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." 

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