Friday, August 12, 2005

Post-trip Reactions from Michaella Calzaretta

"I've heard it said, that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn. And we are led to those who help us most to grow, if we let them and we help them in return. Well, I don't know if I believe that's true. But I know I'm who I am today, because I knew you.

Like a comet pulled from orbit, as if passes a sun. Like a stream that meets a boulder, halfway through the wood. Who can say if I've been changed for the better, but, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

It well may be that we will never meet again, in this lifetime. So, let me say before we much of me is made of what I learned from you. You'll be with me, like a handprint on my heart. And now, whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine, by being my friend.

Like a ship blown from it's mooring, by a wind off the sea. Like a seed dropped by a sky bird, in a distant wood. Who can say if I've been changed for the better, but, because I knew you, I have been changed for good."
-- WICKED (the musical)

At the beginning of this trip, I didn't really think that I would get much out of it, mainly because I wasn't here to participate last summer. But as soon as I met those kids and adults, I immediately changed my mind. Those 2 weeks were the happiest and the best 2 weeks of my entire life and I will never forget what those children taught me. "Carpe Diem!" Sieze the Day!! Just because you may live in a war-torn country with a government that won't cooperate with anything or anybody doesn't mean that your life is wasted. No matter where they lived, those young Kosovars live their lives to the fullest and never worry about the future, for them or their country. And I think that we, as Americans, should take a lesson in that.

Muscatine Journal Editorial Mentions Kosovo Project

The August 11, 2005 edition of the Muscatine Journal included an editorial that mentions our project and quotes Ric Smith.

You can read it via the following link:

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Author's Note - New Updates and Info on Page Load Times

I tried really hard to keep as current as possible while I was in Kosovo but at times it was hard given the schedule and the internet situation. One of the main items that never made it to the blog was info about the ZR evening concert.

I've just posted photos from that event. But in an effort to keep this blog in as close to actual date order as possible, I have post-dated the ZR concert update for August 6th. So to see the new pictures you will need to scroll down the page.

If I find more time to work on older sections of the blog I will continue to add or update material so keep checking back for new and updated material. And...keep sending your thoughts and/or pictures. This blog is far from over.

Finally...since this blog has tons of photos, it is starting to load much more slowly than before. So don't panic if all of the photos don't show up right away. It may take a few minutes for the entire blog to show up when you visit it.

Reaction and Photos from Camp Bondsteel

The Muscatine and Kosovar choirs performed at Camp Bondsteel on August 6th. Our host for the afternoon was SFC Duff McFadden, a Wilton High School graduate. He sent Keith Porter a brief note today and some photos.

"Thanks for a wonderful concert. I've heard nothing but high praise from the command group and all who attended the concert. Again, thanks for a great show and a great time with the kids." -SFC Duff McFadden, Public Affairs Office, Camp Bondsteel

Post-trip Reactions from Karen Morgan

I enjoyed helping in Kosovo. It was like stepping back in time and remembering America of the older days. People out walking and talking to others. Kids gathering in corner lots playing made up games instead of being controlled in a sport.

The children of the camps were among my favorites. They would run to meet us and all of them were so cute and friendly. The conditions they had to live in were appalling, but they were so happy to see us and had the biggest smiles. I could have packed them all up and brought them back with us.

I am ready to go back anytime to help in anyway.

Post-trip Comment from Madeline Hartman

I think it was great, because it was a great experience.

I`d love to do it again to see all my friends again.

Post-trip Thoughts from Doreen Borde

I echo Ric and Kristin with what a great group of kids and adults we had to travel with. Not only did I make friends with many of the Kosovars, I also made new friends among my fellow Americans. This was a wonderful experience for Taylor and I and hope for this to be the start of many more such experiences. Music is Peace and may we continue to spread the word!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Note to All Readers - How to View Archived Posts

Due to the size of this blog and the slow loading time (due to all of the photos), all postings are being archived by week.

This means 7 days worth of posts are displayed on the main page if you scroll to the bottom of the entire main page.

In order to read the posts from previous weeks, you need to go to the "Archives" section. The Archive links are located on the right hand side of the page under the green "About Me" box that includes my photo, biography information, links, and previous post listing for the past 7 days.

