Thursday, December 30, 2004

What is going on??

Tsunamis in Asia, tornados in Los Angeles.... did anyone see The Day After Tomorrow? What's next? A major ice age?? I am so saddened by the utter devastation and loss from the past few days that I hardly feel like celebrating New Year's at all. This whole holiday season hasn't really felt like the holidays to me anyway. Maybe it's being away from home for the third year in a row. Maybe it's just feeling disconnected from everything. Maybe it's PMS. Who knows. Enough sad blathering.

On a more cheerful note - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JULIE!! And Happy New Year everyone. May only good things come all of our way in the year to come. I love you all so very much, and miss you ten times more.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Santa Ringing in the New Year

I learned yesterday that Santa is associated with the New Year here. So I can count on Mickey & Friends, as well as 1,000 skinny Santas until well into January. Sweeeet.

About the skinny Santas, it seems everyone in town has gone to the local drugstore and bought the 15 Euro Santa suit, and is standing on the street corner offering to pose for a picture with your kiddies. Anything to make a buck, I guess. After all the trouble I went through to find a Santa suit, now it seems like everybody has one. Whatever. (the bah humbuggedness is starting to set in... uh oh!)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Sidenote about the freakiness of Prishtina

Ok, so technically we're in a Muslim area, so there should be no Christmas stuff at all - right? ALLLL RIGHTY then, explain to me why there are Santa Clauses on every corner, street vendors with decorated trees, lights, tinsel, stockings, you name it - it's all here. As a matter of fact, across the street from my house is a giant styrofoam castle built by one of the banks with Santa and his helpers, Mickey and Goofy... three days after Christmas and its STILL there...

As with Halloween, Kosovars celebrate this American holiday as well. And as with Halloween, they just haven't quite got it all down yet. I'm grateful for it, don't get me wrong! If they didn't celebrate every possible holiday, I'd be really homesick right now. But it's just sort of funny to see a foreign twist on something so incredibly familiar. Anyway, I've taken some pics and I'll get them posted tomorrow.

Recovering from Christmas overdoses...

I have officially O.D.'d on food, wine and sweets... need sleep... This past week has been an absolute madhouse and terribly emotionally draining. Wednesday was the party, which took every ounce of energy I had to pull off, and then the "other" Christmas parties began. Thursday night had drinks with Oli (English guy that plays Ultimate with us) to send him away to England with a hangover... Sven joined us and things just got ugly. I'm not entirely sure, but I think we closed the Buddah Bar. Just on a side note, something terribly shocking happened - the Jager Girls showed up there. YEP! There are Jager Girls even in Kosovo. I was so wishing Annee was with me for that moment. She would have gotten as big of a kick out of it as I did (think my 30th birthday...I still have a Polaroid). Anyway, I made the mistake of eating some big heavy breakfast at 3 am, only to revisit it at 7 am. Eewww....

Friday night I had a small dinner party for my Political Science students at a really yummy restaurant, then a-dancing we went to Zanzibar. Once again, the band paid hommage to their friend from Texas, called me out to the crowd and sang Sweet Home Alabama for me. More rum... nearing liver failure at this point.

Saturday morning, Sven picked Travis and I up for a "brunch" at big Pat's house. I call him big Pat because the man is a giant - 6'6" and solid as a rock, however, sweet as pie. (He's another one I play Ultimate with, and you never want to see that frame come barrelling toward you at a full run. Drop the frisbee and duck for cover!) I made two pies that morning, on e pumpkin (thanks MOM!) and one apple for the occasion. Anyway, we got there at 11, thinking brunch by 1 at the latest... ok, well, we brought mimosas, which caused everyone to forget about food until at least 3, then we nibbled on some bread and cheese. Then Mark, the German, made some rum, sugar, wine, fruit concoction that made everyone forget about food for another 2 hours, then Pat stuck in a movie and we all proceeded to nap another 2 hours.... ANYWAY, "brunch" turned into a 9:30 DINNER! Much fun all the same, and by that point the food was GREAT.

Sunday was recovery day, which I took full advantage of by getting every muscle poked and prodded at the Thai massage place for an hour. *sigh* It was awesome.

SO the emotionally draining bit was missing family all the same, even though I kept myself busy busy busy... I got to spend two hours talking with them on-line on Christmas day though - thank goodness for modern technology!! Then night before last, the news of the earthquake in Indonesia hit me. Some of you already know I have a very close friend living there right now. It took two days to get any news, so I was a bit of a basket case for a while, but all is well - at least he's alive anyway. He says everyone there is walking around completely freaked out right now, and rightfully so. I've never seen anything so horrible in my life.

So that's what's going on with me these days. Sorry it's been so long. Thanks to all of you for your holiday warm wishes. I missed you all completely.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

We made the 6:00 news!!

