Monday, January 31, 2005


I barely got out of Kosovo on Wednesday. I've been planning this trip to Indonesia for I dunno how long, and the day before I'm supposed to leave, Winter decides to move into Pristina in full force. It snowed all day Monday (closing the airport) and all day Tuesday (about half the flights left). By Wednesday morning i was starting to freak out. NOOOOOOOO!!! It stopped snowing abuot noon and warmed up enough for the snow to start to melt. All flights leaving as scheduled!!! HOOORAY! So off I went on one hell of a journey to get here. First to Istanbul, then to Dubai (where I spent 5 hours sleeping in a chair in a lounge), then to Bangkok, then to Jakarta. 5 countries in on 24 hour period. Holy geez, was I tired when i got here.

So here I am in beautiful Indonesia, sweating my a** off, and loving every second of it! Matt met me at the airport and we went straight back to the hotel, talked for a bit until I just about passed out in the middle of a sentence (28 hours straight of traveling will do that to a girl). We got up the next day (Friday) and walked all over Jakarta. I had no idea it was so huge. Evidently it's the 3rd largest city in the world. It's scooter city there, as expected, but in addition you have rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, these scary looking 3-wheeled motor taxi things, and motorcycle taxis. Nobody stays in their lanes and traffic is NUTS (at least in Jakarta). That night we found a little backpacker's alley with tons of little pubs and met a couple of Indonesian fellas to hang out with. They ended up taking us to another place with live music - a helluva good blues band - and we boogied the night away. When we got back to the hotel, Matt noticed a dead bird that had been hung by a string from the corner of the balcony above us so it hung just above our balcony... not really sure what that was all about, but it seemed awfully ritualistic. Anybody know anything about that kinda stuff??

We woke up the next morning full of ambitions to hit up a couple of museums and such, but it was pouring (and I mean tropical storm, ain't never seen rain like this before, pouring). It didn't take much convincing for either of us to call it a lazy day and do a whole bunch o' nuthin'. We napped and did some responsible ELF stuff (like wrote our mid-year reports), and napped some more. That night I made him take me to Tony Roma's for dinner. I know I know, I'm in Indonesia - get some Indonesian food. I got two more weeks to do that, I wanted some RIBS. After stuffing ourselves sick, we went to a part of town called Blok M. There was supposed to be a million and one bars and clubs and stuff there, but I think our taxi driver was a little confused. He dropped us off outside a totally deserted bus station, and after walking around through dark alleys and spooky, deserted market stalls, we came out the other side where we wanted to be. So I've heard stories about prostitution in this part of the world, but I got a serious glimpse of it. We walked into this one club to dance a little, and you could tell right away what the deal was. First, I was the ONLY white girl in the room. Two, there was nothing but white DUDES in the room. Lastly, there was about a 10 to one ratio girls to guys. We kinda stood off to one side and took bets on which fat old rich guy was going to take home which girl. (I know, a little sketchy, but ya gotta go with the flow sometimes). After the "Shake that Booty" contest at midnight, we decided it was time to make a run for it before one of us got sold off without our knowledge.

Sunday we flew back to Semarang, where Matt lives and works. It's a pretty good sized city (2 million or so - roughly the population of Kosovo), although it has the feel of a smaller village. Maybe that's just becuase he doesn't live right in the center, he lives on top of a hill on the edge of town. From the campus of his school you can get a great view of the whole city, as well as a glimpse of the ocean.

Ok, so get this, I've been on an island for 4 days and have yet to see the ocean. WHAT?? That's ok, that will be remedied on Wednesday. We (he) chartered a little plane to take us to this little resort on a tiny little island off the coast. White sand beaches and bamboo huts on the water for 4 days. I can't wait... sun, snorkelling, being lazy.... FAB. Pray for good weather... they are in the middle of the rainy season here, but I hope to get just a little bit of a tan before i have to go hang out in the snow again.

