Thursday, September 30, 2004

Blue Skies Smiling at Me

WAHOO!! It stopped raining. It is a gorgeous autumn day today, and I am reveling in it. I have opened up every window in my apartment to let in some fresh air. It inspired me to do a little cleaning, which once again turned into a learning experience. I learned that my vacuum cleaner has all the suction of a flea with asthma. I also learned that the millions of black birds that cloud the skies here had deposited eight tons of bird %*#! onto my patio. I learned that a 1/2 inch pipe does not do much for drainage when cleaning the eight tons of bird &*#! off my patio when you have to fight gravity (the patio tilts away from the drain pipe - goooooood engineering). I learned that the deafening hum of the generators while the power is out provides a decent background for yoga because it blocks out all other sound. It also provides an excuse to stop trying to vacuum as I don't have a generator and the vacuum doesn't run on batteries. Whew, I learned a lot today. Time to go take a walk now and ponder all this new-found knowledge underneath blue skies. You never know how long this will last, it could be raining again in an hour. *sigh*

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Midnight Stalker

Ok, so it wasn’t midnight, it was 5:30, but it was still spooky!

Let’s set the scene. I picked up the keys to my office today (yeah!) and did a little work proofreading a paper one of my colleagues is writing. I feel so official having ‘colleagues’. I tooled around for a couple of hours, just getting my bearings, finding out tidbits aobut University politics and the like, and tried to get a little something done. I decided it was about time to go home around dusk. Mind you everyone else in the building had left at 3 p.m. – entirely different work ethic around these parts. My office is literally a one, maybe two, minute walk from my apartment. From my office window I can just about see my building. I have to go past the library, to the end of the parking lot, past the garbage dumpsters through the quagmire and BAM! I’m home.

The lovely National Library of Kosovo, from my office window*

So at 5:30 I leave the building, stop and have a chat with my friend Illya at the library and head on towards my abode. About halfway past the dumpsters I notice this guy lurking about. As soon as I looked his direction, he started to walk towards me doing the “ssht ssht” thing that anyone who has ever been to Europe or Latin America will know quite well. I picked up my pace, pulling my handbag a little closer, wishing there were a few other people around. Well, with this being the backside of my building, and a major quagmire of mud at the moment while they are repaving, that was not the case. By this time he’d started trying to talk to me, with the only word in English coming out of his mouth being a mangled version of ‘beautiful’. Did this guy really think that I was going to stop and talk to him based on the utter charm of his dumpster diving?? I don’t know about that, but what I did know was that I wasn’t about to let him figure out where I lived. I stepped it up a notch again and kept walking past my apartment. I could hear his steps right behind me, keeping pace with mine and still “ssht ssht”ing me. I rounded the corner into a café and told the bartender I was being followed. He promptly started talking to me as if we were old friends and he’d been waiting for me all day. THANK YOU! The guy hung around for a little bit, then meandered into the store next door. I called Hazel and she came and sat with me for a while until he was gone for good and I could go home. It’s nice to know that I have friends that will come to my rescue at a moments notice. I have now dubbed her St. Hazel.

I have officially had my first “I am a woman living alone in a foreign country” experience. It’s a little disconcerting, but a good reminder that in spite of the level of comfort I have felt here, I still need to keep my guard up. “Safety first!” to quote my sister Cheyenne. I think it’s time to learn a few choice words in Albanian. I’ll be sure to ask my teacher tomorrow.

* Just a quick note about the library design. It's evidently a concept art piece. It is supposed to represent the brains of Kosovo (all the bubbles) being held back by the repression of Communism (the scaffolding looking stuff). If you say so.... I think it's got to be one of the ugliest buildings I've ever seen. The inside, however, is quite nice, with a lot of beautiful stone and mosaic work. Too bad they didn't have the same person design both.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Newness wearing off

