Promaja! (Also Know as “A Mighty Wind”)

I’ve written about promaja (pruh-MOY-uh) previously, both here and here. Of all the cultural differences I have experienced, I still find this to be one of the more perplexing. (Although there are certainly others. Anyone care for spaghetti with ketchup sauce? :-P)

In case you didn’t know, “promaja” refers to cross-breezes. Apparently, they are very dangerous here in the Balkans.

I first learned of promaja while riding in a taxi with my two sitemates and my language teacher. It was 95 degrees out, and our taxi driver had the windows rolled up (also note: there was no air conditioning in the taxi). I thought the taxi driver was 1) oblivious to the heat or 2) just being a jerk. But then my language teacher told us about promaja (mind BLOWN!). I had never heard of such a thing.

This story has come to illustrate something important to me: Sometimes, people do things, and they might not be doing those things for the reasons I think (or reasons I know).

Still, that doesn’t mean I believe in promaja. 🙂

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Happy Halloween! 🙂

My First Visit to Skopje, Macedonia

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I traveled to Skopje on Wednesday (that’s the capital of Macedonia). I had to get a flu shot.

“But April,” you might be thinking, “Don’t you live in Kosovo? Why did you have to go all the way to Macedonia to get a flu shot?” To which I would reply, DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED.

I had heard that Skopje is a nice city, and it did not disappoint. I made this 9-second video so that you, too, can experience Skopje.

Before we go any further, let’s take a pre-test about Skopje. Please choose an answer to complete this sentence: “You can’t swing a dead cat in Skopje without hitting” what?

  1. A statue
  2. A tree
  3. A park bench

If you answered (1), a statue, you are correct! There are statues EVERYWHERE in Skopje. It’s almost eerie … all those figures. (But eerie in a fun way.)

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Put a statue on it!

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Aside from getting a flu shot, food was the major item on my agenda. First stop was Domino’s Pizza. (Oh, don’t act like you’re too good for it.) I used to live in Chicago, Land of Pizza Snobbery, and I liked Domino’s even then.

I would’ve been happy with a plain cheese pizza, but my friends wanted something more exciting. We ordered a “garden” pizza, and it was good. I ate four slices.

Did you know Domino’s originated in Michigan? Michigan is my home state, and I didn’t even know that. I had to travel all the way to Macedonia to discover that fun fact.

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I got my flu shot, and then went to a Chinese restaurant, where I ordered chicken + fried noodles (pretty bland), and tekka maki (passable. I think I was just happy to be eating sushi after going so long without). Later, I took a short walk and got gelato in a cone. How did I manage to eat so much in such a short period of time?

Grim determination, my friends. That’s how.

Here is a picture of me. I liked how the graffiti matched my scarf.

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I made this scarf. What up?

In the center of Skopje is a huge statue of Alexander the Great.

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Me and some other cool people (representing 1/5 of the Kosovo 3 Peace Corps group)

Here are some more pictures I took walking around the city. The weather was overcase and not ideal for photography. 😦

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Macedonian flag
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You don’t often see lemurs on carousels.
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Hey, look! Some more statues.

The fountain below celebrates mothers. Anything that celebrates mothers is cool in my book. Who says all statues have to be dudes on horses, brandishing weapons?

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It took 2.5 hours to get back to Pristina. We pulled into the bus station just minutes before the last bus to my village was due to leave. I nearly clobbered two senior citizens in an attempt to get off the bus I was on. Then I sprinted across the bus station, and flung myself onto my bus with two minutes to spare.

It was an exciting day.

The 9 Most Important Words and Phrases You Need to Know When Traveling to Kosovo or Albania

Props to me for creating my blog longest title yet! Anyway, I thought I would be helpful and create a guide of important Albanian words and phrases to learn, just in case you ever find yourself in this part of the world.

I had written a previous post about how much Kosovars use the word “mirë” (good). There are a million greetings using the word “mirë,” but in my list, I’ve stuck with a simple “hello” and “goodbye.” The “mirë” greetings get really confusing … I’m always saying good morning when I should be saying goodnight, for example.

If you ever find yourself in Kosovo or Albania and you are in doubt … just say mirë! EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS MIRĖ!

Remember that.
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Guest Blogger: Ingrid Lantz (Hiking in Valbonë, Albania)

Hi, guys! My friend Ingrid has gone on some very cool hikes, and I asked if she would write about her experiences for this blog. Read on to learn about her recent hike in Valbonë, Albania. All of these beautiful pictures were taken by Ingrid. –April

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Photo by Ingrid Lantz

Since I’m from a state known for its mountains, I’ve been longing to see and experience the mountains of Kosovo and beyond since I arrived. In my 4 months here, I’d yet to see much of the wild parts of Kosovo, so a trip to Valbonë National Park sounded great. Even though I live near Prizren, which is in the south of Kosovo and near the mountains or right up next to them, it’s often difficult for me to get to any hiking. As a Peace Corps volunteer we’re not allowed to drive, and shuttles or local hiking buddies can be difficult to find. This trip was a charter trip with a tourist company called Eurotrip to Northern Albania … and while that’s not technically Kosovo, it’s just two hours northwest and over the border in a country that shares a common language and heritage with Kosovo. In fact, Kosovars are so linked to Albania that most of the time they use the Albanian flag at celebrations and not the Kosovar flag.

