Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy first birthday!

Tomorrow, the 17th of February 2009, marks Kosovo's first birthday - it's their first-ever Independence Day celebration.

Walking around the streets of Prishtina today felt like Damascus on the last day of Ramadan, or any given American mall on Christmas Eve. People scurrying around, getting last bits of shopping in... cars madly racing somewhere... families and friends huddling together in the cold... some stores and restaurants bustling while other stores and restaurants closed early.

And on every street corner, there were vendors out selling flags. The three flags on offer were: the new Kosovo flag, the Albanian flag, and the American flag. Yup, the stars and strips of the U.S.A. There were flags that had all three on one piece of fabric, box sets with the Kosovo and Albanian flags on little poles, and my favourite: the Kosovo flag somehow drawn into a section of the American flag.

It's been fun getting to know people who are about to celebrate their first Independence Day but aren't sure what that will look like. Here have been some of the plans they've shared with me:

- "Well, last year, when they declared independence, there were live bands playing all day in the city centre, and they had huge stalls out where they were serving people food, Kosovo national dishes, for free. I don't think they'll do that again tomorrow, but they might. I think I'll wander over there and check it out."

- "We have a day off! I'm going to rest at home. What else would I do?"

- "Do we have only Tuesday off, or is Monday also a national holiday? No one has been able to tell me so far. So I guess I'll go to work on Monday." (In the end, at least in our office, they decided this morning to make Monday a half-day. People seemed happy, but it occurred to me that it was a bit of a pity that people came back to the city after weekends in their villages for only a half-day of work.)

- "They've been announcing a schedule of events on TV but I haven't paid attention. At some time tomorrow I'll take my little daughter to the city centre and we'll see what's happening. I think there will be live music."

- "I never go out, but this is our independence day. We should do something. Do you want to go bowling with us?"

- "I have a friend whose cousin is DJing a party. I guess I should go to that. I think there will be lots going on, but I couldn't really tell you what."

- "I'm picking out an outfit in the colours of our new flag - not the old one. So that's blue, yellow and white. I couldn't remember what the colours were, though. I knew there was blue and yellow, but it was my niece who told me there's also white in the flag. At least I'll have blue and yellow, and maybe I'll find something white to wear also."

People here are quite excited and feeling very patriotic, but my general impression is that they don't know how to be patriotic. Except for buying flags. Lots and lots of flags. They're hanging from balconies, waving off of car antennas, draped on people's backs.

After work today, I told people, "Happy Independence Day!" They smiled, and I wondered if it was the first time anyone had ever said that to them.

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