Sunday, March 23, 2008

Words Cannot Describe

These are photos from a funeral I was very lucky to shoot. It's photos like these that photographers can really appreciate. This was unplanned and became my plan B when another photo opportunity in Krusha fell through.

This is a funeral for Fjolla Gashi, who died on Friday morning from a coma resulting in a car accident. She and three other girls were hit by a car while they were walking to school. Many accidents like this have occurred since there is no public transportation system for children to get to school. She hadn't even turned 14 yet, and she was so beautiful. I think the one aspect I had to appreciate about this moment was how willing the family was for me to be there. They allowed me into private spaces and even people who didn't know me, aided in moving people out of my way in order for me to have better access. Being a apart of this funeral procession was just amazing. I can't describe it in words so I'll let the photos describe the scene for you.

It was awesome to end my week on this kind of a note. I have to say I couldn't have accomplished what I did without everyone who was willing to help:

I have to especially thank Arben, our driver and translator from World Vision. He dedicated his work time to drive us to various places in order for us to have successful stories. I was able to be with him the most during the week, and he was just amazing. He was able to get us information he knew we needed and would try anything to accomplish it. I don't think I would have gotten the same results on Friday if it weren't for him. I owe him a lot.

I also have to thank the KIJAC students. It was awesome to be able to work with them and to learn about the culture through them. In a week, I feel like I've known them for months. I was able to bond with many of them and for those friendships I am forever grateful.

I owe a lot to the professors on this trip. If it wasn't for them pushing me, I wouldn't have pushed myself more and more. I felt like I had a lot to prove on this trip, and I feel like I've accomplished a lot. I admire their advice and wisdom they have given me while on this project and I'll never take it for granted. I'm glad they gave me a chance and I hope I didn't disappoint them.

Kosovo was wonderful. Even after being home a bit I can't fully describe to my parents what it was like. There will always be a place in my heart for everyone I met in a week and I hope to stay in touch. We still have a lot of work to do and I'm optimistic about the final product.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tung, shoku im

I have to apologize; I don't know the plural for "friend" in Albanian, which would be a more accurate statement. I should be so lucky to be able to call everybody I met on this trip a friend.

To the KIJAC students: Words cannot express how thankful we truly are. We made you miss your days off, skip classes and show up late to jobs. I hope you'll have a chance to visit us in Lincoln, so we can truly show our gratitude. I am speaking for myself when I say this, but I'm sure everybody else would agree: you will always be welcome at our homes. Give us a call, send us an e-mail or a postcard anytime.

To everybody at Worldvision and KosInvest: I don't know what we would have done without you. You all have been so patient and helpful, I cannot say thank you enough. Arben, I hope you enjoy the music I gave to you.

To our drivers: I don't think I would have been able to successfully navigate the streets of Kosova alone, thanks for getting us there safely.

To our professors: I am so honored I was allowed to go on this trip. I wish I could stay longer. But you already know that.

To the donors: I am so glad I chose this college, thank you for supporting what is in my mind the best university for photojournalism in the country. I have learned a lot, your money was well spent, and I am grateful for that.

All: I feel everything above is an understatement. We have gone through so much together (illegal mines, winding mountain roads, harrassment by powerplant employees and incredible stories from the locals to name a few). I don't feel I have said "thank you" enough. I hope to see you all sooner than later.

Poster's note: Please correct me if my Albanian is off. I'm learning...

Friday, March 21, 2008

With a little help from my friends

On one of our last days here in Kosovo, I wanted to stress one thing: how amazing the people of Kosovo are. From the contacts we have made to the sources themselves, the people here are gracious, hospitable, kind, thoughtful and always looking forward to the future.

I think it comes from having a country with such a rich history going back centuries, they really understand the flow of time and the way humanity interacts with history. I never expected to see people who are nicer than in the Midwest, where we are known for our kindness and helpfulness. But the people of Kosovo are the same way, they sacrifice anything to help you in any way possible.

Most important than all are the people of KIJAC and World Vision, and others we have met who have been willing to serve as translators, drivers and helpers. We would be nowhere without them. I cannot count for you the times that I have not known what to ask, and my translator helped me along. Or there was a miscommunication with a statement or cultural tradition and they explained it to me fully and what to do. People have taken off work, put off their classwork, and gone out of their way to help us with our stories and what we are trying to accomplish here in Kosovo. I know there is no way to possibly thank them fully but I am so grateful for all they have done.

One of the people who has been most helpful to me personally was Ilka, who just dropped by the Grand Hotel to see if anyone could use her on their project. At that moment, I was heading out to a village and didn't have a fluent translator set up. Ilka hopped on board and drove with us, and she helped me tactfully interview a family that experienced the war, and was suffering poverty under the limited employment of their oldest son. Not only was she helpful and brilliant, she was also very fun and I really appreciate her willingness to drop everything to help me on my way.

There are many others I cannot even begin to thank for their help, like Valon, a young man who came up to us because we were speaking English and offered his help on the project because he was an experienced film-maker/producer. He had no ties to us at all but, again, went out of his way to know us and help, even going to the point of volunteering his friends. Also there is Arben, and the staff at KosInvest and World Vision who have helped us meet families and have driven us day after day. Arben is a kind-hearted man who is genuinely trying to accomplish change for the better in the lives of people in Kosovo.

I hope they all know how grateful we all truly are. We would be nothing without their help.


Clay taking photos on Tuesday. We were in a small village called Dardhishte. The woman we visited had a husband who died in an accident in the power plant that he was photographing. 

An old woman lives, with her family of 7, in the remains of a bombed house. She sits silently and says nothing. 
This portrait won me a free dinner a few nights ago.

Every morning, men fight over who gets the opportunity to work. Work is hard to find, therefore many people are unemployed. Day laborers wait for someone to come and ask for workers, they attack the car, hoping to get chosen.

Homemade honey is sold in a market. 

While there are many other photos I would like to put up, these are the few that I have converted to post.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I'm taking the laptop off the table, I'm putting it on my lap, I'm writing a personal blog.
I'm also cold and the heat from the laptop feels nice on my legs.

I came here to tell stories of poverty. So I climbed over piles of rubble and into uncomfortable places. I walked into dirty, small, dark rooms. I took the pictures people at home expected me to take.

But yesterday I heard feet step softly on clean floors, voices echo off white walls, silverware scrape against plates full of food. The place was nice(r). I walked the hallways of Kosovo's House for the Aged Persons and Without Family Solicitude, an institution for people who have no one to care for them.

Inside one room sat two men who say they have nothing in common. One never had children. His wife is dead, he thinks he has some cousins alive somewhere and unlike most Kosovars, he doesn't like coffee. The other has many children, but none who care enough to take care of him. He has a shelf full of pictures and a table with everything he needs to make coffee, telling me he can't live a day without it. Though they have nothing in common, they each consider the other a brother. Here, life is OK.

I followed the men to lunch and was surprised to hear a resident yell something at me in English. She called me to her table to take a photo of her. She said she learned some English from watching TV. After lunch, I went to her room.

Her name is Biba, and she's lived in the home since she was born, 54 years ago. Her parents left her at the hosptial, so she grew up in a home of old people, many of them crazy. "I was the only child here,"she said. "I didn't have anybody. I didn't have hope for living." For Biba, life in the home was not OK.

I listened to more sad stories. Biba said she's tried to kill herself many times, but now she sees that God didn't want her to die. She showed me pictures of her friends from Pristina's protestant church that came to visit her. I don't know what Biba believes, but I wondered if one day her heart claimed the promise that God makes a home for the lonely.

Some homes have walls that are crumbling. Others have walls that are strong. So are the walls of our hearts. Though poverty assigns one a life of hunger, discomfort and immobility, loneliess is a tide that carries a different kind of hunger.

I'm always thinking of photos, stories, this project. I wanted to come home with good pictures, not sappy words about how a trip changed my life. But when I left the home yesterday, I told each person I would remember them and think of them. As the Lord allows me to, I will. With every experience we can gain understanding if we want it. This world is messed up. And on this morning, Good Friday morning, I think of the many injustices in this world.
But Biba is no longer angry at life's injustices. If she was, she would try to kill herself again.
Instead, she died to something else.


Roma and Plementina

Today was probably one of the most draining.

Dzafer, a Roma journalist, took me to a family in Fushkosova. We had terrible timing. Their daughter, Emrana, married a man for love, without her father's approval, at the age of sixteen. After a year, the man filed for divorce - which is fairly common in this particular Roma tribe within Kosovo. Now, Emrana just had a baby. According to Roma tradition, the children always belong to the man. So that afternoon, just after our interview, they were scheduled to go to court and hand the child over to the father.

Everybody was upset. Especially the father. The first twenty minutes of the interview consisted of the father venting all of his discontent to Dzafer. Then when Dzafer introduced me as an American journalist, he turned his anger on me. He rushed on about an American journalist who came and took pictures and interviewed them and promised that he would help them. He said that he hasn't heard from that journalist in one year.

All the father wants is to seek asylum in a foreign country. He wept over the empty future of his eight children here in Kosovo.

The family was not even living in their own home. During the war in 1999, many Roma in the community fled to foreign countries, seeking asylum. Many of the families that stayed, including this family, moved into the homes.

Three days after Kosovo's declaration of independence, their electricity was cut. To help keep them warm at night, they have a gas lamp.

They can't afford shoes for their children, because none of them are employed. So when we first came, the kids ran out to meet us, barefoot through the snow patches and the frigid mud.

It wasn't until I had packed up my recorder and notebook and started getting up that I received the biggest shock. The father apologized and asked for my address in America. He told me that after sitting with them and eating with them, I was part of the family and he wanted to sent a gift to my parents in America.