Anyway, that's about it for now. I'll write more later, probably when we get back from Kura Kura. :D

Monday, January 24, 2005

Budapest unvisited

Well, I went to Budapest, and it seemed to be a beautiful place. However, with our busy schedule I only had about 4 hours to actually see the city. I don't even feel like I've been there at all. I did manage to take some lovely photos which I have posted. And YES, Jose, Pisser made the trip as well. He makes a command performance in several photos. I haven't had time to title them all yet, but I did want to get them up there before I head off for my next adventure on Wednesday. That is if it stops freakin' snowing.

Winter has finally hit Prishtina. After unexpected months of chilly, but relatively nice weather, it is here in full force. Gale winds, and blizzard conditions. It has been snowing all day today (Yak-trax in full use, thanks MOM!) and the whole city is blanketed in white, except for the streets and walkways which are now a combination of mud and ice. Lovely. Brikena, Gerard and I got into a snowball fight (well, actually just Brikena and Gerard - I hid around the corner) that resulted in Brikena ripping her coat in two places. She looked like a teddy bear with all the stuffing coming out. Even though I gave her one of my coats as a replacement, we still managed to have feathers floating all over the table when we went to dinner. I corrupted Sven yet again. He was on his way tot he gym when I called and told him we were going out to dinner at a really great restaurant... now which choice would you make?? He came with us of course (cursed me a couple of times, but still came with us instead). I'm such a bad influence. Hee hee.

So here's the cool part about my trip to Indonesia (aside from Indonesia itself...). On my way back, I have an 18 hour layover in Dubai, UAE. Sven has a contact there, so hopefully I'll have a bit of a tour guide, but if not... I'll check myself into the nearest hotel and head straight to swim in the Persian Gulf. Wow. Now that's a part of the world I never thought I'd see. The shopping is supposed to be amazing, as it is an entirely duty free zone, and the city itself is also supposed to be beautiful, and on top of that... it's on the ocean. How cool. Pisser is going to be one well-traveled bear. Jose, you'll hardly recognize him anymore when he returns from his adventures. :)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Touching Lives

"hi michi
i am very happy for you that you could go out of Kosovo for vacations because i know that you hate the stinking air of Prishtina and the ocean will be the right place to go and get some fresh air,and i am also happy that you are getting used how things work here in our universitys because i think that this could help you to stay for another year in Kosovo because you are a very good teacher and also it is our pleasure to have a talented teacher as you are and also a good opurtunity to learn good english and also the reason that we were fantastic this semester is becaus you learned us good and also we are very proud of you too.
you are a fantastic teacher
i wish you very good vacations"

This is a comment on my blog from a student... this is what makes this job worthwhile... they DO care as much as I do. I can't tell you what this makes me feel other than wanting to jump up and down. If nothing else, I've touched one person's life a little.

And as a public response to your comment... I don't hate the stinking air as much as it hates me, Jetmir. It makes my alergies act up, but other than that, Pristina is fine. After all, it is where my fantastic students live!! I hope you have a good vacation too, I'll see you in February, when classes get "serious"... as serious as my classes get anyway. I already miss seeing you all, and it's only been a week. Oh no! I think you have gotten under my skin. Actually, I don't think so, I KNOW so. Thank you for your enthusiasm, for you willingness to learn, and for being a part of my life in Kosovo.

I am in Budapest right now, at the end of an incredible conference that gave me more work ideas than I can possibly handle, but it at least makes my project sustainable and valuable for another year. I'll write more about it later, I'm still too keyed up about it now. Anyway, love you all. Miss you still. Somebody write me an email...I've been lacking in that lately...


