This is Kosovo

Mirëdita! Or in Serbian, dobar dan!

This week, we traveled to three different municipalities as part of CLARD's year-long campaign against domestic and gender-based violence. Domestic violence was recently reclassified from a civil offense to a criminal offense in Kosovo's code, and while this was a very important step in addressing this issue, domestic violence is still an all too common occurrence. In response to the pressing need for awareness and justice in this area, CLARD launched this campaign to visit each of Kosovo's 38 municipalities to talk with people about their rights and provide information about the resources available to them when it comes to domestic violence. After our visits to Mamushë, Prizren, and Dragash this week, there are only 8 municipalities left to close out the campaign.

Following their trips into the field, CLARD has received many phone calls and drop-in appointments from people seeking legal aid services as a result of the campaign, which speaks to the campaign's success. Giving people knowledge of their rights and resources gives them power to fight for justice, especially the knowledge that they do not have to do it alone. In recent years, Kosovo has seen many advancements in the laws, institutions, and programs supporting victims of domestic violence--the construction of a shelter is even in the works--but there is still a lot of room for justice to be done. My supervisor also mentioned that no one is working with the perpetrators of domestic violence, and they too are part of the equation. Kosovo is still a young country, its institutions still maturing, but every day it is making strides toward robust and widespread justice.

As I mentioned, the campaign activities this week took us to Prizren, the second largest city and historic capital of Kosovo. Located in the foothills of the Sharr Mountains in southern Kosovo, Prizren is a beautiful old city complete with winding cobblestone streets and a medieval fortress set high on a hill. Prizren was the cultural center of Kosovo under the Ottoman Empire, and later an important political and cultural hub for Albanian nationalism beginning in the late 1800s. Today, Prizren is the most culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse municipality in Kosovo and a national symbol of tolerance and acceptance. Amidst its Kosovar Albanian majority you'll find communities of Turks, Bosniaks, Romani, Ashkali, Gorani, and Serbs with a mixture of Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians. In Prizren, ethnic and religious diversity is celebrated and cultural identities are not divisive. One of my colleagues who grew up in Prizren explained that what matters is not their differences but rather that they are all from the same place and they are all people. This is Kosovo.

One of the questions I have gotten a lot from friends and family back home is about the food I have been eating, so let's talk about traditional Kosovan cuisine! Many regional cultures have influenced the local cuisine, so you can find elements of Mediterranean, Slavic, Balkan, and Turkish flavors in Kosovan dishes. Bread, meat, and dairy are staples of every meal, often served with fresh fruits and vegetables in the summer or pickled vegetables in the winter. Different variations of savory pies such as byrek, grilled meats like cevapi, and stuffed peppers are particularly common. Paprika is an essential spice, and yogurt- or roasted pepper-based sauces accompany most dishes.

During our visit to Prizren, my colleagues treated me to a feast of their favorite traditional foods. We started with fresh shope salad (primarily cucumbers and tomatoes), traditional Prizreni djath (a type of goat cheese), and pitalke (pillowy pita-like bread) with dipping sauces. Then we had sarma (meat and rice rolled in grape leaves) and my favorite, mantija (meat-stuffed pastries smothered in a garlic yogurt sauce). We also ate qofte (grilled meat patties), elbasan me mish pule (a creamy chicken casserole), and mish dhe patate (lamb and potatoes). And to finish it off, we had baklava and Turkish coffee. Shijshme!

That is all for now, friends, but I will be back next week with some preliminary thoughts on Kosovo's post-communist transition to an independent democratic republic. For now, I have some leftover djath and mantija to eat.

Ditën e mirë!