I'm returning to the family Saturday morning and spending all afternoon with them before we head for the airport.

Because I returned to the hotel so early, I was able to hitch a ride with Arben back to the school in Plementina.

I am really looking forward to tomorrow. I get to revisit the family at the base of the Ciciviaca mountain range. This time, the whole family should be there so I will be able to hear some of the grandfather's memories of fleeing to the mountains and returning the burnt remnants of their home.

Illegal mining

For some living in the Kosovar village of Zhilivoda, mining is the only way to make ends meet. With the Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEK) snatching up any coal deposits they can find, some Zhilivoda land owners have chosen to take advantage of the deposits found in their backyards and dig on their property. The mines are not regulated by any safety standards and miners could work all day for three days but earn only 50 euro, which will be split four or more ways. Just two months ago, a miner in Zhilivoda was killed in a collapse just a few hundred yards from his house.

Poster's Comment: I admit I was scared, but not once I got down the rickety ladder. Going back up was the worst, my shoes were muddy and kept slipping.

This week so far

This week has been an amazing experience overall. I have gone from seeing average families to seeing really impoverished families. On Sunday, Kate, Karen and I spend the day in downtown Pristina, just looking for story ideas. We happened upon a group of film students who we got coffee with and chatted. Later in the afternoon, they took Michael, Shannon and me around. We got some okay photos, but it was too tourist-y to get much real work done.
Monday, I went to Gracanica (Gratz-ah-neech-ah) with Kate and our fixer Isak. We visited three families. The first was the youngest in the village. They have an 18 month old son who is absolutely adorable. Their house smelled like coffee. I had my first experience with Turkish coffee which, I might add, I don't like very much. It is thick and gritty, almost like you're eating sand. That's a little cliche. I was just now told that you are not supposed to drink the last couple sips, perhaps this would change my mind... doubtful. Anyway, we then went to an older couple's home. They live with the husband's parents and their children. Their house is beautiful and rather large. The third house we went to was of a man who raised pigeons.
Tuesday, Shannon, Karen, and I went out with Afradita and Arianita. We went to the red cross who then took us to a bombed neighborhood on the outskirts of Pristina.
Being in this village made me think that I will never again complain or say "I'm starving."

The first house we visited was by far the worst. There were, what we thought were, two boys playing in the street. We later found out that one of them was a girl. They ran into a building that was completely destroyed. The walls were collapsing, there was no ceiling, and the area reeked of mold. This was their house. We walked, silently, through a pitch black room. I couldn't see where we were going, as I was toward the back. My toes grasped for something solid on which to stand, but to no avail. I tried my hardest to keep balanced. We walked up 3 steps. I put my hand on the wall, only to find it wet and slightly sticky. It's a good thing I carry hand sanitizer with me. We arrived to a dimly lit room where the rest of the family was sitting. Eight people live in one very crowded room. I tried my best not to show my disgust. The family lives on approximately 40 euros a month. They can just barely afford food, but cannot afford clothing so they resort to wearing the same things almost every day. It was truly a heartbreaking sight...
The second family was only slightly better. They lived in the basement of a house that had been bombed. Their ceiling was fully constructed, though crude. This family seemed much happier. It was a woman, her husband, and their two children. Another woman (I'm not sure how they are related) and her child lived with them. I couldn't handle sitting inside so I stayed outside with the children.
The third family was a Roma family. I didn't get any information on them because the inside of their house was ridiculously warm, which is good for them.
Tuesday night was interesting for me. Although I know that I am safe here, it is very hard not to be overly nervous... Michael and Clay, who have the room next to mine and Kate's, opened their window and their door slammed very loudly. I was in my bathroom and the noise scared me terribly. It's amazing what your brain can do when you're terrified. I swear, it sounded as if a bomb had gone off and another way coming. I ran out into the hallway, half expecting the building to collapse. Karen met me in the hallway and I asked her what had happened. She, very calmly, explained that someone's door had probably slammed. Although I knew that this was the case (because I asked Michael and Clay), I couldn't stop my body from shaking for the next twenty minutes or so. While that may seem ridiculous to the readers, and embarrassing for me to admit, I feel that it needs to be said.
Also, Tuesday, I felt I had a bad day and that my photos were terrible, but we ended up having a small photo contest. We each picked our best and had the waiters judge and my photo won! I was so excited. It was a refreshing reassurance.

Wednesday was an unproductive day. I went in the morning with Ilka to Fushekosova. We went to a roma family's house and it was really neat. The woman was very open about her life and her 4 sons. Unfortunately, I didn't quite get all I wanted. I did get some good information and a couple good photos, but nothing great. I came back and ended up working a good amount and then went to a market with Michael and Valon.