The party was a SMASHING success. Not only did we have 52 rambunctious 8-year-old speaking 3 different languages, laughing and having an absolute blast, we also had about as many adults doing the same. The kids made tree ornaments and snow globes, visited with Santa, got a backpack stuffed full of goodies, sang Christmas songs, and generally got glitter and glue all over everything for two hours. FANTASTIC!!! The key thing here was that the kids were from different ethnic groups here in Kosovo. This was the first time most of these kids had ever seen someone from another ethnic group, much less played with them. It was so neat watching Serbian, Albanian and Roma children hanging out side by side working on the same activities. It just shows how much we learn to hate as we get older - at 8 years old there's still no prejudice against someone for their nationality, it's something they will learn as they get older. Hopefully with more community building activities like this one, the kids won't grow up with the same suspicions and fears their parents did. Anyway, so on top of it being really fun, we managed to garner all kinds of media attention. The event, including an interview with my smilling mug, made the 6:00 national news as well as 4 newspapers the next day. My little old landlord came knocking on my door the next morning "Mithchelle, Mitchelle - ju ju - televisore! Televisore!!", which I gathered to mean he saw me on TV the night before. He is so darn cute, I just want to pinch his cheeks. Anyway, I'm pretty proud of putting together an event that really pulled in the whole community like it did. Damn cool.

I'll have pictures posted soon, my camera was being used to take Santa photos (we printed them out for each of the kids to take home with them), so I have to gather from other sources first.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Snow snow snow

It's been threatening to do it for days now, and as I was walking home from dinner last night big fluffy white flakes came floating down. This morning I awoke to a light dusting of snow and very gray skies. *sigh* I can't begin to explain the joy and sadness this brings all at the same time. The snow is beautiful, but I feel so incredibly disconnected from everything familiar right now. Christmas is almost here, and none of it feels real. New Year's is next week, and I have no plans for the first time in years. I'm seriously going to miss my boys being at my house for New Year's this year... no party... boooooo! I've got a small case of Holiday-itis, I suppose.

I'm terribly worried about one group of my students. I only have them one day a week as it it, which most people know that is not enough for learning a language. They are my lowest level students, and really need the extra time. However, since the semester started late, we only had ten weeks to work with. In the last month, we've had 3 holidays on Mondays, cutting them down to seven weeks. Then I find out yesterday that the next two Mondays are also holidays, which means they get 8 hours of instruction and I'm supposed to give them a final exam and a grade. This just doesn't seem right. I've scheduled three make-up classes, but from past experience it seems that no one comes to these. I hope for their sake they decide it's worth it. It's really up to them at this point. I hope next semester will turn out a little better. I definitely won't schedule any classes on Mondays again. What a mess.

Well, I've got 16 essays to grade and last minute shopping for the party tomorrow to do. More later.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Busy little ELF

I have been working my little pointy ears off this past week. I had an idea for throwing a small Christmas party at the American Center for children. The idea was to bring kids from the three ethnicities in this city (Albanian, Serbian and Roma) together to learn about a 4th culture. It started as a small little party for 30 or so kids, and has blossomed into a mega-charity event, with corporate donations and media coverage. I can't believe it! So now we have 50 kids coming to make snow globes and Christmas tree ornaments, decorate the Christmas tree, sing Chrismas songs and visit with a multi-ethnic Santa Claus. I can't wait!! My students have volunteered to help wrangle all the kiddies, a local restaurant has donated all the food, another corporation has donated all the beverages and stuff, the U.S. Army donated all the gifts, the U.S. Office in Prishtina donated all the art supplies.. All of this, we've managed to pull off in two weeks! AMAZING. My hugest thanks to everyone who helped. I can't wait to post all the pictures.

And speaking of pictures, I've posted a new album from the Ultimate Frisbee Christmas party. Talk about insanity! It was one of the best parties I've been to since I've been here (Halloween withstanding).

Other than that, I realized this weekend, I've only got three weeks of class left before finals. WOW!!!! SO much work to do. Anyway, I have to run now... another meeting. I'll write Wednesday after the party. :D

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Student Blogs


I jut had to put a link to this in my blog. I am working with one group of students to write about their lives in a blog, and one student has decided to share her poetry, both in English and Albanian. I think it's beautiful. I hope you all do to. Click on the link above to go to her site.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

High today, 0 Celcius

Can that really be counted as a high?? Honestly. There is promise of snow and highs of -3 for the weekend. Oh boy! On the upside of that, I know some folks who have rented a house for the winter in nearby Bresnevica, a ski resort. I think I might actually attempt strapping a piece of fiberglass (or two) on my feet and learning how to do it right this year. With lift ticket prices at 15 euros, who could resist??

