Saying Goodbye

On top of the world in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

On top of the world in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float

To gain all while you give

To roam the roads of lands remote,

To travel is to live.”

Hans Christian Anderson

A typical view of Mother Teresa Blvd in Prishtina. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

A typical view of Mother Teresa Blvd in Prishtina. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

As I walk down Mother Teresa Boulevard on my second to last day in Prishtina, I am overcome with a wave of bittersweet nostalgia. Just eight weeks ago I walked sluggishly down this white brick street, jetlagged and disoriented. My mouth was agape as I took in all the new sights and smells, experiencing the gentle bustle of the hot early summer day. The crowded corner coffee shops, the vendors lining the streets with books, sunglasses, and children’s toys, the head-scarfed beggars sitting in the shade of the sapling trees, heads bowed in prayer, the statues of revered wartime heroes, the husky Albanian language drifting from the mouths of the people that call this city home, this was all new to me. But today, I amble down this street with ease, perhaps with the air and language of a foreigner, but with the look of someone who has truly experienced this place. This city has so much soul, and I am not quite sure if I am ready to leave it.

A view of the rolling, village-dotted hills of Kosovo. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

A view of the rolling, village-dotted hills of Kosovo. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The past eight weeks have brought a whirlwind of studying, traveling, learning, growing, and barely enough sleep. I have visited six countries — Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, and Turkey — which have shown me beauty I didn’t know could exist. Within Kosovo, I have explored four cities — Prishtina, Podujevo, Peja, and Prizren. I have written three, in-depth news stories for my internship at KosovaLive. I have completed eight credit hours worth of college classes. I have established strong friendships with several of the students who joined me on this trip, and lasting relationships with professors who can help further my career. The amount I experienced in this short time seems enough for several lifetimes. I couldn’t begin to describe all I have learned, all that has opened my eyes and changed me as a person. But I will tell you what I have found most important.

I have used this picture before but I it is the perfect shot of the Ottoman influence that has survived in this region of the world. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

I have used this picture before but I it is the perfect shot of the Ottoman influence that has survived in this region of the world. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Throughout my time in Kosovo, I have learned that this country’s character and development is rooted in the thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of its people. Upon arriving here, one immediately sees the Turkish-Ottoman influence, with the red-roofed villages speckled across the mountaintops. They may be struck by the Muslim influence, with the eerily beautiful call to prayer reverberating five times a day from the mosques across the city. They will notice the American flags rippling in the breeze alongside the blue and yellow of Kosovo’s, and Bill Clinton’s statue saluting the heart of the city. They will pass by the shell of the Serbian Orthodox Church and know who also claims rights to this land. In addition, of course they will hear the gorgeous symphony of various languages echoing down the street-corners, with Albanian —a testament to Kosovo’s dominant population — the loudest voice of all. While Kosovo’s mosaic of cultures may make it difficult for one to stand out, that is the point. Kosovo isn’t just the diamond-shaped country with a contentious history nestled in the Balkans. Its identity is found within its people, who blend millennia of different cultures, traditions, and belief to generate a new, unique personality.

The shell of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Prishtina.

The shell of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Prishtina.

Capturing the essence of Kosovo through the written word is not as easy as writing a quick travel blog or column. Its rich history and culture cannot be confined by a word count or column length — a book could span 1,000 pages and barely scratch the surface of this incredible place. But if I were to attempt to write Kosovo’s narrative, and try to describe its culture to a person with little understanding, I would describe its people that I have met, who truly represent Kosovo’s past, but are also driving it toward a better future. I would begin with a narrative about Kelmend Hapciu, the editor in chief of KosovaLive, who fought to sustain an underground, independent news agency during a time of war, when he didn’t know if his wife and daughters were safe from the NATO bombings. His story reflects the persistence of a journalist in a nation that depends so heavily on accurate news coverage, especially when there is so little that can be trusted. I would tell them about Ymir Gushia, our tour guide in Prizren, who has not seen his wife in a year because she has to earn 18,000 pounds at her job in Britain for him to obtain a visa. His story illustrates the struggle Kosovars must face when wishing to travel. I would tell the story of Alex, the owner of Sabaja Brewery, who moved to Pristina with his Albanian wife to establish a local brewery in the city. His perspective contributes to Kosovo’s beer narrative, and how an American would wish to travel all the way to a tiny country in the Balkans to contribute to its economy and enhance its beer consumption. I would describe the teacher I interviewed for sexual education story, who, despite living in a shack in the slums of Pristina, is willing to give what little she has to ensure her students reach success — even if that simply means teaching them proper sex ed! I would talk about Zeke Ceku, the former general manager of the Grand Hotel, who reflects the passion Kosovars put into their work, even wen they have lost everything. Finally, I would write about the director of the Red Cross in Podujevo, Ahmet Ahmeti, who helped establish the Manchester Peace Park in the city. The park was dedicated to the children who lost families during the Podujevo massacre, illustrating the power of a community to come together and honor the dead, while preserving a lasting peace.

