The second trip we took was to Gjakova, which is in the far west of Kosovo.  It’s funny to me to say that a town that took 90 minutes to reach by car is in the “far west.”  Kosovo is about the size of Delaware, and you can be out of the country very quickly.

This trip was much like the first.  We visited the Legal Aid Office, and went through case files for evaluation.

This time we didn’t have an interpreter, since everyone spoke Albanian and some English.  I worked with one of the Legal Aid Officers, who was not terribly confident with his English skills.  From time to time he would ask my UNDP colleague to help him with some legal terminology.  But I have quite a bit of experience communicating with people with very little shared language, so we ended up doing just fine.

Going through case files

One of the most interesting things I learned at the Gjakova office is that they try to do as much for clients as they can the same day that the client comes.  The Legal Aid Officer told me that many of the people live in the villages, and the 1 Euro that it costs for them to get into the city is a lot of money for them.  So rather than telling them to come back to get their paperwork, they will do it while the client waits.  I thought that was really cool.

While we were in Gjakova we had coffee at a bar named “Le Corbusier.”  Urban Planning people will appreciate that :)

Le Corb restaurant

Looking down on the city at lunch




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The first trip we took as part of the Legal Aid Office assessment was to the Gracanica office.
Gracanica is a small town about twenty minutes south of Pristina.  It’s a Serb enclave, and is home to a Serbian Orthodox monastery which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But we didn’t get to go to the monastery.  We went to the Legal Aid Office.  The office was clean, and the staff was friendly.  We brought along a Serbian-English interpreter, since one of the Legal Aid Officers was Serbian.

I worked with the interpreter and the Serbian employee, and we completed our task.  As it was our first trip, we were unsure of how long it would take to finish the surveys.  It ended up taking a little over an hour, which was much faster than we anticipated.

My group finished before the other group, and I chatted with the interpreter and the employee some.  We talked about private ownership of property versus social ownership, since so many of the case files we had used in our evaluation were property disputes.  The employee was wistful for social ownership, and socialism itself.  He said that “private ownership has no soul.”  I didn’t disagree.  I think it’s important to remember that an unregulated free market economy will really screw over those with the least power and influence.  Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court.* The Legal Aid Offices really do help those who cannot help themselves.  It was really cool to visit first hand.

We left the office in Pristina at 9:45, and were back by 12:30.  It was a good first trip.

*Proverbs 22:22



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Legal Aid Office Assessments

The two projects I’m working on for the UNDP Justice and Security sector are (1) a comparative study of bar examinations in the region, and (2) an assessment of the Legal Aid Offices (“LAOs”) that UNDP sponsors.  For the LAO assessment, I got to design the surveys, which was really fun for me.  I haven’t had much chance to use my social research skills since my undergraduate days at Taylor University.

In for the rest of my time here I will be helping to gather the data using the surveys.  We are trying to evaluate the efficiency of each office from many angles.  So we have four measures:

1. How does the office run?  What are its data collection mechanisms?  This is measured with a simple questionnaire filled out by each office

2. What are the legal outcomes for the clients?  This is measured by looking at a sample of case files for each office

3. How satisfied are the clients?  This is measured with a survey of previous clients

4. How does the larger legal community view the offices?  This is measured with interviews of judges, etc.

So far we’ve been working on the first two measures.  For each office, we visit and fill out the first survey, and then look through a couple dozen cases.  While we’re there, we ask them to contact some of their clients who might answer a survey.  We’ll also try to schedule some time to talk to judges in the community.  Then we’ll go back and finish the evaluations.

We’ve gone to Prishtina (the office oversees the whole program, so there we only asked questions about the program in general), Gracanica, and Gjakova.  We’ll also go to Ferizaj.  And then there is a LAO in Mitrovica, but I will probably not be allowed to go there because of the remaining political tensions.

I took a few pictures at each office, and I’ll do a post on each one.


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Disaster Risk Reduction Training

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a national training on Disaster Risk Reduction (“DRR”).  DRR, much like the name sounds, is an effort to improve infrastructure and systems—such as early warning systems—to minimize the effects of a natural disaster.  I had written my final paper for an international development class on development as DRR, so I both had some knowledge and some interest in this subject.

The training was sponsored by UNDP, and there were representatives from many Kosovar government ministries and NGOs in attendance.  It was held at the Hotel Prishtina, which is located just a few minutes walk from my office.