The weekend promises to be a good time, with two big Christmas parties, which I must go get ready for now. I'm in the process of planning a big Christmas party for disadvantatged kids with Santa, arts and crafts, and some Christmas carrol learning (have to throw the English lesson part in there somewhere...) and singing. Travis is going to play guitar, we're going to have a naked Christmas tree and the kids can make ornaments to hang on it, amongst some other activities - including a visit from Santa. IF I can find a Santa suit. Having some issues there. I have some connections with the National Theater, and I went to talk to the guy today about loaning me his Santa suit. As soon as he heard Amercian and American center, he wanted 100 Euros for 2 hours. Gee, thanks for the spirit of giving. I have a budget of about 200 Euros total to pull this off, so I guess Santa will have to be forgone. Dammit. I guess the promise of little gifts under the Christmas tree will be good enough. If things go as planned, one of the local NGO's that works with minority groups will be brining in a busload of Roma, Serbian and Albanian children under the age of 10 - about 50 of them... Lord help me! I am going to ask my students to volunteer to man the crafts tables.. Wish me luck!!

Ok, I really do have to go get ready now. I'm guest bartending at the Ultimate Frisbee Christmas party tonight. Now there's something right up my alley!

It's the little things...

You should have seen my face when I walked into the little market last night, and atop of the bin full of cauliflower, was broccoli!!!!!! Broccoli, o broccoli, may I sing your praises! Yes, I found fresh broccoli at the store yesterday evening, and I have been doing little private happy dances ever since. I made myself a big heaping pile of steamed broccoli with some chicken tikka masala (ok, I didn’t make that part) for dinner tonight… mmmmmmm!!!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Reality check

I can’t believe it’s already December. It seems like yesterday that I arrived here. No, really, it’s been three months. Tonight, it’s raining again. I have the metal shutters closed over my windows to keep the heat in, although it’s been damn warm for this time of year the past couple of days, and I have been lulled into staying home by the rhythmic plink plink plink of the raindrops. There was promise of a good party tonight, but somehow I can’t seem to pry myself out of my cozy little cave. I’m just not in the mood for socializing tonight. I watched The Deerhunter this afternoon, and it’s left me in a profound melancholy, pensive state of mind. It was like nothing affected these people. It was all so casual… “Oh we’re going to Vietnam tomorrow. Oh, we’re back except one of us lost his legs and most of his mind. Oh, Nick went nuts and shot himself in the head. God Bless America.” Nothing was the same but everything was at the same time. Something about that last scene really got to me. It seems like people that endure so much become absolutely numb and completely indifferent to the truly horrific. From my own experience, I can only compare it to the people here. When they talk about the war, it’s like it happened to someone else, like it was no big deal, like it happens everyday, because it did happen every day. A friend today was telling me a story about his life before the war. His family was very poor and they struggled for everything that they had. A group of men from his village needed to go into the woods to cut firewood for the upcoming winter, because firewood is not one of those things you go to the store and buy – you go cut it out of the forest. Except no one was allowed to be there - the woods were full of rebel soldiers and Serbian police. His job was to scout ahead and direct the cutters to unoccupied areas of the forest. One day he got caught by four armed policemen, and managed to talk his way out of it, saying he was looking for his lost cow in the woods. They let him go eventually, but held a gun on him until he was 100 meters down the road. He carefully circled back through the woods and got his people out of there. They could have just as easily shot him on the spot and no one would have been the wiser. 20,000 people are still missing from that war. I can’t even begin to imagine what these people have been through, it's like some kind of alternate reality. People’s adaptability to their environment is astounding to me. We moan and complain about taxes and inflation and unemployment, as if we have it bad, as if we truly suffer (And I know I’m guilty of it too.). We don’t know the meaning of the word. Living here is such an unbelievable reality check.

Through all the suffering and madness of the last five years these people are fiercely protective of their homeland, their way of life, their disappearing existence. For all the assistance the international community has given to Kosovo, it is also quickly eroding hundreds of years of traditions and values, as their society moves into the 21st century with the rest of the world. Some don’t even recognize that it’s happening to them, while others are deeply troubled by it, clinging to some last bastion of a memory of the way things used to be. Progress - it’s a strange thing. The Old World and the New World merging and becoming one… But at what price?

Ok, I’m getting myself all into a tizzy here. I’m going to stop for now, ponder the meaning of life some more, and get back to you when I come up with an answer better than 42. If anyone has any suggestions…

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Experimenting on my students

or with my students, really.... I've challeneged my Advanced Journalism students to start a Blog instead of keeping a dialog journal. We spent an hour in the computer lab today to get everyone up and running. I am really looking forward to seeing what they choose to write about, and how the themes will develop over time. Although I have left the topics open (they can wrtie about whatever they want), but made it mandatory that they post twice a week. I really hope this goes well. It could make for an very cool presentation at the next regional teacher's conference! I have some incredibly creative and funny students, so it there should be some interesting reading. I can't wait.