Guest Blogger, Garrett Wheeler: Agriculture in Kosovo

April’s Note: My friend Nicole asked me to write a post about gardening/agriculture in Kosovo. Since I don’t know much about the subject, I decided to outsource her question. Below is the account of one of my fellow volunteers, Garrett Wheeler.

With the advent of spring arises a slew of tasks pertinent to raising crops. After months of neglect, farmers begin restoring fields marred by frigid weather. Makeshift fences, comprised of wood and barbed wire, oft become loose or fall apart on account of the wind. A pair of pliers, hammer, digging bar (an instrument somewhat akin to the crowbar), and U-nails are needed to mend damage accrued. While pliers pull and twist wire until taut, U-nails are driven into wooden stakes. The digging bar, aside from punching holes in the ground, may act as a sledgehammer fastening poles that have wriggled free.

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Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Upon completion of maintenance, a far more grueling chore awaits; fertilization. As a tractor, equipped with a trailer, positions itself near the accumulated pile of manure, workers, with the aid of pitchforks, start the loading process. Though precautions, like gloves and rain boots, are taken to promote cleanliness, the job is inherently dirty. It is not uncommon, for example, to have dung flung your direction; especially when fatigue sets in. With the trailer overflowing, tractor and crew make their way to the field. While the tractor cruises at a leisurely pace, compost is scattered left and right. A sore back and tired arms are typically awarded to all participants.

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Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

In preparation for sowing, a plow is hauled the entirety of a field leaving neat rows of finely ground soil in its wake. Utensils for digging are then used to create holes. As one punctures the earth, another trailing behind deposits seed. Corn and beans are planted simultaneously. While maize grows upright, the latter coils around adjacent stalks. A nearby stream supplies water when barred.

Gleaning of produce occurs in September. Hefty bags are carted and stuffed with brown pods. Those still green are unripe and need not be plucked. Though the weather may be warm, long sleeve shirts are worn to prevent cuts (maize leaves possess jagged edges which tear skin if brushed). Work is long and tedious requiring numerous days to complete. Corn, conversely, is harvested quickly. Buckets filled to the brim are dumped in a close by trailer towed by a tractor.

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Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Beans reaped must then be strewn across a tarp and left to bathe in the sun. After several days, or when the shells become hard and brittle, the heap is battered with the shaft of a rake. Empty husks are then brushed away revealing seed below. Once the product has been gathered in containers, it is transferred to empty sacks. Prior to dumping, however, it is necessary to remove remaining debris. As one individual focuses on slowly pouring beans, the other uses a leaf blower to flush out unwanted material.
Within the next couple of weeks, sorting ensues. Spilling small sums onto a flat surface, beans malformed or gnawed by insects are discarded. What remains is either stored for consumption of whisked away to the nearest city and sold. Corn, depending on its strain, has two locales. A small granary houses a variation more red in hue used as fodder for chickens. Yellow corn is sent to the second floor of a neighboring building. A machine adeptly removes kernels dispelling bare cobs.

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Photo courtesy of Garrett Wheeler

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

Pristina Bazaar

A volunteer friend suggested visiting the bazaar in Pristina, so a small group of us went last week. I had no idea there was a bazaar in Pristina!

There was SO MUCH produce for sale, for prices even cheaper than what I can find in my village. (Fifty cents for a carton of strawberries, versus 1.50 Euro in my village.) You can also finds lots of other goods at the bazaar, everything from clothing and yarn, to household items, to cigarettes.

SO much produce! This was just one stall.
So delicious …
Dry goods, honey, and çifteli (2-stringed instrument)
Wall upon wall of cigarettes
We kept waiting for a box avalanche. It didn’t happen.

As far as I know, the bazaar is open every week day. You can find it here:

 

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Friday Gratitude: Being a Hippie

I had a blast last weekend at the Spark Yoga Festival in Gjakova, Kosovo.

Since moving to Kosovo, I’ve been good about practicing a little yoga each day. However, I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed practicing with other people. This is the first time in nearly a year that I’ve attended a yoga class.

I also got to spend some time with some volunteer friends. We made tacos … kind of. 🙂 With no meat or beans on hand, we had to improvise with corn and rice. But it was still a decent meal.

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In December, the Peace Corps Kosovo post was evaluated by the Office of the Inspector General. Inspections are common in the PC world, and an inspection doesn’t necessarily mean something is gravely wrong with a post (or so, we’ve been told). The OIG inspector interviewed about half of the volunteers here in Kosovo, and I was one of them. The report was posted publicly last week. It is a whopping 69 pages long. (Personally, I found it to be an interesting read.) Click here to read the report.

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As far as media consumption goes, I am caught up with Handmaid’s Tale and I picked up a novel from the Peace Corps library. I also need a laugh last night, so I re-watched Legally Blonde. 🙂

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I posted less frequently this week. I am going to post less frequently (only Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) for the next few weeks to see how I like it/how you all like it. Maybe I’ll do a little survey after that to see what you all think.

Thanks, as always, for following along! Have a great weekend.

Springtime Produce in Kosovo

Now that spring is here, the local produce truck has come back to my village.

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This is exciting, because it means the return of fresh, juicy strawberries. A carton is 1.50 Euro. When I used to shop at Mariano’s in Chicago, I think a carton was around $4.25. And the strawberries were not as plump as these. (Below is half a carton’s worth of strawberries. I ate the other half.)

