On a recent visit to Skopje, Macedonia, I took a walk to the fortress in the middle of the city. I had previously posted a photo of the outside of the fortress on a different visit to Skopje:
You enter the fortress by crossing through a public park. There was a gate with a stop sign, but an older man selling bottles of water by the entrance just waved me through. I’m going to be honest — I was less than impressed by my visit. There were no signs ANYWHERE, so I had no idea what I was looking at. I had hoped to learn some of the fortress’ history. I had also thought maybe there would be … I don’t know … some artifacts or something? It does offer good views of the whole city, though.
From a Google search, I learned that the fortress is from the Byzantine empire and was built in 6th century A.D. Even online info about this place seems pretty scant.
On my walk back to the bus station, I took this picture. I liked the lion statue. 🙂
I was talking with my mom about my trip to China in 2012. She suggested I write a blog post, comparing and contrasting my experiences in China with those in Kosovo.
Please note that this meant to be a fun, light-hearted comparison of the two countries, rather than a deep cultural analysis. Also, I only got to spend 10 days in China, whereas I’ve lived in Kosovo for a year. I am more familiar with Kosovar culture than Chinese culture.
Having said that, here are a few fun observations about both countries.
In both places, I’ve felt like this:
China and Kosovo are both mountainous countries.
In both countries, I’ve used “squatty potties”:
There are scorpions in both countries!
Before I went to China, I was like, “I am totally going to eat a scorpion.” I imagined showing my friends and family a photo of me eating a scorpion, and all of them being suitably impressed by my bravery. Well, then I got to China and visited a night market. When I saw all the scorpions wriggling on sticks (they’re still ALIVE!), I lost my nerve. I have come to accept that while I am not a picky eater, that doesn’t mean I am an adventurous eater.
For the record, I have never seen a scorpion in Kosovo. I’ve shown the following picture to locals here, and they claim never to have seen one, either. But! A volunteer living up in the mountains took this photo. I’m convinced.
American fast food. Yes, it exists.
The only American fast food chain that exists in Kosovo (as of right now) is KFC, although they offer a limited menu. What’s the point of going to KFC if you can’t order gluey macaroni and cafeteria-style mashed potatoes?!
I don’t remember what all I saw in China, aside from McDonalds. (No, I didn’t eat there.)
I engaged with local superstitions in both countries.
In China, I hugged this tree to gain an extra year of life.
In Kosovo, I flipped over a tile on this roof to ensure I will get married.
So, there you have it. A fun comparison of my experiences in China vs. Kosovo. I realize this post features a lot of toilet pictures. You’re welcome.
This time of year (mid-August) always makes me think about the trip I took to Beijing, China in 2012. It was part of my graduate school program in social work. I traveled with 15 other students. Every morning, we attended classes on the topic of International Adoption Policy.
China was my first international trip (unless you count Canada and the Bahamas). I was 31 at the time, and had always wanted to travel internationally. Since my trip to China, I have been to nine other countries (Spain, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, France, England, Italy, Germany, and Hungary).
Before going to China, a friend told me, “This trip will change your life.” After I returned, it took me a while to see how much of an impact the trip had on my life. Sure, it was fun to travel and learn about another culture, but was it life changing … ?
Almost exactly two years after our trip, my professor lost her long battle with cancer. She was a compassionate woman, teacher, and social worker. She had this soft, sweet voice that mirrored her nature. BUT. She was totally capable of cutting right through b.s. (Not that I ever tried to b.s. her!) Since her death I have become very close to her family, especially her teenage daughter. I am so thankful to have them in my life. I don’t think I would be as close to them as I am were it not for our shared experience of going on that trip. So you see, the trip did change my life, just not in any way I could have predicted.
In Beijing, after we attended school in the morning, we would go on various excursions in the afternoon. Some were fun, cultural trips and some were work-focused. We met with several NGOs, visited an orphanage, and got to tour a medical facility where they performed minor corrective surgeries (to fix things like cleft palates and club feet) on orphans.
Visiting the orphanage was an especially powerful experience for me. I have often thought I would be interested in doing some type of work with orphans. Well, an opportunity arose here in Kosovo for me to teach at an orphanage one day per week. I’ll start this fall. It is amazing how life brings us the things we seek, isn’t it?
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. 🙂
I have struggled in writing this post. It was in my drafts folder for a while. I even struggled with what to title this post.
If I sound snobby in this writing, I apologize. (“Oh, Kosovo is so tiny, compared to my huge, superpower country!”) It is not my intention to come off that way. What I want to do is share some thoughts about Kosovo, travel, and “home.”
