A Dog With Many Names

Before moving to Kosovo, I had never heard of the following type of dog (it has many names): Sarplaninac, Shar Mountain Dog, Illyrian Sheepdog, Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog. All of those names describe one basic breed of dog, which is common in Kosovo and looks like this:

 

Clearly, this is a dog that displays maximum fluffitude, but do not be fooled — they are bred to protect sheep from wolves.

Though I have never seen an actual working dog (as in, up in the mountains, herding sheep), many of the street dogs in Kosovo look like they’re part Illyrian Sheepdog (my preferred name for them). Here is a picture of a stray dog I took in Peja (he was just sleeping, not dead):

sleeping shar mountain dog
zzzzzzzz …

I don’t know why there are so many names for this breed. They are beautiful animals, though. I am not the first Peace Corps volunteer to become fascinated by them (and we all know I’m a cat person). I may have to find a puppy and bring it home to my dad once I am done with my service. 🙂 (Dad, you have been warned … )

If you would like to learn more about Illyrian Sheepdogs, you can click this link.

Friday Gratitude: Anibar Animation Festival

August 14-20 was the best week I’ve had in Kosovo. HANDS DOWN! I volunteered at the Anibar Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo.

The Anibar Animation Festival began eight years ago. It was founded by my friend’s counterpart, when he was only 17. (What was I doing at age 17? Certainly not founding international film festivals.)

My friend had asked me if I would be the festival’s Jury Coordinator. I told him I would think about it. The next thing I knew, I was having a meeting with his counterpart, where we discussed my role as the Jury Coordinator. I walked out of the meeting thinking, “Wait! Did I ever … agree … to be the Jury Coordinator?”

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It was the end of the week, and we were still smiling …

I’m not going to lie, I was dreading the whole thing. I pictured a bunch of high-powered Hollywood types who would call me in the middle of the night to make strange demands. Turns out, I was wrong to be so worried.

The jury was comprised of five lovely people who came from Spain, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, and the United States.

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I met many new people from all over the world. At one point, I was at lunch, and all four of us spoke different native languages (French, Chinese, English, and Albanian). I love that my native language is the one used to facilitate communication between people who speak other languages.

I also saw many films. The festival had two theaters, plus two screens they set up in a local park.

Anibar Animation Festival

Anibar Peja Kosovo

I loved some films, and hated others. Below are two of my favorite films shorts that were shown at the festival. (Warning: Don’t watch these if your boss or your kids are in the room!)

Volunteering at the Anibar Animation Festival also meant I got to spend time in Peja, which is my favorite city in Kosovo. I mean, would you look at this view?

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Even the weather cooperated, by backing away from the 100-degree mark.

I miss the little routine I developed every morning, where I bought iced coffee (!!!) and went to the Anibar theater to hang out with my friends (and the newly rescued theater kitten) before the start of the festival’s daily activities.

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It was a week full of friends, film screenings, workshops, talks, a gallery opening, and free food and drinks.

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The pouring rain on the night of the closing ceremony forced people to abandon the after-party at the park and stay at the theater. Group karaoke broke out across the theater’s stage and balcony. The night ended with a group of people dancing in the flooded streets of Peja.

Yeah, it was my best week in Kosovo …

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

Guest Blogger: Charlie Lowe (Faces of Kosovo)

Hi Hello from Kosovo, my name is Charlie Lowe, long time reader, first time poster. I was invited by April to write about a secondary project that I’ve been working on for some time with some friends of mine called Faces of Kosovo.

Faces of Kosovo

This group of awesome Kosovars and Americans have been working together to try and share true and interesting stories of members of our communities to show our friends and family what life in Kosovo is REALLY like.

Chester and Charlie
Chester Eng and Charlie Lowe, two of the founders of Faces of Kosovo

I truly struggled for a long time trying to find a genuine way to tell the stories of people here without sounding like a “white savior” coming to a different country and bragging about the people I’ve met (while at the same time patting myself on the back for being a good person). So I decided to flip-the-script and with the help of some great volunteers, both American and Kosovar, we started our Facebook page.

Faces of Kosovo

It wasn’t easy, and it took hours of planning, discussions, review, and debate, but ultimately I’m very proud of what we put together. This page seeks to connect people both here in Kosovo and back home in America with impactful and meaningful life stories of people living in this place. Their stories are told in their words (and translated closely into English, Albanian, or Serbian depending on the interview) so to be as truthful as possible. And yes, I know, Faces of Kosovo does sound a lot like Humans of New York. It’s not an original idea, but in this place at this time, it is a new and important one.

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Kosovo is a place that is facing very real and very serious existential questions about its identity as a state. Will Kosovo be a Western state or are they Eastern? Will it be religious or secular? Will it be a state where diversity is accepted, imposed, or rejected? What does it mean to be a partially recognized state? The answers to these questions often may be contrasting and complex, so to flush out people’s real stories and experiences, as well as their hopes and dreams for their futures, Kosovars and Americans may better understand the peoples’ will for the future of their country.