Well, as the days creep by with not much to do, the shiny happy feeling of learning a new town is starting to wear thin. It's hard to believe I've only been here a little over two weeks. It feels like an eternity. I've had a million meetings with not much coming out of them. The classes with the Journalists are in limbo at the moment, and my classes at the University won't start until November. The only one of my projects that is moving forward is the Army magazine. I've enlisted the help of some other Fellows from around the globe to submit pieces for the Teen magazine. I thought it would be good to show how teenagers face the same issues whether in the States, in Kosova, or even in Indonesia... where ever. Since the point of the magazine is to bridge cultures here, why not expand the views to a broader range?
Anyway, I've taken a few trips to some of the other 'cities' in Kosova in the past couple of weeks to deliver the latest issue to schools. I've posted some pics of this beautiful little area, it really is pretty here once you get out of Prishtina. So far I've been to Prizren, Peje and Gjakova. Friday we're heading out to a school in North Mitrovica, which is a primarily Serbian community, the first I'll have visited. The town of Mitrovica is divided by a river - the North side is Serbian and the South side is Albanian. KFOR troops guard the bridge and it is rare for either ethnicity to cross to the other side. This is the town where the rioting started last March, and quickly spread throughout Kosova. You can see some of the damage caused by the Albanians burning Serb houses in the pictures of Prizren. Evidently over 60% of Peje was also destroyed, but we didn't go through that part. There's so much construction everywhere, it's amazing. Engineers and architects could make a fortune in Kosova.
This weekend we're (me and the other ELFs) are heading down to Skopje, Macedonia about an hour or so away to visit the ELFs there, swap materials, do some hiking, maybe some rock climbing (yea!!) and just get the heck out of Prishtina. The weekend after that I'm going to Ohred (the h is pronounced at the back of the throat, all German hock-a-loogie like) with on of the Albanian girls that works at the American Center. Ohred sits on a lake and is about a million years old... not really, but there are several 9th-14th century monasteries and churches there, all nestled in the mountains overlooking the lake. The guide book I have is gorgeous! Hopefully the weather will be better there than it's been here the past few days. I've only just begun to experience the muck and mud that Fall brings with it. It's been cold and rainy for 4 days now, and the road behind my house is a giant quagmire. I really didn't think it was possible to accumulate that much mud on one's shoes in a short period of time, but I'm still learning about the ways of the world. The positive - what a great work out to lift 9 pound mud-covered hiking boots with every step. I'll be a swimsuit model in no time!!! (uh- huh, riiiiight)
My Albanian lessons are progressing slowly, I still struggle with pronunciation, and unlike Spain, I'm not forced to speak it every day. It's very easy to get by here without one word of the language. As a matter of fact, more than half the people in my class have been here 2+ years and can't say more than "Hi, can I get a cup of coffee please?" This, by the way, is also the limit of my vocabulary. It's sad. However, as all business here is done over coffee, and the coffee is remarkably good (still doesn't hold a candle to my favorite place in Rome), the phrase "Nje makiato i modhe, ju lutem" does tend to come in handy.
So all in all, things aren't so bad, I'm just bored. I haven't been posting because nothing's going on, at least nothing that's worth writing about. I bought a combination hand-mixer/blender today, and that's about the most exciting thing that happened to me all weekend. I hope you're as excited about it as I am. Here's to some good misadventures this week, and more lively posts! Cheers!

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Friday, September 24, 2004

Hazel's bit of wisdom for the day

"If you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, it's generally a train coming straight at you. RUN."

Well, it made me laugh. :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Two sides to every story

I found this blog today called Baghdad Burning ( while reading the latest on the beheadings in Iraq. I've spent the last half an hour in tears, wondering how it is that we manage to erase the human side of a war in order to justify our actions. I don't really know what else to say, except this is what our media keeps from us, this is what we try to ignore, this is the other side of reality - and it sucks. Here in Kosova there are remnants of war everywhere - burned out churches, crumbling buildings, destroyed schools, and hollow shells of people with no jobs milling about the cities, trying to eke out an existence in a place where there is none, as if the bombings never happened. As if it could never happen again. Yet the tensions and hatred and anger are still there, festering like a boil, waiting for the next excuse to point a finger and say, "See, see what they are doing to us?" All the while doing nothing to help themselves. It's a sad world today, and I today am sad for it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


We take so many things for granted living in the U.S. It’s a given that in an apartment you will have a dishwasher, a washer and dryer (or at least a Laundromat close by), heat, air conditioning, running/hot water at all times, 50 brands of soap on the supermarket shelves. (Supermarkets in general, for that matter. For crying out loud, we have dairy aisles that moo at you when you open the case. Is that really necessary??) These are all luxury items - serious luxury.