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Great Vanilla Quest

I brought every spice known to man with me on this trip, after the difficulty I had while in Spain tracking down a few things. However, the one thing that did not occur to me to bring, because it seemed like such a given that you would be able to find it anywhere, was vanilla extract. To my ultimate disappointment, this was not the case. It cannot be found in Kosovo. Nor can it be found in Skopje. Nor anywhere else in the Balkans. So I put the feelers out to several friends going abroad for the holidays to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE bring me some vanilla. It worked. My friend Sven brought me the biggest fattest bottle of Adam's Best Vanilla Extract back from NY and gave it to me on Saturday night. I was so incredibly excited... I was going to make cookies galore as soon as I got it home. I had the precious cargo in my purse, and as I was fumbling in the dark for my keys (as the power was out yet again), the bottle tumbled, seemingly in slow motion, to the cold, hard tile floor below. As it reached it's final resting point, the heavenly aroma of vanilla filled the vestibule of my apartment building, and a dark brown puddle seeped out of the box as the bottle expired, shattered into a thousand tiny shards of glass and essence of sweetness all over the floor. I could have cried. I think tears may have actually welled up in my eyes. Gone in an instant were the dreams of Toll house chocolate chip cookies. Visions of sugar cookies danced before me, mocking me, taunting me... neener neener neener. Thwarted in my plans of totally indulging in fattening bliss. Boo, hisss. I'm not on a diet here, people!! I can have cookies!!! I NEED cookies. I guess I'll have to resort to Plan B - look for vanilla in Budapest. Either that or plant a vanilla tree. (Do vanilla beans grow on trees?) That's right, the girl who can't keep an aloe vera plant alive to grow her own spices.... hahahahahhahahahaha. These are the lengths I will go to for chocolate chip cookies. And I'm dead serious. :P


After weeks and months of dreaming of traveling.. the time has come. Yes, friends, tomorrow afternoon I am on a plane to Budapest, Hungary for 5 days. Three of those days are tied up in some silly conference... lol, ok, it will be very beneficial. I have two presentations to give - one on my lovely life here in Prishtina, and the other on managing multiple bosses. After that, it's R&R time. I get back from Budapest Sunday night, and I have 2 days to get it together to go to the BEACH. Oh god I can't wait to see the Ocean.
I get to stick my feet in a brand new ocean this time... the Indian. That's 3 out of 4 (or 5, depending on whose view you take on it) not bad for a mere lass of 33. Now if I can just get in two more continents before I'm 35, I'll have 6 out of 7 under my belt. Antarctica really isn't that high up on my list of things to see. Penguins in the wild would be cool, but I think you can do that in South America. Hmm....

I have finished all of my grading, I have signed everyone's grade books, and I am DONE with work for a month. NICE. Just a little side note on the University system here... The grading system is a little different from ours, as nothing is really computerized. Students don't have "transcripts" as we know them. They have these books that the professors all have to sign. I don't know what happens if these books get lost. It has every course the student has ever taken at University and all of their grades. If it were me, I would lose it within the first week. Then again, that's just one of my many talents. I'd also like to know what these kids are supposed to do if they apply for any university outside of Kosovo? Send their book? A photocopy? I don't know. Slowly, but surely I'm getting used to the way things work around here. I won't even get into University politics right now. I'm going to have a long chat with my RELO in Budapest because things are starting to get ugly. I'm not at all sure my position will exist next year. I hope it does... I think... I'm wavering on coming back right now. I think it's just the tail end of holiday homesickness though.

So today is dedicated to last minute laundry, which is a joke since it takes 3 days for anything to dry, packing, and cleaning up my apartment for a friend who is going to stay here while I'm gone. It's 6:30, have I done any of this? OF COURSE NOT. I guess I should go get started.

Ok, enough babbling for one day. I wish I had something truly important to share. I guess I could tell you that I'm feeling much better, the vertigo isn't as bad (still here but definitely better). And I really should tell you how proud I am of my students this semester. They are FANTASTIC.

