Usoi Dam and Sarez Lake

We took a road trip today to the Sarez Lake which exists because of the Usoi Dam. 
The dam and the lake are about 90 minutes from Dushanbe and the road starts out harmless and then goes through some serious, we're-not-kidding-around mountains.  Which are only the foothills of the far outreaches of the Pamirs.  I can't wait to get to the Pamirs if the outskirts are already to dramatic and scenic. We did see about five or six Pamir Adventure vehicles - sturdy 4x4s packed up with adventure tourists and the roofs piled high with tents and gear.  One day, I want to be in one of those. The road, I have to add, is very good - almost like a highway but without the dividers because that would only inconvenience the Tajik drivers when they overtake a car overtaking a truck.  You have to be flexible about your lanes here in this country.

After about an hour of driving, we went through a very long tunnel (built by the Chinese, and nicely so) and then a shorter one (ditto but the ventilation didn't work) and then, pow!  There you have the lake and this is a lake that has an almost cartoonish color.  Around you are the mountains, all dry and yellowed after a long hot summer, with red blotches as if someone had dumped a giant can of paint over the landscape, and down there is the lake with this blue that almost hurts your eyes.  It's quite something.  Of course, we were there at noon which is, as we all know, the very best time to take landscape images. Hmpf.

There is a stop area for just this purpose, to stop and gawk and take pictures.  You can buy food and drinks and freshly picked and shelled hazelnuts from little boys running around.

We drove a little bit further but turned around soon - this further trip will require an overnight stay but we are looking forward to that.  We enjoyed the lake views, then we turned off in Norak to see the Usoi dam and drove up along the Vakhsh river.  We stopped at a sluice and gawked some more - the kids loved feeling the water spray and the rocks everywhere and the gorgeous colors of the river.  Really.  The water here is more colorful than water elsewhere.

We skipped the dam because we found out we needed a permit for it, so we're saving this excursion for a later date.

Come and visit us.  There is so much to see!

Hissor

A bit late: a visit to Hissor, a fortress about half an hour east of Dushanbe.  It's a reconstructed 16th century fortress that was built when Tajikistan was part of the Bukharan empire.  There is lots of construction going on and the weather was quite dreadful - Afganets in full swing, it was hazy and we were all a bit off our feet.  One couldn't even see the mountains. 

One day, we will be over this endless intestinal misery and then we'll be more interesting.  I promise.

Becoming a man

Yesterday afternoon, there was suddenly a clamoring in the street - loud trumpets, drums, and some kind of flute. We looked outside and there in our street was a horse carriage with a white horse, beautifully dressed people and masses of kids were thronging about. Suddenly money bills fluttered through the air, kids scrambled to pick them up, and a little boy stepped out of the neighbor's house, all dressed in white and gold with a turban and a scepter.  He climbed into the carriage with his sisters who were all dressed up like little brides.

It was his Khitan, the traditional circumcision of a seven-year-old boy that marks his coming-of-age as a Muslim man. I remember these from Turkey where, incidentally, the boys were the exact same outfits - white, elaborately stitched and decorated, with a turban that is crusted in (fake) diamonds and jewelry, complete with a feather.  Even the scepter is the same.  (I'm sure they call it differently.)

The Khitan is a huge celebration, much more so than a First Communion.  It's a joyous event that is shared with relatives and friends, and the little boys are heaped with presents.  I saw a few days earlier how this boy received one of those electric minicars that you can drive in.  A white Mercedes.  I'm sure it cost a fortune.

The carriage turned, and the neighbor kids followed it for a bit, then a motorcade with finely dressed relatives followed.  He was off to become a man.

Good luck, little guy. 

  A neighbor kid clutching the money she collected.

A neighbor kid clutching the money she collected.

Kids on the Run

I really love the Girls on the Run program and I so wished we had something similar here in Kosovo.  Even a simple running group for kids would be wonderful. -- I know Girls on the Run is more than that but I'm not greedy.  And no, even though they call themselves "Girls on the Run International", they are not, in fact, international.  I asked.  They did say that I could create my own chapter but they want $7,500 as an initial investment.  I can think of a lot of things I could buy for this country for $7,500. 

I really wanted my kids to run, though.

Alan has been having a rough time with his health this year.  First his tonsillectomy, complete with two (minor) bleeding incidents, then the nasty pneumonia. It turned out that for the most part, the hospital didn't have NaCl to give the IV antibiotics with, so they used glucose.  I don't know whether that's standard practice but let me tell you, if you get half a liter of glucose for three weeks straight, it wreaks havoc on your body, and that's not only your weight.  Alan's fitness was non-existent at the end of the treatment.  He'd gained weight, and was exhausted all that time.

