Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 7, Scene 4 Pretty is as Pretty Does

 I have never been much of a girly girl. I’ve not been one to wear makeup or worry about my hair. I don’t paint my nails or spend money on jewelry. Don’t misunderstand. Like most women, I like to feel good about myself and when Tom was around, I basked in his appreciative nods my way. It’s just that I’m not a beauty salon addict. Never have been.

I used to think my take on beauty stemmed from my mother always saying, “Pretty is as pretty does” and the fact that I was teen during the whole natural look of the seventies movement. The bottom line? I wasn’t out to impress anyone and as long as my husband liked the way I looked, I was fine.

Now I live in Kosovo where women looked like they stepped out of a 1960’s Vogue magazine ad. (Okay, I never actually read Vogue, but I know it is a fashion journal that’s been around forever.) Back to Kosovar women. They are beautiful. They wear makeup and have their nails done. They spend time getting coiffed and groomed and dressing nice. They even wear high heels. Serious high heels.

So when one evening at dinner with some friends, one of my international friends started talking about her hairdresser and about how wonderful he is, I was intrigued. She’s not Kosovar but is a lovely woman. She was singing the praises of this man. Somehow the conversation shifted and I found myself agreeing to go with her one day to “have my hair done.”

I actually didn’t give it a second thought until she texted me to see if Saturday would work for me. 9:30. Saturday. Hair appointment.

I figure I can try anything at least once. Well, nearly anything. Getting my hair done seemed harmless, so I agreed. Maureen picked me up and drove me to the appointment. She knew what she wanted to do. She had a wash and blow dry. I decided since this was my one shot at beauty I’d trust the man in charge to do whatever he thought I needed.

I must have needed a lot. Three hours later I left with my hair cut, colored, and styled. I’ve never had so much fluff in my life. And the color? They talked about highlights.

I already had “natural gray” highlights. I thought maybe he was going to cover those up and give me a bit of a sun-kissed look. Of course in the summer, my hair turns almost red with all the sun and chlorine from the swimming pool.

Would he bring out the red? Even out the brunette undertones? Cover the gray? I’m not sure what he and his helper did, but I left feeling…different.

Having your hair done when you rarely do such a thing takes a bit of getting used to. I passed a mirror and didn’t recognize myself. My mom Skyped me so she could see it. She said she liked it. I love my mom and appreciate her, but I also know I could dye my hair orange and get it styled with spikes all over and she would say it was beautiful. Moms are like that. They see what they want to see.

I toyed with the idea of not going to church on Sunday, sure that I would be a total distraction. I kept telling myself, “It’s only hair. It’ll grow out.” Missing church for such a silly reason seemed ridiculous. I decided it is what it is and I would simply “own it.” And maybe, just maybe, no one would notice.

They noticed. But the nice thing about my church family is they truly live out the notion of being kind to each other. If they laughed, it was quietly to themselves. Some of them actually told me they liked my hair. And one woman said I looked very European. I also realized that by the end of the day I wasn’t as shocked by my own reflection as I had been.

I decided if I could make it through Sunday, I could make it through Monday. School. My colleagues noticed but the comments were positive. This wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Then the bell rang and fourteen of the most honest people I’ve ever known in my life walked into the room.

“No, Miss! What did you do?”

One boy put his hand out as if to stop the blinding glare of my highlighted multicolored hair. He practically screamed. “Agh! Miss! Oh, Miss, no!”

The girls were less shocked. But the boys? Four boys gathered around my desk. I reminded myself to “own it.”

“Yes?” I asked sweetly. I reminded myself this was the same crew that told me to never wear mascara after the Balla. They’re the ones who said they didn’t like my lipstick. I figure they simply don’t like change.

“Miss, why did you do this?”

I looked into their startled faces and tried to explain.

“Well, a friend of mine took me to the hairdresser. It sounded like fun,” I began.

That’s about the time one of the boys brought his hand down hard on my desk. “Miss! You always tell us don’t do things just because a friend tells you to!”

Uh…they had me there. I told them I thought it would be an interesting experience. I promised I wasn’t talked into anything.

Will I do it again? I don’t know. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the opportunity to explore this new European side of me. As long as I never forget those words of wisdom my mother offered me. “Pretty is as pretty does.” It is the only truth I can bank on. Well, that and the unfiltered comments of fourth graders.

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, March 21, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 7, Scene 3 A Friend...and Then Some

I’ve written much on my blog about the nationals here in Kosovo. Most of my local contacts daily are with Albanian Kosovars, though I have met a few Serbians and a couple of Roma people. I have shared how gracious and good these people are to me. From the bus drivers and people at my local market, to the teachers at my school and the leaders of my church, the Kosovars are precious to me.

So today I decided to share with you some insight on another group of people I love and adore: the internationals. Although by definition I suppose most would call this group, expats (ex, a prefix meaning “out of” and patria, meaning “home country”) I hear my Kosovar friends refer to us as internationals.

