matter how you count it.

But now it is time to get back into the rhythm of teaching and learning. It’s time to take all those fun experiences we had over the break and turn them into stories. It’s time to prepare for the science fair and get our reports on the history of Kosovo ready to share with our friends in the UK. (We’re teaching a class in the UK about Kosovo and they’re going to teach us about the UK.) It’s time for my students to learn how to do long division.
Sure, there will be days when the snow clouds form and inside recess makes us all a little crazy, but even those will pass quickly. In the meantime, I am enjoying my life in Kosovo and I love teaching fourth grade at Prishtina High School.

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."