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Opinion | Taking a look at the hidden beauty and imperfections of Kosovo through running

Nicole's Two Cents

By Nicole Theodore
On February 10, 2014

I remember my shoes hitting the morning pavement with caution as I ran out the tension, the four weeks of contained energy and the anxiety that had built up within my body from the absence of this weekly ritual.

Street police operated in silence - not a soul wandered the crosswalks or the usual smoke-filled cafes. There were no car horns, no conversations, no noticeable smells-- just the smell of summer in Kosovo.

My heavy breathing, and the occasional wandering sparrow were all that existed at 5 a.m. I guess you could call this being "alone," but I think of it as a type of therapy. These exact moments last summer are why I am a runner.

I saw the capital city of Pristina in a completely new way in the silence. The layers of the city began to peel off for me and this new layer was astounding. Kosovo's beauty emerged with each step I took. I saw the wounds and the neglect molding with transformation and the hidden reform that was taking place.

I think back to how my tired legs carried me to the lifeless soccer stadium, usually full of dedicated and die-hard fans, even though Kosovo hasn't been recognized as a country by FIFA, so they can't participate in the World cup.

I jogged past Ninety-One, an English pub where I occasionally got drinks, and up to the epicenter of Pristina life: Mother Teresa Boulevard. Forgotten popcorn and candy stands stood unlit, all the venders still at home, asleep.

I continued past another bar where I celebrated American Independence Day earlier in the summer, laughing full-heartedly, drunk off motivation and pride. "Go USA!" the bartenders had said to my American group and we yelled it right back.

I could feel a caged energy still present within me. The restlessness led me past the quiet Mosques I would often hear playing the ominous call to prayer at four in the morning. Every morning I would lay awake listening to it from my bed and it would soon lull me back to sleep.

I ended up at the Old Market, usually bustling with wives and mothers buying fresh vegetables and spices, or young Kosovar's looking to score electronics or soccer balls with their favorite team's logo on it. The market was a mosaic of old and new rituals meshing comfortably with fresh smells of food, intense haggling and curious looks. I was addicted to it.

I remember thinking back to the girl I was four weeks earlier at the same market, trying to figure out how to buy spices, only having two or three words of Albanian in my vocabulary.

Some stray dogs had been eating what was left of someone's supper from the previous night, one had started to even chase me as I ran by. His frightened, wild eyes did not surprise me.

Even the local canines were not used to some blonde running around their streets at 5:30 in the morning.

I passed a row of tents as I ran back to the main road of Mother Teresa. There slept Kosovars on a hunger strike. They too wore a puzzled look on their faces by my activity as some of them exited their tents. It isn't common to see people running outside in Kosovo, much less a woman in shorts.

I still waved at them. "Miremengjes," I mustered between short breaths, cold sweat dripping down the back of my neck. They nodded silently, still watching me as I ran past them.

State workers were washing the streets and sidewalks with never-ending hoses in large trucks, an everyday ritual here. The water splashed up onto my calves and the silence slowly began to dissipate.

Pristina was waking up.

Another day of passing bills, NGO's working endlessly to get Kosovo standing on its own two feet after a crushing ethnic war and thousands of Kosovar on their way to work, or trying to find work. Unemployment still stands at a devastating 35 percent for the country.

And then there was me, an average American woman searching for the next story hidden within the overcrowded foreign streets.

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