Friday, January 14, 2005


seems to be the only disease I have... that and some kind of middle ear or inner ear viral infection that is causing all this dizziness. All other neurological tests seemed to be just fine - I just can't stand up with my eyes closed - I fall right over. I go back tomorrow for a bit of bloodwork just to be sure. But generally he told me I'm a little stressed out, gave me a small dosage of what boiled down to be some kind of mild tranquilizer (anti-stress medication, is what he called it), and told me to get some rest. HA. SO there ya have it. No brain tumors, no aneurisms, no strange fatal diseases. Just overworked. Hm. SOOOOO glad I am on vacation as of this week... it's a desperately needed month off. Mom, I now understand why you're so tired all the time. Teaching is HARD. It's not the class time that wears you out, it's all the time spent outside of class, the paperwork, the planning, the organization... and when you're working without textbooks or materials... yikes!! An ounce of creativity is helpful, and thank GOD for the internet (aside from giving scary medical diagnoses, it also has valuable teaching resources). Oh poop. I'm just whining now. I'll stop.

I have a thousand diseases, all fatal...

I have been so terribly undilligent about writing since New Years! Sorry Sorry, yes, I"m still alive... a little stressed out, but that is easing up a bit since I gave my last final exam yesterday. All I have left to do now is grade them all, and all the final papers, and get grades out. By Tuesday. No biggie.

I had planned on taking the day off today to sleep and do nothing, but instead I'm heading for the doctor. I'm not sick, but I've got myself sufficiently freaked out that I'm going to go take care of my psychosamatic worries today. The past two weeks I've been having these constant low grade nagging headaches, doubled up with bouts of dizziness. Even rolling over in bed has been giving me the spins. Normally, I would just pass this off as stress and know things will get much better as soon as I'm lying on a beach half-naked sipping a rum drink out of a coconut (12 days and counting 'till I'm off to Indonesia - NO, not the destroyed part). Or to changes in the weather, or the bad air in this city or a million other minor things... But I did hit my head pretty hard on the concrete a few weeks ago playing Ultimate (I got tackled accidentally). So in doing some research on the internet for causes of dizziness and headaches, I've managed to convince myself it's a brain tumor or an aneurism that will explode if I get on a plane, or that I've fractured my skull or that I will probably die in the next two days if I don't go to the doctor. Isn't the internet great??? Reading those medical "check your symptoms" things online is like reading your horoscope. They are so general they could apply to just about anything - thank you thank you technology for allowing us to self diagnose drastically horrible diseases that are incredibly unlikely and increasing stress levels of worryworts like me... geez. (the effect of which is probably what is causing the headaches to begin with... maybe they're in cahoots with doctors.... hmmmm...)

Anyway, I've got to clean up my house before my cleaning woman gets here (another incredibly stupid thing I do, but I find I am not alone in this), and then I've got to prepare myself for the horrible news of a sinus infection or something. LOL... More on the sinister prognosis later...

Monday, January 03, 2005

Unsatisfied Cravings

Have you ever had something so specific on your mind when you went to the grocery store that nothing else will do? In the States, this is not a problem. Two weeks ago I was in the Hipermarket (the closest thing to a supermarket we have here) and I found (glory of glories) sliced white cheddar cheese. I was so excited I bought two packs, and devoured them within the week. So last week I was back in Hipermarket looking for things for the Christmas Party, and almost bought some more, but they didn't have everything I needed and I didn't want to have to stop by my house on the way to the other pseudo-supermarket to drop of my things. I put the cheese back and went on my merry way. Silly me. Today I go back to stock up on my purchase and in the spot where the cheddar cheese should be was nothing. *gasp* the HORROR!!! Not only was there no cheddar cheese, but the only excuse for cheese that they had was some processed plasticene something called "Burger Cheese". Hmph. I've never been so disappointed in all my life. Welcome to living in a 3rd world country. For all the lovely things about Kosovo, this is the one thing I still have trouble adjusting to. If you see something in the store that you want - BUY IT, because it may not be there next time and you will probably never see it again. Sad, but true.

On a slightly funnier note, I threw away two small garbage bags of pickles today. We ended up not being able to collect enough jars for the Christmas Party to make snow globes, so we bought 50 small jars of pickles. Guess who had to empty them all?? My apartment has smelled like pickles for two weeks. I did my best to eat as many of them as I could, but honestly, there's only so many pickles a girl can eat. So today, I emptied the two gallon sized ziplocs and three half gallon tupperware containers of pickles into the garbage. Seemed like such a waste, but I really don't ever want to see a pickle again in my entire life. Seriously.

