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Lead, Kosovo & Beyond


Greetings from Zurich,

Third time in Europe and I can vaguely remember my first flight on Turkish Airlines to Kosovo. It seems like a life time ago that I studied abroad at the American University in Kosovo and conducted research under the Center of Energy and Natural Resources. Since then I have been to Kosovo two more times and I am sad to say that this seems like my last trip to south eastern Europe for some time. I still laugh when people ask me what I studied because it can’t be explained in four words or less. I just recently graduated with a double major in International Studies and Multidisciplinary Studies with a minor in Sociology. I also conducted research three times; twice in usage of natural resources and once on lead contamination. It feels great when I can actually speak about my college career and feel very accomplished. After last summer I thought it would be my last summer conducting research but I was wrong. Luckily for myself I was able to conduct research one last time with my mentor Dr. James Myers and my friend Maxwell Scott with the help of a CSTEP research stipend.

Read the past blogs to find out a little more about myself if you would like. Back to the point regarding my last research trip under RIT. My first two research experiences were more focused on household energy usage in Kosovo. Surveys were implemented in 7 major cities in Kosovo including the capital, Prishtina. These surveys included questions regarding what type of energy was used to heat a home or how much of a family’s income went into energy usage within a home. Max and I also created databases using SPSS so storage of the data would be more efficient. This past year both the US and Kosovo teams were inputing data all year long. This summer I traveled to Kosovo to help my friend Max with some data collection for his Environmental Science Master Thesis. His Master Thesis focuses on lead contamination in Mitrovica, which is in northern Kosovo. A survey was implemented in about 55 homes, which contained questions regarding knowledge of lead and the harmful effects of it. Lead samples were also taken from two places within the homes using wipes that have been sent to be analyzed. Hopefully this project will become a bigger project under the direction of Dr. James Myers (Associate Provost of RIT). The experience was great because these findings could tremendously help the community we were working in. Overall it was an amazing time but it was also intense because of the time frame. I will be writing another blog, which focuses more on the research once I get back to the US.

Our journey did not end there and we actually ended up traveling through Europe. I don’t know who brought it up or when we decided to travel but I do know we both wanted to do it. The backpacking trip was somewhat planned but not too structured. Max and I traveled to Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia and Switzerland. We also traveled through Bosnia and Slovenia. I have to admit that I have seen beautiful scenic views but Croatia probably took the prize this time around. It wasn’t your typical choice of Dubrovnik or Split, but Zadar that was my favorite destination. Maybe it was because we spent our time with an old friend Fran and his family, or maybe it was the beautiful coast of Vrsi, but whatever it was Zadar was amazing. The Old Towns in all these cities were without a doubt priceless. Budva, Dubrovnik and Zadar each had an Old Town and it seemed like you were traveling through time within those walls. Every destination has it’s own story and it wouldn’t be right to rush through them all. I will be writing at least 2 more blog entries so I can go into detail about each location we visited. I have to admit that I have always wanted to travel through Europe and I got to do exactly that with a friend by my side. Stay tuned…

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New Kosovo Research 2012- Part 1

Miguel and I were back in Kosovo for the second consecutive summer, Miguel’s third, and it was just as we left it: developing, youthful, energetic, and exciting. Kosovo is an an independent sovereign that has been recognized by a little more than half of the world’s nations as being independent from Serbia. The feeling of being back was very familiar and was sort of an uncertain excitement, because you never know for sure what your going to get from Kosovo. That was the approach I would be taking as we prepared for the implementation of research for a thesis project I am doing for my Environmental Science Masters degree. You have to be able to adapt to the strange situations that might occur when working in Kosovo. We would be conducting household interviews and taking lead dust samples in a neighborhood called 2-Koriku in the city of Mitrovica that is considered at high risk of dangerous lead exposure. Dangerous levels of lead in blood, now considered to be at 10 micrograms per deciliter, can have a wide range of significant impacts, especially in children, most commonly affecting neurological development. The aim of the project is to assess the community’s knowledge of the risk and what they are doing to minimize the risk within their households, and to identify the most significant pathways for exposure. Ultimately, this will be much more then a thesis project, but a starting point for a much larger project that will include a larger portion of the city and will be undertaken by future AUK and RIT students.

