Friday, July 29, 2005

First Impressions

Author's note...There are so many wonderful things happening here that my fingers can't type fast enough. Please bear with me as I try to post as much material as possible. In the coming days I am hopeful that other members of our group will find time to give me comments that I can add to the blog. So keep checking back for new and updated material.

Here are a few "first impression" comments that I gathered from people riding in my van between the airport and Gjakove. Please note that the fields surrounding the airport (and many along the road to Gjakove) are planted with corn. And unlike most farms in the US, there are no cattle fences. Hence, our caravan had to stop a few times on the way to Gjakove to let herds of cows cross the road.

"I noticed the smell right away. The airport was small but it was still an airport. The countryside doesn't look much different from that in America-except for the cows on the road." (Mike Hartman)

"Pretty hot but pretty neat. I think there are a lot of cows." (Maddie Hartman)

"It is a lot nicer than I expected." (Kristi Korpi)

"I love the feel of it. I like the terrain. It feels like being at home. They are cornfields and Queen Anne's Lace." (Janet Barry)

"It's neat. I was amazed at the number of people at the airport. There are a lot of new buildings next to old ones. It's amazing to see people farming by hand along the road near brand new signs along the road advertising new doors." (Dan Gray)

"So many things have changed since my first visit. The signs of progress and growth are everywhere. The airport has been modernized. There is a tremendous amount of new building happening all along the road between the airport and Gjakove. Last time I was here the signs of war were far more obvious. Entire villages along this same road were still in ruins and the ditches were filled with garbage and abandoned or destroyed cars. There is still garbage in the ditches but the number of abandoned cars and shattered houses are few and far between now. Perhaps the most noticeable difference for me was the number of trees. My last visit was during the month of November. There were no leaves on the trees then so I was shocked by the number of trees. The countryside is far more beautiful than I remember. I think the summer vegetation has a lot to do with this observation. Gjakove itself has also changed. There are a few buildings that I recognize but far more that I don't. The Hotel Gjakove where Keith and I stayed looks pretty much the same. The dorm that served as what was known locally as the "Konvict" displacement camp still stands. The building is now abandoned but evidence of the fire that destroyed the third floor of camp before our arrival in 2002 is still obvious. Strangely, however, a brand new German financed high-end apartment/condominium complex is being built just a block away from the old Konvict camp. Overall, it feels like life is moving forward here. Perhaps it is the summer sun, but it also feels much more like a thriving community than a war-shattered town." (Kristin McHugh-Johnston)