Leaving from Prizren early in the morning we headed northwest towards the market town of Gjakovë. Just after the city, as we traveled directly west over the border. You could see the craggy peaks of the Albanian Alps in the distance. They looked imposing. Another name for them is the Accursed Mountains. This part of Albania is known for it’s rugged isolation, both of the environment and its native people, and until recently, few outsiders ventured there. Now it’s one of the gateways to the Peaks of the Balkans trail, where you can hire a guide traverse these pristine mountains through the countries of Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro.

As we wound our way up the narrow valley road that hugged the river between towering peaks, I gained abundant respect for the driver as he negotiated hairpin turns and one-lane bridges. Along the way fall colors erupted from trees sprinkled among the evergreens. We slowed often for cows and herds of shaggy longhaired goats. Most perplexing to me was the goatherder sporting a full suit but with a hobo bag on his back. Small villages dotted the landscape in the lower valley, hay stacked in formations that looked like giant beehives.

Our bus dropped us off literally at the end of the road into the park at Hotel Burimi I Valbones, a lovely and large hotel with a restaurant and most importantly, a bathroom! Which, of course, they graciously allowed all 60 or so of us to use. From the hotel the trail strikes out across a deep, wide glaciated valley. This part of the trail is along a very rocky blindingly white stony glacial moraine and goes for about 3 miles. Sturdy shoes with good soles are recommended. Even though it was October, the exposure and the rocky trail gave me a good feeling for what it would be like in the height of summer. It was hot. A backpacker couple told me later that the mountains don’t have much water and are extremely hot and dry in the summer. Even in October, they still carried water for overnight backpacking.

Along the valley are some abandoned old stone houses that looked interesting to explore. Towering peaks on both sides and ahead reminded me of the stony craggy peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada range. About 3 miles in we came upon a fully functional restaurant, bar and guesthouse. They served traditional Albanian food, salad, buke (bread), fried peppers, cheese and meats. This was at the end of the 4-wheel drive tourist road that some took instead of walking. The sweeping view from this restaurant allowed you to see for miles down the valley. Directly in front of the restaurant, across the valley, the mountain rose up like a great wall several thousand feet up. The granite tops looked white, and at first I thought it must be snow, but then I realized the rocks on top were streaked white.

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Photo by Ingrid Lantz

After this restaurant the trail narrowed and was not accessible by vehicle. About a mile after there was another small café and as I passed by a woman was in the process of making flia, a very traditional Albanian dish that consists of multiple crepe-like layers brushed with cream, oil and flour. It looked like it would be ready on my way back. She smiled as I asked if I could take her picture.

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Photo by Ingrid Lantz

After that, I followed the trail steadily upward through forest and deeper into the canyon. In a couple miles we began to climb steeply and then for the last 30 minutes we clambered over tree roots and stones to our final destination, a waterfall.

As we savored the cool spray, some ate and splashed in the water. One devout hiker laid out his prayer rug on a flat rock at the bottom of the falls and pointed downvalley – apparently the same direction as Mecca – and with a view that went for miles, began to pray.

Sach Café Kosovo

I have been traveling back and forth to Pristina recently, mostly for reasons related to the Peace Corps (getting my Kosovo ID, etc.). Anyway, I thought I would write a post about Sach Café, a place I frequent whenever I am in the capital city. Sach is located on Bill Klinton Avenue (yes, that’s how it is spelled), just up the street from the former president’s statue. Sach is an easy pit stop on the way to/from the bus station.

My favorite thing to get is the blended iced coffee. Sach even offers to-go cups (both are fairly rare finds here in Kosovo).

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So if you ever find yourself in Pristina, stop in for a coffee. 🙂 You can check out Sach’s Facebook page here.

Cool Stuff I Didn’t Do

A few weekends ago, there were a couple of cool events happening in Kosovo that I am kind of sorry I missed. I was at a fun birthday party in Pristina, though. I can’t do everything!

Anyway, I thought I’d list those annual events here, in case anyone out there is planning a trip to Kosovo next year (*ahem ahem*) and is looking for something fun to do.

  • First up, there was the “Tour de Culture” bike tour, which visited different areas of cultural interest in Kosovo.
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Map taken from the Tour de Culture website

A volunteer friend went and had a good time.

So, if you are thinking of a Kosovo vacation in the fall of 2017, those are some options you can put on your calendar!

Friday Gratitude

It’s kind of hard to believe it was a year ago today I received the email that would change my life.

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I was sitting at my desk, at a job I hated, when I opened my email on my phone and saw my acceptance letter. I was stunned, because I wasn’t supposed to have an answer for another month and a half. I walked into my co-worker’s office in a daze and shared the news with him.

Perhaps this is conceited, but when I was going through the application process, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be accepted to the Peace Corps. I have a distinct memory of swimming in my gym’s pool last summer, and being hit with the thought that, across America, there were other people like me — people who would ultimately go to Kosovo but who were waiting for their acceptance letters. I said a prayer for those other people, wondering who they would turn out to be. Now, I know them and love them.

I’ve been having the same thoughts about the volunteers who will arrive next summer. Some of them might be starting to get their acceptance letters now. I wonder who they are and what they’ll become here in Kosovo. 🙂

(And if you happen to be one of those people, send me a message and introduce yourself!)