As I have mentioned before, the power goes out here frequently and unannounced. Most businesses have gas powered generators that kick in when this happens. (It's a running joke that the national anthem of Kosova is the humming of the generators.) Running water ceases to exist after 10 or 11 p.m. Air conditioning? Clothes dryer? What’s that? I have not seen a microwave oven since I have been here, not even in the shops – much less in a home. I would never rent an apartment in the States that didn’t have a dishwasher or a dryer. Here, I am thankful to have a tiny little washer and a rack to dry my clothes on. I have a hot water heater in the kitchen, but the water pressure is so low when you use it, it might as well not exist. So I've taken to washing dishes in the bathtub. I have a heater in one room in my house, but it has an accumulator that stores up energy so that I don't freeze to death when the power goes. When winter comes, I'll be cooking in a coat and mittens. I also have a battery that powers one light and the TV (there's priority for ya). The battery and the accumulator are considered luxury items here, not everyone has these. They just make do without.

For all of this, Kosova is considered a “greater hardship” post. I don’t really find these things to be hardships so much as much as inconveniences. I do have everything I need, or I can at least make do with what’s available. The greatest hardship I’ve experienced so far is not being able to dry my hair in the morning because the electricity is out. Big deal. Ok, so talk to me in 3 months when it’s 5 below and the electricity has been out for days and my story might change. I guess one of the things that living overseas has given me is a broader definition of “necessity.” Adaptability is the name of the game. Being able to go with the flow or not is the difference between happiness and misery. It can be a fine line sometimes. So if I ever start to sound whiny, someone remind me that I chose this position.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Recovery time just ain't what it used to be

Tomorrow I turn 33. Thirty-three. Wow. That sounds so old, why don’t I feel that old? (Ok, I admit I felt that old this morning after last night.) I decided to throw myself a birthday party. What the hell, eh? I invited all 10 people I know in Kosova, dolled up and played hostess. T’was faboo. Preparing was definitely an adventure. I brought a cake mix, but finding cake pans was a completely different catastrophe all together. It took me two days to find anything resembling a cake pan (Yes, I made myself a birthday cake. If you’re going to throw yourself a party, do it right!), and when I finally found something that would do, they were square and fluted. Ok, sometimes ya gotta make do with whatcha got. On top of that, since the power goes out unannounced and rather frequently, and all appliances run on electricity, baking in general is a dangerous operation. If the power goes out half-way through, too bad, so sad – gooey mess is what you’re left with. I was fortunate enough to get through the cake-baking with lights, but about 6:30 whoosh! Into darkness we went. The rest of my prep was by candlelight – sort of. Just so you know, 8 little tea lights do not make for a well lit home, but they at least keep you from running into furniture. Things turned out ok in spite of things, and we were only in the dark the first half an hour or so.

The kindness of this group of people amazes me. Over my protests, people still brought gifts. Phil brought me cups and saucers, which I was in desperate need of. William and Ruby brought me trashy novels, Trivial Pursuit and school supplies (yeah!). They’re heading home soon, so we’re all pilfering what we can from the things that they won’t be taking back to the States with them. The Army boys brought a 12 pack of Dr. Pepper (a very valuable commodity in this neck of the woods) and computer speakers that run on batteries. That was HUGE! Thanks fellas! And Illya, Harry and Travis brought the booze. Diellza, one of the Albanian girls in my salsa class, came too. I think she might have been bored to tears sitting in a room full of English teachers because the conversation inevitable turned to work, but she was avoiding being at home with a house full of visiting relatives. I did my best to entertain her, I hope she doesn’t think we’re all a bunch of boring old fogies. Oh well. Anyway, beer and wine were a-flowing, the food was pretty good (for being prepared in the dark) and we managed to make a decent mess out of my place. Good times!!

About 11 we packed up and went to Zanzibar where we met up with some other Albanian friends and shook our money-makers until 2:30 (oh and consumed mass amounts of Pejë, the local brew – a fine pilsner made from the clean mountain water in the beautiful town of Pejë). End result – I didn’t get out of bed until noon, and then only to get a piece of cake and a Coke (breakfast of champions). After which I promptly crawled back in bed and played computer rummy for the next 2 hours. Why is it that last night I felt like I was 23 and could party like a rock star, and today I feel like I’m 93 and I’d rather die than get out of bed? I finally got up the courage to shower and clean the house around 5, made dinner, took a walk, and am back in my bed writing in this journal of sorts. I should be sorted by tomorrow. This getting old and taking two days to recover crap is for the birds. BLAH

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Good Motto to Live By

I do not usually make a point to forward e-mails, but this one sent to me by my dear Jessica deserves a public viewing...

