Connected: Iowans in Kosovo
Our journey to Kosovo began late Sunday morning. We left Dubuque and drove to Des Moines for our roughly 10-hour flight. I think both Charlie and I were a little nervous about the travel because we were flying on a KC-135. Neither one of us had flown on a military plane, and in doing our research, we learned this ride was going to be cold. People warned us the floor would be freezing while the top of the plane would be warm. Packing plenty of layers was key!
The inside of the plane was pretty bare except for wooden crates in the middle which held everyone’s luggage. Canvas seats lined the sides of the plane. I’ll be honest – those weren’t the most comfortable. However, once the flight got going, everyone was able to spread out and find a comfortable spot – whether that was lying in a sleeping bag on the floor, sitting top of the wooden crates, or laying out on the canvas seats. I was able to get a couple of hours of sleep.
I was happy to land in Kosovo around noon on Monday and soak up the warmth (it was in the 80s!). We weren’t allowed to take pictures or videos on the runway, but I can tell you we immediately noticed the mountains in the distance. Kosovo is like Iowa in some respects, but the mountains certainly make it stand apart!
After a brief meeting, we loaded up on buses to head to the hotel. My first impression as we headed toward the capital city Prishtina was how busy it was. Cars filled the roads and many people were walking on the sidewalks. I also noticed the traffic. There weren’t many stoplights and there were plenty of roundabouts. The roundabouts were two or three lanes wide and it seemed there weren’t any rules. People merged freely and a bit recklessly…but I never saw an accident! I certainly wouldn’t want to drive there, but it seemed the natives had some sort of unspoken rules down. Oh, and they do drive on the right side of the road.
Charlie and I had some time to walk around the city and get b-roll, led by Colonel Michael Wunn. It was around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. and we saw so many school-aged kids (we knew because they were all wearing the same thing...black pants and white shirts) walking around, going into cafes or stopping at sidewalk vendors for snacks. We learned school days are broken into two or three sections, and that we were seeing the afternoon shift getting out. The days are sectioned off like that because the country has so many young people and not enough schools. So, the kids there don’t have as long of a school day as American students.
The country is new and growing, hoping to secure foreign investment. We saw ads for KFC and Burger King, signs that some of that foreign investment is being made. Other than that, we didn’t see many western stores.
The night ended with dinner at the hotel. It gave us a chance to talk with the Iowa National Guard members and try some Albanian food. I especially enjoyed an appetizer called Ajvar. It’s basically a piece of bread with a roasted red pepper sauce on top. That’s something we had at many different restaurants, and I wish I would have brought some back with me! Overall, Monday was a really full day and we were ready to meet the Kosovo Security Force on Tuesday.”