There was a representative from UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) who presented an overview of what DRR is on the first day.  The second day was composed of group work and a presentation by a representative of the Swiss National Platform for Natural Hazards, PLANAT.  PLANAT is an advisory board made up of civil servants (not politicians), and experts on seismology, meteorology, and other scientists.  They are sponsored by the government, and advise the government on a national strategy for disaster risk reduction.   Part of the training in Prishtina was to consider whether such a national platform would be a good idea for Kosovo.

Group work: identifying which organizations can contribute to DRR

Presentation by Jean-Jacques Wagner, PLANAT representative

One of the most interesting parts of the training for me was the translation service.  Because of the language barrier between native Kosovars,  and the international trainers and foreign NGO representatives (like me!), they had real time translation set up.  Everyone had a headset, and all of the presenters spoke into a microphone.  Just outside the room an interpreter would listen to the presentation, and immediately translate it into either English or Albanian.  I’d seen that sort of translation on televised UN proceedings before, but it was the first time I ever got to use it.

Two men listening to the translation into English, one man listening to the speaker in Albanian

It was a great two days for me.  I really enjoyed learning more about DRR, and it was cool to talk with both the international trainers, and the Kosovar representatives.  I had some great conversations with people from UN Woman and from the Kosovar Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning.


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End of the First Mini-Week

So I finished the first mini-week in Kosovo.  Because of cheap flights and all, I’ll be leaving on a Saturday, so this was my one partial week.

I finally got some work to do at the office.  I will be working on one main project this summer that has mostly to do with the Kosovo Bar Exam.  Right now I’m trying to research bar exam procedures for nearby countries (Balkans), and the EU and the US.  Eventually this will become a report on bar exam “best practices,” that will be given to the government for consideration.

The other project has to do with a survey that they’re putting together of law professors.  I’ll help out with that, although it isn’t my main responsibility.

Both of my projects are part of the UNDP Kosovo Justice and Security Rule of Law Project, which is pretty cool.  You’ve got to have well trained, standardized lawyers and judges as a foundation for justice and human rights.  I’m psyched to be a part of this project!

After work I went to an open air bar/restaurant/lounge with my co-workers Blerta and Rrezarta.  We drank iced tea and they smoked.  Rrezarta’s brother owns the place, and it was really nice.  Pristina has “cafe culture.”  People hang out in cafes for hours.  A lot of people go out drinking after work, but the goal is rarely to get drunk.  In fact, the drink is as likely to be juice, iced tea or coffee as beer or wine.  It’s a social thing.

Iced Peach Tea

After that I attempted to walk home.  I made it home in about 30 minutes today.  The walk home is more uphill, and I cut through the University.


Abandoned old church on the University property

I only got turned around one time (I had really great hand-written directions “go to the end of the street and turn left at the auto-repair” for the morning trip, but they were less effective on the trip back), and then I sort of got lost in my neighborhood.  The streets are so crooked, and everything looks the same once you get into the residential place.  I try to remember landmarks.  The problem is, I’ve gotten lost so many times in the neighborhood that everything looks familiar.  And I can’t remember whether it’s familiar because it’s the right way, or it’s familiar because I’ve been lost there before.

Red roses that people plant in front of their apartments and in window boxes

But after wandering down probably every side street in the neighborhood, I found my place!  I bought two 1.5 L bottles of water for 1 Euro (total), and climbed the bazillion steps up to the apartment.

Once I get home, and check Facebook and Apartment Therapy, I sometimes forget I’m so far from home.  I think that it’s good to pace yourself when doing this sort of cross-cultural thing.  When I was in China I slept a lot the first few weeks, and allowed myself a few adventures, and a lot of rest.  There’s time for exploration once jet lag is no longer a factor!

Speaking of exploration, I got some more information on the UN trips.  There’s one next weekend (weekend of the 10th) to Macedonia, and one the following weekend to Greece.  I need to get a hold of the whole schedule.  If there’s one every weekend, I should pick the four or five that interest me most, and pace myself.  If there are just a few, I should take advantage of these first trips.  So I’ll find out more about that soon, I hope.

I do have plans for this weekend.  I got in contact with an American woman who knows the pastor from my church in Rochester.  He was a missionary in Kosovo in 1999.  He was here for just a year, but this woman has been here ever since.  She said she has a short-term team arriving, and that they’re having an orientation tomorrow that I’m welcome to attend.  She’ll cover some cultural and historical stuff.  It’s in the morning, and I’m going to try to go.  And she will bring me to church on Sunday.  So I’m excited for that!

Well, I’ve stayed up as long as I wanted to (10pm), so I’ll probably let myself fall asleep now.  Goodnight from Pristina!