Life should NOT be
a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely
in an attractive
and well-preserved body,
but rather to skid in sideways,
champagne in one hand
- strawberries in the other,
body thoroughly used up,
totally worn out and screaming,
"WOO HOO - What a Ride!"
I couldn't have said it better myself!!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Small Victories and Lack of Light

I just got home from dinner with Travis, hashing and rehashing all that has happened in the past couple of days. I was overjoyed at having power when I got home, but this elation came about 5 minutes too early. I had just taken a seat on the royal throne when I was swiftly ushered into complete darkness. Mind you, I do have a special system that allows me to turn on some lights in my house in case of power outages, but the bathroom is not one of those places. The light switch that delivers me from the abyss is at the other end of the house. Note to self: buy some candles and matches tomorrow. On a brighter note (small victory #1), my phone is now working, which gives me virtually free dial up service. However, you do get kicked off frequently... as I just was 4 times.

I spent today in Gjakova, a beautiful city in western Kosova. The Army boys let me tag along on a school visit to drop off some magazines so that I could meet with the school director and English teachers. The English teacher was anxious to get more copies to use in her classroom. Hooray! Another interesting partnership popped up today as well. The meeting we went to was set up by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) who funds and maintains the School Connectivity Program. What they do is take 16 students from one school in each of 4 countries and partners them through the internet to work on a common project. The idea is that they are areas that these students normally would have no contact with each other due to ethnic background and/or geographic location (e.g. at typical cluster would include a school from Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia and the U.S.). Also in this meeting was the director of Junior Achievement (JA), Kosova, who is partnering schools here with schools in the U.S. to create products/companies. In an interesting turn of events, Meti (JA) would like to take the production of the magazine off our hands and turn it into the product that the JA group produces. Very interesting… Anyway, just an initial meeting and the idea came up. Another good thing came out of that meeting, Meti agreed to come give a guest lecture at the American Center to business students at the University. The idea was given the green light by the director of the Center today, so now all I have to do is set it up. Wahoo! (small victory #2)

Monday evening Travis, Craig (my RELO) and I had dinner with a woman named Karmit, an old friend of Craig’s. Talk about a dynamo! She was raised in Israel by and Iranian father and Russian mother (I think that’s right…) She’s fluent in at least 6 languages, with English being either the 3rd or 4th. She has been living in Kosova for the past 7 years working on youth and community outreach programs, setting up youth centers in the smaller villages outside of the larger cities. The latest project is creating a Youth Development Center that will function like an interactive children’s museum where all the exhibits will be very hands on and experimental. I contacted the folks I used to work with on Legoland to see if there could be a connection there. Part of LEGO’s overall philosophy is hands-on interactive learning for kids so I think it’s a pretty good fit. I got good feedback today from my contact, so hopefully by next week we’ll be in touch with Lego directly to do some begging for product and/or money. It sounded like product was probably a done deal, but funding could be a different issue. I’ll be more excited when I have tangible results, but at least it’s a good start and I feel like I’ve accomplished something this week. (small victory #3)

I met with the head of the Journalism School yesterday to hash out a schedule of sorts. I’ll be teaching two classes of journalists and journalism students, one Beginner and one Intermediate. These classes don’t start until the middle of October and it’s looking like classes at the University won’t start until the beginning of November. On one hand it gives me plenty of time to prepare and work on this magazine project (which is going to require a lot of attention in the beginning, but should be less work as things get set up). On the other, classes end at the end of December, so it doesn’t really give me a lot of time to work through much material. I don’t have complete details, as I haven’t had a meeting with the head of the department yet. We are getting together on Monday. If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of meetings here. I feel like I have a jigsaw in front of me and I need to figure out how to put it all together. I guess one piece at a time and the rest will fall into place.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Salsa Dancing, Pristina style

Just a quick entry tonight... the cafe is about to close. I've joined a Salsa dance class at the UN. I danced with a Spaniard, a Lithuanian, a German, a Swede, a Canadian, a Switzerlander (??) and an Italian. There are so many internationals here, it's amazing. (There were also several Albanian girls, but I didn't dance with them.) The instructor was from Madrid ( a little moment of silence here for my beloved city) so I got to speak a little Spanish too. The whole class went for ice cream and chatter afterwards. Incredibly fun!! They're having a party Friday night, so I guess I'll be dancing the night away. Can't wait. Ok, I'm getting the evil eye here - Are you ever going to lleeeeeaaaaavvveee? so I guess I'd better go.

I'm off to Gjakova tomorrow with the Army to deliver some magazines to an elementary school. I'll try to post again when I get home. Hopefully my phone will be hooked up by then and I'll have internet access in the house. We'll see, things don't happen on a normal timeline here, but they seem to function ok regardless.