This morning, I woke up at 6:30 to go to the market with Michael to get some shots of the stores opening and vendors setting up. After that, I came back expecting to work or do something not involving work, but Arben was here and was able to take me back to Gracanica! My afternoon was really great! I went back to the second family (the multigenerational household) and got lots of great photos and sound bytes. I love that community. Today has easily been the best day here. I am loving every minute of Kosovo and I'm really sad that it's Thursday already!
There are a lot of other things that have happened and are happening, but I'll write about that at another time, in another, more appropriate place.
I'll post photos tonight...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

14 under one roof

Pictured above: Bahri Haliti interacts with his 2-year-old daughter Marjeta in their family’s living room. Bahri is one of 14 people living in their family’s farm house near the Ciciavica mountain range. (Michael Mason-D'Croz)

Bahri Haliti struggles to lead a family of 14 on land that has passed from father to son for generations. In 1999, Serbian attacks forced the family to leave its home for higher, safer ground - just to return to find the home destroyed by the Serbs.

Its home burned, all its possessions gone, this family rebuilt.

“It took us six months to rebuild our home” Bahri said.

Six months doesn’t do justice to the process that was – and has been – undertaken by Bahri and his family. Fourteen people live on the land – three generations – and they have only a three-room house completed.

That is not enough room for everyone to sleep, so Bahri and his family took to building what they call “barracks” to house the rest. Two “barracks” later and they finally have a roof over every head. However, this roof is mostly plastic tarp, no proper roof for them all.

On top of all that, the family’s work horse recently died. It didn’t have the money to afford a new horse, and in came World Vision. With a loan, Bahri bought a new work horse.

Yes, things are looking up for Bahri. With the new horse, his brother’s new job, his father’s job, social security and him working the land, this large family is able to survive.

They are not rich in money, but the family life that they live is rich beyond that of most others in the world. Faced with adversity, Bahri and his family have made the best that they – or anyone else – could.

Bahri isn’t the only family struggling since the war; many families have to deal with loss of land and loved ones.


I've come to realize that I am not painting the whole picture of my experiences in Kosovo thus far. So I suppose I will start with Sunday.

Sunday was our first full day here in Kosovo. Vanessa, Karen, Clay and I went with Arben, an refreshingly original man from World Vision. We drove to Prizren, a city in southern Kosovo. We made many stops along the way just to get a feel for the country and to practice a bit more with our cameras. After the excruciatingly long time spent cramped in a plane, it felt wonderful to get out and experience the unfamiliar. We stopped at a ski resort and took some landscape photographs. We also spotted a large group of men and boys playing soccer in a field so we pulled over. Just as we did, some KFOR who were walking down the road came to the field. We had hoped that they would start a game but they just posed for a few photos and went on their way.

Prizren was the most beautiful sight. One of the most memorable moments was visiting an extremely old Catholic church in the middle of town. Some people were making renovations inside and when we were leaving, we ran into the pastor and got a chance to speak with him about the history of the church and about Prizren.

It was a sightseeing day, no doubt, but I think that it was necessary.

Monday I spent in Gracanica, a suburb of Prishtina, with Lindsay and Isaak. We visited three different families. The first was Alexsandra and Goran Rakic. They were a young couple and they lived in a small home with their 18-month-old son, Dmitri. Alexsandra worked as a journalist but her husband, Goran lost his job in the ministry of transportation in Kosovo because he is Serbian. Alexsandra lamented about feeling imprisoned in her own home because of all of the Albanians moving in. They are moving to central Serbia soon because they feel the move would be best for everyone. One of the biggest reasons is their child. "There is no playground here," Alexsandra says. She foresees a brighter future for her son in Serbia. Goran also sees better opportunities in Serbia but is still reluctant to leave because his father is buried here in Kosovo. His grave is just across the street from the village.

The second family we visited was much older than the first. Dragan Lecic and his wife live with his parents in a home they have had their whole lives. It was interesting because Lecic's wife also mentioned feeling imprisoned in the village because of the Albanians who were purchasing the land surrounding their home. The Lecic's differed from the first family, however, because they are sticking around. They mentioned that it is understandable for younger families, such as the Rakic's, to leave because they have a lesser sense of perspective.

The third visit was short and fairly uneventful.

Tuesday was, until today, arguably the best day this week for me. Vanessa, Michael and I met up with Arben and Naz and visited a family in the Cicavica range. The family has such an interesting story. They lived at the base of the mountains. Then, during the war, their village became much too dangerous because Serbians had moved in so they were forced to retreat into the mountains and lived in barracks for a while. When they returned to their home, they found everything completely burnt, destroyed. They rebuilt their home in six months. It was also interesting because before the war they were a fairly middle class family. The father worked and the children were much younger and fewer. During the war, their father lost his job because he is Albanian. Today there are fourteen people living there. Two of the men work. Nine months ago they received a loan from KosInvest and used it to purchase a horse. They feel like things are improving greatly for them and they have great hope for the future. They were a beautiful family. Some of my favorite shots from this family are below.

After that we visited a war widow in the same village. One thing sticks out from that interview. Vanessa asked her if there were any specific memories of her husband that she would like to share. She replied quite simply, "I remember everything."

