Thursday, March 31, 2016

Through our conversations we can change the world for the better.

The best part of traveling is the people that I meet. My favorite part of the past two weeks has been having conversations with people who were born in a different time, a different place, speaking a different mother tongue, practicing a different religion. Our commonality is that we are meeting in this place and in this time and it is through this shared experience that we both learn more about each other and through each other, learn more about the world that we live in. 

Last night I spent the evening with a friend of mine that I met the first day I arrived in Kosovo and had spent Sunday/Monday with in Skopje. We had dinner at a thai restaurant in downtown Pristina, very appropriately named “Thai Restaurant.” We met up with some of her friends including both locals and internationals and sent an evening on the town. I hope to be so inclusive when someone new comes to the place where I live. I was immediately a member of the group and had a great time dancing salsa at the Cuban restaurant (my second salsa dancing at a Cuban restaurant/bar in the Balkans!), talking, and enjoying a beautiful evening out in the city. I’m usually the underdressed person of the group, but this group really put me to shame despite my efforts with the limited clothing I brought with me. It didn’t matter. There was zero judgement. 

Dancing salsa at a Cuban restaurant/bar.

The end of my day today, there was a new group of medical students that had arrived on labor and delivery. They were there for a 12 hour shift that they do once every 2 weeks. One medical student in particular immediately started talking to me and asking me questions about where I was from and what brought me to the University Hospital in Pristina. Soon, there was a group of three students an myself discussing what brought us to the field of medicine, how one chooses a specialty, various methods for learning (textbooks, online), and plans and goals for the future. Many of them hope to go abroad to do their residency training. Their English is excellent and many of them are currently studying German as Germany is the place that the majority would like to go to for training. 

One of the students was born in Germany. His family is from Kosovo but moved during the war the moved back to Kosovo two years after the war ended. He is doing his medical school here but would like to return to Germany for his residency and hopes to live and work there. He went to medical school for a love of science and a fascination for how the human body works.

Another female medical student was born in Kosovo and has “never left Kosovo.” Her mother is a doctor and she became interested in medicine because of what she witnessed of her mother’s work and her mother’s satisfaction with her work. She has never thought about doing anything else. She was in Kosovo during the war at the age of 6 and although she was so young, she remembers the time and the fear that gripped her country. She also hopes to go to Germany for her residency training but definitely wants to return to Kosovo. She says that she wants to go to Germany to have better experience and better training so that she can bring that back to the people of Kosovo. There are more doctors being trained here than there are training spots. She has a lot of hope for her country and is thinking about pursuing a career in gynecologic endocrinology or pediatrics.

A third student was talking about how she is fighting some of the traditions of her family. She says that families are proud to have a son become a doctor as he has job security and can provide for the family. Some of her more traditional family members don’t encourage her studies because her role is to get married, take care of the home, and have children. Her response, “I don’t want to do that.” She is one of so many fiercely independent women I have met in my brief time in Pristina.

After talking about our careers and futures, they invited me to their medical student room to hang out. They all pulled out various salty and sweet snacks and we played several rounds of the card game Uno. As has been my consistent experience, they spoke English for my benefit even if it was limited or unsure about words. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

I have met two other medical students during my time here. One has spent time in the US on an exchange program where she was working with electronic medical record systems. She was offered a scholarship to do a combined MD/MBA program but wants some more life experience before committing to further school. During the war, her family were refugees in Albania and were taken in by an Albanian family. The male of the household was a physician. They were treated with kindness by strangers who saw their needs and took them in, provided them with safe shelter and food.

Another medical student did not have the freedom to leave during the war. Her family stayed. They were isolated with other ethnic Albanians and forced to live in the top floors of apartment buildings during the NATO bombings of 1999. Though she was 9 years old at the time, she vividly remembers the stress and the fear that they lived in through that time. 

One of the residents also hopes to bring her family to Germany for more training for herself and also to stay there for hopes for a better life for her daughter. She told me of the challenges of being a working woman with a family and the pressure she is under from her husband’s family to do more at home and that her primary job is to “look beautiful.” 

Another resident spoke of the difficulty they have in Kosovo to travel. She wants to see the world but “the problem is the visa.” Since Kosovo is not internationally recognized as an independent country or a part of the UN, it can be difficult for people to obtain visas to travel. There are many barriers - some of which she has overcome as both she and her husband are employed with stable jobs. Some of the countries require a savings of anywhere from 6000-10,000 euros in order to obtain a visa. It is prohibitive for those who want to take a vacation in another part of the world, to widen their global perspective.

After the events in Brussels, I had a conversation with another resident. She spoke of her Muslim religious faith. She was horrified by the events of Brussels and the implications this may have for people who share her religious traditions and faith. She said, this is not Islam. What these people do is not Islam. She also spoke of the Kosovar love for America and Americans the gratitude they have for ending the war and supporting their independence. Every day we have a  coffee together and one of these days, we will have one together “outside - out of work.” She is one of the only colleagues I have had that greets me everyday with a handshake or a hug and always when she sees me (even if it is only 15 minutes since I last saw her) how I am doing.

I love a good story and the people of Kosovo are filled with good stories and the courage to share them. I have learned much about the country and its people in my short time I have had here. My most valuable learning has not been of obstetrics and gynecology, it has been learning about this country with all its turbulent history and its perpetually inspiring people. 

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