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.

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 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!


Chris48 said...

Enjoy every minute! Wonderful blog about your adventures.


Chris48 said...

So pleased that the trip is going well, especially the success of the Kosovo Alums. Remember what Margaret Meade said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens (women) can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."Hope you catch the European Soccer Championship fever while you are there. Your Smith fan, Christine Shelton

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