On the way back to Prishtina that evening we stopped by Sultan Murat's tomb and Gazimestan. These are memorials related to a battle in 1389 between the Ottomans and the Serbs. We were not allowed to walk up Gazimestan, even with our passports, because of the recent declaration of independence.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sorry For the Delay

For those of you who were waiting for an update, here I am. I haven't forgotten about posting. Originally I was going to post as I was able to get my photos up but I'm super behind on photo work so it's just words.

The past few days have been amazing. I have seen a variety of things that leave me awestruck. Yesterday I went with two journalism students here. Afrodita and Arianita were two very beautiful women who took Shannon and I to the Red Cross to find contacts. After some conflicts with timing, we were able to meet with someone who would help take us to various families. We set appointments and in the afternoon I went to the community of Fushe Kosove, which is a suburb of Prishtina, and is comprised of minority groups including Askahli. This community was my first exposure to poverty. Not only were the houses depressing but it was hard for me to see a family living a hard life but still happy about the opportunities they have been given. I was disappointed in what had as far as photos because I froze up. It was hard for me to hear their stories even though I kept telling myself that I'm here to tell their story. They were so grateful I was there and tomorrow I'm going back with hopes of developing my story more and maybe see a calf be born. This is significant because the first family I visited are anxiously awaiting the birth of a calf so their cow will produce milk again and they can have a little more food for their family.

Today I went to the town of Vushtri to visit a family that lost their home during the war and now live in the Cicavica mountains where they originally fled. They have 14 family members living in their home and barely make ends meet, barely. The second story was one I have been pushing for all semester. I was able to interview a war widow who was left alone with 5 kids when her husband died during the war. At the time there was no support from the community she could turn to. She provides for her family by knitting items to sell at the market which only funds her two children, still at home, on 63 Euros a month. Her story was really heart breaking. There were a few moments when I felt I was about to break down, even our guide was touched. Even after 10 years she remembers everything about her husband and has little tangible items because their house was burnt down during the war.

The World Vision guide, Arben, has been the most help with the majority of my stories. Not only have I shared an interest in stories with him but he has been amazing about transporting us, helping to translate and helping us to take off and produce photos that make an impact. We've also been able to enjoy is taste in American music including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and lots of Jazz. We want to do all we can to show our gratitude so Clay and I are going to make a variety of music CDs for Arben to enjoy, I think I'll share my love of Miles Davis.

We're all ready to find a story to nail down and dig deep. There are so many opportunities to see and write about that makes a week not long enough. I hope we can make a difference with our stories now that the world is paying attention to Kosovo.

I promise photos will come. I've been itching to post them I've just run into a few technological difficulties.



Today was really great. 
I wasn't happy this morning because I was forced into being an audio girl for the first, and probably the most interesting (to me) story. Clay has been harping about doing a story on the mines in Kosovo, so we got some contacts and he got a great story. Although I was upset because he got a good story, I'm really glad that that's the way it happened and I'm glad that if I'm not getting something, at least other people are. 

We were on our way to a second story involving the mines and ended up being dropped off at a school. While Clay distracted all the kids, I shot some pictures. It's days like this that really make me love photojournalism. There is nothing like a group of kids running towards you and screaming at you to take their photo. They were also chanting "A-me-ri-ca," and that made me feel pretty great.
Unfortunately, the second story fell through, but I managed to work my way into the school. The six year old school, which holds 151 students, is in a village called Mazgit.

This is where I would post photos if my internet were working properly.

After the school, I ended up going with the Red Cross to a few of the homes in the bombed-out part of Prishtina. It is absolutely amazing to see eight people living in what used to be a basement of a house that no longer exists. 

Again, I would post some photos if I could get them to load.
Look forward to them when Blogspot wants to work properly!

So far, this experience has truly been amazing- I'm learning so much.
I am really looking forward to tomorrow.
Until then...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Where the streets have no name.

Today was heartbreaking. I went into a community that was exactly what I needed to see here in Kosovo, a community that reflected the truth of the situation.

Piles of trash, fences and structures made from scrap metal, children playing in the street so excited to see our car driving through. I can’t even describe what it looks like there, but it looks like desperation. Everyone in this country has these sorrowful and deep eyes. Eyes are the window to the soul, this is well known, but somehow it is more so here. People smile with their eyes, but they also despair with them.

It made me feel sick/cry/throw all my money at the situation/ regret every time I ever said that I was poor. But I didn’t cry, I understood that this is life. In America we hide our poverty well, little lies and lives shoved under the rug of our disillusioned reality. Yes it exists, it always has. People should not have to live this way, it does not reflect justice or equality. So don’t look the other way, do something about it.

I do want to do something about it, and that is what we are doing. Sorry for the seriousness, but it is a serious situation.