A Prizren resident peeks into the Turkish tekke we visited in Prizren. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

A Prizren resident peeks into the Turkish tekke we visited in Prizren. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

This collage of anecdotes is a small representation of the millions of Kosovars who have incredible stories to tell. The overarching message here is that while Kosovo citizens may differ and disagree on ethnic heritage and rightful claims to land, they have faced and fought the same battles, and call the same place home. Above all else, they are working to give that home a new identity, by blending their historic cultural heritage and its values with innovative thoughts and conventions for a successful future. Kosovo is not just the tiny country in the Balkans that is only remembered by its brutal war and controversial history. It cannot be defined by its recognition and international status or lack thereof. Kosovo is defined by its cornucopia of cultures, and the people that sustain them. They push its progress forward, they determine its identity and future, and dictate how and when it gets there. They stitch up the patchwork of cultures and histories and heritages and make a cohesive, intertwining quilt that is that much more colorful with all its intricacies.

In two days, I will come back home to a soft bed, air conditioning, less spotty wifi, comfort food, and a dog that I have been dying to attack with hugs and kisses. But I am nervous I will be entering a period of reverse culture shock upon arriving in the United States. I am not yet sure of the extent to which this program as changed me. I know I have become much more grateful of my easy life in the United States, of the safety, security, and money that brings structure and predictability to my sheltered little world. I cannot take for granted the endless opportunities that lie before me, the various paths, beaten, remote, or well traveled, that I can choose to take me into my future. But I wish I wasn’t reentering a culture of apathy toward the government, of lack of participation in decision-making that affects the wellbeing of our extremely powerful nation. I am especially going to miss the easy-going lifestyle in Kosovo. Americans are in such a rush to be somewhere or do something by a certain time. Life is far too structured by time and schedule. When do we ever get a chance to breathe, to sip a macchiato in a café without worrying about when the waiter is going to bring the check? Our lives are dictated by deadlines that we create for ourselves. Despite how busy I have been during my time here, traveling has taught me to take a deep breath and see what exists outside the endless buzz and stress of work and school: a world teeming with unspeakable, indescribable beauty that is patiently waiting for all of us to stop and open our eyes.

Storefronts in Prishtina. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Storefronts in Prishtina. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

I am not sure what my future holds, but I can say with certainty my passion for journalism has been revitalized. I hope to pursue it long into my life. Kosovo has provided me with the perfect place to discover how impactful and vital journalism is to a community. I realize I have the power to inform the members of a society so they can perform their proper duty and citizens as fully participate in governmental decision-making. And by doing so, I have also realized how important is for me to participate in my government, as well.

A Kosovar couple enjoys a summer evening outside a street side cafe. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

A Kosovar couple enjoys a summer evening outside a street side cafe. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

I know I will come back to this rugged little country and see how it has progressed a few years from now. I realize sadly that there is so much I am leaving behind undone and unfixed. I hope to see the stray dogs well-fed and in loving arms. I want to see the skinny, haughty eyed children roaming the streets for money in school with full bellies. I hope the Grand Hotel will have a new owner and a brand new look that is able to preserve its glorious history. And above all else, I want all the ethnic tensions and hostilities that persist here to be put aside so a new country with a new identity can develop and flourish.

Kosovo is so much more than a tiny little country the size of Connecticut that was once ravaged by war and is now neglected by the media. It has taught me the power of storytelling, it has ignited a passion for travel in my soul, and has urged me to look inward and discover things about myself I never knew before. Even when I am gone, this energetic, quirky little place will live on quietly in the rolling mountains of the Balkans. I cannot wait to explore others like it one day. After all, in the words of Michael Palin, “once travel bug bites, there is no known antidote, and I know I will be happily infected for the rest of my life.”

 

Categories: balkans, europe, grand hotel pristina, interviews, journalism, kosovalive, kosovo, miami university, pristina, reporting, study abroad, summer, Travel, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Grand Hotel story

English

I have written a blog post about the Grand Hotel before, but this story has a much more detailed account of its past, present, and future. When my professor first told me to work on this story, he told me finding the information would be quite difficult. And he was right. The first week of reporting on this story proved fruitless. The Privatization Agency only gave me very public-relationy answers, the interview with former owner of the Grand consisted of angry remarks about the Kosovo court, and I had no “real story” that would make this report worth reading. But then I met Zeke Ceku, who had been the general manager of the Grand for 11 years. His interview was a reminder to me of why I chose this field as a career. For two hours we sat in the Grand Hotel’s musty little café and he recounted every last detail of his time here. I felt his story breathing life into my report, demonstrating the importance of preserving the history of this hotel and rebuilding it for future years. These kinds of heartfelt interviews are what make the dead ends and unreturned phone calls and ambivalent answers of journalism so worth it. I hope this story will help to bring along an investor who has the right money, and the right intentions, to restore this place to its former glory. It is about time that the Grand was grand again.

