The head of JR’s agency here in Pristina (I’ll call her MD) graciously invited me to accompany her on a work trip last week to visit a number of sites receiving assistance from the U.S. government. I didn’t know much about where we were going or what we would be doing, but I was very excited to get picked up by her driver and have a chance to see more of Kosovo.
We drove almost two hours before arriving in a small municipality called Junik (pronounced u-nick). Along the way, MD gave me some background on the area and explained some of the projects and rebuilding they have been doing, and how the US has helped. Our first stop was a school that was opening a Professional Development Center, with new technology and equipment to train teachers and students. We were greeted by the Mayor and other city officials. The school children were so excited about the visit, and erupted with applause after each sentence when MD spoke. A small group also treated us to a dance perfomance.
We went inside the new center where several students had prepared demonstrations for us, using their new equipment.
We left the school and walked with the Mayor to the Citizens Service Center. This center is part of an effort to create transparency and effectiveness in the local government (you can read some more about the goals here: http://www.urban.org/center/idg/highlights/highlight_Municipality-Junik.cfm). There was another dedication and more speeches by MD and the Mayor. The citizens of Junik continued to express great appreciation to the US for all the assistance and support they’ve received to rebuild their community after the conflict in the late 90’s.
More pictures from our tour.
Next we visited the Regional Tourism Center. The building is called a kulla, which is a traditional style house of Kosovar Albanians. Kulla means tower in Albanian, and the buildings are typically made of stone and a few stories high. This particular kulla is a new build, because so many buildings in this area were destroyed during the conflict.
We were invited to sit and eat in a traditional room and a wonderful lunch was prepared for us. We sampled a variety of Albanian food and enjoyed wine and more conversation with the Mayor about Junik’s development. (I was very concerned that at any moment, our hosts would start bringing out shots of Rakia, which is a very popular liquor in the Balkans. It’s quite common to finish off a meal with Rakia, but I have not yet developed an appreciation for it. Mostly because it tastes like you might imagine a combination of gasoline, vodka, and a hint of fruit would taste. Thankfully, there was no Rakia in sight).
Our last stop on the official visit was to tour a blueberry and dairy farm. The owner was excited to show us his land, and his cows!
It was such a nice day, and very interesting to see firsthand how the US has partnered with the Kosovo people to help rebuild local communities and improve the lives of its citizens.