Based on what my coworkers at D4D tell me, Pristina is a small, overcrowded city, with a high level of illegal construction. My apartment and work lie on either side of Pristina's city center, within a mile of each other. After a week or so of walking back and forth across downtown multiple times a day, I have a decent sense of my surroundings, at least in this small portion of the city. The architecture in this area is interesting, to say the least. Kosovo's capitol building lies at one end of a long, wide walkway named after Mother Teresa. Tall, gray, and narrow, the capitol building is rather anonymous looking. Standing in front of the capitol is Skanderbeg, an Albanian war hero and diplomat from the fifteenth century, with the longest Wikipedia article my father claims to have ever seen. Just out of frame, to the right of the photo below, stands a giant yellow Lego piece. Just a few yards farther to the right is a United Colors of Benetton. It is the oddest layout for a national capitol that I have seen in person.
A couple blocks down from the other end of Nene Tereza Square is the national library. Photos of this building appeared more frequently than pictures of any other location when I searched for images of Pristina. This was the sight I most wanted to see in Kosovo, and I found it more impressive in person than in a photo. It is a large, imposing, intimidating structure, like something out of Inception. Sitting next to it is an old, abandoned looking mosque. On the few times I have walked past the library, I have seen no people actually entering it, only sitting and smoking on its steps. One of these days I'll work up the courage to try to get inside.
Between the capitol and library, and moving out from the square in any direction, the building styles vary from street to street, and house to house. There are blocks of residences, some apartment buildings, some houses, some brand new looking, and some dilapitaded and abandoned. On other blocks the homes are mixed in with shops, restaurants, cafes and mosques. I want to visit some of the larger, older looking mosques, but first I need to read up on protocol for entering a mosque. All I know is that I'm supposed to remove my shoes. On one particular street I walk down on the way to work is a mosque actually sitting on top of a grocery store.
I had heard that the people of Kosovo were generally fans of the U.S., and so far I have found this to be true. One of my first impressions of the city was the poster of Bill Clinton hanging from a building I passed as I rode into the Pristina from the airport. A few days later while exploring the city I came across a replica of the Statue of Liberty standing on top of a hotel. A taxi driver informed me one night that Albanians are the only people in the world that still love America. He also told me that most people were following the current U.S. presidential election. From others I have spoken to, it seems people in Kosovo are generally keeping up with the election. A few days later, I passed a school-aged girl on the street wearing a fringed crop top that read "I Vote for Tequila." I assume this young woman was making an astute criticism of the candidates in the current election. I have to say I agree with her.
Despite some minor laptop issues, my first week in Pristina has been a success. I really like the parts I have seen. However, in a country where thirty percent of people live in poverty, I am aware that I am probably not witnessing life in Kosovo as many Kosovars know it. I hope that this summer I will get the opportunity to see more of the country.