Lets see, Sunday and Monday were full and crazy days. Everyone on the trip keeps asking me if my feet are ok because of my shoes, but most of the women here wear boots and heels like I do! I am used to this self-inflicted torture, it is not a problem, and I may even be a masochist, who knows. I did feel ridiculous though on Sunday when I entered my first mosque, because of the way I was dressed. Buildings like that speak to you, whether from religious significance or some other factor. It’s something to do with the value and importance people place on one specific location that gives it a special vibe. The way the light trickled down into the main room, the faded rugs with dimly lit colors, the strings hanging down into the main room with no purpose since electricity (before they had been a way to light the building). It was very special. Anyway, this does not seem to be connected with shoes, but it is! I had to take off my boots and I felt very silly because of my knee high blue socks under my jeans… so I guess I should not wear my obnoxious valentines day lip socks later in the week unless I know where I am going for sure!

Some local superstitions: When an imam died at one of the mosques, people would go by and drop a coin through a window and a girl would light a candle representing that coin and the wish the coin represented. When the candle extinguished itself then your wish would be fulfilled. Also, there is a water fountain that is supposed to promise you to find love if you drink for it. Well what they told me is that I would find a man if I drank from it! I don’t know if I am looking for love or a man, but I did it anyway, for good luck!

I can’t help but feel apprehensive and provide my own superstitions against the birds here in Kosovo. Each night around dusk, hundreds fly into the city and roost in the trees. It’s kind of horrifying, especially when you have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” But people here don’t find it strange, after all, Kosovo means place of black birds, well the Serbian word for bird is kos. Interesting.
-Vanessa’s tap dancing stumble, still makes me laugh thinking about it
-I heard a U2 song in a coffee shop today, it made my day. Music is so weird here, the other morning Vanessa and I woke up to "Super Freak" by Rick James.
-I had a great time shopping in the city today
-I think by the end of this trip Clay and Scott will be psycho on nicotine because people smoke all the time, which leads them to smoke all the time, and I will be crazy on caffeine by the amount of coffee I drink a day. I can’t imagine how grumpy we will all be after the plane ride back!
-Today was St. Patrick’s Day, I am partly Irish and wore green but no one else did! Ha-ha, what did I expect, a parade?
-I am having a great and fun time, but I am very focused as well.

It is beautiful here, and the weather has been lovely. The people are amazing as well, kind and intelligent, and managing as well as they possibly can. Their resolve and optimism are admirable.

University worker feeds family of 12 with 242 Euros a month

Vesel Presresha feeds a family of 12 with 242 Euros a month, which he earns delivering meat to University of Pristina students. The university provides free housing for Presresha and his family, but the housing complex that houses 17 families features holes in the ceiling, crumbling walls and junk strewn about the yard. The rundown building, located in the center of Pristina on Mother Teresa Avenue, sits between some of the city’s nicest buildings. From his one-room dwelling, Presresha can see the National Library through his window. When he walks out his front door, he sees the University of Pristina’s language department, where English, French, philosophy and chemistry classes are taught.

I still cannot believe

Kosovo is full of beauty: the people, the landscapes. I think I'll have to move.


Venas Berisha is a 5-year-old boy who lives in the mining town of Belacevac. He lives in a house with nine of his relatives, and has recently talked about getting a rifle to protect his three sisters from the stray dogs that roam the village. His father, Arsim, is a hard-working carpenter who, in addition to building kitchen cabinents for residents, is repairing his house. The house, along with around 90 percent of the village, was destroyed during the war.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Journey's End... and Beginning

Well, we are here! I am here and I can hardly believe it! I have never been out of the country, so this is a totally new experience. All of the other places I have visited I have been able to project Lincoln, Nebraska on to them. American cities are just similar enough that despite the garish attractions in Las Vegas, the smog in LA, the ocean in San Francisco, I have been able to picture my cute little neighborhood in Hickman and my nice little Lincoln hiding in the mix of whatever suburban area I am visiting.

Definitely not here! As we landed, I could make out little arrangements around the city, little groupings of old houses, quaint country looking villages laid out nicely in the hills. When we got off the plane, we got off outdoors and the wind and fresh air nearly blew me off my feet. Being pent up in planes and stuffy airports for twenty-some hours does not feel good, especially if you are like me and relish fresh, cool air. I also really like wind, I am one of the only people I know who does, but I think it is fierce and wild and makes me feel wild because of it. It was sunset and you could just see the outlines of the mountains as the sun was setting. It wasn’t that late here, like 6:30 pm, but their daylight savings time hasn’t hit yet.

