Photo Tour 2: Konvikti VI, Faculty Dorm

Konvikti VI is the faculty dorm on the University of Pristina campus which I call home.

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Feminist Theory, Flexibility, and a Trip to the Mall

January 30, 2012

In preparing for this teaching adventure, I completed all readings and drew up my syllabi before leaving MSU, but today I began preparing class sessions, which begin February 15.

Of course, my syllabi notwithstanding, flexibility will be key.  I won’t know until I meet my students exactly what they need or how far they have progressed as MA students.  The first unit in my 20th-century American lit class will, I hope, allow for such flexibility.

For the first nine weeks, the students will explore a single broad theme, “Marriage, Family, and the American Dream,” a theme that will give continuity to their work and facilitate comparative analysis.  To sharpen that thematic focus, the first week will feature feminist theory applied to Susan Glaspell’s one-act play Trifles, to Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat,” and to Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story “Sexy.”

If it turns out that students already have a good grounding in early feminists and theorists such as Wollstonecraft, Fuller, Woolf, Beauvoir, Ellman, and Showalter, then we can jump right into these three works, which span the century: 1916 for Glaspell, 1926 for Hurston, 1999 for Lahiri.  On the other hand, if the students lack this theoretical background, then I will introduce the feminist critique of the patriarchal order and its oppression and suppression of women, and I will sketch gynocriticism as a framework for evaluating works written by women.

Either way, these works will help experienced readers review feminist theories and reading strategies, or provide more inexperienced students access to female characters who suffer physical and psychic battering or sexual objectification, yet who overcome brutish husbands or hypocritical lovers with their intelligence and strength.

Their triumphs over the patriarchal order also involve breaking laws or ignoring social mores, so we should have some interesting class discussions accounting for our sympathy and admiration for characters that conventional patriarchs might label as criminals or sluts.  To help students to discover the ambiguity surrounding each woman’s situation and their own ambivalence in responding to the women’s actions, I will rely on journaling prompts as homework and on small group work so that students may arrive inductively at their feminist insights.

After spending the morning planning approaches to this great stuff, I set out with Dave McTier to enjoy the sun and to visit Albi Mall (see gallery below).  I enjoyed the sun but much prefer the old markets all over town to the glitz of the mall.

**Click on the first picture to scroll through the gallery in a larger format.

Photo Tour 1: Campus & City

On the way to shopping today, Dave and I cut across campus. Here are shots from campus and beyond.

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Contentment…and Gaps

January 29, 2012

I can’t recall the last time I felt so content, the product of a good sleep, a satisfying meal, and a sense of mission.

My severe-looking bed turns out to be quite comfortable, and with two wool blankets I stayed plenty warm.

Look, Ma--I made my bed!

Look, Ma--I made my bed!

After rising at 5:00, I fired up the hot-water pot, drank coffee, and read from Bron Taylor’s Dark Green Religion: Nature, Spirituality, and the Planetary Future, a book that celebrates Thoreau but actually relates in powerful ways to much of the 20th-century American literature I will read with my students. Think of Willy Loman longing for a garden to plant, or Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim finding some peace in a world of fire-bombings in his Buddha-like discovery of the simultaneity of every moment. More on this later.

Then breakfast: cranberry juice and yogurt (both chilled on my balcony) as well as a tomato, a banana, a chunk of cheese, and an even chunkier slice of bread. Such basic food satisfies deeply, and I’m certain that the pleasure comes as much from touch as from taste and smell.

My ‘mission’? To teach my Kosovaran students American literature by helping them to grow as writers and researchers, yes, but—even more fundamentally—to teach myself to listen and to lose myself in others’ stories.

But my rich experiences here come at a heavy price: my separation from Judy and from all the people and critters I love. Skyping helps, but I know that days will come when the mission fails and even electronics can’t bridge the gap between here and home.

“Living Deep” & Ready for Thoreau

January 28, 2012

Shume ftohte! Very cold—25 F last night! With only a space heater warming the dining room in the Grand Hotel coffee shop early this mengjez (morning), my hand shook as I journaled.

Grand Hotel, Pristina

Grand Hotel Pristina

Loud music from some hotel party kept me tossing till 3:00 AM; still, I’m pumped and ready for moving day! I have found a room in the faculty branch of a university konviktit (dorm), a Spartan but comfortable space where I will live until the end of June. I’m fixin (Southern Albanian for ‘getting ready’) to check out of the Grand, load my stuff in a cab, and head for campus just two miles away.

Suitcases, books, and favorite brick collection ;)

Suitcases, books, and favorite brick collection ;)

Five hours later: Dave McTier continues to be a blessing to me. After helping me haul my suitcases—full of my books and my favorite brick collection—up the slushy slopes and stairs of our dorm, he secured an internet connection for me. I hate admitting such dependence on electronics, but in this situation I feel close to desperate if I can’t connect to my family, friends, and colleagues in Mississippi, Texas, California, Illinois, Georgia, New Mexico, Arkansas, Wyoming—in short, the USA. Showing my appreciation to Dave, I promptly skyped Judy!