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First Day (2/2)

I’m home from my first day at the UNDP office.  After 10:30 (my previous post) things picked up a little.  I got set up with an @undp.org email address, and was put into the Microsoft Outlook system.  Then the power went out, and the computer set up was put on hold.

Exterior of UNDP Rule of Law building

Rule of Law (my project) office

My desk

Cat that roams in to the office from the open balcony

At 12:30 I had lunch with Chris.  He’s the Program(me) Coordinator of the Justice and Security Program(me) for the United Nations Development Program(me).  He’s also a UB Law alum, and he’s how I found out about this opportunity.  We ate meatballs with yogurt, salad and pitas, and chatted until 2:00.  He told me about the program in general, about networking for future human rights work while I’m here, and about tourist trips that the UN runs that I should check out while I’m here.  He’s really nice, and a fantastic host to have while I’m here.  He said he’s lived in Prishtina for about eight and a half years (although not contiguously).

After lunch I met some more people at the office.  Then Blerta and I ran some errands.  She’s going camping with some UNDP people this weekend.  They’re trying to get a national park set up here in Kosovo, and are going camping as kind of a pilot project.  I told her about our (mine and Alan’s) plans to go bike camping.  She told me that they will be using horses to carry their gear!  She said it’s a four and a half hour hike to the campsite, and that they will have guides and horses.  The guides will cook meals for them.  She also said she’s never been camping before.  I asked if that was common for Kosovars, and she said that they don’t really have facilities for it, hence the UNDP project.  I hope they have fun and don’t get too rained on (it’s supposed to rain all weekend).

Housewares Store

So Blerta and I got some supplies for camping for her, and some groceries for me.  I went to a grocery store (hipermarket).  I got basic supplies: tuna, crackers, yogurt, honey, garlic, lots of frozen fruits and vegetables.  I also got some goat cheese (very popular around here), some jarred roasted red pepper sauce, and some Nutella (yum!).  I did wander around a little last night and bought some dried pasta and jarred tomato sauce, which I had for dinner last night.  Right now I’m cooking some more pasta with frozen broccoli.  I think I’ll crumble in some goat cheese and sautee a little garlic.  I still have to figure out what’s easy to cook here, and for now, it’s pasta!

When we got back to the office I went to HR to sign my official internship papers, then to IT to get my official ID badge.

Then I gathered my groceries and began to walk home.  It was my first attempt to navigate between work and home.  And while I made it eventually, I wasn’t terribly successful.  The roads are all at crazy angles, very few are through roads.  And most of the roads aren’t labeled!  So I knew generally which way to go, but I got turned, and overshot my turn a lot.  Chris told me that no one, not even locals, knows the road names.  Everyone uses landmarks.  All the taxi drivers know where all the restaurants and hotels are.  There’s a hotel just a few blocks from my apartment, and Maria Elena uses that to both call for taxis, and to ask to be dropped off.

Anyway, I was supposed to take this road until the Grand Hotel, then this road until the Bank, then this road until the church, and I didn’t get it right the first time.  It’s probably a 15-20 minute walk if you know where you’re going.  It took me about 45 minutes of trodding around.  But I made it!  And worst case scenario, I could have hailed a taxi and been dropped off at the hotel.

My feet are tired from all the walking, and I’m still trying to adjust to the time change.  It will probably be another early night for me, and then back to the office (hopefully on a more direct route!) tomorrow.



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First Day (1/2)

I’m sitting in my desk in the UNDP office.  My supervisor had to take off because of a death in the family, so I’m just kind of biding my time.  Blerta, my coworker, is also here.  She is the one who met me at the airport yesterday, and she will take me grocery shopping this afternoon.

My first night was good.  I went to bed around 9pm, and slept soundly until 4am.  During the school year I get up around 5:30 (when the sun comes up) at home, so 4am isn’t too early.  The sun rises way early here: it was getting light by 4:15 or 4:30.  I have a sleeping mask that I’ll probably use so I can sleep in a little later than that.

Time changes are tough.  You feel exhausted the first day, and you want to sleep so badly.  You’re supposed to stay up until bedtime, and then sleep through the night.  But often, no matter how tired you are, you wake up in the middle of the night (like I did).  So I decided to stay in bed at 4.  I drifted back to sleep sometime after 5, I think, and then slept until 7:45.  Today will probably be rough in the afternoon, but I think I’m on a good trajectory to getting accustomed to the time.

I took some pictures of the office that I’ll post later.  So far (at 10;30), it’s a good first day!




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