Saturday, August 06, 2005

ZR School Concert Photos

On Friday, August 5th, our Muscatine choir members performed an outdoor concert at the ZR school with fellow SMF volunteers and SMF program participants. The group performed so well (despite the chilly weather) that even the neighborhood chickens came into the school yard to listen!

Photos from the concert are below.

Weather Update - From One Extreme to the Other

Since we’ve all written about the hot weather I thought I should give you a brief update on the weather now. The heat wave started to break late Wednesday night. It rained overnight and into Thursday morning. Once the clouds cleared it turned a bit steamy again but nothing like the triple-digit weather we’d been experiencing since we arrived.

It was cooler on Friday and rain threatened all day but the clouds broke just in time for our youth to sing their outdoor concert at the ZR school. I suppose you could call it divine intervention.

Saturday was the coldest day yet. This was the day we visited Camp Bondsteel and I would be surprised if the mercury passed 70 degrees the entire day. It never rained but it was cloudy and windy. It was so cold that they moved the concert indoors.

Today (Sunday) is just plain beautiful. I suppose that’s how it should be since it is our last full day in Gjakove.

Friday, August 05, 2005

August 5th Update

Today our schedule was similar to the schedule of the past few days. The group spent the morning at the ZR school conducting classes, eye exams, health screenings; etc. Our youth also practiced for their concert tonight. It is scheduled to take place at 7pm in the outdoor courtyard of the ZR school (despite the fact that we need the rain....I hope it doesn't rain tonight!).

So, instead of sending another long message I am posting some random photos taken throughout our visit. Enjoy!

Observations from Lori Carroll - August 5th

I've been a performing musician for 40 years. (Well, 45 if you count the solos I sang at my kindergarten graduation.) But yesterday I had one of the most - if not THE most - moving experiences of my musical life.

After teaching music classes at Slovene Camp, which were fun but not as successful as our first ones (in my opinion, it was because of the change in barometric pressure after the previous night's thunderstorm and the resulting cooler - YAY - weather), a small group of us were just standing around in the large classroom. Besides myself, it was Michaella Calzaretta, Kate Johnson, Ric Smith and Ali, one of the Shropshire volunteers. We sort of slowly started singing rounds - 3 and 4-part - and it just kept getting better. We were so in tune...not just musically, but emotionally and mentally. There we were in a room that was built (I think) for the refugees' cooking and laundry facilities, but is now devoid of anything but 4 concrete walls, some nailed-shut windows, a low ceiling, and a filthy tiled floor. All of that disappeared from my consciousness, because the sound in there was amazing. (Italics and boldface, I'm sure, won't help to convey what I mean by that word.) We sang all the songs we've been teaching the kids. They always do a good job in an innocent-sounding way. Suddenly, though, there were 5 voices with fair amounts of training and experience that blended like the best colors, textures, feelings, that you can imagine.

At some point, Keith Porter started recording (with good equipment). By the time we stopped, we were all flushed and euphoric. Then we listened to the recording on Keith's headphones, which is very different from what you hear when you're actually singing. It felt as if I was seeing the face of God.


Observations by Pete Korpi - August 5th

From my perspective everything went marvelously - not perfectly mind you, because I always manage to forget something, and there's always the feeling that maybe I could have done just a little bit more, but all things considered I am pleased. As far as the cold statistics go, we managed to check about 290 people, and handed out well over 100 pairs of glasses, as well as eye medications where needed. We ran short of some prescriptions, had plenty of others, but that has always been sort of a "shooting in the dark" proposition when we're preparing glasses. The most heart warming cases are the kids who have need for incredibly strong prescriptions - like can't see more than 3 inches in front of them- type prescriptions. Today we had such a child who needed a super strong prescription, and we only had a pair that was 1/3 of what he needed, but his face just lit up when he put it on. Then he comes and gives me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I just about came apart from the emotion of that moment, and in that one instant I've received all the thanks I could ever need for this week and months to come. Think I'll consider doing something like this again? It is an absolute certainty.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Thursday, August 4th Update and Photos

I am going to make this fairly short (I am a bit tired from typing most of the afternoon).

This morning we returned to Slovene Village for our final visit. We conducted many of the same programs and added a few including tap dancing lessons and needlework for the teenage girls in Slovene.

(Photos from the day are posted below)

I should mention that Nick Korpi and Tom Porter spent all Wednesday night at Slovene with Lum (one of the boys who visited Muscatine last summer). I think they had a really great experience and I hope they will write up their reactions for the blog in the next few days.

Until next time....