My friend Jill is ALWAYS busy...
But never too busy to help a
anyone in need.
We are a community. I work with several Americans, a Scotsman, and a German. I go to church with a lovely group of Brits, Americans, and Dutch. We are all here for different reasons. And all for the same purpose: to serve. But what I find most incredible is the way serving here takes on new meaning.

I have to go to the doctor every three months. My friend, Jill drops everything to take me. She doesn’t fit me into her day, she plans her day around me. “Just tell me when you need to be there,” she says.

And there’s Kelsie, who learned I had a cold and offered me
Christopher likes to eat out and so do I
Great one for trying new places!
medicine. It was okay, I already had some from the last time I had a cold in the fall. That was the day the Erskin’s walked to another friend’s house to get Nyquil for me.

When the people who usually drive me to church were out of town, Janette offered to pick me up. Christopher is known to notice when I’m working hard, so he’ll suggest we go for dinner. Not to mention he knows all the songs to the musical Oklahoma! Gordon listens to me and encourages me. And Grace always seems open to give me a lift if she has a car available or to do anything I might need like shopping for a fancy dress! (If you missed that one, CLICK HERE. It was hilarious.)  

Grace is always there for me...and everyone else.
What a giving spirit this girl has! 
Maureen went out of her way to pick up a paper cutter for me for a project I wanted to do for school. And she loaned me a portable heater during the winter when I was still trying to figure out my heating system in the apartment. She and Dustin kept me busy and entertained during the winter break.

Paul and Angela open their home to me for dinner and coffee anytime I like. And they share their sweet little one with me, reminding me of my own small grandchildren in America. And Annie always has a smile and a hug for me at school…reminding me of my older grands.
Annie always has a ready smile and a big hug.
Those came naturally with her serving heart.

I could go on and on. People who find themselves living abroad form a close community quickly. They share and give fully, without reservation. Selflessly and seamlessly. They are givers, not takers. They love serving the Kosovars. They love serving each other. And I love these people.

So what do I give back? I don’t know. I’m not sure I could ever do for them all that they have done for me. They make me feel like God’s favorite child.

My youngest daughter once pointed out we serve an “and then some God.” He always gives us what we need…and then some. I knew moving to southeastern Europe would have challenges. I knew I would need a friend or two here. I prayed about it. And God provided. He gave me what I needed…and then some.

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, March 14, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 7, Scene 2 Thank You, Mr. President

It started with a book. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I read a chapter or two every day.  In the story, the islanders engage in a conflict with the Aleuts who come to the island to hunt. Through a series of events that follow, a young girl named Karana lives alone on the island. At one point, the Aleuts return to the island. They have a girl with them who tries to befriend Karana.

I stopped reading at this point and asked my students if Karana should accept this girl’s friendship.

“No!” At first, my fourth graders were certain Karana shouldn’t trust the young woman because she was an Aleut. They discussed the pros and cons.

“The Aleuts killed Karana’s father.”
“Yeah, but does that mean all Aleuts are bad?”
“And besides, she’s a girl. She isn’t a warrior.”
“Yeah, but she's with a bunch of warriors.”

I listened and a strange thing happened. My students began talking about the war in Kosovo. One of the boys in my class asserted that not all Serbians were bad people. “There are some Serbs in my neighborhood and they’re great kids,” he told the group.

The students asked me to read about the fight on the beach again…the one that took the life of Karana’s father. I obliged. As we read the text, it became clear that we didn’t know exactly who or what started the fight.

And so began our open discussions about the war in Kosovo. When we read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, the students wanted to know more about World War II. I gave them a brief history and they took off researching details on their own.

Soon I was fielding questions about ethnic cleansing.

“Like us,” one of my students said.

On December 7th I shared with the students that in America we recognize the day as Pearl Harbor Day. I told them it was the day the United States officially entered World War II.

This new information led to a discussion about the Unites States’ role in the Kosovo War.

You don’t have to agree with his views or politics, but you cannot dispute the fact that as the sitting President of the United States, Bill Clinton took a controversial stand highlighting the situation in Kosovo while others buried their political heads in the sand.

The Kosovars are a grateful nation. My fourth graders understand that. They know there is a statue of Bill Clinton in Pristhina. They know he is viewed as a hero in this area. They expressed their gratitude to me, thanking me for being an American.

I asked them if they would like to write a thank you to the former president. The suggestion was met with a resounding, “Yes!”

I mailed the letters.

I knew it could take a month or two for our letters to arrive at the offices of Mr. Clinton. I‘ve written to presidents with classes before. After a few weeks, I’ve received a form letter “from the president” more than likely written by one of his assistants and “signed” with his signature stamp. I was okay with that. It would mean a lot to my students. And so we waited.

Actually, we pretty much moved on and forgot about it. I still thought that we would possibly get a postcard or something. Maybe by mid February when Kosovo was celebrating its ten-year anniversary as a country. That would be nice.

Uh…no…Okay, maybe by the end of February. No. I put it out of my mind.

