Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Beautiful day

The sun is shining, the city is covered in a blanket of crisp, white snow (after two days of near blizzard conditions), and I'm feeling positive about things again finally. I'm re-energized about my work, and my students are a huge part of that. (The sunshine helps a bit too.) They made me laugh so many times today, and they've all got something new and exciting in their lives. One student finally got his camera after 6 months of trying (shipping is a huge problem here), another has decided to go to Bulgaria for an intensive English course, and another will take the TOEFL in 2 weeks in hopes of going abroad to study. There's a general feeling of optimism that has been missing for the last few months.

The oppressive bleakness of things has been hanging over me like a terrible, suffocating weight. I have had nothing positive to say for a long time; thus, I've completely neglected this blog for fear of sounding like a whiner. Just walking out of my house would make me angry and frustrated. Frustrated at the difficulty of accomplishing even the simplest tasks. Angry at the general chaos and craziness that pervades everyday existence here. Tired of cold and gray and no water and no electricity - I was craving convenience and ease.

Then, yesterday, I was chatting with a student online, and he asked me if I was tired of being here and working with these people (was it that evident?), because even for him, in his country, sometimes he gets frustrated. He told me how lucky I was to be able to leave when I wanted. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. No matter how bad it seems here to me, I can leave. For them, this is existence, reality, with little to no chance of escaping it. They're all clamoring for change, but it's a slow process. Time time time time time...... In that moment I realized that my work here is really important, and that it does make a difference, at least to some, and that a little cold and lack of electricity is a small price to pay for helping someone. So for the first time in a long time, today, I feel like I can breathe again.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The times they are a chan-gin'

I witnessed something great this weekend. Serb, Macedonian and Kosovar Albanian university students talking, laughing, singing songs and working together to make something happen. I was asked to be a faculty mentor for a group of students from the University of Prishtina that were participating in an international negotiation similation. I really had no idea what to expect, considering the current political climate, but I was truly impressed with everyone there.

The students came from 4 different universities in 3 different countries, and had to put aside personal politics and disagreements to work together to create a "contract" for protecting cultural heritage sites in the Balkan region. Each country's delegation consisted of a student from each of the different universities. The head of delegation for Kosovo's team was actually from Serbia and the head of the Serbian delegation was actually from Kosovo - just to make things interesting. They even assigned students to their hotel rooms to make sure that everyone mixed it up a bit. The first evening, people stayed somewhat with their own crowds, but by the end of the weekend, everyone was singing, dancing, learning words in each other's languages, and generally just having a fantastic time. They really took their task seriously - I overheard a couple of people still ngotiation percentage points at 2 am over beers in the disco. In the end, they managed to come to a consensus on the contract and an "official document" was signed.

I know it seems weird that I should be so surprised by all of this, but there is still so much mistrust and misunderstanding here, at least from the conversations I've had with students, that seeing it all melt away in a matter of days was fantastic. I feel really lucky to have been a part of it.

Just when you thought it was over

The past week and a half have been fantastic, weatherwise anyway. It's been sunny and warm... and thennnnnn... today it's snowing so hard that I can't see the ground from my 11th story window. I guess my building has some sort of draft due to the other buildings around it because at the moment, it's snowing UP. Yes, UP. I'm confused too.