Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fond Farewells

::Hannah (6/14)

It’s absolutely amazing how quickly these two weeks have gone by—it’s already our last day in  Kosovo! We started off by driving to the US Embassy to meet with some staff and talk about our thoughts on our trip and the program. After going two by two through security, we all donned our visitor badges and were led by escort through the Embassy. We passed through barred gateways and thick metal doors with heavy locks and went up a stairway and through an atrium before finally arriving at a large conference-style table. The meeting was brief—we recounted our favorite parts of the trip, learned about a variety of Embassy-sponsored programs, and even were informally quizzed on any knowledge of the Albanian language that we picked up while we were here. We were all excited to see the inside of a US Embassy and meet some of the employees there!

After the meeting, the afternoon was all ours. We had a lovely lunch at a cute café called Amelie,  then shopped, packed, and made patriotic cards for our Kosovar friends thanking them for their unmatched hospitality, kindness, and warmth. Finally we met up with all the Kosovar alumnae and people involved with the project at one of our favorite restaurants for one final dinner together. We had some high-ranking visitors take the time to attend, as well, including the head of the Olympic Committee and a top-ranking ministry official. In an act consistent with the incredible Kosovar generosity, each of us was presented with a full Kosovar national team uniform, among other wonderful gifts. Aside from exchanging gifts, we also shared feedback, laughs, and of course a bunch of pictures to post on Facebook!

Tonight we’re laying low, packing, and getting to bed early in preparation for our 4:00am wake up. Tomorrow we ship back out to the states!

Sightseeing in Prizren

::Tori (6/12)

By this morning, everyone is completely in tune with our regular schedule: get up, eat breakfast, and follow Visar to wherever he leads us. Today our destination was the lovely Prizren in southern Kosovo! The drive to this foreign place was absolutely majestic. The mountains were bright green, colossal, and bountiful. Emily even compared the scenery to that in "The Sound of Music," but bigger and more beautiful. The entire group spent the hour and a half long drive staring in awe of the magnificence.

When we arrived, we exited our vehicles and instantly felt our sweat glands activate. It was extremely hot outside, and we were all already languid from the ride. The entire group begged for macchiatos, and Visar took us to the nearest café to happily indulge us. From there we saw the largest Mosque in the Balkan region, which we unfortunately could not enter because we were all in athletic apparel. Though bummed, we examined the external aesthetics, and started to climb the huge mountain ahead of us. We were on our way to a castle! Though we do not know the historical significance yet, the view was absolutely breathtaking.

After the hundreds of pictures and the entertaining exploring, our group headed down the mountain towards the town. We visited an old bathhouse-turned-art-gallery that housed many photos of modern Kosovar life. After this, we walked towards an exhibit that had traditional clothing of Kosovo, which was very fun to see.

As a group, we then went to lunch. The drive up the mountains was again, amazing. When we  reached the restaurant, we sat down to a mountainous landscape in the background, birds chirping around us, and water rushing to tantalize both our eyes and our ear buds. I, for one, ate entirely too much at this beautiful restaurant and passed out in my bed as soon as we reached the hotel. Playing soccer twice yesterday and being in the sun all today completely wiped me out! At around 7, our group plus Lumi, Albinna, and Sanije all went over to Nora's for a delicious dinner. The night was filled with meeting new friends, watching wonderful soccer, and plenty of laughter for all.

This day was definitely one to remember. Not only did we see beautiful things, but we also met some more beautiful people. This day reminded me how wholehearted and wonderful the people of Kosovo are, and why it is so important to help them through sport and this project!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


::Cassidy (6/11)

Today we visited Gjilan, the home of Fatjona who was the youngest Kosovar chica to travel to the States, 16 years old. Gjilan is smaller than the other sites we but it had the most advanced soccer programs within schools. We briefly visited a primary school to see their newly built gym while being swarmed by smiling kids. We had a meeting with the mayor of Gjilan who expressed his support for women sports in Kosovo. This was followed by lunch and macchiatos! I have now drank a total of 22 macchiatos in Kosovo and may be officially dependent on them. 