The travel experience getting here was a long series of events. Mostly boring. I was able to finish up my scholarship applications and grab my bags just in time to leave Lincoln, the whole day Friday I was running around frantically trying to make sure I had done everything. I don’t think I have forgotten anything… that I have noticed!!! And I better not have failed my religions test, because that was all mixed in the chaos. Mainly from the travel day I learned that I hate travel days. Flying is fun but not for more than two hours. International flight sleeping arrangements are not the best, especially when you’re in the middle of the giant airplane. But I got to watch Enchanted, which made me think of and miss my friend Sammi immensely, and that was before we even got out of the country! I also watched Pocahontas, well, the best hits in my opinion, and I just fast-forwarded to my favorite songs. Yes I am a girly nerd, but I also love action movies and I wanted to save No Country for Old Men for the way back. Then I watched my favorite part of Becoming Jane… the part in the library, and then I went to sleep. If you could call that contorted position of muscle spasms comfortable in the crowded, smelly plane. But I am enjoying getting to know everyone on the trip better; we are all a fun bunch of kids. Also, on the last flight on our way to Pristina, we met a couple of really nice people. Denis, who lives in England and is on holiday visiting his home and parents in Kosovo, and Nicole, an Irish woman who was returning to Kosovo to pay respects to her mother. Kindness and sincerity like that is something I didn’t expect to find outside of the Midwest. These two gave their experiences, stories, attention and friendliness freely, and it gave me real hope for the rest of the country in the regard of openness and accessibility.

I can be obnoxious, but I just get really hyper and energetic because I like to be around people and I have wanted to go overseas and do something like this my whole life. Something that really matters, something that will have ripples that extends outward from just Lincoln and just me.

So expect a lot of enthusiasm from Shannon. Also expect Shannon to be ridiculous and awkward, because that is what I do best, unintentionally.

Ridiculous Shannon moments of today:
Getting in the tiny elevator and pushing 1 for ground level, ending up on a creepy dining room, pressing another button and getting a creepy and narrow hallway, and then FINALLY pushing the right button to get to the lobby. All Vanessa and I wanted to do was find the lobby. The elevator had different plans.
I have fully unpacked. I am satisfied.
Vanessa and I attempted to fix my watch multiple times. It has the most annoying beep on the hour because I accidentally hit something when I was changing the time. For a watch that looks like something that might come in a McDonald’s happy meal and only has four buttons, the little thing is absurdly complex.
I listened to Britney Spears “You want a piece of me” like ten times on the plane. Literally.

Random observations:
We were driving from the airport and it was at least five miles before I saw a streetlight. It was just a two lane road lined with cars each direction. Cars flash their brights to indicate that they want to cut into traffic, turn in front of you, or that you are going to let them in to traffic, its like they use it as an addition to their turn signals.
There seem to be a lot more men than women here. It wasn’t until the real cityscape of Pristina formed with tall buildings and metropolitan coffee shops that I saw a woman out walking around, but I saw lots of guys getting out from smaller bars and other areas.
I can’t read anything! That is the most frustrating thing. I feel lost and that somehow, if I would only focus a little harder than I would be able to understand it. But that is not possible, I know no Albanian or Serbian.
They sell these neat lighters that illuminate a circle image of the former president, weirdest thing I have seen today.
I need to try harder to fit in and not look like such an American. This will be easier to do when I am not surrounded by eight people with cameras.
That is all. I really hope my straightener doesn’t start a fire in the morning, but thanks to Lisa Munger for her adapter either way.

I made it to Kosovo and I didn't die...

Sorry for that random title but I wanted to let all the people who told me not to die in Kosovo that I'm still alive and kickin'. I'm in the lobby of the hotel and I just thought I would make a post really quick recapping my flight experience before I forget small details.
Our excursion began at 5:15 when we departed from Lincoln to Detroit, and yes, Lincoln does fly out to major cities. Sitting in the lobby before the flight to Detroit made me thing about the option of getting chip clips for my bag of pretzels, in case I want to save some for later. Scott Winter, one of our professors went on a rant with me about asking the flight attendants for chip clips and pitching a fit if they didn't have them. It was a good way to keep my anxious mind off of flying for a bit. Once we got into the Detroit airport, we had a slight layover before heading to London. I have to say the most fun I had in the Detroit airport was when Shannon and I started singing "Across the Universe" songs while I was choreographing the moves to the scene. Imagine the bowling scene where they are singing "Fallin'" and you'll know what I'm talking about, let me mention this was all while we were on the moving sidewalk.
The flight to London was painful. My ability to sleep in moving objects failed me as I couldn't get comfortable nor fall asleep consistently. I did however, watch "No Country for Old Men" on the flight which excited me because I hadn't seen it. I did enjoy it.
During our 4 hour layover in London Shannon, and I were able to discover a secret hidden within the London airport. This being the ability to think of something you want and it magically appearing. Let me expand. We were walking through the shops and I had mentioned I wanted to try Bailey's caramel sometime. We then walked to the Duty Free alcohol shop where we were presented with free samples of 3 different Bailey's flavors, one of them being Bailey's Caramel. Later we were browsing the alcohol and I was curious if they sold Absynthe and low and behold I found it immediately in front of me. A few minutes later Shannon said she really wanted a piece of chocolate and then a sales lady came up to is with a tray of Cadbury chocolates we could sample. Fantastic secret we were able to discover in London's Gatwick airport.
Once we got onto our flight to Kosovo, we were all anxious to get off the moment we got on the last flight of the day. I made some friends my aisle, one named Nicole from Northern Ireland and the other named Dennis from Kosovo. They were super nice and we all helped the time go by fast by combining conversation with wine.
Then we finally arrived. Our eager eyes were piercing the dusk horizon looking for new things. The ride to our hotel was, interesting to say the least. The driver was listening to what was called "Black Radio" which included a variety of American rap, it was the only thing that made sense tome at that time. It was all a blur. We had dinner at a delicious restaurant that included lots of bread, cheese, and peppers.
It's late here and I must get some rest. We have a lot to do tomorrow and we are on little sleep. I have photos to post and I will probably post them tomorrow when I have more time.


