Welcome!

Hello! My name is April. I am a social worker who served in the United States Peace Corps in Kosovo from June 2016 – July 2018. Welcome to my blog.

I have lots of useful information here, whether you are joining Peace Corps Kosovo, traveling to Kosovo, or just want to learn more about the Balkans.

If you are planning to serve in the Peace Corps in Kosovo, I have written a series of posts just for you. Search for the tag “newbie.” 🙂

Adem Jashari Memorial

Yesterday, I visited the Adem Jashari Memorial in Prekaz, Kosovo. I only have two weeks left in Kosovo and I felt I couldn’t leave without seeing it.

Adem Jashari was the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). (If you say in in Albanian, it is “Ushtria ç Kosovës” with the acronym UÇK.) The KLA was a separatist group of ethnic Albanians who wanted to secede from Yugoslavia. Adem Jashari has since become a symbol of Kosovo’s independence.

In March of 1998, Serbian forces attacked the Jashari family compound in Prekaz, Kosovo. Over a course of three days, 59* members of the Jashari family were killed, including children. (*I’ve read varying reports of the numbers, ranging from 55-59. But there are 59 family photos displayed at the museum, so I am sticking with that number.)

Disclaimer: This post contains photos of bombed-out buildings and may be disturbing to view.

The memorial site consists of a small museum, the family graveyard, a memorial park, and the Jashari family compound.

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Adem Jashari statue in the nearby village of Skenderaj.
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Photo in the center of Skenderaj
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On the walk to the museum
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First house that I saw. I tried googling the names of its occupants but I am unsure of who they were in relation to Adem Jashari.

The Adem Jashari Museum is free to visit. It is about a ten-minute walk from the Skenderaj bus station.

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The Adem Jashari Museum
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There wasn’t an English translation but I am fairly certain these are all of the people who died in the massacre, 59 in total.
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Adem Jashari’s gun. Almost every depiction I have seen of him shows him holding his gun.
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Adem Jashari’s motocycle
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Munitions used by Serbian forces during the attack on the Jashari family compound.
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The Jashari family tree

After stopping in the museum, I went across the street to the park. This is the cleanest and most well-kept space I have seen in Kosovo. There were two military guards standing watch.

Pano Adem Jashari memorial park
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In the photo below, each marble slab bears the name and birth/death date of a member of the Jashari family.

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I don’t know the symbolism behind these red flowers. Red is a popular color in Kosovo because it is the color of the Albanian flag, and the majority of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians. However, the flowers made me think of a river of blood, personally.

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Jashari family cemetary, with the museum in the background

Here are photos of the family compound. Scaffolding has been built around the remains of the buildings so that visitors can walk around and look inside.

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I cannot imagine the force needed to blast through walls these thick.
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Without offering an opinion on Kosovar history or politics, I will say that visiting the memorial site was a somber experience. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to not only put your own life on the line for your beliefs, but also the lives of your family members. It was also sad to think of the children who died during the attack on the Jashari compound.

Lonely Planet Thinks You Should Visit Kosovo

Lonely Planet listed Kosovo as one of their “Best in Europe” destinations for 2018. Well, all right. I can do my part to help Kosovo’s tourism. Here are some pictures I took in Rugova Canyon and Bogë this last weekend when my friend visited and rented a car. I am so glad I was able to visit because neither place is accessible via bus.

The restaurant we visited in Bogë (where I took all the sheep photos, below) is called Guri i Kuq, which is Shqip (Albanian) for “Red Stone.”

Rugova Canyon:

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Lots of construction …

Bogë:

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Tiny baby goats!

Driving back down through Rugova Canyon:

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Yours truly

Kosovo is a gorgeous country in general, but the views in Bogë were especially stunning!

Guest Blogger, Christian: I Choose to Stay

April’s note: The following guest blog post was written by my friend Christian, who is choosing to extend his Peace Corps service.

This week is our close-of-service conference, a reflecting period on our two years here and marking the final sprint of our 27-month service. In 60 days, most of my peers will pack up and begin returning home to new careers, new lives, and wish lists of missed foods. However, I elected to continue my service for a third year. I choose to stay.

Not everyone understands my reasons for staying, I think. After living and working in Kosovo for two years, I finally think that I am beginning to hit my stride. I’ve realized that this time has been a relatively short period to adjust and integrate into a new culture and where my weeks are still marked new discoveries. Extending my service will allow me to continue with my work which I feel is making an impact. Formally switching into the “Community Development” portfolio allowing me to work with several non-governmental organizations and Kosovo’s vibrant youth culture. There are dozens of organizations filled with young, progressive Kosovars that I would have the privilege and excitement to work with as they shape the future of their communities and their newborn country.

During my service, I’ve struggled with the strict gender roles that exist within my community. Being the only male volunteer placed within a village from our cohort, which I’ve had difficultly reconciling my struggles with these gender roles since I am cultural permitted so much more than female volunteers, but exist within the same paradigm. The village’s traditional gender roles which promotes anachronistic masculinity; manual labor, football, and objectification of women exists as the basis or preface of most conversations admist lingering cigarette smoke. This has always left me in a strained position because this is not me. I don’t typically do manual labor (though I’ve chopped wood with a teacher once before, much to my community’s delight), I’m bad at football, and cigarette smoke leaves me nauseated. This has left me feeling alienated when I don’t align with the male sphere and a more sensitive sphere is not an option. Though spared the strict cultural boundaries of a woman, inclusion in the permitting café culture promotes a natural separation. Familiarity always ends at the family home.