After lunch we went to a new soccer facility to play soccer with a ten day old club that Fatjona established. The club consisted of girls of many ages who were incredibly passionate and happy to be playing soccer. Women's soccer in Kosovo is currently facing many financial barriers but the pure passion and drive I have seen in so many girls makes it hard for me to believe that women's soccer won't succeed. We then drove back to the hotel and had the pleasure to listen to one of Visar's song on the radio, and then had the additional joy of hearing him sing along to it!

At 6 o'clock we played pick-up soccer on a basketball court with our friend Fikret who is the assistant coach of the Pristina basketball team. It was a blast but everyone soon got hungry so we left for dinner. While eating our lasagna and chicken fingers we watched the France v. England game and later got ice cream at a lovely gelato shop. On our way back to the hotel we stopped by a big concert in the center of Pristina and the night ended while we listened to Red Hot Chilly Pepper cover songs and fireworks.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mountain City

::Kat (6/10)

As usual, we were greeted by Sanije and Visar's smiling faces this morning, as well as our new friend Fikret, the assistant basketball coach of Pristina. We embarked on our journey to Peja, where Rina and Ezana live. To say that the drive there was beautiful is an understatement. Tall, scenic, snow-capped mountains became visible in the distance, and as we drove we got closer and closer, until we were surrounded. I could not take my eyes off them! As we got closer to the city, it seemed as if we were going to drive right through them. And we almost did; the city of Peja is located in the middle of these gorgeous, looming mountains. Everyone looked with awe and wonder. When we arrived, we were greeted by Rina and Ezana. We went inside the building and met Mr. Valdet Shoshi and other municipality officials. After introductions and a little bit about the history of the club in Peja, we were invited to have coffee. But on our way out we strayed into an art exhibit, where a kindly elderly man showed us his gorgeous paintings. They consisted of some history of the country, and some history of Albanians. We went around the whole room and Rina translated for us as he told the story behind every painting. Among them included a woman warrior, the iconic Mother Teresa, and a former president of Kosovo. After our coffee break (at a restaurant ironically named Restaurant California), we had lunch at another beautiful restaurant with a great view of the mountains. During lunch, the director of Youth and Sport kindly joined us.

After lunch we headed to the stadium for the clinic. We were very impressed to see around 80 girls come out to play! All were energetic and enthusiastic about soccer. The clinic was divided up into different stations, and we all split up to help. Tori and I were given the job to come up with some drills for the girls, so we did a mix of dribbling races, a small scrimmage, and passing drills. All the girls were eager to learn, and it was a blast watching them play! We left tired but happy. After the clinic, we went to visit another site where girls were happily practicing, and were excited to meet us. Then we went for another coffee at a beautiful restaurant that specialized in fish. There was water everywhere, with hundreds of cool-looking yellow and black fish swimming. Of course, the scenic mountains loomed around us. When we had finished our coffee and water, we all piled into the cars, and were led to Fikret's family home. We were greeted with warm smiles and delicious pie. We all dug in, and relaxed in the peaceful backyard, entertained by Fikret's adorable nephews playing soccer. Then we departed with many thanks back to Pristina. The drive back was beautiful as well. When we got back, we all watched Spain and Italy in the European cup games. Then we went to dinner on the eighth floor of our hotel, complete with a beautiful view and the Ireland versus Croatia game. Much to my disappointment, (but exactly what I expected) Croatia beat Ireland 3-1. Sanije and Lumi joined us, and we got to know each other better than ever before with a game of 20 questions, ending a great day with perfect people.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"In this country, a 'gwest' is a 'gwest'"

::Carly (6/9)

We have been overwhelmed by the Kosovar hospitality, and today was certainly no exception. Not only do we feel welcome wherever we go, but we feel wanted. Today was our first trip to a site outside of Pristina, and we traveled north to the beautiful city of Mitrovica.