Categories: balkans, europe, grand hotel pristina, interviews, journalism, kosovalive, kosovo, miami university, pristina, reporting, study abroad, summer, Travel, writing | Leave a comment

Weekend Getaways

The spectacular view of the Adriatic Sea a top a mountain in Dubrovnik. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The spectacular view of the Adriatic Sea a top a mountain in Dubrovnik. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

I have spent the last two full weekends of my time in Europe traveling to two more countries: Croatia and Macedonia. Now I officially stepped foot in six different countries in an eight week period of time — or seven, if you count a brief layover in Vienna. While I never made it to Greece, this is a lot more than I initially anticipated. The great thing about Europe is that a weekend trip to another country is usually never more than bus ride away, even if that bus is old and rickety as it swerves across mountain cliffs.

Kings Landing in "Game of Thrones." Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Kings Landing in “Game of Thrones.” Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Last weekend, the entire group ventured to Dubrovnik, Croatia, a spectacular seatown set on the Adriatic Sea that one might recognize from “Game of Thrones.” The tiny, white-washed stone city exists entirely within the casing of two castle walls, its winding stairs and cobblestone streets like something out of a dream. The city was founded 1300 years ago by Greek refugees, and once it warded off Venetian control in the 14th century, it became an independent republic for hundreds of years. The city also served as one of the most important trading ports in the entire Balkan region. In 1808, the city came under conquest of Napoleon, whose ancient fort still graces the top of the mountain overlooking the sea. In 1991, Dubrovnik was also bombarded by the Yugoslav army, but was able to rebuild itself out of the rubble into one of the largest tourism magnets along the Adriatic coast.

 

The trademark maze of tiny streets in Dubrovnik. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The trademark maze of tiny streets in Dubrovnik. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Dubrovnik is the most beautiful city I have ever seen in my life. I could have gotten lost in its labyrinth of shady streets and medieval forts and very fat off its famous cheesecake gelato. With Catholicism the dominant religion in this region, I felt I could better relate to the charming little churches tucked away between the red-roofed apartments. In fact, according to our tour guide, Ivana, one of the churches holds several of baby Jesus’s diapers to this day. What are they made of, do you ask? Asbestos!

A glimpse of the tiny city within the castle walls. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

A glimpse of the tiny city within the castle walls. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The landscape on which Dubrovnik is situated is just as breathtaking as the city itself. The sparkling sea that frothed its pebbly shore was as calm and smooth as the blue sky above. But nothing could possibly beat the layers of gray and green mountains shadowing the city for as far is the eye could see. I took a cable car up to Napoleon’s fort and the scene before my eyes was absolutely magnificent. Imagine steely mountain tops laden with purple wildflowers where wild horses and goats frolick to your left, and to your right, an infinitely indigo ocean dotted with sailboats and a tiny medieval city. I was brave enough to take a dune buggy ride through the snaky stretches of mountain roads, which ended up being one of the most fun and exhilarating experiences of my life. I will jump at the opportunity to gallivant through this incredible city again – but hopefully during a less touristy season.

The breathtaking view of the mountains that span as far back as Bosnia. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The breathtaking view of the mountains that span as far back as Bosnia. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

This past weekend, Connor and I took a weekend getaway to Lake Ohrid, a 34 km body of water straddling the border between Macedonia and Albania. At 300 meters deep, tranquil Lake Ohrid is the deepest lake in the Balkans and the second deepest in Europe. You wouldn’t guess that though, given its crystal clear depths that highlight the immense marine ecosystem teeming with fresh and sea reeds that grows beneath.

The Bulgarian castle cresting the hill in Ohrid was built in 4th century B.C. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The Bulgarian castle cresting the hill in Ohrid was built in 4th century B.C. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Ohrid is a tiny little city, but also serves as one of the Balkans most

When thunderclouds roll in, Ohrid becomes the ideal place for a cup of tea beside the seething blue lake.

When thunderclouds roll in, Ohrid becomes the ideal place for a cup of tea beside the seething blue lake.

successful tourist areas. Founded in the 4th century BC, it’s name is Slavic for “city on a hill” and that’s exactly what it is: one forested hill crested with quirky little churches, shop-lined streets, and an ancient Bulgarian castle. While its beauty could not compete with Dubrovnik’s, I relished in its humble quaintness and serenity for the weekend. Hell, I would easily drop everything and move out here for the rest of my life, buy a rickety old VW bug (that’s all the rage in Ohrid), shack up in one of the charming little lakeside apartments, and grow a massive hydrangea garden. I would fit in here easily.

My favorite aspects of this trip included a hike through the pine-clad hill, breathing in the fresh, rustic smelling air, and a peaceful boat ride across the lake with the most hilarious captains I have ever met. He offered us Macedonian rakija (a delicacy in the region, which unfortunately tastes like nail polish remover) and proceeded to describe the terror of seagulls to us, which may be a bit too inappropriate to recount on this blog.

So now we are headed back to Pristina for our final week. I truly cannot believe we are on the homestretch. Next Tuesday I will be back in the US, and this incredible journey will be behind me.

Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A continuation of my last post

I also want to mention that this blog serves a personal reflection of my time in Kosovo. While everything I discuss is rooted in facts, these are my opinions, not reflective of any other entity and organization, and are they are open to interpretation. I am not trying to misinterpret Kosovo or look down upon its culture at all. I appreciate this culture whole heartedly and many aspects of it I wish America would adopt. However, I know readers may disagree with what I say on this blog, but I am simply describing my reactions to all I am learning and experiencing here.

The difference between journalistic writing and personal reflections is that in journalism, you are supposed to remove yourself from the writing and instead let the words and actions of characters in your story tell the story for the readers. But in more personal writing you can put yourself back into the narrative and explain your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to certain subjects. This blog attempts to do the latter, while being as truthful and accurate as possible. While I report on issues in Kosovo, I hold myself to the highest journalistic standards, which means seeking the truth and reporting it, being transparent with all methods of reporting, and representing all sides of the story proportionately. While I ensure that all the information put forth on this blog is true, I give myself the liberty to discuss what I think of my experiences, instead of leaving that up for the readers. My experiences and opinions may not all be positive, but I know I owe my readers the truth and a thorough explanation of why I feel the way I do regardless of the occasional negativity. I hope that my blog gives readers information about a place in the world that is perhaps less known about, but also illustrates one person’s personal reactions and thoughts who is living in this place for eight weeks.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A clarification

Lately a bit of confusion and some concerns have come up regarding my blog post about the Grand Hotel Pristina that I published about three weeks ago. I just wanted to take a moment to clear up the questions and assure my readers of a few things in particular. First and foremost, I by no means meant to insult the Grand Hotel or misrepresent its current condition. Yes, rape and murder happened here, twenty years ago! As a journalist, with an obligation to the truth, I cannot deny these facts that I gathered through official sources. However, no such atrocities occur here today, and the places where they did happen are for the most part gated off from the public. My friends and I only came across them when we decided to venture to the upper floors — floors that the Grand Hotel no longer use— and climb over the mountains of crumbling concrete. So to all my readers, especially those who are potential recruits for this program in the future, the Grand Hotel is a perfectly fine, comfortable, and safe place to live. Although it is past its heyday, the hotel is truly a marvelous place that is giving the group and I an incredible opportunity to witness the effects of war and post-communist expansion in this region of Kosovo. I mean it when I say I wouldn’t want to stay in any other place. I am so enthralled with the history of this business and its quirky character that I even chose to write a story about it! Staying in the luxury Swiss Diamond Hotel down the road would be boring; the Grand Hotel gives me something to talk about. And I care so much about this hotel, I am hoping a little bit of advertising might pique the interest of an investor who can come along to restore it.
Finally, I don’t want any my words to reflect poorly on Miami University and its Kosovo program. This is truly one of the best experiences of my life and I credit all of that to the fantastic institution I attend. The decisions the coordinators of this program made to bring us to Kosovo, to make the program more work-intensive, to house us in the Grand Hotel, and allow us to work at a specific news agency and NGOs, are so we can receive the maximum benefits out of a study abroad program. There is no other program like this in the United States, and I am so fortunate to be a part of it. It may be hard and some days I feel like I cannot make it one more minute, but as my journalism professor always says, if it wasn’t hard, then everyone would do it. I can already feel myself growing not only as a writer and journalist, but as a person too, with a much broader perspective of the world, and bigger appreciation for the little things in life. I can now say I am a published international journalist that has contributed to the growth of a new democracy, but I can also say that I have traveled to five different countries in six weeks, I have pulled three all-nighters in a row, I have written 10,000 words in one week, I have cried and laughed and enjoyed life more an I ever had, and I feel like a much stronger, much more liberated person because of that. Tell me what other study abroad program would give its students that kind of experience?

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Words are Powerful

My certificate guaranteeing that I am officially a published international journalist!

My certificate guaranteeing that I am officially a published international journalist!

I am officially a published international journalist — finally! Read my story on sexual education in Kosovo here. This story was challenging in that it was the first I tackled while adapting to a different time zone, foreign food, and overall culture shock. However, I was so passionate about reporting on this issue, and that motivated me to power through the obstacles and complete what I consider a pretty solid news piece. This story has the potential to provide much better sexual education in the future, or, at the very least, begin to improve attitudes about the general concept of sex in this society. I know most of my sources are thankful that I simply offered them a forum in which they could openly and honestly discuss sex without fear of judgment. Knowing I have made some sort of difference, even small, is enough to make all the hard work I put in this story worth it. Please let me know what you think!