Kristin's Special Little Boy

On a chilly November night in 2002 a little boy in Slovene Village captured my heart. His blond Shirley Temple curls and freckled face stood out in Liz’s singing class even though he was so small that he could barely see over the desk. He was so cute I just wanted to pack him in one of my suitcases and take him home with me.

I took several photos of "my little boy" during our short visit to Slovene Village that night. My favorite still sits in a frame on one of my office filing cabinets. I learned many months later that his name is Hadji (Haxhi in Albanian). Hadji is now seven years old and still lives in Slovene Village.

Tuesday night we were reunited.

Liz knew I was fond of Hadji and had one of the mothers in the camp arrange a meeting. As we walked in the direction of his home, Hadji came running up one of Slovene’s crushed rock paths. I instantly picked him up and gave him a huge hug. He hugged me right back.

Hadji is much taller now and his hair has been trimmed into a military-style cut. But his big eyes and freckles are just the way I remember them.

Keith and I tried to have a conversation with him through an interpreter but Hadji barely made a noise when answering our questions. We soon learned from his mother that Hadji has been sick with a sore throat. I am not a mother but I guess my motherly instincts kicked-in because I immediately wanted Mike Hartman to look at him.

Hadji held my hand as I led him to the field where Mike was standing. I wanted to cry when Mike told me Hadji’s tonsils were really swollen and he needed antibiotics. Despite his illness Hadji danced the night away with the rest of our group.

I had kept my eye on Hadji most of the night but lost track of him as our group was preparing to leave. Somehow his mother found the van I was sitting in and lifted Hadji so I could give the boy one last hug for the night.

I was expecting to see Hadji again on Thursday when our group visited Slovene one last time. My expectations were shattered when his mother told me that Hadji was at his uncle’s house in Gjakove resting after visiting a doctor. His mother must have seen the disappointment on my face because an hour later Hadji was back in Slovene.

He was clearly not feeling well but I was relieved when Mike told me Hadji’s throat looked much better. My spirits were lifted even more when his Hadji’s eyes were given a clean bill of health by Dr. Pete Korpi. I walked Hadji to his home and through pantomime told him he needed to rest. He plopped down on a bed with a few of the toy cars I brought for him. I kissed him on the top of his head and walked away with tears in my eyes.

To my surprise he re-appeared several minutes later with his mother. She thanked me for the gifts and said, "Hadji loves you very much." I replied, "I love him very much too." Liz later told me his mother would gladly let me take him home with me but I know that’s not practical.

Just as I was about to load into the van for the ride back to Gjakove Keith took one last picture of me holding Hadji. I know it will be the next framed picture in my office. I boarded the van and waved goodbye. Hadji smiled and waved back. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I couldn’t look back as we drove out of Slovene for the last time. I know I will probably never have the chance to give Hadji another hug.

It doesn’t matter. Hadji will always be my very special little boy.

Wednesday, August 3rd Update

This morning we started the day by visiting a school in a settlement known as Kolonije. Situated on the outskirts of Gjakove, the area is home to several Roma families.

Often referred to as Gypsies, the Roma are viewed with great disdain in much of Europe. There are several thousand scattered in shanty-town settlements across Kosovo. Here they are afraid to live in town so instead they live in squalid conditions.

The brightest part of the Kolonije's Roma neighborhood is a school in the shadows of a chocolate factory. It is a relatively new school. In fact, its facilities are much nicer than other schools I have visited in Kosovo. A number of American non-profit organizations fund Roma education projects in Europe, hence the new building.

Dozens of children sitting in tiny wooden chairs outside cheered and waved as our caravan arrived. Some were dressed in rags while others were dressed in what might be their best outfits. Two of the little girls were wearing white frilly satin dresses. They looked like ballerinas but I must say they also looked a bit out of place.

Our plan for the morning was similar to all of the other places we have visited. Our youth and adults divided up and set up shop. Ric and Lori took charge of music. Jon and Neva turned a classroom into an art studio. The Korpis and Mike set-up the eye and medical clinic and Doreen, with the help of several Muscatine youth and SMF volunteers, set up a t-shirt tie-dying class outside.

It was great fun.

As you can imagine the children loved the tie-dying process and art. Many students proudly wore their t-shirts (still dripping wet!) and beamingly showed off their artwork. But, the Kolonije students also really loved the music classes. Even some of the oldest kids hanging around (in their late teens) were engaged in the music sessions. It was great to see these teenage boys sing and play the hand-clapping game, "Miss Mary Mack."