Teacher Appreciation Day was March 7th. I didn’t know there was a teacher appreciation day so I was pleasantly surprised when my students walked into class bringing me flowers and candy. I even received “an apple for the teacher.” It was a wonderful day.

We were just beginning to read a chapter in our latest novel before going home, when two men from the school’s administrative office appeared at our classroom door. They were holding a large gray envelope.

You guessed it. It was addressed to me from the office of William J. Clinton. The children squealed with delight. They were clapping and cheering as I opened the envelope.

Inside, there was a letter specifically addressed to them. I read it out loud. It was signed Bill Clinton. Those students jumped up and down.  President Bill Clinton had read their words. He enjoyed their letters. He told them that Kosovo would always have a special place in his heart.

“I hope you will continue to always look for ways to advance peace and understanding for all of the people of Kosovo, “ he wrote.

I want my students to know that their voice matters. I want them to never shy away from sharing their views but I want them to always listen to others as well.

I could end the story there.

But there was something else in the envelope. It was a handwritten card to me.

Dear Ms. Waters,
         Thank you for sending me the letters. I enjoyed reading them and would like to visit the next time I’m in Kosovo.
         Even more, thank you for teaching them history in human terms, and creating the possibility of reconciliation.
         The world is suffering, once again from too much “US vs, THEM.” I hope it will pass quickly. I wish today’s adults had learned from teachers like you,
Bill Clinton

I did mention it was Teacher Appreciation Day, right?

Want to read the original post? Click Here

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, March 7, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 7, Scene 1 "Something About Kosova Gets Under Your Skin"

My friend, Ruth once said, “I don’t know what it is but there’s just something about Kosova that gets under your skin.”

Tom and I ventured to Kosovo in 2005 with five of my teacher education students in tow. The countryside still bore the scars of war.  Outside walls of apartment buildings in the city were destroyed, exposing vacated rooms to passersby. The country villages were also devastated. Barns had been burned and homes bombed. Armored tanks rolled down the village streets. Yet, even with all we witnessed visually, we fell in love with the people and the possibilities that lay ahead for this tiny country.  We vowed to return one day.

Tom was bent on helping the Roma people near Batlava. “When we come back,“ he said, “you can teach and I’ll help the gypsies build a septic system.”

Kosovo Declared Independence in 2008
In 2008 the Albanian Kosovars declared independence and the tiny nation was born. Tom and I still spoke of returning because what my friend Ruth said is true. There’s just something about Kosova that gets under your skin.

Now that I am living and teaching in this southeastern European country, I set out to find out how others define that mysterious “something.”  I asked several people I know what keeps them here. Some of the people I interviewed came for a year. Or two. At least that was the plan. Most of the ones I talked with have been here for several years now and do not foresee leaving. For them, Kosovo is their home. Below are their responses. The common thread is obvious.

Stefan, one of many I’ve met from Holland, tells me quite simply, “It’s the people. The people here are so generous. They’re helpful and caring. I love the people.”

My friend and coworker, Grace, tells me, “I’m inspired by the hope and resilience of the people here. Its origins [the country's] were costly and painful, but a new and vibrant community is being cultivated.”

My Daughter & I Fit In With Kosovar Culture:
It's About Family...and Coffee
“I’m attracted by the culture and the communal spirit of the people here,” Gordon tells me. After working in Washington, D.C as a lawyer, Gordon is now the principal of the high school. “It’s the notion of someone saying, ‘Let’s sit down and have a cup of coffee.’ In Washington, you’d be talking with a best friend but in five minutes he’d be looking at his watch.  The pressure to squeeze sixteen hours of work into a twelve-hour day was incredible. There was no time to simply talk. Plus, I love this school. I believe in what we’re doing here.”

“It’s the people,” my Scottish friend told me. “You have here a very hospitable culture. It’s very family centered.” This is why Paul and his wife, Angela, have chosen to raise their daughter in Kosovo.

Dustin came for one year and is now completing three. What does he think is the draw to living here?  “The people and the pace of life.” “Here you have to be present... in the moment. Life isn’t hard but it isn’t easy either. You walk to a market to get your fruits and vegetables. Then you walk to the meat store to buy your chicken and another store to get bread. Then you go home and make your dinner. And people talk to each other. They have all the cell phones and technology, but they value face-to-face interaction.”

I told a friend from church I was trying to identify what is so appealing to people about living here. Julia is from the UK. She works with Serbians in a local community. “Well, the easy answer of course is the people, the food, and the mountains. But the reality is that people care about one another and for me the church functions as a community here. That’s it, isn’t it? Here we have a real community.”
There is a Peacefulness in the Kosovar Pace of Life

I love the people as well. Albanian Kosovars are warm, engaging, and family oriented. They are generous and hard working. They value spending time with each other and reaching out to the internationals living here.

It took me twelve years to return, but I’m here. Living in the moment. Loving my new friends. And I’m teaching.  

As Ruth said, “There’s just something here.” Something very special.

P.S. I'm glad I got the teaching gig instead of building a septic system!

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."