Challenging the Status Quo, Questioning the Answers, Pushing the Boundaries, and Redefining Everything Else

 

"We choose to go to the moon! Not because it is easy but because it is hard." - President Kennedy

"We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it—it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men." - The Newsroom

20th Century Advice for 21st Century Problems

"If you come at me with your fists doubled, I think I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say, ‘Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from each other, understand why it is that we differ, just what the points at issue are,’ we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and the candor and the desire to get together, we will get together." - President Woodrow Wilson. 

Project Language Hack

I have three months left in Kosovo, almost exactly, and I’ve given myself a challenge: to figure out what it means to hack a language and become fluent in it, and to hack Albanian before I leave in June. 

Being honest with myself, I should be much farther in the language then I am. I’ve been here for months, and its still hard to string sentences together sometimes, for no reason at all. I know a guy who learns languages fluently and from scratch in three months. I’ve been learning this language since 2010. There’s no reason I can’t get it together! 

So here we go, a few things I know I can do right away:

  1. Stop being afraid of making mistakes: learning how to fail well is the first step to success. I am so afraid of saying the wrong thing I just sometimes don’t speak at all. That needs to stop, and I need to just start speaking whenever, wherever. 
  2. More complete immersion: I’m in the country where Albanian is spoken, for crying out loud. From reading newspapers and watching Albanian TV to speaking and writing in the language as much as I can, there are certainly things I can do to be immersing as much as possible. 
  3. Follow through: I hear a lot of new words, I mark them down, but I never find out what they mean. Simple things like consistent vocab acquisition isn’t hard if followed through with. There are a million things like this I could start doing. 

And I intend to figure out some tips and tricks as I go, and keep y’all updated. Should be fun!

Prishtina in the Snow

I grew up on the East Coast, four seasons, snow, rain, all of that. But I’ve spent the last decade living in Arizona, and I’m still getting used to living in a place that has winter. But I’m starting to get a sense for the weather; I can tell when it’s getting really cold and dry that its going to snow, for instance, which happened last night. The snow started to fall in large flakes, and continued throughout the night and mid-morning. I woke up to over a feet of snow to wade through. 

I had class and work, so I decided to catch up on my 30-day challenge by taking a few pictures of places I walk by or see all the time, as well as the new coffee shop I tried today. Not uncommonly, it was a smoky, packed place, but well worth the experience. The coffee was also the cheapest I’ve found in Prishtina.

The Faculty of Islamic Studies - you can see the snow coming down pretty hard as I walked to class this morning. This is a brand new facility, built since I was here in 2010.  

Abandoned Orthodox Church - this is one of my favorite places in Prishtina. The story goes that the Serbians wanted to rebuild it, but got into disputes with Albanians over who owned it and who had the rights to it. Now the rumor is some people want to renovate it into a bar and club. Nothing of the sort has happened yet, though. 

National Library  - another example of Yugoslavian design developed to set it apart from the West. I think whoever came up with this succeeded…..

My New Place for the Day - I was at the school supplies store next door, and decided to stop in and get a coffee at The Coffee Shop. It was .20 cents cheaper than anywhere else I’ve been. I also realized my smoke tolerance has gotten much better since being here. Good thing I outgrew my asthma as a kid…

The key to success in the 21st century will be local solutions to global problems, local creations that form a global patchwork, and the localizing of identity, accessibility, and sustainability. 

30-Day Challenge

I’ve decided to set aside February 10 - March 11 for a 3Ps 30-Day Challenge. 

Every day for the next 30 days I’m going to try to accomplish 3P’s: 

  1. Have a substantive conversation with one new person. This might be a new network or just a simple conversation with someone I meet on the street or throughout daily activities.
  2. Go to one new place I’ve never been to before. This could be a cafe, a city, or a country. 
  3. Take a picture of something that’s a part of my daily life and write a little bit about it.

Stay tuned for updates!

Bringing the “end” back to “Weekend”

Someone: “Hey, how are you?”

Me: “Not bad. You?”

Someone: “Good, had a nice relaxing weekend. What about yourself?”

Me: “Oh, you know weekends. They’re for getting everything done that I didn’t get done during the week. Eh, c’est la vie.”

If I gave away a nickel every time that conversation has happened in the past few years, a lot of people would be a lot of rich. But now, I’m intent on bringing the “end” back to “weekend.”

Because, really, there is nothing that has to be done during the weekend that can’t be done during the week. Instead, I’m going to start rearranging my schedule. I’m assigning a few specific hours each day to focused work hours, Monday through Friday. These hours aren’t for brainstorming, dreaming, developing, just working. Getting things done that have to be done. Through Friday at 5pm. 

And then the weekends are my time. My time to refresh, daydream, brainstorm, develop, hang out with friends, travel, explore, talk, meet, innovate. In retrospect, the snowball that came crashing down the hill recently came as a result of not taking time to recharge my battery, and not taking time to myself to rest and relax and develop what really counts. Sure, life doesn’t stop, but I’m going to start putting a stop-sign in my lifestyle. 