We're here!

Hello all, after a long journey to the other end of the world, we're finally here. It's pretty exciting to be here finally. While there were many stories to be shared from the journey only one involved me.

While in the London at the airport Bruce and I went into the duty free shop to look at the cigar selection available when I noticed the warnings written on the packs were hilarious. They read "Smoking Kills" and "Smoking will cause a slow and painful death." Anyway here's a look at a picture Bruce took of me with some cigarette cartons. Enjoy.

Welcome to Kosovo!

We left on Friday at 2:30. Our plane took off from Lincoln (to Detroit) at 5 PM. We got to Detroit around 8-something. We took off around 9 AM and arrived in London around 9 AM. That flight was so long, definitely the longest I've ever had. We arrived in Kosovo and had two guys from KIJAC (our partner school) pick us up. They were very nice, but didn't speak much english. Karen, Kate, Scott, Bruce and I piled into one car. Karen had to sit on my lap. Over here, I guess the driving rules or laws are... optional? I don't know, but it was an interesting ride. We had dinner at a place called Pish-something. We had a HUGE course of cheese and different breads, and after that we were completely full. THEN they brought out the main course of steak, pork, and sausage. It was amazingly delicious. The steak was phenomenal! 
After we'd arrived, I found that the money I had left in my checked bag had been stolen. I'm not sure if it was taken in Lincoln, Detroit, London, or Kosovo, but I know for sure that all the euros I had, I don't have anymore. 
That really upset me, not because I don't have the money, but because I was so stupid to put an envelope of cash in an unattended bag... I know better than to do that. I don't know what I was thinking. Then it upset me because people shouldn't do that. I'm just idyllic, I guess. 
Anyway, the beginning of the trip has had its ups and downs. I've been taking photos which I will probably upload and post tomorrow.
I have not felt threatened or in any sense of danger since I've been here. The only weird thing is that while we were eating dinner, people kept coming in and trying to have us buy little trinkets.
Hope all is well in the US! Until we meet again...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Just Don't Know Right Now

This whole week has been a blur for me. Having to deal with tests, work and last minute preparations has left me stressed to the point where running doesn't relieve it. Traveling to a new country always puts me in a funk. There's always the unknowns that you wish you could know before landing. I can tell my mom a thousand times we'll be safe but there's always the chance something happens, it may be a small chance bit it still exists. It's going to be an awesome experience being in Kosovo for a week and I can't say I won't be in a bit of a culture shock but it'll be an experience of a lifetime.
I still have to pack. Let me say at least I have a pile of things I need to pack but nothing is in a suit case yet. I'll procrastinate packing as much as possible because I hate it so much.
Once I'm done packing, all that's left is waiting. Waiting for the flight, waiting to arrive, and waiting to meet people we will be working with all week. Uncertainties are hard but in the end the experience is worth so much more. I'm more anxious than anything so I doubt I'll get much sleep tonight. It's a good thing we have an overnight flight to London and that I sleep easily in moving vehicles.
Here's to Kosovo, see you on the other side.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Are we there yet?

Our trip to Kosovo is just around the corner.
I feel that it's appropriate to make a post about my expectations. As of right now, I feel terribly ill prepared, like we're going to go into this project with nothing. This might just be me, but I'm feeling very unsure about the whole process. I'm certainly excited, but it seems to me that people don't understand that there is an underlying fear to the whole trip. It's not a fear that can be explained, but a fear that's much more like walking into a room when you're blindfolded. Does that even make sense?
I'm sure that as soon as we land in Pristina, and see where we'll be sleeping, I'll feel much better. There's really nothing to be afraid of, but I can't help but feel anxious.
I'm full of doubt; I want to live up to the expectations of myself, my professors and my fellow journalists. I guess I shouldn't worry too much. I should really focus on getting through midterms this week...

I finally booked my flight home. It seems kind of strange that everyone else has a family here, or very close to here, while my family is in Philadelphia, PA. Knowing that I'll be going home on the 28th puts me at ease.

Anyway, Friday can't come soon enough. I'm really looking forward to immersing myself in another culture and seeing what Kosovo has to offer.
I'm ready to go! Are we there yet?