Another volunteer is from Texas. She recently showed me this photo, which kind of blew my mind:
Before school ended, I talked about the United States with my fourth grade class. No one knew how many states the U.S. has. I told them 50, and I said, “Imagine 50 Kosovos.” But even that isn’t accurate. Kosovo is the size of one of our smaller states. The city where I used to live has a larger population than all of Kosovo, and Chicago isn’t even the U.S.’s biggest city.
Being in Kosovo has made me consider not only how big the United States is, but also how unreachable it can be. The average salary in Kosovo is equivalent to $9,600 per year. Kosovars also have the most restricted travel visas of anyone in Europe (the article I reference is from December 2015, but is still true today). When you consider these factors, buying a plane ticket to visit the U.S. seems near impossible.
I have talked to people here who have told me visiting the U.S. would be a dream for them. And I will admit, I sometimes struggle to relate. To me, the U.S. is just “home.” Having lived in Kosovo for a year now, it is strange to think many people I know have never been there.
Another volunteer friend of mine is from Arizona, a state I have never visited. She went home recently. She told me that while she was there, it was really important to her to visit the Grand Canyon. It is a big part of “home” for her. It is also strange to think that while she and I are both from the U.S., I have never seen the Grand Canyon, nor is it a place that signifies “home” to me.
Anyway, this is just a hodgepodge collection of some things I have been considering lately. Thanks for reading, as always.
On Monday, I arrived back in Kosovo after a week-long visit to the United States.
I didn’t experience any culture shock at all. After a day of being back home, Kosovo felt like a distant memory. Having said that, I missed Kosovo by the end of the week. Just a little, but it was enough to bring me back here. 🙂
I talked to a volunteer friend who had visited the States a few weeks before my trip. She told me the food made her sick. A small, mean part of my brain thought: “She’s weak. That won’t happen to me.”
Pride goeth before a fall.
The food in the U.S. did make me sick. (Fun fact: I puked down the drain while showering.) I stopped going to restaurants and only ate at home, which helped. If I had to give advice to any returning Peace Corps volunteers, it would be: Don’t go hog-wild eating all of your favorite foods. Ease into it.
I expected my reunion with my cat to be joyous on both our parts. I was joyous, while he was indifferent. I don’t know why I expected more. He IS a cat, after all. 🙂
Things I did in the U.S.: Went to the movies (Wonder Woman), went to yoga class 4x, ate a bunch of food, attended a family barbecue, painted ceramics, attended an art fair, and turned another year older.
I also got a bob hircut. I’ve had bobs before, and they aren’t my favorite haircut for myself. However, I was motivated by practical reasons and not aesthetics.
Anyway, it was a great trip and I am so grateful I was able to see my family. It helps to know that I’ll see my parents again in 6 months (when they visit Europe for the first time!). But, it is strange to think it’ll be another year before I see the rest of my family and friends. When I was home, I kept telling myself: “The next time I’m here, I’LL BE FREE.”
I haven’t posted about my media consumption for a few weeks, so here’s everything:
I watched the season finale of Handmaid’s Tale. It continues to scare the crap out of me.
I binged Orange is the New Black over 3 days. I am always impressed by the rich, complex, and varied female characters on that show.
As mentioned, I saw Wonder Woman while I was home. My mom and aunt liked it, but I thought it was only okay. It was a bit heavy-handed with the “love conquers all” messaging.
I read All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is told from a husband’s perspective, as he obsesses over his wife.
I read Beautiful Bodies. It was well-written, but irritated me to no end. Why are all books about 30-somethings (particularly women) all about the characters’ midlife crises? Is no one happy in their 30s? (For the record, I am. I’ve enjoyed my 30s far more than I ever enjoyed my 20s.)
I re-read White Oleander, which is probably my favorite novel of all time. It follows the story of a teenage girl as she moves through a series of foster homes in Los Angeles, after her poetess mother murders her ex-boyfriend.
When I was in the States, I was finally able to buy a hard copy of Feast of Sorrow, which was written by Crystal King. Crystal and I became acquainted when I lived in Boston. I was excited to have a chance to read her first novel, which was published this spring. It is a historical fiction novel set in ancient Rome. I started reading it on my long journey back to Kosovo. It is an entertaining, captivating novel, and I’m not just saying that because I know the author. I highly recommend it!
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.
As far as I know, the bazaar is open every week day. You can find it here: