Sunday, April 5, 2009

Essential Reading for Americans

In the Republic of Kosova, you will not easily find stop lights, crosswalks, speed limits, or Serbians. But you will find in Kosovo: English speakers, a statue of Liberty, Chinese food, and bowling. For those of you who don't know, the Republic of Kosova has only been a country since February 2008 and is still considered a possible conflict zone. Since it declared its independence from Serbia it has been recognized by the US, and the population is very grateful. For better or for worse, it seems Western culture has made quite a dent in the society, as Prishtina is full of imports like Doritos and Route 66 as well as European stores like Zara and Terranova, to name a couple of examples.
To be honest, Kosovo is one of those places I thought I'd never get to visit, but I was invited along with Michelle(Hong Kong), Jasmin(Germany), Iva(Macedonia), and Namal(our English prof) to present some research we did at a social issues conference hosted by the American School of Kosova. When we first entered the country I was a little unsure. We came through the newest Serbia-Kosovo border, and of course the Serbian patrol are not too friendly since in their minds we're not leaving their country at all. They were even more suspicious that a Macedonian, a German, and an American were travelling together, and they even said in local, “German, American? You don't understand anything.” But they did let us through, and the guy in front of me in the bus turned around and said, “Don't worry. That was the hard part...we're like a plane that landed from a storm now. The people here are going to love you for being American...but you owe the whole bus a drink for making us late.” He was right; I noticed that everyone started breathing easier once we passed the border, and as soon as we entered Prishtina, I found myself on Bill Clinton Boulevard. There are more than the average amount of Kosovar flags everywhere since they're still quite proud of their independence, but I was surprised to see lots of American flags mixed in. Erwin, a Canadian teacher from ASK, demonstrated to me through our taxi driver that Kosovars refer to him as “Bubba Bill,” and he was quite surprised when I told him that most Americans have no idea we have such fans in the Balkans.
Overall, Kosova is a country between poverty and wealth, west and east, peace and conflict. It's full of energy, has a very young population, and seems quite forcefully alive. I'm going to write more about the conference as soon as I get back to Mostar, but I had to share my shock at finding this strange cultural gem here in the Balkans.