Saturday, March 26, 2016

When I'm not at work

The beautiful thing about an elective is that you don’t have to spend 80 hours a week on average working in the hospital. This would have been true if I stayed in Rochester for my elective or elsewhere in the US. However, if I am able to travel, travel I will. I think it is only when you take yourself outside of the familiar and the routine that you learn the most about yourself. 

I spent the week getting oriented at UCCK (University Clinical Center - Kosovo) and starting to understand how labor and delivery works at the university hospital. The first few nights I was here, I was incredibly tired from traveling, being recently sick with a cold, and jet lagged that I went to bed by 8PM or earlier every night except Thursday night. 

Thursday, I met my Project HOPE counterpart who has already been in Kosovo for the past 6 or so weeks working in the hospital. She had taken a holiday in Tirana and we met after she returned to Pristina. I saw the essentials - where the grocery store is, where I can buy shampoo, the good restaurants near the hospital, and where to get a SIM card. Now I had coffee, a phone, and items for daily living! She also invited me out for dinner with another friend of hers living in the city - a guy named George who is from Hawaii but whose parents are both physicians that trained at the University of Rochester - small world. We went out for some traditional Albanian food at a restaurant in downtown Pristina. The food was good although more expensive than my usual meal (although I can’t complain about a fancy restaurant charging 7 Euros for an entrée) and then we went to a bar owned by a Scottish ex-pat where trivia is hosted on Thursday nights. We didn’t stay for the whole thing, but enjoyed the time we did have and overall did pretty well as a team. We were certainly contending for the championship with 3 rounds to go. 

Today, I spent the morning walking through downtown Pristina and seeing some of the free signs of the city. I saw the Newborn sculpture - a sculpture created after independence in 2008. It is repainted every year on Independence Day (17 February) and over the year becomes covered in graffiti until it is repainted again in a different color scheme. This year it is a blue sky with clouds and barbed wire. Across from the Newborn sculpture is the newest memorial of the war. It is the face of a woman made up of a mosaic of coins that each depict this woman. The word “Heroinat” is at the bottom right (Albanian for heroines). This woman represents all the women who suffered atrocities during war. It is a powerful and beautiful memorial. I had to meet someone at noon so I started to head back towards the hospital. On my way, I took a detour down Bill Klinton Boulevard (yes, Clinton spelled with a “K”) named for Bill Clinton. At the bottom of the hill, there is a statue of Bill Clinton next to an American flag and the building behind it with a large picture of Bill Clinton saying “Welcome.” Around the corner is a store called “Hillary” named in honor of Hillary Clinton. 

For lunch, I stopped at a bakery and had a traditional Albanian pastry filled with meat that was delicious and cheap (0.70 Euros). Tomorrow I will take the bus to Skopje, Macedonia. Skopje is the birthplace of Mother Teresa which is a good way to celebrate Easter Sunday. I am heading to Skopje to stop over on my way to a refugee transit center on the Macedonia-Serbia border on Monday. 

Living in Kosovo for the past week has been enjoyable and very easy. People are friendly, the food is delicious and cheap (most days I spend less than 5 Euros on food eating out for most meals), and it is a safe place to walk around. Today walking through downtown, the streets were full of people walking together or alone, shopping, eating, drinking coffee. There are a number of stray dogs wandering the streets although fewer than I experienced in either India or Uganda. Smoking is very common in Kosovo and unfortunately the idea of indoor spaces being entirely “non-smoking” is not a reality. Even non-smoking areas are adjacent to smoking areas and the smell has permeated some of my clothing. Most of the people I have met have commented on how young I look. I hear this in the US as well, but not as frequently as I do here. When I tell them that I am 31, they are surprised and say they would not think me older than my early 20s. I have been fortunate to be born in a country that has not gone through recent war on its own soil, where pollution is limited, and it helps that I don’t smoke. 

I probably won’t post for a few days as I will not have my computer with me in Skopje and I anticipate a late return Monday night or Tuesday morning. Until then!

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