After a morning of paperwork, I ventured out into an overcast and damp-cold afternoon to explore unchartered parts of the city. Just a few blocks east of my apartment stands the Dodona Theatre, originally a puppet and children’s theatre that became the champion of unrestricted Albanian-language expression; it remains the city’s primary “independent” theatre and is home to a variety of media projects, performance, and festivals.
Just blocks from the theatre but almost a mile north of the rest of the University of Prishtina stands the new Faculty (College) of Islamic Studies. Over 90% of Kosovars identify as Muslim or Muslim-heritage. The Dodona district (my neighborhood) has several mosques and many women here wear the hijab (headscarf). The adhan (call to prayer) is broadcast from loudspeakers atop minarets five times each day. The faithful ritually wash themselves at fountains outside the mosque, remove their shoes, and then move into the mosque proper for prayer.
Almost as far away but south of campus (the Ulpiana district) is Prishtina’s one Roman Catholic parish church. (Estimates of the Catholic population here range from 1-5% with Protestants at less than 1%. The few remaining Serbian Kosovars here are Orthodox and have one small church–St. Nicholas–northeast of downtown). A nun allowed me to enter the building while she was cleaning; the interior was clean and cold, so I didn’t stay long. There seems to be considerable toleration, perhaps even welcome, for the Catholics here. Why? Mother Theresa was Albanian; there’s a statue of her downtown as well as a new cathedral being built in her honor. And…Catholic Christians are differentiated from the Orthodox (Serb) Christians.
Near the Catholic church is the Blue Market, which adjoins (or perhaps is) a meandering maze of an indoor flea market. I have been told that the produce here often is fresher and cheaper than in the hypermarkets. There were few customers, and most of the vendors smiled and said hello. After confirming that I was American, one grandfatherly clothes vendor struck up a conversation with me. He explained how important it is that all Kosovars learn English and how thankful he was for U.S. intervention during the war and the “freedom” that resulted. He then read along with an English-instruction video, asking me about his “accent.” He noted how critical America’s power is for smaller countries–including Syria–to protect them…particularly from Russia and China. While many of his comments reflected a Hollywood notion of the U.S. (so typical here), he spoke so thoughtfully and gratefully that I regretted having to decline his invitation to tea. (Alas, I had to pick up my photocopied scripts before the 3:00 closing.)