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Monday, September 13, 2004

Moving day

Day 3 complete. I have moved into my apartment. I didn’t take me long to unpack, after all 2 suitcases don’t really hold that much. Afterward I took a much needed nap on my new bed. So I am home. Yeah!!! At the moment, the apartment is lacking in a few things – like bedding, towels, pots and pans and silverware. The landlord’s daughter is going to bring me these things Tuesday (I hope!). Once again I found myself without a clue desperately trying to figure out how appliances and things work in a foreign country, and once again I found myself in a sticky situation. It didn’t take long to learn that the water valves have been turned off since the last tenant left the apartment. I found two valves next to the toilet (because being able to flush is definitely a bonus) and decided to fiddle with them to see if I could figure it out. I did, but not before making a total mess. One valve fills the reserve tank. The other opens the flood gates of hell on another spout coming from the bowl. I actually think that the nozzle is somehow supposed to be turned into the bowl, but in my case it is pointing straight out at the opposite wall. When I cranked both knobs to full power, it resulted in a lower body shower and a disaster on the floor. Lesson learned and question noted on and ever growing list for the landlord. What the hell is that other spicket for???

Anyway, Travis, Phil and I found a fantastic Thai restaurant for dinner tonight and had our first experience with a power outage. Halfway through dinner, whoosh, utter darkness except for the small candles on the table. No one around us even blinked an eye. In a few minutes, the chugging of a generator starting up drowning out conversation, and the lights started to flicker back on. Within half an hour, we had full power again, the generator turned off and we were talk below a shout. Interesting.

I met the head of Education for the British Council earlier today and she joined us for coffee after dinner, and provided me with a spare comforter to use until my landlord brings me proper bedding. She also invited me to come join her for salsa classes two nights a week at the UN. It seems there is a rather large (so to speak) Spanish speaking community here – internationals from Spain, Peru, Venezuela and other parts of South America. There’s even a Mexican restaurant. I can’t wait!

This week is meeting after meeting after meeting. Tomorrow Travis and I are tagging along to take Phil to Prizren where he will be posted for the remainder of the year. Tuesday we’re going to Pejë to meet with some secondary school teachers and the woman I’ll be teaching with in the Poly Sci department. Wednesday I meet with the head of the Journalism School and the American center to discuss the classes I will be teaching for them. Something tells me this part of the job may fall through. The classes are supposed to be held in the American Center here, but the director of the center wants to charge €100 for the course. The average monthly rent here is not much more than that and most people are fighting to find work. I don’t think enrollment will be too high if that is what they are expected to pay. Hopefully we’ll be able to work something out otherwise I don’t think the classes will be accessible for most journalists or journalism students. The other project I have volunteered for/been volunteered for is very exciting to me. The US Military has begun to publish two children’s magazines – one geared for teens and the other for younger children. The goal is to make them useful as an English teaching tool and making them available to primary schools throughout Kosova. I will be involved in writing, designing and publishing, as well as finding ways to use them in a classroom. EXCELLENT! Things are moving right along. Any worries I had about having too much free time on my hands has disappeared.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

So much to absorb

I can’t sleep. It’s either the caffé expresso I had at 11, the jetlag, or the excitement over having found the cutest apartment in Prishtina today. (or very possibly a combination of all three.) It doesn’t really matter why I am sitting here writing at this hour, just that I am wide awake and have nothing else to do.

So, about the hunt for an abode... Engjellusche, the Public Affairs Assistant and our American Office contact, accompanied Travis and I on our adventure. We had seen 3 so-so places this afternoon and arrived at the fourth feeling a little let down by our options and both pretty much wanting the same apartment – the only one we’d seen that was halfway decent. We were calling it the White Palace because it had just been painted white, and there were tons and tons of windows – nice and airy. And then the door opened on a bright turquoise hallway with dark blue trim. Sounds atrocious, but it’s perfect. The whole place is very trendy for lack of a better word at this time of night, full of bright colors and cheerful decoration. It seems to smile all on its own. I immediately fell in love. The landlord wanted €500 per month ($600) for it. I could have cried. I didn’t want to spend that much on rent, that’s almost what I was paying in LA for crying out loud!! (Granted, I didn’t have my own place then, but still!) The real estate agent made 3 phone calls and finally talked him down to €450 ($540). Even so I had resolved myself to pass on the cutest little apartment ever and to continue looking for something a little less expensive. My high end was €400 ($480). When I told this to the real estate agent, he picked up the phone, called the guy, told him he would waive 50% of his finder’s fee if the guy would rent me the apartment for €400. Twenty minutes later, I had keys in hand. I move in at 2 pm tomorrow and I couldn’t be happier. I LOVE this place. I posted pictures, so go check it out.

