border crossing

There are a lot of borders to cross in Kosovo, and each day i spend living and working in the Roma mahala i am learning about them, espescially when traveling into the Albanian community with Roma friends.  It’s not just the Serbian border to the north and east, where Serbia doesnt have immigration or customs because that would mean recognizing Kosovo as an independent country…but the borders of ethnicity, race, gender, poverty…the borders that the  trauma of war has left behind….

…..  today, the heat, the constant smell of burning trash and burning fields, being trapped in an enclave protected by police, the hyper-patriarchy, the trauma that war and poverty have created… are wieghing on me. its one of those days where Kosovo feels like a prison of sorts. I don’t mean to cry you a river of crocodile tears… and I don’t want to sound culturally inappropriate….i know im the one with the privilege of leaving (to another country or just to another neighborhood), of skin color, of passport and nationality…….im just tired..perhaps a coffee is all i need..

…… and don’t get me wrong, im actually doing great, the classes are wonderful! I really love and care about the kids… we have a lot of fun and were learning together. Im learning a lot about humility and patience. Im learning about the kids, their lives… what works in class, what doesn’t…how to be a good teacher…

Yesterday I had a day off and I was at the education center by myself, cleaning up and making room on the walls for new lessons and more art that the younger students and I make together. The classroom is pretty small, and there is only one small white board for writing and explaining lessons. I use big sheets of white paper for new lessons and I tape them to the walls of the classroom… sometimes it looks like the room is made of paper…paper and drawings of cats, dogs, houses, flowers, robots….things I make and a lot of stuff that the students make.

Anyway, while cleaning up the center I heard 2 girls outside smoking a cigarette just in front of the door. They come here to smoke because its one of the few places outdoors in Preoce where no one can see you, as the road dead ends at the school. Its also the place where some of the teenagers come to make out…so im told. (somehow ive become the holder of quite a number of teenage secrets in the mahala).

These two girls are students in the beginner English class.  I heard them talking about the lesson we did together last Friday.. “it’s a red house, it’s a blue star, it’s a pink flower” etc. I invited them in and we talked as best we could in English and Romanese. These two girls are best friends, bad asses, trouble makers, smoking at 13 years old..  total pottie mouths… we have a lot of fun in class together.

One of the girl’s father was murdered in 2001 “after” the war. He was one of 4 Roma men looking for work in Pristina, when he was kidnapped and killed by some members of the KLA.  She now lives with her mom and extended family and is currently my neighbor.

It was nice to see them outside of the context of the classroom, and to see that we were friends, as well as having our teacher and student relationship. They acted totally different towards me, as if they let their tough girl guard down because there weren’t other students around. Anyway, I feel like this one encounter has changed our relationship in class for the better…and they are actually doing their homework now. And just as wonderful…. they invited me to their homes for coffee!

Everyday most of my time is spent with kids, from classtime to just being in the street making up games to play… I actually have to hide to get any time alone. And sometime hiding means going into an Albanian community…

…I can walk down the road anytime to “another world”, to the Albanian petrol station and have a coffee or a pizza… it’s a 15-minute walk and most of the Roma folks I know have never even been there.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Plaincore!

    I found your blog while looking for information about the Roma mahala in Mitrovice. I’m a teacher and photographer from New York and I’m traveling with a friend who is an independent radio producer- you can see a slideshow and radio piece we recently worked on here: http://www.worldvisionreport.org/Stories/Week-of-August-7-2010/Untouchable-Music-School. We’re traveling through Kosovo in the next couple of days with no specific plans for a radio piece, but I wondered if we might be able to visit your class. As an educator and as a photographer, I would be very interested to see what education is like in Kosovo’s Roma community, and if we were able to conduct an interview with you and your students we could develop it into a radio piece. Adam and I plan to be in and around Pristina tomorrow (Thursday 8/26) and Friday (8/27). I realize this is very short notice and you may not even see this until it is too late, but I thought I’d go ahead and try to contact you!

    Please let me know if vsiting your class would be a possibility. I can be reached at abrockhouse@gmail.com.

    Thank you so much!

    Alison

  2. You, my friend, are an inspiring bad-ass.
    Keep up the fight.

    x

    C


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