View Larger Map

 Mitrovica is the name of both a municipality and a city. The city is divided by a bridge and a river, with ethnic Serbs occupying the north and ethnic Albanians occupying the south. The bridge represents the divide that still exists between north and south Kosovo, with the Serbian north still refusing to recognize the independence of Kosovo or participate in the affairs of Kosovo. We visited the football club Trepca '89 in the south.

Visar met us at our hotel, and Sanije arrived with an armful of newspapers featuring our group.  Our press conference from the day before was featured in the sports section! We laughed over the fact that none of us could read a word of what we had "said," and we piled into Visar and Sanije's cars to head to Mitrovica. A spirited game of "chicken," or "yellow car," ensued on our hour drive, and we even got Visar involved yelling "chicken" whenever he spotted a yellow car first.

Upon our arrival at Trepca '89, we met with Veton Citaku, the current men's team coach who we had seen win the Kosovo Cup just days before. Blerina and Sara met us as well. Veton gave us an overview of the history of the club. From him we learned that 2011–2012 was Trepca's most successful season; though, based on the number of cups and awards adorning our meeting room, it seems like the club has had their fair share of success before this year, as well. Bedri Sadiku, the director of sports for the Mitrovica municipality, joined us for our next meeting. He expanded upon the history lesson we had begun, and explained that 2012 was turning out to be the best year for the entire municipality in regards to sports. In our visit so far, we have seen a Mitrovica men's basketball team win the Kosovo Cup, men's soccer team win the Kosovo Cup, and women's soccer team get second place in the Kosovo Cup after a penalty shootout, so it's not hard to believe that what he says is true. Interestingly enough, the 2012 budget for Mitrovica sports clubs has nearly tripled in a year, standing near 70,000 Euros. This sounded impressive to us, until Bedri explained that he uses this to fund over 29 club teams. He was quite enthusiastic about having so much, and it definitely put things in perspective about the resources available to us for our sports programs in the states.

Meeting number two continued, much more informally, as we enjoyed macchiatos by the river with Bedri, Veton, Sara, Blerina, and a few other members of the Mitrovica and Trepca sports community. After our macchiatos, Visar and Sanije drove us to Qetesia Restaurant in nearby Koshtova for lunch...AMAZING! Our table was in a gazebo that was surrounded by water on all sides and connected to the main restaurant by a narrow walkway. We enjoyed some wonderful food and a beautiful mountain backdrop, and we laughed and laughed as we took pictures, fed the swans, and played with Visar's adorable two-year-old daughter, Ditea. We even got complimentary watermelon at the end of our meal as "thanks to Americans," another reminder to us that the Kosovo War is still on the minds of many Kosovars.

Next up was our clinic with the Mitrovica group: Albulena, Sara, and Blerina. We were thoroughly impressed with their professionalism and organization, and as well with the skill level of the young players in their club. Their session had it all—competition, fitness, skill work, small-sided games, and a scrimmage at the end. Our group had a great time playing with the Trepca girls, and we definitely got in a good workout, as well. Baeth and I took some time at the end to huddle up with Albulena, Sara, and Blerina and give them some feedback, and all of our Mount Holyoke group was presented with full Trepca uniforms. We all left Mitrovica literally beaming.

Already thinking the day couldn't get any better, we headed to Sanije's family's house for dinner. Wow! We kicked off our shoes, walked in the door, and were presented with a better dinner spread and more hospitality than we could have ever imagined. We immediately sat down to eat and were treated to dish after dish of Sanije's mother's fantastic cooking—cheese and spinach pies, chicken legs, rice, stuffed peppers, salad, homemade bread...yum! Sanije treated us to tea after dinner, and as we tried to help her clean up, she insisted that we leave everything, telling us that "in this country, a 'gwest' is a 'gwest!' We couldn't let her live that one down without a little teasing, but while we teased we obediently headed upstairs for—believe it or not—snacks, desserts, and the Portugal vs. Germany Euro 2012 match. Sanije also pulled out some photo albums for us to browse, and we had a truly enjoyable evening to cap off another amazing day in Kosovo!

Women in Sport: Mid-Trip Reflections

We took some time to reflect on the value of sport in our lives. Please check out our new page here!