Monday, April 4, 2016

The Halfway Mark

I am a volunteer for 4 weeks in Pristina, Kosovo with Project HOPE. All opinions are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of Project HOPE.

Those who know me well know that I tend to operate a little more on the glass half empty side of things. When I find that the glass is half full, it is positive; whereas, if my expectations are met, I am no worse for wear. 

Kosovar medical students and me after a rousing game of Uno
I would like to approach this moment in my time in Kosovo as a glass half full. Of course, I am amazed that already two weeks have gone by that I have been here, but I am pleased to still have two more weeks to take part as a visiting member of this lovely society in Kosovo. My colleague and I have some working plans for Project HOPE and are looking forward to the implementation phase of our plans. I am getting more comfortable in my physical environment. For example, when I first arrived, the overhead light in the bedroom of the apartment did not work. It still doesn’t work. However, there was a lamp on the desk that does work. The problem is with having enough outlets to charge my electronics. I have a computer that needs charging every night, my personal USA cell phone that I use when I am in a WiFi network that needs charging, my local phone that needs charging, and occasionally a camera battery, iPad, Kindle, portable bluetooth speaker, or iPod. (I realize I’m a bit of an electronics junkie although I will not claim to be an aficionado in anything electronic). When I wanted to go to bed and read, there was no light to use if I wanted my phone to charge, so I read with the backlight of my kindle which often made me very tired and prone to falling asleep prior to 9PM when I first arrived. After a few days in one of the desk drawers, I found an American power strip. This helped the charging problem for all of my electronics except my local phone (which has a European plug) and the lamp. So I could either have a working local phone, or light when it became dark outside. Finally, after two weeks of living here, I happened to wander past and notice the European power strips at the supermarket! So now, I have light AND a charging phone. It’s the small things that can create a lot of joy.

Albanian Flag outside the League of Prizren Museum
The other issue I have had living physically in the hospital at the end of a patient ward is entering the building and getting to my apartment. I am on the fourth floor at the end of the postpartum unit. There is no way for me to enter or exit the building without going through a patient ward. This isn’t so much the problem as the fact that the front doors of the building are locked sometime between 7-8PM and you have to go through a side entrance. This is also not so much of a problem except for the past two weeks, I have had to literally break into the hospital in order to get to the area to go up the four flights of stairs to get to the postpartum unit and walk through that and show my badge and get to my room at the end of the unit. There is a set of double doors and U-shaped iron bar is placed over the handles to create a lock. With some of the doors, you can open them wide enough to squeeze a small hand through and remove this bar. In one of the sets of doors, this is not possible and I had to knock and wake a sleeping patient or visitor (not sure which) that was lying on the bench on the inside and have her open the door for me so I could enter. Well, when I got back tonight (at 8:40 PM) from dinner with friends, I went through the side entrance, through the doors that miraculously did not have the U lock on them, but found that the other set of doors that I was unable to open wide enough to remove the U lock had the lock on. I happened to see that another visitor who I noticed enter the building behind me entered through a corridor that opened into the main area of the hospital. So I backtracked and discovered this open corridor. My life in the evening has just become 1000x easier. Let me tell you, I have so much more appreciation for freedom of movement in so many aspects of life then I did before. From the limited movement available to Kosovaars with the Visa Problem to my difficulties getting to my apartment where I live, I have a new appreciation for the freedom I have in my life to move from one place to another and would number that as something that should be considered a human right. 

Outside the Parliament Building in Pristina
I have thought about this a lot as I have read about the history of the region - I read a book by Robert Kaplan called Balkan Ghosts that discusses the entire Balkan region and its utterly fascinating history filled with conflict and various authoritarian powers and limits placed on the movement of people within the region. It is also something that was in the forefront of my experience visiting the refugee transit center. The whole reason for its existence being limitations of the freedom of movement. It is something I have only given thought to in passing such as thinking about my most important physical possession - which for me is my passport because it allows me the freedom of movement. All of our human ancestors dating back to the start of the species were nomadic - prior to the advent of agriculture, we all came from hunter/gatherer societies that depended on the freedom of movement for survival. Limitations in the freedom of movement has impacted survival.

Speaking of movement, Michael was visiting this weekend and we went on a day trip to Prizren, Kosovo. Unfortunately, he was feeling quite sick after he got here so our trip was not as full as either one of us had hoped it would be, but we still had a great time visiting a new place. 

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