The biggest challenge during each one of these school visits is finding ways to keep the children busy until every one of them has an opportunity to visit the eye and medical clinics. So as time wore on and Doreen had run out of shirts and Jon had run out of paper, our youths took over. Michaella Calzaretta and Ben Rivera showed off their tap dancing skills. Hanna Porter, Emma Smith and Kate Johnson (among others) taught the Roma kids how to braid friendship bracelets. Others engaged the kids with duck-duck-goose and other group games outside.

Doreen wrapped up our visit by handing out little stickers to the children. But, she made each one say "please" before giving them one. One boy came up to me and stuck his sticker directly on my skin near the base of my throat.

Unlike some of the other places we have visited, these children seemed to have more medical problems. Mike said he saw "lots and lots" of head lice. Of course as soon as he told us that, many of us started scratching our heads! (I don't think anyone caught lice but just the mere mention makes me itch). Dr Korpi brought dozens of pairs of prescription glasses but he still runs into some special cases that he can't handle with what he has brought along. This was the case with one little Kolonije girl. He dilated her eyes to make sure he could determine her needed prescription as best he could. He told me he will make her a pair of glasses when he returns home and will ship them back here. Because her eyes were dilated, she needed to wear sunglasses outdoors. She was quite proud of those glasses.

(I've posted photos from Kolonije in a separate message below)

Happy Birthday Dr. Smith!
We left the school well after 1pm and returned to the house where Ric Smith is staying. Wednesday was his birthday and the group had been planning a party since before we left the States.

Cynthia Smith, Karen Morgan, Anne Olson and Janet Barry had spend the entire morning preparing lunch, decorating the house with balloons and streamers, and a special treat for the Muscatine and SMF groups. Cynthia, Karen and Anne made spaghetti and macaroni and cheese at their house while Janet baked brownies at our house.

I wasn't there to see how Janet made the brownies but I know it was quite a culinary adventure. She had brought three brownie mixes from the States but there was no room to pack baking pans. So she combined two of the mixes into a large, deep metal serving tray we found in our basement. She baked the third box in a smaller, but similar pan.

I must say, they managed to make some of the best spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and brownies I have ever tasted. The brownies were served with ice cream (scooped into small plastic drinking cups).

Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" and Ric received cards, a Shropshire shirt signed by all of the youth and a few other items. I can't speak for Ric but I thought it was a cool way to celebrate his birthday.

(I've posted a few photos of the party in a separate message below)

Shopping Excursion
After Ric's party we had the rest of the afternoon off. Doreen and I decided to head to the old part of Gjakove to go shopping. Getting there was interesting. We had to walk several blocks to find a taxi and when we found one (an older Mercedes) the driver didn't speak English. Liz had said all we needed to tell the taxi driver "old town" and we would get there. Well Liz apparently doesn't know this taxi driver because he had no idea what we were saying.

We drove a few blocks before we made him stop and Doreen shouted out the window at any and everyone passing by looking for someone who spoke English. After several failed attempts to find someone to tell our driver where we wanted to go, we just paid him and started walking in the direction we thought we needed to go. It turns out that we were only a few blocks from the shops we wanted to in the end we could have just walked. Oh well...we now have another great travel story to tell.

Doreen and I shopped for a few hours and bought a few trinkets to bring back to the States. The shops are located near a few of the more popular "hang-outs" for the youth in Gjakove: a restaurant called the "Hard Rock Cafe" and the local "McDonalds." No...they are not the REAL thing but it is interesting to see American influence interpreted in other countries. The McDonald's sign looks very, very similar to some we would see in the US. I'm sure McDonald's would NOT approve.

After shopping I worked on the blog and a few photos before heading down to meet an number of other Muscatine participants at the "Oita" restaurant. This is the same place we ate the first night and the one that supplied the pizzas for our gathering last week. It has become one of our hang-outs. Good thing they have a generator. Just as Neva Baker and I were walking up to the restaurant the power went out (of course!).

Bring on the Rain!!!
Clouds started rolling into to Gjakove just before dinner and it started to lightning off in the distance as we left the restaurant and headed to our other favorite hang-out: the internet cafe.

I managed to get all of my computer work done just before the storm hit. But, it was raining when Doreen and I left the internet cafe. We couldn't find a taxi so I tucked her video camera under my shirt and started walking towards our house. Halfway home we flagged down a taxi.

I always love the first thunderstorm every spring but usually grow tired of them by the end of the summer. Not this time. I've never been so happy to hear thunder, see lighting and hear rain. Hopefully it will cool us off a bit!

I took a shower when I got home (we have to split shower time...half of us take one in the morning and the other half in the evening so everyone gets at least a little hot water). As soon as I was climbing into bed the power went off. I slept better last night then I have the entire trip!

Until next time....

Photos from Kolonije