The hospitals in Kosovo are very different, like nothing you would ever experience in the US. Throughout our stay, and through some children’s groups we held with kids from neighboring villages, we made friends with Doctor S. Although he was more of an administrator, rather than actually someone who treated patients, he gave us an incredible amount of attention and invited us to visit the hospital in Pristina.
Walking up to the hospital, I eyed a man with a fruit standing selling delicious looking bananas. I then noticed that the pavement was lined with vendors on both sides of the street. Lynn and our translator Luta, explained that if you were to go into the hospital you must bring everything with you. This included hospital gowns, house shoes, food, water, toilet paper, bed sheets—anything you needed must be either bought or brought from home.
I was also a little bit disturbed as we approached the hospital entrance. Pink wastebaskets lined the walkway. They weren’t filled with just random trash, but with hazardous materials like gloves and used needles. It was very strange.
We met Doctor S. on the first floor of the Gynecology Clinic. He wanted to show us the pediatric wing and the newborn babies. We were of course allowed in, past security, because we were American.
The hospital was plainly colored, mostly from the brown and cream family. Black and cream tiles lay uniformly in patterns on the floor, wall to wall, and nurses were scattered about here and there, dressed in their conservative white uniforms. They had a sort of quiet presence. Red and white signs hung from the ceiling with arrows pointing you in the right direction. The elevators, however, were a bit scary. Giant doors guarded the outside of them, but they weren’t like regular elevator doors. They were heavy wooden doors that you might find walking into an old public library or school building. The inside of the elevators weren’t very big and I wondered if a patient’s hospital bed could fit inside.
We were taken to the baby ward, and allowed in to see newborn infants. I had never, in person seen anything like this. There, in the ward, was a mother who had just given birth to her new baby girl. She looked very tired, but was up taking care of her, feeding her and wrapping her blanket tight. No fancy machinery, just a few beds and a crib. She smiled weakly as we dumbly stared, wide-eyed at the scene. She was so proud of her daughter. She was so beautiful.
A nurse who wore a green uniform now accompanied us, in addition to Doctor S. She worked with the babies, full time. They led us into one of the Nurse’s Station and made room for us to sit, offering us coke and chocolate.
They knew we were coming to visit and had made a special trip to the store for our snacks. This is the Albanian way. Anytime you are invited somewhere, hospitality is extended to the nines. They truly wanted us to enjoy our visit and this was their way of showing love.
Graciously accepting the chocolate, we each took a piece. This is customary. We had learned that you must always try even if you do not want, so you won’t offend anyone. That day, in the Prishtina Hospital, we learned another very important lesson about the culture. If you say you like something, you will receive an excess of it.
The chocolate was, in essence, weird. It looked beautiful in shiny gold wrappers, but I’m not quite sure if it was just old or bad. In an effort of politeness, Michael thanked Doctor S. and told him that he liked the chocolate. The Nurse promptly handed the box to Michael again insisting that he take more. About four of five pieces of chocolate were shoved into his hands and he looked to me in desperation as to what to do with this disgusting treat.
Like a good sport, he ate the rest of the chocolate. Better him than me, I thought. Right?
As it turned out, one of our friends from the University, who had been attending our classes, had a sister who worked in the Eye Clinic. We decided to return later that night to visit Aferdita.
Now this is what I love most about Kosovo. You just never know what you are going to end up doing. Before we left the states, we learned that the Kosovar way was very different. Unlike America, it was is no way fast paced and often people ran late to appointments because they were spending time with someone previously. They are a very relational people by nature, which is a quality in life I didn’t know I had been missing out on.
Go with the flow for a moment.
We were going to visit Aferdita, and who knew this would be one of my most favorite nights in Kosovo. And it was spent at the eye clinic. At 10 o’clock at night.
Of course we were allowed in past Security. They were excited we were visiting again, and showed us up to the eye clinic floor. There, we meet our friend from class, Kimete, her brother Shukri, and their younger sister Bahti. Together we found Aferdita in the Nurse’s Lounge. We stood around for awhile making small talk. I was interested in meeting Aferdita because my own father was an eye doctor and through a translator we bonded over eye charts.
She showed me around the work up rooms, and we turned on different lights to read different charts. We had our picture taken with the machines the doctors used and the late-night silliness began to set it. Michael and Shukri disappeared for a while while we continued our tour of patient rooms and hospital desks, having fun and laughing together like we’d known each other for ages.
We returned to the Nurse’s Lounge to find that Michael and Shukri had returned with gifts of Coke, Fanta and sunflower seeds. Then and there we decided to throw a party. Laughing, eating and picture taking, we danced through the night until the wee hours of the morning, making up songs and playing with the plastic flowers that posed as the centerpiece of the coffee table.
And there we were. At the eye clinic. Having the time of our lives with people who didn’t speak the same language. Could it be that there are some things universally understood? Can true friendship and love exist with no bounds or barriers?
About 2am we decided to head back to the flat, tiptoeing through the halls of the Hospital, as not to disturb the patients and other staff who were sleeping. When we got to the elevator door, Aferdita hugged me and whispered into my ear in very broken English, “I am glad you came. It is good you are here.”
There were so many more words that weren’t audibly spoken in the hug she gave me. I smiled back and blinked back a tear that came from her touching words. I had just made a new, Albanian friend.
When I got up to my room that night and emptied my bag, I found five unwrapped gold chocolates that Michael had snuck into my bag earlier that day when we were visiting the Hospital.