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All in all, building this page has taught me a lot about the importance of stories and of the personal growth and self-reflection that they demonstrate. Come check out the stories we’ve shared so far and stay tuned, as we have many more to come.

Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FacesofKosovo/

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

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
Batlava Lake
Ridiculously beautiful view
Batlava Lake
The beach
B Lake
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

https://www.instagram.com/p/BWzuESKh7TM/?taken-by=hellofromkosovo

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

Traditional Clothing and Handmade Rugs

I was in Pristina over the weekend and had a chance to wander through this street fair. I previously posted about the Pristina Bazaar, which is like an expanded farmer’s market. In comparison, clothing and rugs were sold at this fair.

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OSCE Trade Fair
Pristina fair
Pristina fair
Albanian rugs
Handmade rugs
buy Albanian clothing
Traditional Kosovar clothing
Traditional Albanian dress
Traditional clothing, Kosovo
Kosovo Albanian childrens clothing
Children’s traditional clothing, Kosovo
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Handmade goods

I LOVED this handmade, wool rug. It was 120 Euro, which I think is very reasonable. While I have bought or been given a few little trinkets I’ll keep to remember my time in Kosovo, I’d really like a larger conversation piece for my home someday. (A “pièce de rĂ©sistance,” as the French would say.)

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

“Oh,” I’ll tell visitors to my home, with my eyes getting misty, “I bought that in Kosovo when I was serving in the Peace Corps.”

I think I could bring a rolled-up rug with me on an airplane. The problem is, I’ll already have about 100 lbs. of luggage to wrangle when I leave Kosovo.

I walked by the tent several times to gaze longingly at *my* rug … 🙂

A day later, I saw the following music video on tv. I thought it was cool because the singers and dancers are wearing traditional clothing. The video is an interesting blend of old and new (and appears to have been filmed somewhere in the Balkans).

I didn’t know the name of the video (it’s Hatixhe, a woman’s name) so I texted my teaching counterpart for help in finding it online. She’s really good at that. I’ll be like, “What’s the video with blahty-blah?” and she’ll know exactly what I am talking about.

Kosovar Superstitions

When I visited the village of GraÄŤanica this spring, my friend provided me with two tourists guides put out by the municipality. These glossy booklets are filled with all kinds of interesting information — history, notes on culture and religion, recipes, etc. They are accompanied by color photos, too.

Gracanice Kosovo tourism boolkets

I pulled the following list of superstitions from one of these booklets. This list is slightly abridged; I included my “favorite” superstitions, or the ones I found most interesting.

  • When the left palm itches, you’ll receive money. If the right palm itches, you’ll spend money. (Don’t we have some version of this in the U.S.?)
  • If a rabbit crosses a road to a traveler, it means an accident will happen. (Sounds like the old “black cat crossing your path” superstition. I hate that superstition. I love black cats.)
  • On Sundays and Wednesdays, you shouldn’t cut your nails. It brings trouble. (Duly noted.)
  • When a cat warms its back near the fire, winter will be cold. (This one just seems like common sense to me. “Oh, kitty is cold? I bet that means winter will be cold!” [Also, when is winter ever not cold, at least comparatively?])
  • When a rooster crows on the sunrise, weather will be bad. (If this were true, the weather would be bad every day in Kosovo … at least according to my host family’s rooster.)
  • When a donkey rolls in mud, it will rain. (If there’s mud, doesn’t that mean it already rained?)
  • If you drop a bite while bringing it to your mouth, that means the devil took it. (Yikes.)
  • You shouldn’t hold a child by the neck, because it will not grow. (You shouldn’t hold a child by the neck because it’s a mean thing to do.)
  • You shouldn’t burn a broom; you’ll get a toothache. (Why would I want to burn my broom?)
  • You shouldn’t jump over a coffin, because the dead will rise. (I can’t help but wonder if “coffin jumping” was ever a real problem … )

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.

agriculture kosovo 1
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.

agriculture kosovo 2
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:

 

pristina kosovo bazaar map.PNG

Mirusha Waterfalls, Kosovo

April Mirusha Waterfall
April at Mirusha Wateralls

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

Mirusha map.jpg

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

wild flowers kosovo

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

Stream Kosovo

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.

Second Waterfall Mirusha Kosovo
The second waterfall …
Hiking women waterfall
Hiking women
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My companions  …
second Waterfall Mirusha Kosovo 2
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.

 

GraÄŤanica, 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 GraÄŤanica, 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).

gracanice

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.

Gracanice restaurant 6
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Gracanice restaurant 1
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Gracanice restaurant 2
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Gracanice restaurant 3
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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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Roman ruins Gracanice Kosovo 2
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Roman ruins Gracanice Kosovo 4
Can you spot the sarcophagus?
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Roman ruins Gracanice Kosovo 6
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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:

Gracanice monestary
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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!