Knowing your place – our first geography lesson

When I went for a meeting in the local school a few weeks ago I looked around carefully to see what our kids were missing out on. In fact, there’s lots we have to be proud of in our bright, newly-furnished teaching spaces.  But on the wall of their classroom there was a lovely big map of Kosovo and I was jealous immediately.

Maps are more than just wall decoration.  They tell you your place in the world.  And the map of Kosovo has been (is still being) hard fought-for. That red line that marks the national boundary of the independent Republic of Kosovo from the Republic of Serbia was only inked on three years ago.  These children, growing up in the dot marked ‘Fushe Kosove’ next to the square marked ‘Prishtina’ in the roughly pentagon-shaped mass of mountains and rivers marked ‘Kosova’ need to see this.

So this week I bought our own big bright laminated wall map of Kosovo (thanks again to the generous donors who have given us money this week which made me feel we were solvent enough to splash out on this). As I unrolled it in class the children were touchingly excited.  The kids who have their yoghurt and fruit during registration time in my room got the first view of it, but word spread, and soon children from the other groups were darting into the room ‘just coming to look at the map’ before they were shooed away until it was their group’s turn to have a lesson with me.

‘Wow! It’s the whole world,’ said one girl when she saw it. But I had to explain that it was only one part of the whole world.  Another boy was disappointed to discover it didn’t even have Germany on it. That’s where his uncle is.

But nevertheless today I had the privilege of introducing 50 young Kosovars to the country where they live.  We learned the names of the countries that border Kosovo too and (oh, my father will be so pleased) I even set up an exercise where they had to match the names of these countries with their capital cities. The top group were able to measure distances and start to use a scale.  We had the conversations every parent or teacher will be familiar with about what exactly is a country and what is a city and whether Pristina is in Kosovo or Kosovo is in Pristina. It’s mind-expanding stuff. And it’s a rite of passage no less powerful than giving the children their first book or teaching them to write their name.

Gjelane’s story is now told in a book published as The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo (Elbow Publishing, 2015) and available on Amazon

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