So now I’ll tell ya all about it! When you walk in the door, there’s a door immediately in front of you, which is the bathroom, and a hallway that extends to the right. The bathroom is huge, with a funky shaped mirror and lots of shelves. The next room is a combination sitting room/dining room with a cool modern couch and a cute little breakfast table that seats 4. The kitchen is terra cotta colored and quite tiny, but has everything that I need. Farther down the hall is another sitting area/bedroom that is light and airy. A door opens off this room to a balcony that stretches the length of the apartment. It is on the 2nd floor in American terms, which is the 1st floor here. Since security is a big issue here, I was pleased to find out that in addition to the armored door, I have a video camera at the entrance so I can see whoever is ringing my doorbell. Satellite TV, a fixed phone line, which means virtually free internet service (.03 for 10 minutes for dial up, or only 30 Euros a month for high speed). All of the furniture and appliances are brand spankin’ new so everything works! Another big worry – heat - will not be an issue here because the apartment has a device called an accumulator, which stores up heat so that when the power goes out, and it will go out - it does so frequently here, it continues to heat the apartment. There’s another device ( I can’t remember what they call it) that stores up electricity to power the lights and TV during outages as well. This truly is luxurious living for this city. And on top of alllllllll of that, I am less than 2 blocks from work, so no 8 mile hike when it is 20º below (Celcius) this winter.

Well, if you can’t tell, I’m completely stoked on my housing arrangements and can hardly wait until tomorrow.

We had a welcome dinner tonight for all the ELFs and our respective employers and other people that are attached to the Mission here. It’s not a Mission in the religious sense. The American government must be very careful with their terminology here due to the political situation. Because Kosova (Ko SO va is how it is pronounced here) is not recognized internationally as a country, nor is it recognized as a part of Serbia, we have an American Office rather than an Embassy or a Consulate. If they called it a Consulate, then it would recognize Serbia as the sovereign state over Kosova, and thus give some credence to the argument that Kosova is a part of Serbia. If they called it an Embassy then it would give recognition to Kosova as a sovereign country. Thus, we have an Office, and instead of an Ambassador, we have a Head of Mission. So what is our mission as English Language Fellows, and why are we here? Well, it’s interesting. The conflict here is hundreds of years old, and is not a religious one as many believe. Yes, the Serbs are Christian and the Albanians primarily Muslim but the true debate is one of nationalism and ethnic pride. To add to this, the two groups, although they were once a part of Yugoslavia, do not speak the same language. The Kosovar Serbs speak Serbo-Croatian and the Kosovar Albanians speak Albanian. So much misunderstanding can be attributed to lack of communication between the two, at least that’s my interpretation. This is where we come in… to create a common language between these groups so that no one is dominant over the other and then try to get a dialogue going. If Serbs were forced to learn Albanian in order to communicate, then they would be at a disadvantage and vice versa. If both are communicating in a foreign language then it evens the playing field a little. According to the PAO, they seem to be having some success in many of the programs here. They have young Serbs and Albanians playing sports together. Albanian teachers presented at an English teaching conference in Serbia last month. That would be completely unheard of even 2 years ago. We’re not just here teaching, we’re building foundations for the future of a country that doesn’t exist yet.

The political scene here couldn’t be much more exciting. They are holding elections in October to elect a ruling coalition that will eventually take over for the UN interim government (UNMIK). New laws are being ratified weekly. Change in status is eminent and I literally could witness the birth of a nation while I am here. This is truly a unique and fascinating place. I can guarantee there will be some serious struggles this year, but I can also guarantee that it will be an experience that I will never ever forget.

I really must try to get some sleep now. It is after 2 am and I have meetings all day tomorrow. More musings tomorrow I'm sure.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