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Christian’s village (Photo is courtesy of Christian)

I’ve tried addressing these challenges by working on learning the history of my village. My village was occupied by Serbian forces and sustained American bombing to dislodge them. Every summer, Halo Trust searches the various nondescript fields that comprise the village for the unwanted remnants of the war. Amenities such as water and electricity, everyday utilities that Americans and other developed world citizens take for granted, are relatively new to the village. Both of which were installed by USAID in an effort to rebuild the village and Kosovo in the post-war period. I have found my own solace with my difficulties by remembering theirs and their small, but significant gestures of showing me that I’m welcomed in their community, an honor that many wouldn’t receive.

Extending my service will require me to leave my quiet, farming village into the city of Peja. I adore Peja. I like the frequent rains and sipping makiatos by the soaked windows and walking between the scintillating trees and their ladel like leaves. Watching the fog banks roll down the mountains every morning and the blueish gray tones of the overcast skies melding with the light of Rugova Canyon. How the city exists almost in tandem with the nature around. The street dogs resting in sun lite patches through the parks’ canopy while the gyjshit nap on the benches, both in their usual spots. The gyjsha at the hole-in-the-wall pasta shop and how she slips between speaking Albanian and Dutch effortlessly, a skill she learned from husband who she met while studying cooking in Sardinia. Staying would let me become part of this dynamic rather than an observer.

One of my motivations for joining Peace Corps two short years ago was to experience something different. Initially I was offered or interviewed for several posts; Jordan, Armenia, Ukraine, before fate aligned with Kosovo. During our COS conference, I’ll reflect on my village and the conclusion of my tenure here. The surprisingly vivacious topic of whether I am a “Berisha” or a “Gashi” (both are local family names). The innate skill of knowing which cows belong to which family. Knowing where the spring puppies will be hiding, nestling into the wild grass for its generous reprieve from the heat (This is behind the mosque and next to the barbershop if you must know). The villagers giving me assorted squashes and gourds from the back of their tractors from their autumn harvests. And of my creative, selfie-eager students preparing for their final year exams, trips, and prom. I was motivated to experience something different and being a member of this community for the past two years was surely that.

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

Bear Sanctuary, Pristina, Kosovo

Chelsea, my favorite Peace Corps volunteer*, had a recent birthday. Since she is a known bear enthusiast, a group of her friends got together and we took her to the Pristina Bear Sanctuary. (*She told me I had to write that.)

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Entering the bear sanctuary

Some restaurants in Kosovo used to keep live bears in cages as a way of attracting customers. The bears were poorly fed and kept in deplorable conditions. They have since been rescued and brought to the bear sanctuary to live (since they are too domesticated to be returned to the wild).

My fear was that we wouldn’t see any of the bears, but we saw quite a few!

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First sighting, a sleeping bear!
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Second sighting, two bears!
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Ahhhh!
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A close up

This bear was so roly-poly, I wanted to cuddle him. It’s a good thing they have fences up to keep people like me from trying to do that.

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A good lesson from a bear: It is important to stop and smell the flowers.
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Look. At. Those. Feet!
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Chelsea and the bears!
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Bear Biography
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Information about different types of bears
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Chelsea and a bear mural
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Friends walking the path

This blonde bear was a favorite. She kept digging and digging.

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Blonde bear

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A photograph of a bear in captivity. 😦

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A view of the sanctuary
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A bear enjoying the shade
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Leaving the sanctuary

As another friend pointed out, calling this the “Pristina” bear sanctuary is a bit of a stretch, as it is several kilometers outside of the city. We had to take taxis to get there — two taxis for 9 people for 40 Euro round trip. Our taxi drivers went to get coffee for an hour while we explored the sanctuary. That’s Kosovar hospitality for you. 🙂

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April at the bear sanctuary

The bear sanctuary was very well done — very beautiful, lots of good information, cute touristy stuff to buy, and a cafe and places for kids to play. I highly recommend visiting!

 

A Visit to the Deçan Monastery

My friends and I visited the Deçan Monastery a few weekends ago. We were fortunate to go on a mild spring day.

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A view from the road
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Entering the Decan monastery
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Doorway
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Decan monastery
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April at the monastery

Some interesting facts about the monastery:

  • There are 10,000 portraits in the monastery.
  • St. Stefan’s tomb is inside and every Thursday at 7:00 p.m., they open to tomb to show visitors St. Stefan’s “uncorrupted” hand (meaning, it has not decayed). Sadly, I did not visit on a Thursday evening and did not get to see his hand.
  • The monastery has a rare fresco that depicts Jesus holding a sword. It is one of the only images of Jesus holding a sword in the whole world.
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Christ as Protector (Image via johnsanidopoulos.com)