I am so grateful that I have embraced this incredible opportunity to report on pertinent issues in Kosovo. I am only 20 years old and I can proudly say that I have written an indepth news feature in a foreign country that has been published in two languages! Journalism is a field that has the power and responsibility to shape the world into something much bigger, better, and brighter. While it may be difficult to see this influence while reporting on student government meetings for my student paper at a university in the Ohio farm country, coming here has allowed me to truly see the strength my words have. I have the ability to help construct a nation and its democracy. I am giving citizens the power and knowledge to fully participate in decision-making that will impact the way the nation develops into the future. I may be small, but my words make me much bigger — they give me a voice, and voice to all the Kosovar citizens who deserve a better life. Better sexual education may be a small step at improving the quality of life here, but it’s something, and something to which I can contribute. I feel like I can change the world.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preserving a Lasting Peace

A birdseye view of Podujevo, Kosovo's easternmost municipality. Photo courtesy http://www.llapi.com

A birdseye view of Podujevo, Kosovo’s easternmost municipality. Photo courtesy http://www.llapi.com

Last week, I mentioned that I was visiting the municipality Podujevo, to research the legacies of war in the region. Podujevo is a serene little city nestled on Kosovo’s eastern border, cradled by 77 red-roofed villages to the west and Serbia 30 minutes east. The citizens here are a family — everyone knows one another and about every fifth person of the population of 88,499 people has the same last name. Podujevo, Podujevëa in Albanian, is a municipality of 663 square kilometers in Kosovo, known for its forestry, agriculture, and metal parts production, and its sweet mountain air. But what is not quite evident when exploring the market-lined streets of this sleepy little town, is how the war 15 years ago ripped it apart. What stands out about Podujevo, however, is how the war and the events following it helped to enhance and grow the municipality into the one it is today.

Prior to the war, Podujevo was wrought with infrastructural issues; it only had three paved roads and barely any proper water draining systems. However, because the municipality was completely pillaged during the war — every third house was destroyed, and damages amounted to 375 million euros — they received enough humanitarian aid to build a road in every single village, and significantly improve their water systems. Today, 70 percent of the villages have fresh drinking water through organized water systems.

Between World War II and the Kosovo War, the municipality was ruled by the Serbian regime, a time in which ethnic Albanians in the area organized demonstrations that resulted in the shut down of the city in 1991 and fund blockage for educational institutions. During 1989-1997, 22 people were killed in the area, the majority ethnically Albanian. The Serbs also attempted to ethnically cleanse the population of ethnic Albanians, by means of starving. They rounded up the majority of farm animals and sent them to Serbia, and also burned and destroyed thousand of farm tools, so the ethnic Albanian farmers were rendered useless.

The city survived numerous attacking during the war including the historic bus bombing on February 16, 2001, where seven were killed in a bomb attack on a convoy of buses carrying Serbs across the bridge into Podujevo by what is believed to be ethnic Albanians. More than 40 people were injured during the attack.

Another tragic attack that occurred during the war was the Podujevo massacre in March 1999, where a Serb paramilitary organization called the Scorpions murdered 14 ethnic Albanians, most of which were women and children. Ahmet Ahmeti, manager of Podujevo’s Red Cross, told me that Saranda Bogujevci, who was 13 at the time of the massacre, saw her brothers, mother, grandmother, aunts, and cousins shot and killed before her eyes.

“She was shot too and she lay there screaming until someone finally came to give her help,” Ahmeti said. “Finally she was taken away to a hospital. But later, a woman in Manchester, United Kingdom heard her story on the news, and agreed to pay to have [Saranda] come and get medical attention there. She was also reunited with her father, who was in Germany at the time of the attack.”

The Manchester Peace Park is pretty modest, but serves to bring a small community together and remind them of what they endured 15 years ago.

The Manchester Peace Park is pretty modest, but serves to bring a small community together and remind them of what they endured 15 years ago.

The woman, named Pam, started an organization called Manchester Aid to Kosovo that directed fund-raising efforts to help rebuild Podujevo. One such project they funded was the building of the Manchester Peace Park within the city, which is supposed to resemble the Eden Gardens in England.  This 15 acre complex, complete with an intricate rose garden, was dedicated in 2009 to Saranda Bogujevci, the 13-year-girl who watched her family killed during the Podujevo massacre. The park represents the tight-knit community here that was brought together through the violence the city survived. In 2008, 12 volunteers and hundreds of local people planted the garden area of the Peace Park  to pay their respects to those who died in the massacre and to help establish a lasting symbol of peace in the city. Ahmeti told me that the Peace Park represents the overall tone of this place and the people that inhabit it — those that can come together in a time of crisis and create a better life for all.

Many of these trees were imported from places like Greece and Amsterdam and cost up to 2,000 euros each.

Many of these trees were imported from places like Greece and Amsterdam and cost up to 2,000 euros each.