The project is headed by Dr. James Myers, the newly appointed Associate Provost for International Education at RIT. He joined Miguel and me the morning after we landed in Pristina and we had breakfast and explained the project to the three lovely members of AUK that would be helping us, Renea, Fiona, and Albina; two students and a staff member. They would be the ones conducting the interviews in Albanian to the heads of the household. Each one of them would go with Miguel, Jim, and I and while they were conducting interviews we would take the dust samples on the floor and window sill closest to the kitchen. The results from these samples will tell us more about the effectiveness of their cleaning methods. Tentatively, we would get to a minimum of 50 households in about three to four days, but as I said before you must be ready to adapt in Kosovo.

Our first day in Mitrovica, we were to meet with Lee Norrgard, the county director for Mercy Corps, the 2-Korriku community leader, Bashkim, and a Deputy Mayor of Mitrovica. On our way in we stopped at the closed Industrial Park, a highly lead contaminated area that was once employer of many residents of Mitrovica. The river surrounding the Industrial park was extremely murky and had an ominous feel to it. A young boy claiming to be the owner of the Industrial Park asked us our business there and we told him. He responded telling us he would like to open a car wash. After a few more minutes admiring the great abandoned area that is one of the main potential pathways for lead exposure to 2-Korriku, we moved on to the center of the city and had some coffee. We then met with Lee, Bashkim, and the deputy mayor and discussed our plans and collaborative goals.The deputy mayor described what he knew about the issue, what they had done to solve it, and what there is still left to do, along with an explanation of financial limitations. Dr. Myers described where we wanted to samples and what our goals for this phase of the project were, and talked about what he would like to see happening in the future in regards to expanding the project. Overall, both sides were very helpful and happy to be working with each other, and the short-term plan of the 50 household sampling was set in place.
This blog is getting a bit long so I’ll cut it off here but Part 2 will be soon to come!

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SPSS, SPSS, SPSS and Pllajnik

Lately life has been moving rather quickly and I hate that it’s going at such a fast pace. We finally were able to speak to Dr. Myers and Lyndsey about our work so far and they were pleased with what we have done during our time here. We have been working really hard but I wish we had more time to travel. Last week Max and I created the variables needed to input the data from the first phase surveys into SPSS. This week we have been inputting the data from the surveys into SPSS, so we have usable data to present at the symposium on August 12th at RIT. I think the most interesting part of all the research is the on field work and actually seeing the surveys in action. We are able to see how people react to the questions and how friendly people are around the country of Kosovo. The data is interesting to see because one is able to compare the lifestyle of one person to another person who live in completely different areas of Prishtina. I just want to mention how glad I am for the opportunity to work on research under the CENR once again. Overall, it is great to see how much progress the CENR energy efficiency research has made since the last time I was in Kosovo.

Luckily, we had the opportunity to travel to the Dragash municipality yesterday and it was one of the best trips I have ever had in my life. Max, Nart, Blerina, Enis (AUK Security Guard) and I all traveled to the most southern region of Kosovo to a small village. Along the way we even stopped at this stream with mini waterfalls along the way and it was a nice scenic view. The village was called Pllajnik and it was somewhat difficult reach but was well worth it. The people were friendly, made us feel at home and helped us out. While there, the NINA surveys were being implemented and overall the village didn’t have a problem answering the questions of the survey. We spent a few hours in the village gathering data but we also were able to speak about politics and the current situation in Kosovo with Nart.

We spoke about Kosovo and what exactly is needed for it to make progress as a country. I met Nart last year when I was in Kosovo because we had class together so it was good to catch up. So during our small breaks we had in the village Max, Nart and I mostly spoke about Kosovo and the current situations within it. While visiting our last home of the day the family decided to cook us a meal even though we tried to say no, thank you. The meal they cooked was amazing and included all sorts of stuff from homemade bread and homemade yogurt to homemade cheese and salami. The meal hit the spot especially cause none of us had eaten all day. The atmosphere was also great because the whole family was at home and it sort of reminded me of my home. The trip was great and I was glad we actually had the chance to visit the Sharr mountains that I read so much about. Overall, we have been working hard but we also have been learning a great amount about different regions in Kosovo. I will be posting a video about what we saw along the way down to Pllajnik and what we experienced while in the Sharr mountains soon.

