Amsterdam: the Fun Side

Here I am in Amsterdam!

April in Amsterdam
“A” is for “April” … and also Amsterdam 🙂

One of my missions while in Amsterdam was to eat at Dunkin Donuts. I was surprised to see how fancy the donuts are.

dunkin donuts amsterdam
Cookie Monster and smiley faces … whaaaat?! So fancy!

We went to a place called the Cheese Museum, where you can freely sample all different kinds of cheeses. It was heaven.

colored cheese
Mmmmmmmmm!

My friend took me on the commuter ferry at night so I could see a different view of the city. 🙂 It was lovely.

night ferry amsterdam
Amsterdam at night

My friend claims I made her walk through the red light district twelve times a day. (She is exaggerating somewhat.) In my defense, the red light district is centrally located and we had to cut through it to get to other places. 😉 Riiiiight …

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfUBZJQBQA_/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

condoms amsterdam
Who says safe sex can’t be fun?
magic mushrooms
I did not go in here …
sex palace amsterdam
.

Thoughts and observations about Amsterdam …

  • Like Sweden, bikes are EVERYWHERE! Be careful when you are crossing the street.
  • Getting to the city center from the airport is super easy via train and only costs around 5 Euro.
  • The Anne Frank Museum (see: Monday’s post) sells out weeks in advance, so plan way ahead if you want to visit.

Side note: I visited both the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, but found myself wanting to just absorb everything and not be concerned with taking photos. I think I saw most of Van Gogh, but the Rijksmuseum is huge! I could return and see things I didn’t on my first trip.

Amsterdam: the Serious Side

I spent last weekend in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and wanted to share some highlights of my trip with all of you. Rather than break my trip into chronological order, I decided to show the serious side and then the fun side of the city. I did not want to post my photos of my visit to the Anne Frank house alongside my photos of Amsterdam’s red light district.

So, on the serious side … (Some of my observations may seem kind of obvious, but I really did not know much about the city or country before I visited.)

My friend and I took a guided canal boat tour around Amsterdam on my first afternoon there. I may have fallen asleep for part of it (I’d had an early flight, and the boat was so soothing!) but I did manage to learn a good deal about the city.

house boat amsterdam
House boat

If this hadn’t been pointed out on the tour I’m not sure I would have noticed it on my own, but many buildings in Amsterdam are pitched forward or crooked. That’s because the city was built on filled-in swamp land, and the houses rest on sand (and they shift). Once I learned this, I could not stop seeing crooked buildings everywhere!

leaning building amsterdam
Notice how the red-roofed building leans forward from its neighbor.

Houses in Amsterdam tend to be tall and steep, and many buildings have hooks hanging from the roofs to help move furniture up through the windows.

Amsterdam moving hook
Moving hook

I also learned that the Neterlands is the world’s largest exporter of petrol, even though they don’t produce petrol.

Furthermore, I learned that Amsterdam is below sea level. Gates have been constructed out in the water to keep the North Sea from flooding the city.

amsterdam canal
A canal at night

***

“Most parents don’t know, really, their children.” — Otto Frank

My friend and I visited the Anne Frank House the next day. As you might know from reading her story, the annex where she and her family and four other Jews hid was raided after two years and they were split up and sent to different concentration camps. Only Otto Frank, Anne’s father, survived. The picture that moved me most was of Otto Frank as an older man and was taken when he went back to see the annex many years later (around 1979?). I will never forget the image of him standing in profile, looking at the empty attic where his family had hidden.

anne frank
Anne Frank House Museum
anne frank photos
Anne Frank
bookcase anne frank
Bookcase that hid the annex

The museum’s final exhibit is a video montage of different public figures talking about what Anne Frank’s story has meant to them. As actress Emma Thompson said: “Her would-haves are our real possibilities.”

Crochted Christmas Lights

Crocheted Christmas Lights
Crocheted Christmas Lights

My mom recently told me about a cute crochet project she’d seen — Christmas Lights! I decided to make some for her as a surprise (but then I ruined the surprise by telling her about them).

I followed this easy pattern. The project was easy, just a bit slow and tedious. I am pretty happy with the end result, though.

A string of crocheted Christmas lights
I don’t have a mantle …
Crocheted bulb
For scale

Umm … Merry Christmas in February?

Lights
Christmas, Christmas time is here …

Market in Tirana, Albania

I took these photos a while ago but never got around to posting them. I visited a farmer’s market the last time I was in Albania. Fruits and vegetables abounded, but I was also surprised to see other goods for sale. I really wanted to buy an antique clock (isn’t the one with the owl cute?), but the 30 Euro price tag was too steep.

vintage clocks Tirana market
Antique clocks

goods for sale tirana market

Though sheep’s head soup is a delicacy, I have never seen it or had it served to me (though my host family eats mutton). I was surprised to see sheep’s heads roasting on a spit (bottom row).

roasting sheep heads Tirana Albania

I’ve had chicken cooked in a clay pot (see below) in Kosovo, and it is really good!

earthenware Tirana Albania
Clay pots for sale
orange tree Tirana market
Orange (?) tree

I am not someone who visits farmer’s markets with any regularity, but Tirana’s is small, clean, not at all crowded, and had a variety of foods and goods for sale. I will definitely be back!