First Impressions

Well, I’m here all right. The city isn’tmuch to look at but the people are phenomenal. I don’t even know how to write about what happened this evening, but I got introduced to Pristina in the most improper way. I had my first State Department semi-formal affair tonight. BO-RING. But the food was good, the wine plentiful and my immediate company brilliant. Directly after dinner, we (meaning the Angels and I – see Pointy shoes entry) adjourned to explore the city a little (translation – we went to find a bar). Travis is my superhero with the language. He butchers Albanian like nobody’s business, but he manages to get his point across, and wow! People respond like crazy. The first place we went to was this little outdoor bar blaring nothing but 80’s hair bands from the States. We had a beer there, and then the chill started to set in (YEAH, cold already. I’m gonna die this winter!) so we went to find an indoor bar. Turns out, the bartenders speak a little English, so that sat down with us, taught us some Albanian, learned a little English, and then invited us to go with them to another bar after they closed at midnight… well who are we to turn down a cultural experience like that? And so we went. It was a little basement bar called Zanzibar that had a live band playing Turkish, American and Albanian rock covers. Somehow, I got singled out of the crowd, brought up on stage and introduced as the newest member of the Pristina community. I honestly don’t know how it happened, but I do know my face was bright red for at least 15 minutes afterward. My luck, half the audience will have been my future students. *sigh* Anyway, so this is my introduction into Kosova. Beautiful Kosova, as Buqa said. As for our host for the evening, we all exchanged phone numbers and promised to meet again tomorrow night (or tonight as time would have it). He’s going to take Travis guitar shopping on Monday. I really think it’s going to be a good year. A little optimism after a few hours on the ground can’t be a bad thing. Honestly.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Transit musings

10 am, London Gatwick
“Passengers are invited to remember that if they do not arrive at their departure gate in good time, it could resulting their baggage being unloaded and the aircraft departing without them.” Ah the ever so polite British.

12 pm on the plane
I’m reading the book Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley right now on the plane. I can’t put it down. Once you get past her sentimental prose, the story itself is fantastic. Especially for me. It’s about a woman who came with her husband to Kosovo and became and English teacher and through that experience learned to listen, learn and experience, rather than just teach. It has instilled in me new expectations and hopes for the year ahead. SO many thing that she talks about I hope have changed in the four years since she was here… such as living conditions, materials available… I don’t know .. those are all things you work through, as she did. However, I seriously believe it is easier now. At least now, there’s an ATM that takes foreign cards. I have access to my bank account! If not, well then I guess I’ll make do. I can only hope that I handle it with the grace and sense of humor that she seemed to in her book. We’re crossing the Adriatic Sea now, a symbolic leaving behind the familiarity of the Europe I know for obscurity, newness and complete change. The water changes colors as it pulls slowly away from the Italian shore – from sky blue to turquoise and finally into midnight blue as the depth of the waters becomes unimaginable. There’s no gradation, but clearly defines strata, as if layers of precariously balanced cliffs were stacked one on top of the other, hidden by a heavy layer of salt water that guards some ancient secret. And still, the sun dances on the ripples 33,000 feet below. I can see the heel of the boot of Italy now for the first time. Wow.

I made a friend on the plane today, Buqa (pronounced Boosha). She gave me her phone number and has promised to introduce me to her friends and help me find a place to live. She swears her friends speak better English than she does, but I understood her just fine.

The anxiety has subsided now, and a feeling of tranquility has settled over me, Partly due to the book, partly due to the relief of finally being here. It has been a long journey since I accepted this post – the one no one wanted. Huntley said in her book that she was glad she didn’t make this journey in her 30’s, that she would have been trying too hard to “accomplish” something rather than to just accept, feel and listen. I will do my best to not make that mistake. I want to know these people, to make an impact, to give whatever it is that I have.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

I'm a-leavin' on a jet plane...

Ok, panic sets in. As of 8:30 am, I am officially starting to freak out!! Not in a bad way at all. It's not like "Oh, GOD, what have I done, there's no way I'm getting on that plane" freaking out. It's more like "I KNOW I have forgotten to do something incredibly important and this time tomorrow I will be in another freakin' country" kind of panic. It's not like I can turn around and come home to fix whatever it is I messed up. Anyway, that's not so bad. I can live with it. It will pass as soon as I am in the airport. Wow. Today is the day.

One thing I am going to miss, and don't go thinking I'm getting all old and cheesy and sappy on y'all (you should already be well aware of that), is having family around. It has been so good this summer to spend time at home. Yep, 32 and living at home for the summer and loving it. It was fantastic. I hung out with aunts, uncles, cousins, my multitude of siblings, grandparents, parents - surrounded by it all the time. I guess I was kind of wallowing in it, soaking it up. It's been 8 years since I've spent this much time at home. *sigh* I am going to miss it. I've also reconnected with some old friends and it truly does make you realize that there are some people you've shared so much with that, related or not, will always be family. And as crazy as my friends and family may be, well - at least we're all crazy together. I love you all, and will miss you terribly. Write me often dammit! I hate opening an empty email box. :(

So by Friday afternoon I will be in my new home city, settling into my hotel for a couple of days, and preparing to apartment hunt to my little heart's content. Nest away, little mama! I'll take lots of pics and post a new album asap. Well, that's me. I'm going to go wake Diedra up so we can go do girl stuff today (manicures & pedicures are in order!) since she's skipping school to see me off (oops, did I say that out loud??). Ok byyyeee!