Thanks for reading,


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Sharr Mountain Trip

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3rd Weekend + The Sharr Mountains

Less than a week left in Kosovo, can’t believe it’s already coming to an end. After the first week it had felt like we had been here for a month and now it feels like we’ve only been here a week. It’s really strange but that’s honestly how it feels. Time is relative I suppose…

The weekend did not really go as we planned. We didn’t go to Mitrovica or Macedonia, but had a relaxing, work-free couple of days in Prishtina. We spent some quality time with people that we have really grown to care about here, and sometimes that’s much more important than exploring new lands. We found a Chinese food restaurant, which actually had real good food, and did some planning on how we would most efficiently utilize our last week in Kosovo. After having a conference call with Professor Myers, we were able to clarify some objectives for our remaining time here. One was to sit in on NINA interviews in villages in the Sharr Mountains for a day, another was to help the students here with making the two skeletons for the other surveys, and lastly to enter as many household surveys into SPSS as we could in our free time. We need to enter enough surveys to be able to have some usable data to present during our research symposium at RIT on August 12th. Overall, we have a lot to do in little time.

Monday, we entered about a quarter of the surveys we need to reach our goal, which we were pretty happy about. Yesterday, we were able to make it down to Dragash, a region in the Sharr Mountains. The region was very beautiful and again, was much different than the rest of the country. There was a whole lot more vegetation than anywhere in the country, great flowing streams, and big green rolling mountains as far as the eye could see. Small villages were perched among the mountains, isolated from each other and the modern life of Kosovo, almost as if they were within a completely different country.

Miguel and I were accompanied by Blerina, another student named Nart, and the driver, Enis, who also works as a mechanic, security guard, and steel cutter (very cool guy). Eventually, the wide, paved road that we were traveling on turned into a narrow, dirt road, and things got a bit more exciting. Apparently, no one really knew exactly where we were going so we’d stop at each village, most Albanian but some Serbian, along the road and ask where Pllajnik, our destination village, was. It was pretty obvious that our group surprised and intrigued the inhabitants in each village. We were composed of a middle-aged man in a suit, a good-looking young local woman, a local, but cultured young man, a tan skinned Dominican, and an Irish looking American. I found the situation more humorous than uncomfortable as I’ve been to a few other countries that I’ve been stared  at shamelessly (ie. Bhutan, Thailand, Laos).

Once we got to the target village we walked around searching for people, which at first was a difficult task. People were going about their daily life, doing work that needed to be done, and not many people were enthused about stopping to partake in a twenty minute survey. After a while we were led into a small coffee shop, where a few very friendly men came and completed the survey. One man had 18 family members in his household, which was surprising and at the same time expected for where we were. We had macchiatos and some of the best juice I have ever tasted, freshly made from hand-picked blueberries right outside the village. We noticed in this village that if there was only women home, they would either be not willing to partake in the survey, or else they would only allow Blerina to question them. So Miguel and I spent a lot of time talking to Nart about how it was being a college student in Kosovo, how he felt about the progress of the country (or lack there of), and his future aspirations. All topics very different from the life of an American college student. It truly is amazing how adaptable the spirit of young adults can be. Many of us in America have become so used to the easy lifestyle that we complicate very unimportant issues and take basic needs such as education, human rights, or even a daily food source for granted. Talking to Nart, who grew up in this war-torn country, just made me appreciate how good we have it in America, that’s all.

Still, even though most of these families barely live off what they make, they are generous enough to offer us food and drink when we are the ones taking up their time. One household would not take no for an answer and made a full, homemade, traditional meal for all four of us. Chile and cheese, sausage, eggs, yogurt, peppers, bread, and some other strong cheese were my American interpretations of what I was eating. Hands down the best food I have had here in Kosovo so far. We all had to force as much food as we could into our stomachs since they gave us so much and we did not want to waste anything. We stayed with this family for a while talking and then made our way back to the car, tired and full.

Today we are helping Blerina create the skeleton for the NINA survey, which has more about three times as many variables as the household survey. This will take a while… Other than this, we have to help create the other household survey skeleton, input hundreds of the first type of surveys into SPSS, maybe visit Mitrovica one more time, and celebrate Miguel’s birthday this weekend! Sleep is for the weak…

Hopefully I’ll have time for another blog or two during the next week.

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Our Trip To Mitrovica

This is a small video I put together of clips from our trip to Mitrovica.

Take a look:


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