I have decided to write about the Podujevo Peace Park for my last story for KosovaLive, because its cheerful, peaceful nature strikes a contrast against the ethnic tensions in the northern municipality of Mitrovica. Historically, Mitrovica has been divided between Serb dominated enclaves in the north and the remainder of ethnic Albanian villages in the south. An agreement reached in Brussels meant to improve relations between Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and Pristina, granted the Serb-dominated enclaves in the north limited autonomy and allowed them to operate under Serb administration. However, northern Mitrovica is still technically a part of Kosovo, and a shoddy bridge connects the Albanian villages with the Serb enclaves. For the past few months, riots have erupted on this bridge — Serbs have attempted to block traffic to pass through, and have now set up a “peace park” there, while Albanians have fought back violently. Recently, both sides have been erecting war memorials on their respective areas, a way in which to flex their military muscles and indirectly threaten the enemy. Read more about it here.

I just find it so interesting that in one part of Kosovo, war memorials are meant to torment the enemy, but in a place not so far away, they are used to establish lasting peace. I don’t think I could be writing about a better issue to conclude my brief stint as an international journalist here in Kosovo.

This tiny gazebo stands at the entrance of the Peace Park, welcoming all to enjoy the quiet beauty it fosters.

This tiny gazebo stands at the entrance of the Peace Park, welcoming all to enjoy the quiet beauty it fosters.

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A brief reflection on my trip to Istanbul

The Bosphorus Strait is one of the world's largest waterways, connecting the European side of Istanbul with the Asian side. We took an hour and half long cruise down this stretch of water, and were able to tour the Asian side for a bit. While it didn't look much different than Europe, we now get to say we have been to Asia!

The Bosphorus Strait is one of the world’s largest waterways, connecting the European side of Istanbul with the Asian side. We took an hour and half long cruise down this stretch of water, and were able to tour the Asian side for a bit. While it didn’t look much different than Europe, we now get to say we have been to Asia!

As I drive through the gorgeous Balkan countryside on my way to Dubrovnik, Croatia for the weekend, I am reminded how truly blessed I am to be here and experience such a wealth of incredible things. Next to me are the Albanian mountains hazed in fog, their black peaks cutting into the sky. Below them are those wispy trees that look like feathers, and a few palm trees here and there are clues that we will be at the beach in a few hours. On either side of me are sweeping views of the mosaic of Ottoman villages, vineyards, and farms that are such a trademark of this place I have grown to know and love. When I leave in two weeks (!!) I will miss the quiet beauty of this untouched place, its sweet mountain air, and tapestry of its entwined cultures that makes it so unique.

I know it has been awhile since I have last written, as I have been slammed with exams and story deadlines that have taken priority over blog writing. Last weekend, Connor and I visited Istanbul, Turkey for a three-day escapade through the internationally revered city. I have always wanted to go to Istanbul to view its spectacular mosques and ancient churches, and that’s exactly what I was able to do.

What intrigued me most was how strikingly different the culture was compared to that in the U.S., and even that in Kosovo! The bustling streets bordered by open markets and the hot, steamy atmosphere full of intriguing smells brought the city to life. But what seemed like a paradox to me were the plethora of Starbucks, McDonalds, and Burger Kings situated on each street — it was a mash up of Middle Eastern culture with Western influence that I couldn’t quite connect to. I found I relate much more to the atmosphere in Kosovo; while diverse in heritage and history, the ambience here is more peaceful and welcoming. While I certainly enjoyed the tourist attractions — especially the Bosphorus cruise down the straight that connects Europe to Asia, and performance of traditional dances from the region (similar to Irish step dancing) — I am not sure if I will return to this vivacious place. I suppose I am just a fan of simplicity — and cheap food!

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is the most beautiful religious place I have ever been. It was originally an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral when it was built in 537 (can you believe something this beautiful could be built  then?) until it was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in 1453. Today it is a museum serving as one of the biggest tourist attractions in Istanbul.

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is the most beautiful religious place I have ever been. It was originally an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral when it was built in 537 (can you believe something this beautiful could be built then?) until it was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in 1453. Today it is a museum serving as one of the biggest tourist attractions in Istanbul.

A look inside the Hagia Sophia. When the Ottomans took over the church, they attempted to paint over all the gorgeous mosaics. Today, most of the mosaics are being excavated and preserved.

A look inside the Hagia Sophia. When the Ottomans took over the church, they attempted to paint over all the gorgeous mosaics. Today, most of the mosaics are being excavated and preserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Mosque is also an incredible attraction in Istanbul. It was built from 1609-1616. It is said that the French coined the word "turquoise" when viewing the intricate blue interior of the Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque is also an incredible attraction in Istanbul. It was built from 1609-1616. It is said that the French coined the word “turquoise” when viewing the intricate blue interior of the Blue Mosque.

A look inside the Hagia Sophia. When the Ottomans took over the church, they attempted to paint over all the gorgeous mosaics. Today, most of the mosaics are being excavated and preserved.

A look inside the Hagia Sophia. When the Ottomans took over the church, they attempted to paint over all the gorgeous mosaics. Today, most of the mosaics are being excavated and preserved.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Escapades in Peja

What remains of the house  where late Adem Jashari, one of the founders of the KLA, lived with 58 members of his family. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

What remains of the house where late Adem Jashari, one of the founders of the KLA, lived with 58 members of his family. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

On Friday, the group and I visited Peja, an important municipality in Western Kosovo. Unlike in Prizren, we didn’t have enough time to fully explore the little village or the gorgeous Rugova mountains that cradle it on its western border. However, what we did witness on our tour was equally humbling and inspiring.