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All winter long, I’ve been eating peppers, pickles, and cabbage. And that’s about it in the fruits/veggie department. Stores still carry some fruits, like bananas and oranges, which are (obviously) shipped in from someplace else.

It is common for families in Kosovo, especially the ones living in smaller villages, to have their own gardens and farm animals. Remember when I wrote this post back in the fall, about the process of canning peppers?

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I think I have single-handedly consumed the amount of peppers in the above-photo. Speca! Speca! Speca! (That means peppers in Shqip [Albanian].) I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say I eat speca every day.

A Person can only eat so many pickled vegetables before A Person wants to weep. I am excited by increasing food prospects now that winter is over. 🙂

The Food in Rome

I am usually against taking pictures of food. But, my friend Nicole and I had some truly awesome meals while we were in Rome. I wanted to share a few of our best experiences.

1. One night, Nicole wanted to check out Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. I did a Google search for the best restaurants in Trastevere, and came across La Prosciutteria. I was all, “Look at the pictuuuuures! Please can we go thereeeeee?” And Nicole said yes. 🙂 So, we went.

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La Prosciutteria

It was a fun experience. The restaurant is small and busy. We managed to find a table in the basement. The food came quickly, because there isn’t anything to cook. Also, it was a reasonably priced meal. We each had a glass of wine, and we still paid less than 20 Euro per person.

2. Nicole and I got a million suggestions on places to eat/things to do in Rome. A friend of mine had suggested visiting Costanza, which is a restaurant in an old cave where the gladiators used to practice. We went for lunch, and I am so glad we did. The food was outstanding. And the ambiance was great — a quiet place, prompt and friendly service, and did I mention its a cave?

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Costanza Restaurant
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Costanza Restaurant
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Costanza Restaurant
April Nicole
April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
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Gnocchi

3. On our last night in Rome, we were tired from so much walking. We decided to check out a restaurant in the neighborhood (Pigneto) where we were staying. Nicole found Qui Se Magna.

My family will tell you I am capable of eating my own weight in spaghetti. While Qui Se Magna was a small, neighborhood restaurant, the food was outstanding. I loved my spaghetti!

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Spaghetti dish at Qui Se Magna, Rome

If you are planning a trip to Rome, I would highly recommend these three restaurants.

Fun Links (Kosovo and Albania)

Below are some links to articles I’ve enjoyed about Kosovo (and Albania).

  • Makeup is a big deal in Kosovo. Women, especially in the larger cities, tend to be much more made up than what I think is typical in the States. I got a kick out of Blonde Gypsy’s look at beauty routines in Pristina.

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    Photo credit: Blonde Gypsy
  • Heart My Backpack posted some gorgeous photos of Pristina during her trip to Kosovo. It was also fun to read someone else’s take on the city.

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    Photo credit: Heart My Backpack
  • This great post captures 23 “Day in the Life” photos of Kosovo from around the country.

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    Photo credit: Admir Idrizi via rferl.org
  • I loved visiting Tirana, Albania’s capital city. It’s got a mild, Mediterranean climate, a varied history, and a gorgeous public park. (I previously wrote about its nature, history, and the city today.) So I was super excited when this article popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s a great, one-day itinerary for visiting Tirana.

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    Photo Credit: One Day Itinerary
  • I don’t cook much in Kosovo, for many reasons. 1) I think it would be rude not to eat with my host family. 2) I don’t like to cook often. 3) My village doesn’t have a grocery store. 4) My host family owns a wood-burning stove, and I have no idea how to use it. However, many of my friends like to cook, so I wanted to link to another recipe for traditional food. (I previously posted some good recipe links in this post.) In the One Day Itinerary article above, Oda was suggested as a good traditional dining spot in Tirana. I ate at Oda during my trip to Tirana and loved it. Fasule, a popular bean dish, was one of the dishes I ordered. I found this blog post (written by a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Albania) that lists a simple fasule recipe (in English).

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    Photo Credit: Albania Adventure

Friday Gratitude: Just a Little

I’ll admit, I’ve been feeling down lately. I think it’s a combination of re-adjusting to life after vacation, a few disagreements with my host family, the frigid/snowy weather (I hear you guys back in the States are having a mild winter. Must be nice!), and starting a new year in Kosovo (what to do after Peace Corps has been weighing on my mind lately, even though the end is a year and a half away).

If anything helped to cheer me up this week, it was that my care package from my parents finally showed up! (After two months.) (Also, this may be the girliest care package ever.)

Media consumption this week:

  • I re-read Faithful Place. Why can’t all novels be written by Tana French?
  • I finished The Buddha and the Borderline, about a woman’s struggle living with Borderline Personality Disorder. I found this to be an insightful read, though if you’re not a mental health professional (or diagnosed with BPD or know someone who is), this may not interest you.

Two of my friends/fellow Peace Corps Volunteers have posted interesting projects that I wanted to share:

  • Sierra is working with her host family to create videos showing how to make traditional Kosovar foods. I especially liked her baklava video. I also have a new appreciation for baklava. I had no idea it was so time consuming to make! You can watch the video here.
  • Val launched a blog called Balkan Book Reviews, where she is writing reviews of books that specifically have to do with the Balkans.

Have a good weekend, everyone!