Thursday, February 19, 2009

Portrait #72: Socks

Yesterday I was taken out on a field trip to visit youth clubs. These clubs teach skills for peace and reconciliation and good citizenship to adolescents, and are based in schools in various villages in the country.

I was picked up at the office in downtown Prishtina, were there was a thin layer of snow coating the earth from the night before. But as we drove out of the city, the world became more and more white. By the time we got to the villages, I was surrounded by snowy hillsides, trees frosted with fluffy white bundles, houses that were entirely white except for the smoky spot around the chimney. The snow was still coming down lightly, and it was breathtakingly lovely.

The first school we visited had a very long driveway, up a hill off the main road. My host asked me if I minded walking up the hill. I replied that normally I wouldn't, but I didn't actually have winter shoes, so if the vehicle could make it up, that'd be great. We were in a big Toyota 4x4, so I felt our odds were good. Unfortunately, though, the tires of the 4x4 SUV hadn't been replaced for years, so he attempted the hill but didn't make it more than half a dozen metres before we first stopped, then started sliding backwards.

He apologetically went ahead and parked at the bottom of the hill. I said not to worry, and followed him up the hill, walking carefully to avoid tufts of snow pouring into my summer shoes (which, fortunately, are waterproof). We got to the school and visited with some students and the director, then headed back down. As is often the case, the trek down was harder than up. My host slipped once. I was walking too carefully to slip, but my feet were pretty much soaking wet and frightfully cold by the time we got to the bottom of the hill.

Then we drove to the next school, a journey which also entailed a slightly treacherous descent down an icy dirt road. We made it just fine, though, and were welcomed warmly in the school foyer. The heating was barely on in the building, though, giving me great compassion for the students who study all day wearing their coats!

But the school director met us at the door and ushered us up to his office, where coffee was promptly prepared. Then my host exchanged a flurry of Albanian with the director and the teacher who made our coffee. Money was exchanged, and I couldn't help but hope that they were going to bring us lunch.

But it wasn't lunch. First, a space heater was produced and set up against a wall. A chair was placed in front of the space heater, and I was instructed to sit facing the wall and the heater. For the next half hour, I had to turn around to see my host, and turn to the side to see the director chatting on MSN. But I was warm. My trouser legs defrosted. At their encouragement, I removed my shoes and set them by the heater to dry. I tried to get the socks to dry, but that was slow going.

Then after another fifteen minutes, the teacher popped his head into the office and extended his hand. There was a pair of black socks, still in the packaging, in his hand, along with some change that he gave to my host. He'd sent a kid out to buy me a pair of brand new, clean, dry socks! At that moment, I was so touched and so grateful - and I vowed to myself never to even hint of complaining about wet feet in the snow again for as long as I'm in Kosovo!

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