For those of you who have been following this blog an apology is owed. There has obviously been quite a break in posts, particularly in the closing months of my Fellowship. We are all back in the US, are in the process of moving into a new home and starting school. There have been quite a few closing thoughts that I have wanted to get ‘onto paper’ so to speak about our experiences, Montenegro, and coming back. Over the next few weeks I will get these out and provide some proper closure to this blog. To the Fulbrighters who are making their way to Montenegro now, good luck! I have been in contact with some of you, and if others find this website and would like to get in touch please feel free to reach out to me. Similarly, in the Fulbright program’s spirit, if you are reading this blog and would like more details about Montenegro, the region, or the Fulbright Program (all seen through the lens of our experience of course) your questions and comments are also welcome.
Spring has come to Montenegro; the long days of rain are beginning to break, though the Moraca River is still flooded more often than not. As the weather turns nice we are going through our final months here, trying to both prepare to leave and checking the boxes still unchecked from this year abroad. Spring teaching has been rolling along, and class topics this semester have included US History, World History, county fairs in the US, the Papacy, current events, the US Government, the US military, cover letters, interviews, resumes, democracy in action, etc. Attendance is still very light compared to the number of students registered for the classes. Though I had been warned to be prepared for this cultural norm by previous Fulbrighters and the school, it still frustrates me from time to time. In particular, the tendency of students to skip class on the weeks that they have an exam in any class often means that for two or three weeks out of the semester I end up sitting in an empty classroom working to keep it all in perspective. Those students that attend regularly are largely the same core that had decent attendance last semester. The students are interested and often willing enough to discuss issues (particularly large or controversial questions) or ask questions, but getting them to engage in effective role-playing is still a challenge. We are continuing our weekly WeeSing English language classes for children at the American Corner cultural center, and those remain very well-attended!
I gave my first public presentation two weeks ago. By request it was on the topic of religious freedom on the occasion of America’s Religious Freedom Day. Held at the American Corner cultural center, it was attended by the Metropolitan of the Church of Montenegro. The audience was considerably more mature than I anticipated (I was anticipating college students), but it went quite well. It was attended by Orthodox, Catholics, Mormons, Protestants and humanists (unfortunately, as far as I know no Muslims attended) from America, Montenegro, the Roma population, and abroad. Afterward the Metropolitan asked me to come to Cetinje (the historical capital) to give another talk at a symposium he would like to arrange for the occasion. Needless to say, I’m pretty thrilled. I have attached the slides from the presentation on the right side of this blog.
Christmas and the New Year here have come and gone. We celebrated Christmas on the Protestant/Catholic date of Dec. 25, though most of the country celebrates Christmas on the Orthodox date of Jan. 7. Christmas was a subdued affair for the country; there were a few decorations up on the streetlights and some in stores, but the season certainly was not the aesthetic event that it is in the US. We were invited to the Ambassador’s holiday party, and had an enjoyable evening at her residence with other Embassy personnel and Fulbrighters. Santa made an appearance, much to the girls’ delight. We could not get a Christmas tree, so we decorated some garlands with paper snowflakes and origami decorations. The girls had a Christmas breakfast tea with all the trimmings – it went a long way to capturing the magic, beauty, and excess of a Christmas morning. We spent the evening with several Embassy families; it was a good meal and another welcome time of brightness and conversation in the season. For New Year’s Eve Rachel and I got a babysitter and went out on the town, we found a local “English” pub and ran into some Montenegrins we had met earlier and several of my students. We danced, talked, and rang in the New Year to a wide array of Yugopop. It was a neat experience; Rachel and I like to dance, but had a hard time putting the local music to work for us. Our friends however really got into it, and it was fun to see the place really moving.
December has come to Montenegro, and it is a busy and often festive month. The first snow has fallen on Podgorica today, though it has been sitting high on the mountains outside the city for weeks now. The girls were terribly excited, and with Aria’s school delayed we have had a chance to enjoy warm porridge and the atmosphere of the morning. On Sunday we went to a ballet put on by a children’s company at the national theater house. It was a marvelous production, filled with fairies and flowers and marching soldiers. The day before the opera Rachel and I helped out at the American embassy’s table at the annual Christmas Bazaar. It was a much bigger affair than I had anticipated, held in the mall with tables set by most of the nations with a diplomatic presence here. Rachel and I took advantage of a photo op with the American ambassador, sold such American staples as peanut butter and Hot Wheels, and enjoyed the international bustle of the morning.
This is my last week of regular classes, though I am giving one ‘final’ to my graduate students next week. Attendance and participation as we have gotten close to the end of the semester has been pretty variable. One of my classes had only a single student show up to take the final – worth 20% of their grade; in another class nearly all of them came and did an admirable job of standing up in front of the class and presenting news stories in their best newscaster voices. Part of the issue may be the examination system here. Students can take an exam that can replace the grade they earn in a class, and while you can’t get an ‘A’ that way, you can pass…and you can retake those exams a half-dozen times if you don’t like the grade you got before.
Happy Thanksgiving to all reading this blog! We enjoyed an American Thanksgiving at the Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission’s house, complete with a great turkey and fabulous side dishes and pies prepared by those attending. There were about twenty five adults and a whole pack of children – it made for a great evening and a memorable Thanksgiving. Rachel prepared a traditional Scandinavian dish of carrots in a brandy-butter-cream sauce topped with smoked speck (prosciutto). It was enough to make one rethink the place of root crops in the hierarchy of foods! I made eggnog again, and this year the Happy Rover Brewing Company ran a Founding Fathers Edition. Our departed president’s recipe was definitely the most labor-intensive I have yet undertaken, and without a blender to boot! Details below:
George Washington’s Recipe
“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey*, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry*—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”
Take note- old George was so busy starting the country that he forgot to mention how many eggs were required. Cooks of the period estimated 12, which is what we have used here. Though nutmeg and cinnamon were excessively bourgeois for our rugged (and poorly paid) First President, feel free to add these seasonal favorites. Enjoy!
*Due to unavoidable commercial restraints, no rye whiskey or sherry was harmed in the preparation of this treat. Tennessee Bourbon and tawny port were used as substitutes. Our apologies to Mr. Washington. Please drink responsibly.
Several weeks ago we rented a car and got out of town for a trip north and east – our destination, Biogradska Gora, one of Montenegro’s famous national parks. The trip up was highlighted by a drive through an absolutely incredible gorge – hundreds of feet of sheer cliffs with a shallow, crystal-clear river rushing through the canyon far below. We stopped to try our luck on a cable-suspension foot bridge (sans children) and thanked our lucky stars that the roads weren’t icy yet. Before arriving at the park we stopped at the Moraca Monastery. Dating back to the 13th century, it sits in a beautiful spot over the river just a few kilometers beyond the canyon gorge.
We reached the park in the afternoon and established ourselves in a small cabin (build with help from USAID). We had a great night and day at the park – we had a campfire, met some German backpackers, hiked around the lake, and enjoyed a moonless night sky the way that they are meant to be – studded with stars and filled with quiet. The park was pretty, but did rather pale in comparison with Glacier, Yellowstone, or the other great parks of the US. Still, it was a great experience, and a good re-charge for all of us.
The next afternoon we drove north for a couple of hours before turning back towards Podgorica. In that time we saw some stunning mountain scenery and visited a smaller monastery populated by a few nuns. It was a really good weekend, and I hope the following pictures captures some of it for you all.