Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Kosovo - Arrival - 22 March 2016

(I am volunteering for 4 weeks with Project HOPE at the University Hospital in Prishtina, Kosovo. All opinions stated are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of Project HOPE.)

It is rare that I find myself truly “off the grid” but indeed, this is where I have found myself in Prishtina, Kosovo. After 13 or so hours in the air, I had an overall uneventful trip to Prishtina International Airport Adem Jahari. At Passport Control, my passport was stamped and I was told “welcome.” No questions asked. I was able to access the internet for 15 minutes to let my parents and Michael know that I arrived. My bag arrived also uneventfully, I put it through a security scanner and when I walked out of the baggage claim, Angel from the Macedonia Project HOPE headquarters was here to pick me up. I slept horribly (as usual) on the plane ride over and so was hoping today would not be a long day. We drove to the University Hospital and spent at least 20 minutes looking for a place to park. Hard to believe, but this parking situation may even be worse than Lot 1. 

We first walked to the cafe and had a macchiato. Kosovo is known to have good coffee, and I was not disappointed. We then proceeded to the gynecology building where we were to meet with the nursing director. She was not there. Apparently Kosovo time is a bit similar to my experience with Uganda time - the time is more like a suggestion and you can expect people to be late. We then walked up to the apartment where I will be staying the next four weeks. It is at the end of the maternity ward and quite adequate. There is a pull-out couch that serves as a bed, a private bathroom with shower, a couple of small dressers (with some stuff in them perhaps from prior volunteers?) and a television that does not work. There is a desk and another small couch. The WiFi does not work which is unfortunate.

The remainder of the day was spent in a series of meetings. I never had time to change out of my plane clothes so spent the entire day wandering around in day-old plane clothes consisting of black Fabletics pants, a Reebok t-shirt with the phrase “we can work it out” on the front, and a Reebok jacket. Way to keep it classy, B. Angel comes to Kosovo about once a week and tries to meet with all the people he needs to on the days he is here to ensure that Project HOPE’s projects are functioning smoothly and to troubleshoot on the ground. Part of Project HOPE’s mission in Kosovo is with supplying essential medications. The health care workers in Kosovo assess what medications they need and have difficulty obtaining and Project HOPE works to get these medications for them. Most of the medications are chemotherapeutic agents for a variety of cancers. They are also working on a project for a medication to treat cystic fibrosis. 

The interesting thing about Kosovo is that it is a new nation (independence 17 February 2008), has the youngest population in Europe (average age in the mid 20s with approximately 70% of the population < 27 years), and is working on building infrastructure form within. Prior to independence, it was run by the United Nations, and prior to that, it had experienced years and years of war and was part of a larger nation (Yugoslavia) that ran the infrastructure. One of Kosovo’s current struggles is that it is not uniformly recognized as an independent nation. Major changes are happening in health care policy such as revamping health insurance so that all people will have access to care and that care will be able to be provided. Providing care requires revenue and in the current system, enough revenue is not generated to sustain the health care system. 

Things I have learned:
  • Turkish Airlines is nice. Good food served with real silverware (even in economy class), and they give you a little toiletry kit with slippers, socks, eye mask, toothbrush, toothpaste, and lip balm! They are receiving advertising from the new Batman v Superman movie so all of this came in a batman/superman case. Amazing.
  • There is a reason people dress reasonably well on planes, you may end up meeting with the Minister of Health Financing, and if you happened to wear “athleisure,” you may feel particularly underdressed…
  • People are very friendly and even if they do not know you, they will refer to you as “my friend” by the end of a conversation. Everyone at leasts shakes hands if not hugs upon greeting and parting. I was offered a coffee at every meeting Angel and I attended today (4-5 total).
  • Kosovo is pro-American - there is a street that runs through the center of the city named after Bill Clinton with his picture plastered on the side of a building and a statue of him just to the side of the road by a flying American flag. Kosovaars are grateful to the United States for their support in the war in 1999 and in supporting Kosovo’s independence.
  • My sense of direction when I am really tired is truly awful. We went past a cafe with WiFi that shouldn’t be too far from where I am staying, but I couldn’t find it when left to myself this afternoon. Perhaps when I am more rested tomorrow, I will venture around more to try and find it. The hospital complex is a series of separate buildings, and I am not quite sure where the road is that the cafe is located on.
  • I need to turn on the hot water heater at least an hour prior to wanting to take a shower if I want any semblance of warm.
Sorry for the lack of pictures. More to come as I start to learn my way around.

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