Reactions from Kosovar Youth

During our last full day in Kosovo, Ric Smith was able to gather some written comments from several of the Shropshire Music Foundation's participants. I've transcribed the comments below.
"Thank you for coming. It has made our summer very special. You all were great. I look forward to meeting you again in Kosovo." (Reza)

"Thank you for everything; for your coming and I hope to see you again." (Blendiana)

"Thank you for all things." (Jeta)

"Thank you all for coming. You were so nice but these days go very fastly and I today, on the last day, we are so sad. Hope to see you again." (Kaltrina)

"These were the best days of the year for me." (Erza)

"Every day was very good with you guys. I love you so much and I am going to miss you." (Vlora)

"The best thing ever is that you came here. I love you guys." (Zana)

"I'm very glad I got to meet you guys. Thank you for everything." (Nita)

"Every day was really good and the reason for this is that you came here. I love you guys." (Gentiana)

Ric also asked some of our Kosovar friends to comment on the "best day" of the trip. Here are a few of their comments.

"The best day was Bondsteel because it was the end of the trip and we'd gotten to know each other better." (Arbnore)

"The best day was Bondsteel." (Burim)

"Performance at ZR School." (Arieta)

"The best day from all of the days was at Rugove. You are amazing." (Liridona)

"The best day was at Verbnitz restaurant." (Arlind)

"The best day was in the Verbnitz restaurant." (Blendona)

"The best day was in Verbnitz." (Taulant)

"I am going to remember Prizren." (Erza)

"The best day was at Bondsteel." (Sihana)

Post-trip Thoughts and Photos from Deb Porter

Thanks to all who gave time and/or money toward the Muscatine Kosovo project! This was an awesome trip. Last year when the Kosovo children came here my life was forever changed. Children are the same across the world - regardless of the language they speak.

Beyond learning about and experiencing the children’s culture first hand, I’ve learned more about humanity in general. The teen Kosovar volunteers are amazing. They walk several miles each day to volunteer their time teaching peace through music. These volunteers have horror stories about the war and could easily be angry sulking teens. However, they find genuine happiness in using music to help others – even those children of ethnicities that were enemies during the war. That is a lesson we can all take advantage of: helping leads to healing.

Further, I am amazed by the adults and youth in our own group. The Muscatine kids were uninhibited in their willingness to interact with all the Kosovar volunteers and children. They held hands, sang songs, colored, cut, tied, knotted and enjoyed all the camp and program children – even those that were rambunctious and filthy. They really did mix so well that strangers would be unable to know which kids were from which country.

The adults were amazing also. They were able to find humor despite consecutive days without water for bathing, sleeping with crowing roosters seemingly on the windowsill, and having to follow instead of being the leaders for a change! The Korpis and Mike Hartman get an extra hurrah for smiling and being positive despite working extra long hours.

Thank you Dr. Smith for having such an insane idea of a music exchange with Kosovar folks and for talking my dreamer of a husband into joining your cause. We are all better for having the experience.

Again thanks to all involved, from the friendly store owners, helpful drivers and participants to those that donated to the cause: “teaching peace through music.” I believe it’s working!

Trip Impressions from Leigha Phillips

I was sad to leave Gjakove, but I am glad I had the opportunity to go. The country was very beautiful and the people were the happiest people I know. I had a great time seeing the different cities that we visited. I was honored to sing at Bondsteel for our troops. The whole trip was an experience for all of us.

Keith Porter's Thoughts

You may or may not know that Keith Porter is also the guide to Globalization Issues at You can see his site here.

Throughout the Kosovo trip, Keith posted a few short (mostly political) observations for his readers, and I thought you might like to see them as well. They are:

My Visit to Kosovo (7/28/05)
Observations on Kosovo's Future (7/29/05)
More From Kosovo (7/31/05)
Kosovo's Minorities (8/3/05)
Refugee for a Night (8/4/05)
American Forces in Kosovo (8/7/05)

Anne Olson's Impressions and Favorite Photos

Anne's impressions (photos are below)

Shoes on the Doorstep
Smiles on the kids
Produce Stands on every corner
The call of the Muezzin
Bottled Water
Flashlights for walking at night
Electricity off periodically
No water for 24 hours
No paper in the potty
Heat. Heat. Heat
Horse-drawn carts next to a Mercedes
Music everywhere

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Post-trip Thoughts from Dan Gray

I have so many thoughts. We, the adults, started out not knowing each other very well even though we've spent the last several months trying to break the ice.

