So after months of anticpation and an 18 hour flight I found myself in the slightly rainy country of Kosovo on Friday, May 16th! That Friday night was spent picking my way through an Albanian phrasebook and trying to explain to the gregarious hotel manager through hand gestures that I needed a taxi. We eventually worked it out and I found myself in a taxi traveling through Prishtina at speeds that would make a New Yorker cringe. After the taxi ride I met up with one of Abby Riley's contacts in her organization, D4D. Abby had been laid over in Vienna but her organization had found an apartment for her that she graciously offered to split with me. After viewing the apartment, which is perfect and cost appropriate, Abby's co worker walked me back to Hotel Ora. After a lengthy 10 minute discussion with the hotel manager it became clear that I could not check out of the hotel that night. The manager told me that it would wound his pride, his hotel was family owned and they all took great pleasure in providing the best customer service. So I stayed the night, and in the morning said good bye to Hotel Ora and the amazing, hospitable family that ran it and moved into an apartment that I still do not know the address of. We have been told that it's normal to not know street names in Prishtina, this is a landmark culture that doesn't believe in street names.
The next day, through some timely networking skills via Charles Smith of Iowa, Abby and I met up with an EULEX judge who was kind enough to pick us up and take us grocery shopping. This judge is an amaing alumni of William & Mary Law, and deserves so much praise for going beyond the call of duty to make sure that two American girls had enough food and knowledge of the city to get to their first day of work on Monday. He also provided us with "burner" cell phones and negotiated on our behalf at the Ipka cell phone store. He did all of this while being under EULEX security that never levaves his side and while in the midst of prepping for huge war crime case that starts on Thursday. Abby and I are beyond grateful for his help and consideration, we hope to see him in action in the courtroom before we leave!
We also met a future Fulbright scholar from Poland, she plans on going to New York City to study the post conflict arena of the Balkans. She speaks Serbian, Polish, English, and a little Albanian. An amazing woman who immediately took us under her wing and showed us one of the best kept secrets of Prishtina! An unidentified American decided to start his own brewery, now known as the Sabaja Beer House, in Prishtina and has turned out a line of beers that are both great tasting and labeled with ironic names, i.e. the "Harry Porter".
She also invited us to compete in a "ex-pat" ultimate frisbee competition on Sunday- which we agreed to. We later found out that we couldn't participate because of a meeting but walked with her to the indoor arena where they played and cheered on a very competitive bunch of people, which included a K4 member hailing from the great state of Michigan.
As Monday rolled toward us both Abby and I decided that ironing our clothes for the first day of work was a must- and because the apartment that D4D found is amazing- we were able to iron out everything we needed. Work started at 9 am for me. As I walked down the hill and across Mother Theresa Street I reflected on how much smaller the city had become after two days. It no longer seemed as massive as it once did. I can proudly say that I can now direct any tourist to the NEWBORN monument.
My first day with CLARD was an eye opening experience. I arrived at work and was immediately welcomed and introduced all of the lawyers of the organization. CLARD is a self started NGO. The people that work there have been with the organization since the beginning and have stuck with it, even when for 4 months CLARD was bringing in no money and the employees and founding members had to pay out of pocket to keep it afloat. Anton (my head manager) told me that when you love what you do and can see the postiive impact that is has on your country that it is not hard to stick through the bad times. They are an amazing group of people, and after one day I can already see how much they truly care for all of the Kosovar people. They are determined to find a way to help the people understand and access their own legal system. Right now the people believe that the institutions are corrupt and offer no realistic shot at justice. Part of my first assignment is to give a brief, 5 minute presentation on how Americans access their legal system. It was truly an eye opening moment, how do we have such infinite faith in our individual right to justice? And how do we "just know" how to access our legal system? Questions that must be answered before my presentation next week.
It's been 4 days and already a grand adventure.