I told Connor to take this picture because of how chilling it is. The chair, once a part of the Jashari family home, looks out through a hole blasted through the foundation, to sunlight that the family would never see again.

I told Connor to take this picture because of how chilling it is. The chair, once a part of the Jashari family home, looks out through a hole blasted through the foundation, to sunlight that the family would never see again.

On our first stop, we visited the Adem Jashari memorial, dedicated to one of the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) who, alongside 58 members of hisfamily, was brutally murdered by Serbian forces in 1998. Because of his ties to the KLA, the Serbian army launched various attempts to capture and kill Jashari, before ultimately surrounding and pillaging his family home in Prekaz. Today, the home remains in the condition the Serbs left it after their violent attack, supported by scaffolding, flecked with gunshot holes, a haunting reminder of the brutality that once occurred here.

To this day, Jarashi remains a symbol of Albanian resistance and Kosovo independence, his memorial a historic place of pilgrimage for Kosovo Albanians. The memorial, completed in the early 2000’s, is a peaceful, well-tended-to place in the sprawling Kosovo countryside. The rows of 58 graves of the dead Jashari family members are Kosovo’s equivalent to the Arlington cemetery in the United States. A line of red-stained marble curves its way from the Jashari house to the graves across the country road, representing blood flow that spills from the house to the pools atop the graves. The youngest member of his family killed was a six-year-old boy. Seeing his name and birth date etched onto a smooth, marble grave served as a chilling reminder of the death that actually happened here, death that occurred on the basis of ethnicity and protection of rights and freedoms.

The three circles of red flowers represent Adem and his three sons that were killed. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The three circles of red flowers represent Adem and his three sons that were killed. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The 58 graves, guarded by military forces, where the members of the Jashari family are buried. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The 58 graves, guarded by military forces, where the members of the Jashari family are buried. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The squares of green grass represent life, growth, rebirth, and renewal. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The squares of green grass represent life, growth, rebirth, and renewal. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

To brighten the mood a bit, the next stop on our journey was the Peja Brewery, one of Kosovo’s largest and most successful enterprises. Built in 1971, the brewery continued to produce Kosovo’s most popular brand of beer all throughout the war, and today, the business is reaching out significantly to international clientele. 30 percent of 900 hexaliters of beverages it annually produces— which, outside of six different kinds of beer, range from juices to ice teas — are exported to countries like Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece, Albania, Slovenia, and even 40,000 bottles and cans are sold to the U.S.!

Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Photo by Connor Moriarty.

While locals equate Peja beer to American brands like Natural Light or Budlight, I do encourage all my readers

Photo by Connor Moriarty.

Photo by Connor Moriarty.

to try some of the light, refreshing beer if they can get their hands on it, for the sake of Kosovo business! We sure got a satisfactory taste of the various kinds of beers the brewery generates; the moment we arrived we were each greeted with three or four different cans! Let’s just say, after no breakfast and hours of driving and touring the Peja landscape, we were all feeling that beer. I think we were all a bit buzzed, too, off the uplifting atmosphere fostered by a Kosovo business that is managing to thrive despite harsh economic conditions and having to important the bulk of its materials (except its fresh, clean water it collects from mountain springs). Who knew beer would be Kosovo’s economic calling.

You cannot take pictures at the Patriarchate, so I took this off Google Images.

You cannot take pictures at the Patriarchate, so I took this off Google Images.

Our final stop on the Peja adventure was the Patriarchate, built in the 13th century, where the Serbian Orthodox Church is rooted. Tucked inside the mountains and rimmed by a rushing river, the Patriarchate is a sublime and tranquil place, which could be also because it is protected by walls of barbed wire and military presence (against potential vandalism and destruction from hostile ethnic groups.) I could see why nuns would devote their lives to God so the could live in this sanctuary, amidst the shady trees, pungent rose bushes and sweet mountain air, seemingly far away from the rest of the world. We toured the main monasterial complex which houses four churches, all of which featured beautiful paintings depicting the lives of Orthodox saints and events on the Orthodox calendar. What I found most interesting about the monastery is that it is a mausoleum of the Serbian archbishops and patriarchs, and raised stones in the groundwork signify where each one is buried.

The river that lines the outskirts of the Patriarchate, accentuating the serenity and isolation of the place. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The river that lines the outskirts of the Patriarchate, accentuating the serenity and isolation of the place. Photo by Connor Moriarty.

