After a double border crossing and picking up passengers along the way we arrive in Pristina in the early afternoon. Stepping from the bus into the cold air of a small but busy bus station I approach a local passenger from the bus for some guidance in visiting Pristina.
As I am having this conversation I am joined by another passenger who is seeking basically the same information. We are told we have picked an interesting day to visit Pristina as a big protest is planned in the city. This seems like a good way to get a pulse of the city and peaks my interest. My first destination in Pristina is determined.
Overhearing our discussion another passenger from the bus joins in and he offers to guide myself and the other passenger around the city. As outsiders neither one of us could have asked for a better situation and we get a great education about Kosovo along the way.
Approaching the building it all makes some sense as stories beneath this billboard is a statue of none other than former US President, Bill Clinton.
President Clinton along President Bush and NATO forces were all instrumental in freeing Kosovo from Serbian aggression and “ethnic cleansing”.
We pass small groups along the street with a few group members carrying Kosovo flags.
Soon we arrive in an area where a larger crowd has assembled and the activity level has picked up. I find it interesting that across the crowd from us a bright yellow cat with big white teeth is smiling down on us from a building where it is painted.
Standing on the perimeter of the crowd our guide for the day, Max, is determining our next course of action as he is trying to navigate us to the Kosovo Museum. Our direct route to the museum is now blocked by the protestors.
As he is contemplating this the activity level of the crowd intensifies and in what seems like a split second later shots of tear gas are fired in our direction.
A stampede of hundreds begins and a big part of it is headed our way. With a jump now in my heart activity the only thing I can think to do is run and that is exactly what I do as I watch a few people fall and almost get trampled.
Soon my eyes are burning and a nasty taste fills my mouth as my breathing begins to labor. The air is now filled with the irritating gas even as we have moved away from the initial dispersion area. A man who apparently was closer to this area passes us with bright red blood shot eyes. There is a bit of panic in the air as ambulance and police sirens can be heard wailing across the city.
We have seen enough and Max works on an alternate route to get us to the museum. Although crowds are gathered along our new route the intensity and protesting level is a bit more subdued than at the focal point.
I promise that I will take him up on that offer.
Admission to the Kosovo Museum is free and although its displays are simply they tell a sad part of Kosovo's history. The “ethnic cleansing” that took place here up into the late 1990's is ridiculously sad. As we get ready to leave the museum I find the main entrance door is locked. I am standing there for a few minutes when an employee approaches and informs me that the museum is closing early because of the protesting activities going on in the city.
It takes some navigation around unknown streets and through a city park to avoid the protesting that is still going on. However, taking Max's advice we head back towards the university but I am surprised that some of the protesting activity has now moved in that direction. Late into the afternoon the air is still filled with gas and the crowd now at the intersection of Klinton and Bush Blvd has grown larger.
Although at first this seems like an obstacle to getting back to the bus station some more off the main path navigation and soon enough I am enjoying a “Pita Pizza” with a delicious sausage topping.