I thought my driver was joking. After passing the armed Russian guards outside the airport in Pristina, bombed-out buildings, and Soviet-style apartments decorated with laundry and satellite dishes, he announced that we were on Bill Clinton Boulevard.
I laughed, then looked up to see an enormous billboard of our smiling former president, in Sadaam-like pose, welcoming me to Kosovo on his namesake street. The driver joked that maybe there would be a similar one of George Bush in Baghdad.
It was nice to be in place where they liked Americans. There were amusing homages throughout Pristina, including a giant Statue of Liberty reproduction atop the Victory Hotel and restaurants with names like KFC (Kosova Fried Chicken) and Uncle Sam Indian Restaurant.
The war was a fresh memory in 2003, and the “mine museum” downtown was a constant reminder. This outdoor patch of fenced-in land displayed all manner of land mines, to enable people to recognize and hopefully avoid them. I was fascinated by the range of sizes and shapes, from futuristic spaceballs that children could mistake for toys to innocuous-looking pipes to ersatz car mufflers and onerous ground torpedoes.
A field trip outside the city the following week drove the mine experience home for me. A local staff member pointed to a tree about 50 feet away with a red triangle nailed to it and told me not to go near it because the area hadn't been cleared of land mines. That tree was pretty close. In fact, it was right there. I looked at it, then down at my feet, and gulped.