Sunday, September 05, 2004

A quick note about yardwork

I mowed my dad's yard today. I thought it might be kinda fun pushing a self-propelled mower around and around, you know get a feel for what it would be like to have a house with a yard. Hmph. Sucks. First of all, there's just no way to look like a normal human being while spewing grass clippings all over the place, but add to that my allergies and whew... geek-o-rama. Let me paint a picture for you - ratty tanktop, sweat stained old baseball cap and full-on medical face mask to protect myself from projectiles that I could possibly inhale (who needs an asthma attack on top of heat stroke, seriously). Anyway, I was feeling pretty foxy. After about 5-minutes of "self-propelled" mowing, I thought my hands were going to die because to drive the thing you have to squeeze these two bars together. Now if you let go of one of them, it doesn't just stop the propulsion of the mower, the whole thing dies and you have to start over with the yanking on the cord thing. (Actually, my father has to come back outside and do the yanking on the cord thing.) That took a few tries to figure out. Now, I put "self-propelled" in quotes for a reason. Yes, the front wheels spin forward always. Ok, now, try to back out of a corner while a motor is running pulling you the other direction. I expended considerable energy trying to get around strange courners while not killing the mower therby prompting my father to exit the house (again). Not to mention the occasional dog turd hidden in tall grass that is either so sun-baked that it is now petrified and a deadly missile that is to be thrown from under the mower at your shins, or worse just sort of spreads causing an "icky" spot that you now have to avoid for the rest of your life. I really couldn't help but laugh at myself today, because I volunteered for this job. Sucks. A lot. Boy, the things I will do to put off packing.

So the conclusion I came to after this afternoon: If I ever have one of these house things that has one of these yard things, I will also have one of those yard-boy things. Preferably one that looks like an Abercrombie and Fitch model. (Hey, a girl can dream!) :D

Only in Texas

I went to see a good ol' honkytonk band play last night. The beer was cold, the music was hot, and the smoke was plentiful. All in all not a bad night. I managed to finagle a free t-shirt from the band for a promise of a photo wearing the shirt in Kosovo to put up on their website. Consider it done, fellas. I also promised a shameless plug for their website somewhere on mine, so here it is... Check them out, they're a damn good folky country rock band that's a hell of a lot of fun to see.

Now with that said, I'll move on to the high point of the evening and the entire reason I had to write this post. The opening band, Jackson something or other (couldn't remember the name of the band for reasons soon to be disclosed), closed their set with a rousing tune titled "I like titties and beer" followed by the second verse, "I like great big titties and beer". And then there's one for the ladies "She likes big peckers and beer." Only in Texas. And only from a country rock band. I just can't hear that coming from any other genre. And just so we all get the true spirit of honky tonk, the last song of the night was "Up against the wall redneck mother." Use your imaginations here... put 100 drunk cowfolk in a bar, tell them they're going to have a sing along... and now imagine them all going along with it. As I said before, only in Texas. I do love this state.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

8 days and counting....

Ok, so I have 8 days until I leave for Kosovo. Kosovo. Every time I say that it sounds more and more strange. Seriously. Very very strange.

I shipped all my materials today, got my final immunization, bought a a new pair of make-my-butt-look-good jeans (it was my stress reliever, at least that's how i'm justfying it) and a new and improved super-giant suitcase. If my entire life doesn't fit in that and my backpack, well.. then too bad, cuz that's all I'm a-takin'. Mind you, the most important things that I am packing are baking goods - spices, cookie cutters (gotta make Christmas cookies!), Pampered Chef measuring cup/spoons, and a cookbook or two. These will make me happy in the first days of settling in a new world. If the outside world is going wrong, there's nothing some homemade chocolate chip cookies won't fix. Sometimes its just the little things that make all the difference. Maybe I should squeeze in a throw pillow too for good measure... (see.. nesting again, and I'm not even there yet. HELP ME!)

Well, I'm going to try to go to bed, however tough that is right now. I tend to lie here and flip flop around a lot going through to-do lists and to-call lists and to-see lists and so on and so on. No rest for the freakishly neurotic.