The nun who took us around was a novice and on a strict schedule, so she rushed through the history of the Patriarchate as well as the Serbian Orthodox religion without providing much context or explanation. I grew up Catholic, and while I know longer practice it, I wish I had been able to draw more connections between Catholicism and Serbian Orthodoxy. I think I would have appreciated the religious history a bit more if we were allowed to wander around and explore the complex ourselves, to marvel at the intricate paintings and sculptures that make this place a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the grounds are sacred and the nuns are a bit territorial, as many shooed me away when I approached their corner of the garden. Even still, I have always loved the tranquility of churches, the warmth that seems to emanate from their mosaicked walls, the sweet, smoky scent of incense  that hangs on to the air. Even if you are not a spiritual person, the serenity of a churchly atmosphere can help you find your center. Leaving the Patriarchate, I felt calm and grounded, happy that such a gorgeous place has survived the test of time, war, violence, (even an earthquake!) and remains symbol of the endurance of Serbian tradition in an area of the world dominated by their enemies.

This weekend, I will be visiting two unique places: first, for an assignment on wartime legacies, I am venturing to a Kosovo municipality east of Prishtina called Podujevo that was ransacked by Serb military forces during the war. I hope to gain some insight on the terrible crimes that occurred there for my international studies midterm, which I plan to share with you before I head off to Istanbul on Friday! Next week, if I find time between finishing my second story up for KosovaLive and surviving two midterms, I will post about my adventures in the fifth largest city in the world! Yay!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.”

A towering eyesore in the center of Prishtina, The Grand Hotel can be seen — unfortunately — in all directions.

A towering eyesore in the center of Prishtina, The Grand Hotel can be seen — unfortunately — in all directions.

Being a journalist in a foreign country, especially one that depends so heavily on media to stimulate and monitor development and improvement within the government, is one of the hardest things I have ever faced in my academic career. The language barrier is one thing, but to me some of the most difficult aspects have been understanding all the complexities that exist within the government, politics, and ethnic groups here, and then attempting to report on these issues with honesty and transparency.

I have never had any desire whatsoever to work in business. I couldn’t even begin to understand how those processes work, nor do I want to. When my bond saleswoman sister Emily describes her job to me, it is equivalent to listening to an entire conversation in Albanian. I just don’t get it. So writing a story about the privatization of the Grand Hotel Prishtina — the marvelous institution I am so lucky to call my home for these eight weeks — and what its future holds, is proving to be the hardest topic on which I have ever reported. My story about prescription drug epidemic in college students doesn’t even scratch the surface. For this article, I truly have to think. I have to wrap my mind around the terms and phrases I don’t understand. It’s as if I have to take a foreign language and translate it into something my readers can easily understand. I have to dig through pages of legal jargon and listen to wealthy businessmen argue over rightful ownership and investments and bids and somehow make a story out of it. A good story. How I successfully do that remains to be seen.

To give a bit of background info, the Grand Hotel Prishtina, which remains to this day the heart and soul of the city, opened its doors in 1978 under the communist regime when Kosovo was still a part of Yugoslavia. For ten years, the 360-room hotel enjoyed its status as the best and only five star hotel in the region, with thousands of locals and internationals alike crowding its restaurants, disco halls, and guestrooms every night. This was the place that high schoolers would throw their most glamorous graduation parties, complete with ball gowns and red carpets. This was the place where international royals and politicians would hold conferences — even Tito was a guest at one point. Kosovars dreamed of staying at the Grand at least once. But now, that dream may as well be a nightmare.

To make a long story short, the Grand fell victim to the menacing Serbian regime in the 1990s, that took over several of its floors and made it its home base in Prishtina. The bloody handprints scaling the walls in the basement, women’s underwear and clothes strewn across abandoned beds suggest rape and torture may have been a regular occurrence here during that time. After the war, though, much of the Grand’s former staff returned to rebuild it from the pieces in which it was left. In 2006, the Privatization Agency of Kosovo bid the company out to interested investors. Several sketchy dealings ensued, and one businessman took official ownership. Seven years later, he was yet to reach employment levels, renovations, public investments, as put forth in the agreement with the Privatization Agency. So the agency took the Grand under its wing again, searching for yet another owner to restore it to its former glory.

grand-hotel-pristinaToday the Grand is in limbo, silently searching for an investor with the right resources to take it under his wing. It remains a dreary relic of past grandeur, of a Socialist society that once crowded its now musty lobby with hopes and dreams of a bright future. Until the right owner comes along, the hotel will continue to rot in the center of the city, a massive, yet paradoxical, reminder of everything Kosovo has endured in the last 40 years.

This story isn’t just about the Grand Hotel. It is about attempting to preserve a past while progressing into the future. It is about Kosovo’s glory days that were marred with bloodshed and warfare and discrimination. It is about an unclear future that rings with hope but speaks of fear. The Grand Hotel is a symbol of what Kosovo is leaving behind, both the good and the bad. Perhaps one day it will represent a much more grand future.

Journalism in this area of the world is influential enough to shape this country into the nation it hopes to be. Realizing I have that power just with a notebook, pencil, and an inquisitive mind makes me truly appreciate this art I have chosen to pursue. I have never felt so inclined to tell stories, to stimulate improvement, to make a difference. I hope this drive follows me the rest of my life.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.