Prizren

   

Every few weeks I get a little restless and feel the need to “get out of Dodge” for a while. This week happened to be one of those, and I made spontaneous plans on Thursday or Friday to spend a weekend away in Skopje, Macedonia. After some changes in plans, though, I decided instead to just spend a Saturday on the other side of Kosovo, in Prizren, with a couple friends from the NGO I work at in Prishtina. 

While Prishtina is the economic/political capital of Kosova, Prizren is widely considered the cultural capital of the country. Prizren is unique for quite a few reasons, a couple of which include an Islamic context that feels more prevalent than in Prishtina, and a greater Turkish influence overall. In fact, Serbian, Albanian, and Turkish are widely spoken and represented there. 

We headed out on the 9am bus, and got into Prizren around 11am or so. The bus stop is about a fifteen minute walk fro the “Qendra,” or center of the city, with a few nice restaurants and the trademark mosque accenting a small river and bridge. 

The weather was a little colder in Prizren than it was in Prishtina when we left, and it started snowing almost immediately when we got there. The streets in Kosovo, seemingly anywhere, become a dark brown/gray slush of water and mud mixed with snow, and it’s a gloppy, sticky mess. The first stop off the bus once we reached the Qendra was a coffee and a quick bite to eat. A local breakfast item is llokuma, or donuts, with jam or honey. The food here is also cheap. 4 llokuma, gjem (jam), and a large coffee comes out to 2 Euros, or a little over 2 American dollars.

Prizren is so well-renowned for its cultural quality that it has decent-sized tour guides written about it, and so we set out to see a few of the main cultural sights in the short period of time we had. Our first mission was to hike up the mountain to the fortress overlooking the city, which on a non-winter day would have been a relatively easy hike, but in the snow was slippery and wet. We made it up to the top eventually, and were rewarded with beautiful scenery and a view of the valley below. 

(Old Orthodox Church on the way up)

(View of Prizren from halfway up the mountain)

(A piece of the fortress)

(We made it! - view of Valley)

After coming back down from the fortress, we wandered around for a bit, until we found the old site of the League of Prizren, the famous body of Albanian leaders instrumental in fighting for Albanian independence. There is now a museum, and we paid for a short tour. 

Of course, no trip to Prizren would be complete without a dish of meat and sausage for lunch. Rumor has it that Prizren has the best suxhuk (sausage) in Kosovo. 

Disruptive Development

I’ve generally been happy in the box. I was always good at getting the 4.0, the teachers liked me, test scores were decent. I was always “that kid.” And, for the past 6 years, I’ve been happily trudging along a path of stepping stones to a perceived objective, destined for some glittery letters behind my name. 

But that started to change over the past couple months. I still haven’t figured out completely what snapped. Maybe it was the fact that once the New Year hit, I realized my time in Kosovo was more than halfway over. I started to ask myself: have I lived as fully here as I could have? Have I met as many people as I could have? Did I learn the language as well as I wanted? And maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t answer any of those questions positively that forced me to begin evaluating how I was approaching life.

When I first arrived in Prishtina last August, everything was new, the people were all around, adventures at every turn. I started a blog, kept a blog. And then “work” set in. Kosovo was no longer about the adventure. I was on scholarship, an internship, classes, a language-learning mission. And it was all about the next step. If I did well in my classes, got As, learned Albanian well, the opportunities over the horizon would open up. But what about the present? Looking back, I realized that present didn’t include learning the language because I loved it, studying in the classes because I wanted to learn, meeting people because they were great people. It was always about the network, the stepping stone. I was so obsessed with the future I forgot to live in the present. 

And so for the past couple months I’ve been restless. This urge to step outside the structure, to outrun the system in order to change it, has been increasing. But that safety of the box, not knowing if Zach Yentzer could exist outside of it, could take risks and meet the worldy view of success, fought pretty hard against the idea. Well, that stopped yesterday. I’m turning a certain page, starting something I never thought I could: disruptive development.

Disruptive Development is the Challenging of the Status Quo, Questioning the Answers, Pushing the Boundaries, and Redefining Everything Else. From here on out, and at every turn, I’m going to challenge the the typical ideas and notions of success and failure, breaking outside the bullet points and checked boxes and just going for life, living each day for each day. I’m going to invent, innovate, impact, and inspire. And I’m going to let tomorrow take care of itself, because today will never come again. 

Many of you have been following my blog “Kumuka,” which means “awakening” in some African languages. When I arrived in Kosovo, I knew this experience would be all about awakening to something bigger and better about myself. And I believe I’ve done that. And so, I’m starting a new blog, a writing space for disruptive development, big ideas about big things, new ways to think about old stuff. I’m not really sure where this will all end up, but that’s what’s so wonderfully disruptive about this development.