We started slowly by taking Alan on walks - the first one tired him so much, I freaked.  It was uncanny to see my boy, who could walk and bike for miles and miles, completely out of breath after an easy walk of one kilometer.  A few minutes on the trampoline left him completely winded with chest pain.  More maternal freakage.  Regular walk with his Dad after dinner every evening started to have a positive effect.  But that got me thinking...

Did you know that regular exercise is good for ADHD kids? It calms them and makes them more focused.  Alan used to get lots of exercise biking but we couldn't bring our bikes and around here it's not really a good place to go biking by yourself.  But would Alan even want to run?  For years, I had been dropping hints about my godchild Allison who's doing the Girls on the Run program.  My boys were never interested.  Their Dad even ran with Allison as her buddy on one of the runs.  No interest from my kids. Clearly, it was not going to happen on its own.

So I decided to bribe them.  I started with my oldest.  I chose a ridiculous bribe, really, and instantly regretted it (an iPod Touch! Eeek!  What was I thinking!??) but Alan showed immediate interest.  He's been wanting one for a long time now.   I suggested using the C25K program (Couch to 5K for those uninitiated) on my iPhone. You start with a 5 minutes warm up, then alternate jogging and walking (60/90sec) for a total of 20 minutes, and another 5 minutes of cool down.  I had no idea whether that was a good idea but you know?  I decided to try.

Alan and I did our first run on Saturday. It was surprisingly good - I didn't think he could do it but he did it just fine.  Then, yesterday, Leah really wanted to join in.  I was dubious - I didn't want to slow down for her, and I really wanted to focus on Alan.  I thought she was too young, too slow, too fragile. Hah. She ran like there was no tomorrow.  No complaints, no slowing down, no nothing.  She slipped once in the horrid mud that covers everything right now, but bounced back up and kept running.  Why was I surprised?  After all, she basically learned to walk on a trampoline and has been jumping for years now.  That girl is pure muscle and strength. Silly mommy.

Alan was pleased to notice that we ran a lot further (well, 500m further) than on Saturday before we turned around at the 15-minute mark.  I confess, I was pleased as well.  Mind you, we're not going fast at all.  Our run speed is about 9km/hr, so that's just a fast walk, really.  The aim is to be able to run for half an hour, though, not to finish a 5K as quickly as possible.  Endurance is the name of the game (also for me!  In particular for me!). Speed we can do later.

After the run yesterday, I finally looked up 5K training for kids (I don't actually count Alan as a kid anymore) and it suggested a 1 minute jog/5 minute walk for kids.  Jacob, who does not like walking or running, and who does not have the body-built of a runner, agreed to try this with his dad.  Right before, he almost opted out (he hates competing with a vengeance - does. not. like. it. at. all.)  That's why I thought it would be good for him to be alone with his Dad but then he complained he would be so lonely without his siblings.  I finally just pushed him out of the door.  Doug was very pleased to report that it was not a problem at all for Jacob and that both of them actually enjoyed this time together.  Jacob even reported it was fun because they "could talk all the time!"  Whatever it takes, my kid.   After they got back, David finally agreed to run as well.  The last pin to fall over, so to say.

So now we're all training for a 5K!  All that's left is to find a run somewhere - best in the US because in Germany, there are very few open races -- mostly, you have to be a member of an athletic club to run in a race.  We actually found a color run (not an original Color Run, though) close to Nashville, TN, when we are in the area in June.  We are waiting another week to see how we're doing, and then we'll sign up for that run.  It's a walk/run 5K for people from 2 to 100, basically, so even if the kids can't entirely run the 5,000 meters, they can certainly finish it and I hope it will be a great experience for them.   I doubt there will be cows, though...

 Look, cows!

Look, cows!

 Run, girl, run!

Run, girl, run!

 Finished!

Finished!

Prizren and Bresovica

     On a whim, we decided to go to Prizren yesterday.  It was a four-day-weekend for all those who only had kids in ILG.  Most of our friends had taken off to go skiing in Bulgaria but 1. We don't ski (can you imagine another sport as prohibitively expensive with four kids?  Scuba diving, maybe), and 2. We only had three days and Alan has still not quite recuperated yet.  So there was no weekend hike and instead of hiking by ourselves, I suggested we'd go to Prizren. 

     Which we did. 

     And it was a good idea. 

