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.

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
April
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.
Jesus sword
Christ as Protector (Image via johnsanidopoulos.com)

 

 

Photo Scavenger Hunt

When I asked my friends and family for ideas for this blog, my friend Whitney sent me a Pristina, Kosovo photo scavenger hunt challenge she found online. That was a year ago. Since I am going to see Whitney in a few weeks, I decided to finally do the scavenger hunt. Saturday was a nice day and I had nothing else to do. So, I hopped on the bus to Pristina to begin my challenge!

The clues:

  • If you’re passing by Mother Tereza pedestrian street, just have a look at this Albanian National Hero. [Answer: Zahir Pajaziti]
  • As an American, it’s kind of funny to see this statue. His name is spelled correctly while the street is not. [Answer: Bill Clinton]
  • If you’re tired of traffic and urban life, this is the ideal place to have a nice walk or take a dip in the gigantic pool without leaving the city. [Answer: Germia Park]
  • This kind or architecture will kill your eyes, but since it was listed among top 10 most ugly buildings in the world it is a must-see. [Answer: National Library]
  • This is the location where Slobodan Milosevic delivered his 1989 speech which ignited the flames of nationalism in the former Yugoslavia leading to a decade of war and ethnic cleansing. [Answer: Gazimestan]
  • Located in one of the few Ottoman style buildings in the city. It’s tucked off a side street but worth finding. [Answer: the Grand Hamam]

I had already seen three of the sites (Bill Clinton, the library, and Zahir Pajazitit’s statue, because it is located in front of a building that has two Airbnbs I’ve stayed at). But, in the spirit of the challenge, I visited all six places in one day.

I decided to start with the most far-flung of the six sites: Gazimestan. It is a monument that commemorates the 1939 Battle of Kosovo. To get there, I took a bus from Pristina’s central bus station toward Mitrovice, and asked to be let off at Gazimestan, which is just a short ways out of the city. I got off the bus and walked along a desolate, trash-strewn road in the middle of nowhere. As I approached the monument, two stray dogs ran up to me. Luckily, they were friendly, but they shook me up a bit. I got to the monument with my two new dog friends trailing behind me and handed my passport over to a very unhappy-looking guard. He kept my passport for safe keeping and I was allowed onto the grounds to take photos. I thought it would be disrespectful to take selfies at a war memorial, so no selfies for this clue.

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Gazimestan
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Gazimestan

Apparently, this is a curse:

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Gazimestan

After I finished visiting the monument, I collected my passport, walked back down the desolate road, crossed the highway, and took a kombi back into the city center. In retrospect, I should have sprung the money for a cab or taken someone else along with me. [Total round trip from Pristina: 1 Euro]

The kombi let me off right in front of the Bill Clinton statue, something I pass every time I come to Pristina. My next clue: DONE!

Bill Clinton statue
I felt like such a tourist taking this photo …

I decided to go to the next furthest-flung clue, which was Germia Park. Lots of volunteers I had talked to had been there before, but I never had. (Not much of a park enthusiast, I guess.) I had heard that the pool is absolutely enormous. It is! Although, it was empty and blocked off this time of year.

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Really, really big pool
Germia Park
Me with the pool

[Total round trip from Pristina: 80 cents]

The bus back into the city center dropped me off very close to my next clue, the Great Hamam. I had a vague idea of where it was. I even had a map I had gotten from my Peace Corps safety and security manager. I still couldn’t find it. I asked four different people on the street for directions. Finally, I asked an older gentleman sitting on a bench, and he pointed at an ugly building across the street.

It was a good thing this notice was posted to the door. Otherwise, I would have doubted I was in the right place.

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Heritage site

I was really disappointed by this clue. I thought the Grand Hamam would be beautiful. But no, it’s an ugly, dirty, white cinderblock building. (There is a really beautiful mosque next door.)

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Me in front of the Grand Hamam

After stopping for a refreshment at Trosha, my new favorite bakery in Pristina, I headed off to finish my scavenger hunt. I already knew where my last two clues were.

This is Zahir Pajaziti, the first commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Zahir Pajaziti
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Zahir Pajaziti 2

My last destination was the National Library. I’ve defended this building on my blog before … I don’t think it’s ugly! It’s unusual and, as my parents pointed out when they visited Kosovo, in need of some repairs. But still, I like it!

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Me at the National Library

This turned out to be a fun day. I got to see new places in Kosovo (and I also realized I don’t have many pictures of myself at touristy places here). Thanks for the photo challenge, Whitney! (Sorry it took me a year to do it.)

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.

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Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
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Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
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Silver filigree ring from Kosovo
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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!

Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa in Pristina, Kosovo

During my first visit to Pristina, my language training group got to go to the top of Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa to enjoy a great view of the city. The cathedral was under construction at the time. Now, it is finished. I visited again with some friends to see the new interior.

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Rainbows and stained glass
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I love this door.
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The church has several panels depicting Mother Teresa’s life.
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Mother Teresa
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Stained glass + beams
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Ceiling
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Pretty stained glass

According to the CIA World Factbook, 2.2% of Kosovars are Roman Catholic. The country is primarily Islamic (95.6%).

I live in a Catholic village. You can see photos I took of my local church here.

Batlava Lake, Kosovo

Living in Kosovo is the first time I have ever been landlocked. The town where I grew up shares a border river with Canada. When I lived in Boston for two years, I would sometimes spend my lunch break at the harbor. And my last apartment in Chicago (which I rented for 4.5 years) had a view of Lake Michigan from every window.

When I was home last month, my family and I went to a local arts and crafts fair along the water. As we watched a giant freighter float down the river, my Dad asked, “Are there boats like that in Kosovo?” And I said, “We don’t have water in Kosovo. It’s all mountains.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. Kosovo is mountainous and shares land borders with four other countries (Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro). However, it does have a few lakes. On Friday, my friend Chester and I visited Batlava Lake, a man-made lake.

When we arrived, we walked halfway around the lake, and decided to rent a paddleboat. (Cost: 5 Euro for one hour.)

When we were done paddling, we walked halfway back around the lake and had lunch at a restaurant on the water.

Batlava Lake was clean and quiet. I was surprised more people weren’t there. It was a nice little summer day trip. 🙂

Batlava Lake sign
Walking to the lake
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Ridiculously beautiful view
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The beach
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Representing America
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Boat rental … We opted for a paddle boat.
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On the water
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Tall trees
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Moo

If you plan to visit Batlava Lake, here is something to note: You don’t catch the bus at the main bus station in Pristina. Instead, you catch the bus at a stop near here:

take the bus to lake batlava kosovo

The cost is 1.70 Euro each way (it is about a 45-minute trip from Pristina to the lake).

Batlava Lake
So pretty