Q & A About Serving in the Peace Corps in Kosovo

Hello! A potential new volunteer recently emailed me some questions about serving in Peace Corps Kosovo, so I thought I would use them to create a blog post. At the end, I also included a question that a friend recently asked me.

1) How safe do you feel in Kosovo? Fairly safe. Have you ever felt threatened or in danger? The two worst things that have happened to me are: 1) A student threw a rock at me as I was crossing the school yard, and it hit me on the back of my shoulder. Three students were suspended for a week as a result, and I no longer teach their classes. 2) I was taking a walk one morning, rounded a bend in the road, and came upon a large, angry stray dog. It approached me several times and barked at me, but it eventually moved on. I would say I find environmental concerns (stray dogs, lack of seat belts in cars, lack of adequate nutrition and exercise, and exposure to second-hand smoke and air pollution) more worrisome than my experiences with people here. I mostly feel safe around Kosovar people. Do you think a self defense class would be a good idea? I think taking a self defense class is always a good idea, and is something every woman should do.

2) How hot and cold does it really get there? I am from the Midwest, and weather in Kosovo is like the weather in the Midwest. It gets very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. A major factor here is that central heat and central air conditioning are rare to nonexistent. Do I need to bring a long down jacket for winter? Yes, absolutely! Are the summers too hot for jeans and a T-shirt? I don’t wear jeans in the summer because it is too hot. I recommend wearing long skirts, linen pants, capri pants, etc. Some people wear shorts, but I would recommend dressing more conservatively here than you might in the United States.

3) Have you gotten placed next to any other Peace Corps volunteers? My first year here, I had two site mates. They didn’t live in my village but they were only a ten-minute drive away. They are both gone now. This year, I am alone at my site. The next-closest volunteer is probably an hour away from me by bus. However, I see other volunteers all the time in Pristina. Kosovo is small so I wanted to know if it is pretty standard to work at a school with other Peace Corps volunteers. Volunteers are never placed at the same school, even if they live in the same village.

4) Do you have daily access to fruits or vegetables? Mostly (kinda?) yes. My host family eats peppers almost daily. Sometimes, we also have cabbage or pickled vegetables. There is not much variety, however, in vegetables or in meals in general. If you are curious to know what I eat, you can read my 5-Day Food DiaryHow much of a say do you have in your diet? Almost none. If I say that I would prefer to eat less of something (like sugar or bread), will the family take extreme offense to that? No, not at all, at least in my experience. I think it is important to be honest with your host family about what you will or will not eat. For example, I hate onion and my host family knows this. If my host mother makes something with onion in it, she will make me a smaller, separate portion with no onion.  Can I just buy my own food and cook my own meals? You will negotiate the meal situation with your host family and yes, some volunteers do cook their own meals.

5) How often is it considered appropriate to shower in Kosovo before it becomes rude (as in your host family gets irritated with you for using up amenities)? I shower and wash my hair every day. As far as toiletries go, I buy my own soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Having good hygiene has always been important to me — it’s just a part of who I am. I compromise on plenty of stuff as a volunteer, but I am not willing to compromise on maintaining good hygiene.

I think volunteers (especially in the beginning of service) are really nervous about being seen as “weird” or doing something offensive, but remember, you will be a foreigner in Kosovo. You are bound to do things that are “weird” because you come from a different country with a different culture. You are not going to perfectly blend in. As long as you aren’t being deliberately disrespectful or offensive, do what makes you happy. Is [showering] every other day excessive? I don’t think so.

6) What has been the hardest cultural aspect for you to adjust to in Kosovo? All of it has been a huge adjustment. As far as the hardest thing, I would say that because Kosovo is a patriarchal society, experiencing the way women are thought of and treated has really been hard. I also hate all the smoking!

7) My friend Dana (hi, Dana!) recently asked me how many Americans are on staff here in Kosovo. All Peace Corps posts (meaning, host countries) have to have three Americans on staff: the Country Director, the Director of Programming and Training, and the Director of Management and Operations. All other staff members (administrative assistants, medical staff, IT director, accounts payable/receivable, program managers, small grants manager, supply chain manager, and drivers) are from Kosovo.

As always, I hope my answers are helpful! Thank you for reading.