Ready to skype--thanks, Dave!

Ready to Skype--thanks, Dave!

After unpacking my gear, we headed to “Ben-Af” for lunch, which consisted of baseball-sized meatballs, buke (bread), and salad for about $3. Below the cafeteria, Ben-Af has a market, where I bought breakfast goodies: yogurt, bananas, djathe (cheese), lenge pemesh (fruit juice), and of course more buke.

All settled in

All settled in

Now back at the dorm, I’m fixin (again) to read some Thoreau, smugly satisfied that I know a bit more now about what he called ‘living deep and sucking out the marrow of life.’

Ready for Thoreau

Ready for Thoreau

View from my dorm balcony

View from my dorm balcony

Introductions

The following pictures show my new “digs” (I’ll move in tomorrow) and my new friend and fellow Fulbright colleague, Dr. David McTier*, associate professor of drama from Sam Houston State University.
*Click here to check out Dave’s Kosovo blog.

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Photo 1: Yours truly in coffee shop | Photo 2: Dr. Dave McTier at the coffee shop
Photo 3: Corner of dorm room | Photo 4: The lovely loo; it’s twice the size you can see here and has a nice shower

“Sa Kushton”

January 27, 2012

OK, it’s 5:00 Friday morning, January 27, and I feel much better, even though I can’t brew any coffee in my room.  No water pressure, a daily Balkans phenomenon owing to complicated power-grid issues (even the basics root in politics here).  But let me interrupt my spoiled American whining long enough to say how happy I am to be here.  Why?  For starters, mountains.   Flying south of Munich (southern Germany) yesterday, I experienced again the ecstasy of flying over the Italian/Austrian Alps.   Forget snow caps.  These truly awesome peaks wore snowy cloaks that reached to the ground.  Then as the bus drive through Macedonia and into Kosova (as the Albanians spell it), the land featured lesser but still steep slopes that rose right from the edge of the road, transforming the highway into a Byronesque pass.

And the people.  I love them.  Perhaps because they endure every day the annoyances and deprivations that wring whining so readily from spoiled Americans, these Albanians in Kosova—just like the Albanians I met in Albania in 2003—invariably display patience, good humor, and self-sacrificial kindness.  For instance, as I fumed in indignation when asked, again, to produce my passport, the Kosovarans on the bus joked about the snow and the self-important posturing of the border guards.  And as I mumbled “what next” beneath my breath when the fender-bender brought us to another halt, the young men on my bus hopped off to help separate the tangled bumpers and to push vehicles out of knee-deep drifts on the road’s shoulder.

When the bus finally made it to Pristina, an eager young cabbie grabbed my 50-pound suitcase (lots of books) and my 45-pounder (more books), and then wove skillfully through the streets cluttered with people and slush.  As we reached my hotel, I asked “sa kushton”; he responded in English far better than my Albanian “five Euros, but for you good American, nothing.”  I gave him 10.

Snow, Collisions, and Border Patrol: Lo and Behold, I Made It!

January 26, 2012

I pulled into to Pristina at 3:30 pm today, not in a plane but in a bus.  My flight should have landed in Pristina at 10:30 am, but heavy snow and near-zero visibility forced the pilot to head south for Skopje, Macedonia, where landing seemed less dangerous.  Maybe.  But after skidding on the runway, we deplaned, cleared customs, and boarded a bus for the two-hour drive back to Pristina.

That two-hour drive took well over three hours, the result of heavy snow, which began just after we landed.  We also encountered officious guards at the Kosova border, who felt compelled to check all bus passengers’ passports—three times—even though the airport customs people had just cleared us; a traffic-jamming collision between two trucks and two cars also slowed us.  I imagined the headlines in the Starkville Daily News: “MSU English professor dies in Kosovaran snow drift.”

I have much more to report, but it will have to wait.  I haven’t really slept since January 24.

“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” Revisited

January 26, 2012
From Judy Raymond

Rich left Houston early, only to sit on the tarmac for two hours because of the weather.  He had no problem in Newark and got over the Atlantic as expected. He even made the short connection to Adria Air in Munich.  There is too much snow in Pristina, however, so his plane landed in Skopje, Macedonia, and then he had a long bus ride to Pristina.  Unfortunately, he lost his US driver’s license at border customs.

Now for the good news:  he has all 150 lbs of luggage to haul in the snow, and so far he has been able to send those expensive international text messages to me.  However, his phone has lost its charge, so we won’t know if it works in Pristina until he can recharge it. He was still en route as of 6:14 am CST this morning.

He is certainly going to need a little nap once he makes it to the hotel today!