Sunday, July 19, 2009

Last Day Donkey Celebration

Today is the last day of SIT State Building and Human Rights in the 'South Balkans' summer semester... (whatever the South Balkans means.) To celebrate we went to a village about 30 minutes from Ohrid for a donkey-tour and a traditional meal. The donkey ride was wonderful, it was organized by a village that survives by collecting and selling mainly wild strawberries, thyme, and boletus mushrooms. My donkey was named 'muzika' and was typically stubborn. We toured a very nice pristine valley where the village goes to collect natural items. There was one small incident, however when a male donkey decided to... express his interest in a nearby female. The villagers needed to wrestle him off her which became further complicated when his hoof got stuck in her saddle.

We continued by eating a traditional meal: complete with fresh strawberry juice and the best yogurt I've ever had. Of course it wasn't complete without a 12-noon shot of rakija. Speaking of rakija. . . next we went to the local homemade rakija still which of course was funded by the Orthodox Church. Finally we went to a second village where they have a 300 yearold tradition of washing rugs in the nearby natural spring. They have routed the water into a dugout stone vat where they rinse rugs from all around the region.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Photo Essay & Program End

So the program is coming to a close. I have four days in Ohrid to write my paper and then I am free to travel independently. I am writing about music in Kosovo as an index of the political situation and focusing a lot on the band "Jericho Walls," famous for their song "Don't Fuck With Albanians." Little of note has happened here. One cool thing is that I did meet a freelance ecologist who splits his time between Macedonia and Kazakhstan. We met on and he gave me some tips for travelling in Central Asia. On sunday we might go for a hike. Also today a small boat passed me as I was working on the lakefront, in which was a 5-person Roma orchestra playing music as they rowed past.

Here is the photo essay I've submitted as my "reflection journal" for the program.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wedding Crashers

A few days ago we went to a Turkish\Roma wedding in a nearby town called Bansko. It was great fun and as soon as I started speaking Turkish we made fast friends who welcomed us and encouraged, if not forced us to dance... a lot. The band was fantastic and played non-stop tallava for the 17 yearold bride and 19 yearold groom.... There isn't much more to say about the party. We didn't want to steal the bride's thunder since the town rarely sees Americans and we got a lot of attention. After about 2 or 3 hours we left, but I'm told the party went on into the next day. Here are some photos:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

Skopje's Stara Carsija

Greetings from Skopje!
For far the city has treated me really well! It seems wonderfully relaxed and a cool place to live, although many locals I've met don't seem to agree with me. Already I have bought some wonderfully authentic Macedonian apparel and have had what is certainly the best burek in town. I even have an appointment at a (very) reputable Macedonian hair salon which is a little nerve wracking but shouldn't end in disaster since they cut my Academic Director's hair and did it quite well I must say.

This morning I woke up early and went on a three hour personal photo excursion to the "Stara Carsija" which is the historical Turkish-style bazaar here. Here is a VERY small sample of what I found. . .

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mitrovica, "The Curse of Kosovo," & Photos

Yesterday we went to Mitrovica, a divided city separated by the Ibar River. It is one of the most volatile areas of Kosovo and has been the site of numerous violent incidents. I actually don't have any photos from my visit their because quite frankly I didn't feel comfortable having my camera vi sable. The Southern (Albanian) part of the city was fairly normal and we met a cool NGO called "CBM" (Community Building Mitrovica) that runs a rock-and-roll school that brings together both Albanian and Serbian youth. We decided to cross the bridge into Northern (Serbian) Mitrovica. Immediately you are transported to the 1970's in Yugoslavia. Everything is only in Cyrillic and only Dinars are accepted. There was a sense that people were looking for just the smallest excuse to beat the living daylight out of us. We sat at a cafe and within 10 minutes the two tables nearest to us were packed with intimidating and thuggish Serbian men. It was no coincidence and I must say I felt far more tension than I've felt in even the worst of New York's neighborhoods.

On the way back to Prishtina we stopped at the site of "The Battle of Kosovo" where the Serbians defeated the Ottomans and also Milosevic made a famous speech that ignited the current situation in Kosovo. There is a (heavily guarded) monument to the Serbian soldiers which bares the following inscription:

Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth,
And of Serb blood and heritage, And comes not to fight at Kosovo, May he never have the progeny his heart desires, Neither son nor daughter! May nothing grow that his hand sows, Neither dark wine nor white wheat!

Here are some photos from Kosovo. . .

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gjakove Kolonija

Today was a very intense and busy day. First we visited the OSCE in Gračanica, a Serb enclave 20 minutes from Prishtina. Every time we drive anywhere, I feel as if I am on the edge of death. The custom for passing a car here is to wait until there is a solid white line and an approaching car in the other lane. You next swerve into the other lane and accelerate at fullforce towards the approaching car until you change back at the very last second. In Gračanica, we visited the monastery, which is under constant armed guard, and surrounded by barbed wire. We also saw a refugee settlement there built from Russian shipping containers. The conditions were terrible, but little did I know what was coming next....

We drove for two hours to Gjakovë, possibly one of the most bombed areas of Kosovo during the war. We drove past countless roadside gravestones: here it seems like the war was just yesterday, and the only thing that reminded me that it was about 10 years ago were the trees growing out of the rubble of many bombed-out buildings that we passed by. We turned down a dirt road into the Ashkali\Egyptian\Roma settlement of Gjakovë, by far one of the poorest in Kosovo, if not in all the Balkans. There we visited the Bethany Christian Services which is doing good work in attempting to promote education in the community.

What is particularly disturbing about the settlement is that it is built quite literally in the very middle of a toxic pile of constantly burning rubbish. Although the trash fumes have killed 7 people in the community since the war, it is also really the only means of survival for the community, whose children sift through it to find scrap metal to sell or sometimes even food to eat. The only water sources are wells located perhaps 10 feet between improvised outhouses and the trash-pile. The children of the community were quite open with us, but there was a sense with the adult residents that we were just another group of foreigners to roll in and out without offering a solution to their problems. Supposedly the government will give the community houses to replace the current make-shift shanties, but I am very skeptical and think it won't happen has they promise. Even if it does, it won't solve the water supply issues.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Selected Photos

(Preshevo Valley, Serbia)


Boka Kotorska

(Njegusi, Montenegro)


Creative Commons License
All photos and text on Jeremy Bloom's Travels by Jeremy Bloom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting the author.