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.

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