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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Welcome, Kosovo Group 4!

Kosovo is the second-newest Peace Corps country. My cohort is the third group of volunteers here. (If you’re curious, you can see a full list of Peace Corps countries, including the length of their programs and the number of their currently-serving volunteers, here.)

In a week, the newest Kosovo cohort arrives! The feeling I have is not unlike entering my senior year of high school. You know how things are so much better when you’re a senior, because you’re the oldest and you know everything and you’re excited for the future? That’s how I anticipate feeling in the coming year. One year of service down, one more to go!

I remember how I felt this time last year … my last week in the United States. My emotions ran the gamut from happy, sad, excited, scared, anxious, and hopeful.

Last fall, I created some blog posts in order to provide helpful information to the new cohort, as they were beginning to receive their acceptance letters. With only a week to go before they arrive in-country, I thought I would re-post the links to those posts.

Other posts that might be helpful:

Pre-Service Training

All About Kosovo

Teaching

Lesson Plans and Activities

Albanian/Shqip Language

Guest Bloggers (Different perspectives from my fellow Kosovo Peace Corps Volunteers)

Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Travel Within Kosovo

We are looking forward to meeting you, Kosovo Group 4!

Mirusha Waterfalls, Kosovo

April Mirusha Waterfall
April at Mirusha Wateralls

On Saturday, two volunteer friends and I visited Mirusha Waterfalls.

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Our trip was almost thwarted by the threat of rain. But by the end of the week, the forecast had cleared. I’m so glad we decided to go!

The hike to the waterfalls is a few kilometers. Along the way, we saw lots of beautiful wild flowers.

Canadian Thistle
Canadian Thistle

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When we reached this stream, we knew we were getting closer …

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And here’s the first waterfall!

First Waterfall Mirusha Kosovo

After that, we hiked up to a second waterfall. The path was steep and rocky, and at several points, we had to climb, using rocks to propel ourselves upward. The journey was totally worth it! We reached a second waterfall, and pretty much had the place to ourselves. It was the perfect spot to stop and eat our picnic lunch.

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The second waterfall …
Hiking women waterfall
Hiking women
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My companions  …
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Behind the waterfall, where we ate our picnic lunch
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Moi
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Oh, just chillin’ at the base of a waterfall …

Visiting Mirusha Waterfalls was one of the most relaxing, enjoyable times I have had in Kosovo.

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Gračanica, Kosovo

“I really need to get out more,” is what I keep telling myself. I go to Pristina often, Peja occasionally, and everywhere else … never. Since I am almost halfway through my Peace Corps service (isn’t that crazy?!), I keep telling myself I need to make an effort to see more of Kosovo.

Last Tuesday was a national holiday, “Europe Day,” so we didn’t have school. I decided to take the opportunity to visit a friend in Gračanica, Kosovo, a Serbian village just outside of Pristina.

I talk a lot about Albanian culture on this blog. Albanians are in the majority here in Kosovo, so I have had more exposure to their culture. I was happy to have a chance to visit Gračanica and learn a bit more about Serbian traditions.

Where is Gračanica, Kosovo?

It is south east of Pristina (Kosovo’s capital city).

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My friend was a great tour guide, and even provided me with these informational booklets from the municipality. The information I share in quotes comes from these booklets. (They’re awesome — they even have traditional recipes listed. I might share some more info from them in the future.)

Gracanice Kosovo tourism boolkets

Our first stop was Ento Kuka, a restaurant that serves traditional Serbian food. I got chicken and potatoes.

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Next, we visited “an archeological site of the Roman and early Byzantine city Ulpiana. It reached its peak development in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.”

I knew that Kosovo had once been under Ottoman rule (which is when much of the country converted to Islam), but I had never given much thought to its prior history. I was so surprised to learn that Kosovo has Roman ruins.

We saw the site of a church, public baths, and a cemetery.

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Can you spot the sarcophagus? 
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Next, we visited the Gracanica monastery. My friend told me that there is an exact replica of the monastery in Chicago, Illinois. I used to live in Chicago, and did not know this!

Taking photos inside the monastery is not allowed. (It is really beautiful.) Here are pictures of the outside:

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Last, we visited the “Missing” sign. It is “the work of the artist Goran Stojcetovic … plastered with photos of missing and kidnapped Serbs from 1998 until 2000. It is a memorial against the crimes of the Serbian people.”

Missing Gracanice Kosovo

It was a very interesting visit and I am thankful to my friend for giving me a tour!

Friday Gratitude: Sprung

The past several weeks have been joyful and surprising. I’ve met new people. I’ve seen friends I was not expecting to see. I took a trip I wasn’t expecting to take. I am so grateful for all of it.

Media consumption this week:

  • I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird while on vacation. I hadn’t read it since high school, and enjoyed it just as much this time around.
  • I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale. WOW. It is brilliant and terrifying. It has been keeping me awake at night. If you’re not already watching, I would highly recommend you start.  (You can watch the trailer here.) I read the book in college … I may have to re-read it once I finish the series.
  • Senator John McCain recently visited Kosovo and other Balkan countries, and here is what he has to say about America’s involvement in the region.

Also, today marks 11 months that I have been living in Kosovo! 🙂

In a month, the newest Kosovo cohort will arrive. I remember where I was this time last year: informing my employers (I had two jobs) that I was quitting, packing up my apartment in Chicago, moving my stuff (including my cat) into my parents’ house, and starting to say goodbye to everyone I love. I looked to the future and had no idea what my life would be like in just a few weeks.

If you’re reading this and about to head off to join the Peace Corps, take heart. You will find a way to survive and be happy.

Traveling Around Kosovo by Bus

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Bus station in Pristina, Kosovo

Bus is probably the most common way to travel around Kosovo. While some of the bigger cities have buses that travel between them, Kosovo’s capital of Pristina is the main bus hub. In Pristina (as well as some of the larger cities like Prizren and Peja), you can also catch buses to other countries, like Macedonia and Albania.

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Map of the bus station in Pristina, Kosovo

The cost of travel varies depending on where you are going, but it’s usually between 50 cents and 4 Euro (or more, if you’re traveling to another country). You pay in cash once you get on the bus.

Most buses have overhead storage for smaller pieces of luggage. Larger pieces are stored in compartments below the bus. This freaked me out the first time I had to store my luggage, but I’ve never had a problem with things getting stolen. (I look at it as a way to practice my faith in humanity/God/the Universe. ;))

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Luggage storage

The bus stations in Kosovo’s bigger cities are clearly marked (see above). Bus stops in villages are not marked, from what I’ve seen. You just kind of have to know where to go. If you need to ask a local where to catch the bus, the phrase to use in Albanian (Shqip) is, “Ku eshte stacioni i autobusit?” If I were going to type that out by the way it sounds, it would be something like, “Coo uh-sht stacey-oni ee auto boosit?”

Bus schedules in Kosovo are not entirely reliable, and you may find yourself waiting for the bus longer than you anticipated. It’s worth noting that buses do not have bathrooms, so plan ahead when you’re traveling. Some of the larger stations have public restrooms (some free, some cost 20-30 cents).

There are several websites/phone apps to check bus schedules in Kosovo. Personally, I use gjirafa.