Silver Filigree Jewelry from Kosovo

There are a number of artisans in Kosovo who are known for making silver filigree jewelry. After seeing several members of my cohort sporting beautiful, handcrafted rings, I decided it was time to buy one for myself.

wearing ring
Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
ring front
Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
ring gift wrapped
Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
ring side
Silver filigree ring from Kosovo

My ring comes from Peja, though if you are interested in learning about how the history of this type of jewelry in Kosovo, Balkan Insight recently wrote an article about artisans in Prizren.

I hope I make a habit of wearing this … I am not usually a ring-wearer. However, this was so pretty I had to get it!

Sexual Harassment in Kosovo

Note: This post is part of a series I am hosting on this blog to discuss challenges Peace Corps volunteers face while serving in Kosovo. Below, a friend of mine shares her experiences with sexual harassment. — April

Let me start off by saying that what I am about to talk about will show a more negative side to my time in Kosovo but that does not reflect my overall feelings towards my country of service. I’m still here, aren’t I? However, I would be lying if I said that it didn’t affect me, sometimes more so than I’m willing to admit. I can directly attribute my depression last September to the excessive amount of sexual harassment I experienced one day after another. While you’ll find different perspectives from volunteer to volunteer, many additional stories, what I write here is all from my personal experience.

Being a solo female traveler comes with added hardships that are out of my control simply because of my gender. Many of you females reading this will understand that simple statement. So if follows that being a female volunteer will also come with a lot of similar difficulties.

Kosovo, for all intents and purposes, is a male-dominated culture. I have been able to circumvent many things simply because of my “Americaness” but not without difficulty. While there is a café in my village, I cannot go unless I’m accompanied by a male. It took months before I was allowed to be out after dark on my own. I am expected to stop whatever it is I’m doing and stand for men when they entered a room and I am often defined by my marital status (or lack thereof).

At first I thought that it was simply because I was an American as to why I was attracting so much unwanted attention. But then I realized it didn’t matter if people thought I was an American or an Albanian woman, the treatment was the same.

It started small (or it felt that way in my mind). Men calling at me in the streets whenever I left the comforts of my village, men “casually” touching me as they walked past, or inviting themselves for what appeared as casual conversations. Then I noticed how it seemed to escalate. Not only would men call at me in the street but on more than one occasion they would then start to follow me, either silently or insensately shouting personal questions in my direction. The casual touching turned into hands sliding across my breasts or butt to walk past me. The unwanted invitations to chat turned into them stalking me on social media and messaging me over and over and over again where even blocking them didn’t deter their efforts. I had just about had it when a man who was sitting in the seat in front of me on the bus began starring directly at me through the seat crack and began masturbating.

Sometimes it can feel constant. Summer is when I felt the worst because (what I assume) more people are out and about and it’s also when I left my village more often. While back home in America, I am the first one to tell a man who invades my personal space off, I don’t have the cultural or linguistic knowledge here to do it. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever will. So I found myself staying in the confines of my small village to avoid the harassment but all that did was make me more depressed. It took all my will power but I wasn’t going to let these ignorant people ruin my life.

So while I know it still happens I’ve found some coping mechanisms that help to let it not impact my mental health so much.

1. Headphones. Honestly, what I think is the best invention since sliced bread. If I’m alone most likely my headphones are in. They don’t even have to be playing anything. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t America and people will still try to talk to you but it gives you a full proof excuse to pretend like you don’t hear them even if you do.

2. I’m normally the type of person that is fully aware of all of my surroundings. However, I have pulled my scope in. Not too much that I compromise my own safety but enough that I don’t have to notice every disgusting comment, gesture, or look sent my way.

3. Being a regular. This can honestly go both ways, which is why it may take a few tries to get it right. I have a regular bus I take to the major cities with drivers and attendants who know me. I go to the same cafés every week with people who know me. They are the people who will look out for me when I need it. While I absolutely loathe feeling like a damsel in distress who needs others to protect me, I’ve sucked up my pride because it doesn’t hurt to have people in my corner.

4. Companionship. I have found that if I am just with 1 other person, especially another male, the sexual harassment dissipates if not becomes almost non-existent. Which is also why it can be very difficult for my male counterparts to understand exactly what it is that I experience on my own. While I may not recommend this as a permanent fix (because who wants to be escorted all their life), my service here is only 2 years so it’s a minor adjustment I’m willing to make.

Being sexually harassed is an exhausting experience. Sometimes I feel like I have to constantly look over my shoulder to protect my safety. Many friends have said that maybe I’m over exaggerating it or that I’m too defensive and should be nicer because they don’t mean any harm. But that’s just it. I don’t know. I don’t know who they are, what their intentions are. There is a thin line between harmless flirting and creepy stalking and I’ve found that it’s a line that many men here don’t know the difference between.

To my female readers, keep trekking on. Find the things you can do to make it easier on yourself. Don’t let male-dominated cultures or harassment make you give up.