Welcome!

Hello! My name is April Gardner. I am a writer and social worker who served in the United States Peace Corps 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. Below are a list of suggested posts to help you get started.

(If you dig the way I write, please note that I also publish books, which you can check out here.)

About Kosovo

Facts About Kosovo

Traveling in Kosovo

Pre-Service Training (PST) for Peace Corps

Guest Bloggers

Challenges While Serving in Peace Corps Kosovo

Teaching Resources

Albanian Language (Shqip)

Traveling in the Balkans

I’ve written many other posts so be sure to check the blog archives or use the search function if you are looking for something specific!

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.

My White Whale: The Church on the Hill

For the last two years, whenever I rode the bus between my village and Pristina, Kosovo’s capital city, I saw a church sitting high up on a hill above the freeway. I made it a goal to visit the church and take photos.

My friend visited Kosovo from Amsterdam the other weekend and I convinced her (and our three friends) to drive our rental car up to the church. We bounced up a long, rutted dirt road and finally reached it!

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Sam, Sierra, Ingrid, Chelsea and April
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As I’ve said before, Kosovo is a predominately Islamic country. I live in a Catholic community, however, so I was interested to visit another kishë (church) aside from the one in my village.

You can read about my experiences visiting churches, monasteries, and mosques in Kosovo here:

 

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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Rugova Canyon 2

Rugova Canyon 3

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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!

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!

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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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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)

Here are posts about other monasteries I have visited in Kosovo:

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Kulla e Zenel Beaut, a Restaurant in Peja, Kosovo

“The Kulla,” as my friends and I call it, is one of my favorite restaurants in Peja, Kosovo (which also happens to be my favorite city in Kosovo. Other people may tell you that Prizren is the best city. Don’t listen to them.)

The Kulla has great traditional Kosovar food (as well as some American favorites, like chicken fingers). They also make a great house wine. 😉

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Entrance
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Nice atmosphere
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Chicken fingers with awesome bread and dipping sauce
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Meat cooked in a clay pot, mmmmmm!
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This dish has onion in it but it’s so good, even I will eat it!
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A Skenderbag … a popular food here in Kosovo. Meat is wrapped in cheese and then breaded and fried. Mmmm!
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Traditional clothing
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Vignette

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I highly recommend this place! Stop by the next time you’re in Peja. 🙂