     The road to Prizren is one of the easiest trips to make - there is a super-new, wide, almost completely empty motorway that leads from Pristina to the border with Albania which skirts Prizren.  You probably don't know much about the geography of Kosovo, so here's a quick map:

     Kosovo is a small country and it took us about an hour to get there.  Mind you, that includes crossing the entirety of Pristina because we live on the east edge of town.  Once you're on the motorway, you're in Prizren in half an hour. 

     Prizren sits right on the Northern slopes of the Sharr Mountains. As you can see from the map above, Kosovo is basically a plateau surrounded by mountains.  The Sharr mountains to the South divide Kosovo from Macedonia.  Don't mistake those for just some hills - those are some serious mountains.  Up next to Peja (or Pec in Serbian) are the Accursed Mountains and boy, are they ever accursed.  The Kopaonik mountains make it hard to get out in the North.  The eastern edge is described as "hilly" but you know, those are hills on steroids.

    Anyway.  The Sharr mountains are beautiful and very steep.  But first, we went to Prizren.  It's an old, old town with a population of about 180,000 and mostly Albanian after some thorough ethnic cleansing in the war.  It's a sad story, like all war stories.  Look it up on your own risk, if you are interested.

    We parked on the outskirts of the center, having been warned by our guidebook that parking is notoriously difficult in the center - and that is very true.  The roads are narrow and winding and Prizenris, like all Kosovars, are very creative parkers so that there is little room to navigate, let alone find a parking space.  So we have to walk a kilometer to the Old Town but heh.  Apart from kids aghast ("What? We have to walk!!??"), it was fine.

     The city center is old Ottoman and very beautiful.  I saw a lot of things that instantly reminded me of Turkey, like this shoe polisher's box, and the nut and seeds stores everywhere.

IMG_6588.jpg
IMG_6589.jpg

     We just walked around with not much in mind.  We usually take it slow when we are in a town for the first time and we know we will come back.  Just drifting through the narrow roads and the pedestrian area called Shadervan was lovely.  We had a little snack, and looked at the cathedral (not open to the public) and the Sinan Pasha Mosque only steps away, had some lovely coffee and then gave in the the kids' demands to walk up to the Kaljaja, the fortress up on the hill.

     That walk up there is a serious climb.  Alan was completely exhausted afterwards but he did want to go and I think it was good for him.  No chest pain was also good!  Only a week before, a short walk had left him completely winded and with chest pain.  So, that's good.

     The kids basically ran up the hill.  They were so excited about a fortress! that they forgot they hated walking uphill.  Or so we are told every Saturday on our hikes.  Anyway, up the hill we went to the fortress.  There isn't too much left of it, just some walls, and some arches, but it's a very big areal faintly reminiscent of Masada. It surely has the greatest views of Prizren you can wish for!

  From left to right: Church of St. George, Sinan Pasha Mosque, Old Stone Bridge

From left to right: Church of St. George, Sinan Pasha Mosque, Old Stone Bridge

  Way up high

Way up high

  Silliness

Silliness

  Looking out over Prizren

Looking out over Prizren

  Destroyed Serbian houses all along the way...

Destroyed Serbian houses all along the way...

  ... and here

... and here

  Sinan Pasha

Sinan Pasha

  Almost back down - there is a nice art gallery in that house with the many flags. 

Almost back down - there is a nice art gallery in that house with the many flags. 

  Yum!

Yum!

     And then we had ice cream for dessert and started back homewards.  Alan was very tired and we can always come back for more.  It was also a cold, blustery day, despite the many plum blossoms we spotted everywhere. 

     We decided to take the long way home and take the mountain route through Bresovica, a popular Serbian ski resort.  We were a bit surprised to find an intact Serbian village here in those mountains but on second thought, it makes a certain amount of sense.  It's remote and not close to any Albanian villages (think steep mountains, sparse population) and it's also far away from Serbia -- pretty much as far away from Serbia as you can get in Kosovo -- so there is not a danger of being overrun.  So yes, this is a successful re-population effort.  But that makes only one in so very many that have not worked out.  It doesn't matter much too me who was right and who was wrong - ethnic cleansing is always a bad thing, and it invariably robs a country from that vibrant mix of cultures that signifies a healthy society.

     The pass through the mountains was steep and we went above the snow line, deep into winter and heavy fog.  It was a bit touch and go at some spots but then we descended quickly into spring again and were almost home.  I think those mountains must be absolutely spectacular in the spring, so we'll be sure to come back in a month or so. (I was driving, so no pictures of Bresovica and the mountains.  Next time!)

     Kosovo is a very beautiful country.  Come and visit!