I've enjoyed all of you very much, and enjoyed our similarities as well as our differences. More similarities than differences.

I didn't know you when we started out, but I know now, that I will never forget you.


Saying Goodbye is Never Easy

As I packed the final items into my suitcase I found it hard to zip close; not because it was too full but because I didn’t want to believe our trip was coming to an end.

In our short time here, our group has managed to accomplish more than I ever thought possible. Pete and Kristi Korpi examined hundreds of sets of eyes; Mike Hartman provided health checks to just as many, and the various art, computer, English and photography classes led by Doreen Borde, Neva Baker, Jon Fasanelli-Calwalti, Karen Morgan, Anne Olson, and Cynthia Smith brought joy to young and old alike. Janet Barry, Deb Porter, and others kept us well fed and Keith Porter recorded nearly every minute of our experiences on tape.

More importantly, our youth were able to reunite with old friends and meet new ones. And under the leadership of Ric and Cynthia Smith, Lori Carroll and Liz Shropshire our youth and the Kosovar choir sang and performed more beautifully than ever.

“How do kids laugh and sing who’ve survived the atrocities of one of the dirtiest wars in modern history? How do our very protected kids connect with these young heroes and sing with the same glee? I don’t know, but laughing and singing with them has just become a central miracle in my life,” said Ric Smith on our final full day in Gjakove. He added, “Which kids are which? They’re all laughing and singing; building bridges instead of burning them.”

I knew this trip would be a great adventure, but I never could have predicted how life changing this would be for ALL of us.

We, the 32 Muscatine participants, have many people to thank: our families and friends; our Kosovar hosts; Liz Shropshire and the Shropshire Music Foundation; Jeff Tecklenburg and the Muscatine Journal for graciously allowing us to provide these updates; and most importantly the Muscatine residents and businesses that have so generously contributed financially.

We’ve created something very, very special. Our goal is to keep this program going. Hopefully two of the Kosovar teens who visited Muscatine in 2004 will return this fall as Rotary Scholars. And although I can’t speak for everyone, I know many of us on this trip would love to return (and do so with even more people from Muscatine).

Although these updates represent only a small slice of our entire trip, I hope you’ve gained new insight into the Muscatine-Kosovo Project over the past few weeks.

You can’t keep these kids from making music. Whether we’re driving down the road, at a picnic, or waiting for our next appointment someone is always singing, playing a pennywhistle or banging on a drum. And it was no different when both groups gathered at Liz’s house for the final time. Michaella Calzaretta, Emma Smith, and Lori Carroll performed selections from the musical Wicked, and one line in particular seemed to sum up the entire experience:

“I do believe I have changed for the better. Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

I could not have said it better myself.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Our Final Full Day In Kosovo

Today is our final full day in Kosovo and so we are spending the day celebrating with our Kosovar friends and their families.

This evening we will all gather at Liz’s house for a final "goodbye" celebration. I believe the youth are planning a separate get together as well. But we kicked-off our final full day with a picnic at Gjakove’s reservoir (the large lake that supplies Gjakove’s water). At first the workers would not let us past the gates even though others had been able to pass through. But thanks to one of Liz’s volunteers, Kaltrina, we were finally allowed past the gate. Kaltrina’s father apparently works for the city and all it took was a few cell phone calls.

Once we were past the gate our vans drove us across the top of the narrow dam and into a parking area. We then unloaded all of the food and drinks we packed along for the trip and walked several hundred yards until we found just the right spot to camp out.

It was a wonderful afternoon. The weather was perfect…not too hot…not too cold.

Many of the youth jumped into the lake. Others built sandcastles or walked the muddy lake banks. Everyone snacked on the traditional Kosovar food that Liz’s volunteers brought. It was all fabulous…and very filling. I had hopes of losing weight on this trip but given all of the food we’ve been presented during this trip I doubt anyone lost weight (and a few probably gained!).

Near the end of the picnic Liz and the youth grabbed their instruments and entertained the rest of us with impromptu versions of many of the songs the youth have been rehearsing for the past several days. Lori Carroll and Deb Porter even assisted (Lori on the bucket drum and Deb on pennywhistle).

