|Inan and Chris|
I was more than a little hesitant. If the car rental company didn't want us going to Kosovo, what made us think it was safe? In the end, Bob had his mind made up, and I had to trust Chris's high praise for Inan and his positive comments about his own experience in the country.
Although the war in Kosovo was less than a decade ago, before this trip I was embarrassingly ignorant about Kosovo's history. I have since learned that as an integral part of the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, which had a majority Albanian/Islamic population, was granted more-or-less self-governance by Tito in 1974, but during those years the standard of living was pitifully low. Tensions between resident Serbs and Albanians rose under Tito's successor Milosevic, and in 1989 Milosevic suspended Kosovo's autonomy and a state of emergency was declared. In response, ethnic Albanians declared independence from Serbia in 1990, and the Serbian government responded by replacing all the Albanians in government with Serbs.
War broke out in 1992, ethnic conflict heightened, and the US got involved in 1999 when the Serbs drove 850,000 Kosovo Albanians out of the country as part of a program of ethnic cleansing. When Serbia refused to let up, NATO began a bombing campaign in March 1999. By June, Milosevic began withdrawing troops from Kosovo, and the country became a UN-NATO Protectorate. Ethnic violence broke out again in 2004, and in 2006, Serbia voted in favor of a new constitution that included Kosovo. The Kosovo Parliament re-asserted its independence in 2008, and the UN recognized their status as an independent nation, although Serbia did not and has not, which is why we were not allowed to take our rental car into the country. Who knows what might happen next?
Currently, five out of the twenty-seven European Union countries do not acknowledge Kosovo's independence--Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Slovakia. Although Kosovo is not part of the European Union, it does use the euro rather than the Serbian dinar. The only other non-EU country that uses the euro is Montenegro.
It is incredible to think we were traveling in a country that was only five years old. What a miracle! That would have been the United States n 1781 when the British were still pretty sore about the War for Independence. The only newer country in the whole world is South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011.
And now, with that very superficial overview of recent history, back to our travels.
other variations of that name on the Internet.
The men at the site told Bob not to approach them when they were working as they can be quite fierce. Shari dogs can hold their own against the wolves that are common to this area and have been known to take on a bear. Some are bred for fighting and can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. When the two we were watching got their herd situated, they came over to get a drink:
|Sam, my mountain-climbing son, would love this place.|
One of the first things we did was share a meal with Inan, Chris's friend. Conversation over lunch is a great way to get to know someone.
|Shopska Salad, common all over the Balkans|
|My delicious meat platter|
|Bob's Skanderberg--a traditional dish of meat, cabbage, and cheese rolled together, breaded, and fried.|
It was named after Albania's most important hero. Unfortunately, it was only so-so.
|An artistic display of colorful beans in a shop window|
|An interestingly asymmetric stone bridge crosses the Prizrenska Bistrica River.|
|Young people everywhere love hanging out downtown.|
Inan was obviously proud of his Muslim heritage, and later took us to another mosque, the Gazi Mehmet Pasha Mosque, also known as the Bajrakli Mosque. Built in 1561, it is one of the oldest structures in Prizren.
The carpet has individual spaces marked off for prayer services, all pointing towards the mihrab. I would have loved to see each of these occupied:
Standing in these places of prayer and meditation, it is difficult to imagine this city at war, and it is also easy to understand why Inan and others are anxious to distance themselves from the Islamic extremists. And yet, other sites we saw in this tortured country reminded us that the Kosovo War was and continues to be a very complex conflict.
John Esposito, the author of What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, is a Professor of Religion and International affairs, Professor of Islamic Studies, and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He was also editor in chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Modern Islam and other books about Islam. In other words, he knows his material very well. What makes Esposito especially interesting to me is that he was raised as a Roman Catholic in an Italian neighborhood of Brooklyn, and he spent a decade in a monastery, later earned a master's degree in theology, and followed up with a PhD with a focus on Islam. He is not a Muslim himself, but he has spent his life studying Islam and promoting understanding between Christians and Muslims.
This is not the type of book I generally pick up, but it was the selection for a book club I belong to. It was perfect for me, a novice. It is written in a Q&A format, and so sometimes material appears more than once, but that just makes it easy to find. A must read for anyone visiting a Muslim country or seeking a better understanding of Islam.
Next: Kosovo Part 2