It was a perfect way to end a truly spectacular trip.

I’ve posted pictures from the picnic below.

Photos from Goodbye Picnic

Our Own USO Mission

Nestled among the rolling hills one hour south of Pristina is Camp Bondsteel. This sprawling base is home to the Multinational Brigade (East) of Operation Joint Guardian; the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. It is also the base for the thousands of American troops contributing to keeping the peace in this troubled region.

On Saturday we packed 33 Americans (including Liz Shropshire) and 32 of Liz’s Gjakove students into five vans and headed to Camp Bondsteel. Our mission was to extend our thanks for their efforts. The trip, which wasn’t confirmed until after we arrived in Kosovo, was made possible only after a series of e-mail exchanges initiated by Keith Porter.

We arrived just after noon, and it took more than an hour to get all of us through security. This is partially due to the size of our group and the fact that Bondsteel doesn’t have X-ray machines and every bag had to be hand inspected. Once we cleared security we were given visitors badges and introduced to our host, SFC Duff McFadden. McFadden, a member of the Iowa National Guard, has been serving in Kosovo since last December.

Unbeknownst to Keith, McFadden is a Wilton High School graduate. McFadden, a media relations specialist, also worked briefly for the Muscatine Journal while attending Muscatine Community College in the mid 1970’s and again in the mid 1980’s.

“I worked with Roger Bates covering sports,” he told me as he reminisced about Iowa.

When I asked SFC McFadden why he helped organize our group trip he simply said, “We figured it would be a good thing to have,” adding, “We love to have entertainment. It helps pass the time.”

Our tour of Camp Bondsteel began with a full buffet meal in one of the base’s two dining halls. It felt like home for our American participants. Saturday’s NFL pre-season game in Tokyo was being broadcast on a large screen in one end of the dining hall.

After a delicious lunch we boarded Blue Bird busses from Iowa (complete with a number of armed escorts) and taken to the gymnasium where the combined choirs performed.

“I’m Listening”

After a brief warm-up Camp Bondsteel’s Commanding Officer, Brig. General William H. Wade II welcomed our group. Then in true military fashion he said, “Start singing, I’m listening.”

I was slightly worried how the soldiers would react to our group as they filed into the gym, many still in full fatigues carrying their assigned weapons. But my worries quickly faded as I saw the seriousness on their faces transform into smiles as soon as the singing started. One soldier even started mouthing the words to “Supercalifragilicious.”

Another leaned over to Keith and asked, “Some of these kids are Albanian? And you have them singing songs about God?” When Keith answered yes, the man said, “Amen.”

The choirs sounded truly angelic in that dull gray metal gym. They performed better than I’ve ever seen them perform. And I wasn’t the only one to notice. The standing-room-only crowd gave our youth a resounding standing ovation at the end of the concert.

Visibly moved, Brig. General Wade then returned to the stage with a number of assistants. He presented Ric Smith and Liz Shropshire certificates of appreciation and each of the performers was given an Olympic-style medal on a red, white, and blue ribbon.

Then to our surprise Brig. General Wade presented to the American and Kosovar choirs a special “Task Force Falcon” medal; a medal that is usually reserved for high-ranking figures and soldiers who perform above expectations. Brig. General Wade told the crowd it was the first time the award has been presented to, “someone who has come here to entertain us.”

I made a note to ask the Brig. General why he presented such a high honor to our groups, but he answered my question in his closing remarks to the crowd.

“I miss my kids. Thanks for sharing your day with me. It makes me feel better.”

Mission accomplished.

Helicopter Anyone?
After the concert was over we boarded the same busses and were given a tour of the huge Camp Bondsteel complex. The highlight was an up-close and personal tour of the helicopter operations. We were given tours of both Apache and Blackhawk helicopters and were able to see one land (I can’t remember which model). The youth had a blast climbing in and out of the vehicles and I think the soldiers had fun showing off the equipment. As a gesture of thanks Ric quickly assembled the choirs as we were getting ready to leave the helicopter area for an impromptu concert. I swear I saw a few tears in the soldiers’ eyes. At least one said he missed his kids and was really glad we visited.

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

Until next time…..

More Bondsteel Photos