Ok, I'm off to go house sit at Jennifer's palace in the old part of town. She's gone to Ireland for teh week and I'm supposed to take care of her plants. Oh dear god. Those of you who know me well know I can't keep a houseplant alive to save my life. I've killed aloe vera. I've killed ivy. And she's got a delicate little African Violet plant that is just barely clinging to life right now. She entrusted it to me. How was I supposed to tell her she had just virtually committed vegicide?? I'm going to give it my best. We'll see. The plant chronicles will continue later.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Musings... (can't manage to come up with a better title than that tonight)

SO here I am, sitting in my apartment alone again, partaking in the fruitless efforts of cards on the computer. I lost about $5000 at Blackjack (all fake money, of course), won two games of gin rummy, lost a game of Euchre, played Text Twist for an hour without making it on the board (only because the lowest score there right now is 87,000) and managed to talk to my family for an hour. GOD I NEED A VACATION, or a life. Or both.

Today Brikena, Gerrit and I went to Bratislava to the “lake”. I put this in quotes because it just doesn’t compare to a lake by our familiar standards. It was more like a river that badly needed to go on a diet. However, it was water nonetheless, in an otherwise waterless world. (Have I mentioned I hate being landlocked???!!!) What is it about water that gives a bit of serenity to the world? Maybe that’s why there have been so many wars here – lack of water! That’s my theory and I’m stickin’ to it! Anyway, we got out of the truck into the mud and muck and thankfully didn’t get stuck. (that’s my not-so-subtle attempt at really shitty poetry. Did it at least make someone laugh? It made me chuckle a little – then groan because it was so bad.) We just wanted to walk around in the fresh air a bit. It felt great to breathe something other than the stinking air of Prishtina. I spent ten minutes slowly shifting my weight from one foot to the other in order to sneak up on some rather unusual looking ducks to take a picture. I moved so slowly that they never even saw me coming. I was a tree that just kept getting a little bigger. Just as I got close enough, I slowly squatted down to get the perfect angle – the light glinting off the lake behind these odd looking ducks, shimmering silver while the clouds reflected the pinkish hues of the sunset. As I gained my balance, I framed up the shot and slowly pressed the shutter button. BEEP BEEP – “LOW BATTERY” it screamed at me, and the ducks ran away at the mechanical whirring of the zoom lens retracting back into the body of the camera. “@#%&)(#*$)#*$&)#*$()Q@&$(@!!!!!!,” she said quite loudly, further propelling our feathered friends into the distance. GRRRRR. Battery eating power hogging razzafrazzin’ digital camera!!! Poop.

Anyway, I made a huge admission about myself today. Not only am I a bad passenger (I take full advantage of Oh Shit handles whenever possible), I am an utter control freak. I know this may come as a big shock to some people (ha ha ha), but seriously, it’s an issue. Just for example, going around curves today, I knew we were perfectly safe, but I just couldn’t trust someone else to handle the vehicle. Of course, I could have done a much better job, had I been driving. SHUT UP! It takes a lot of work to turn off the inner dialogue in my head shouting “LOOK OUT! SLOW DOWN! OH GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” There is not a damn thing wrong with Gerrit’s driving, I’m just a nutjob. So as they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem. Ok, now how do I fix it? It’s bound to be annoying as hell. I know these things permeate other factors in my life too. In some areas it’s a real strength, like organizing events and being well prepared for whatever, but in others it’s truly inhibiting potential success, I’m sure of it. There we go! That’s my New Year’s Resolution for 2005 – relinquish some of need for control. Roll with it, baby… roll with it.

Family Love

I love my family. And they love me. We love each other so much, we even draw pictures for each other. This is the result of my Christmas Day conversation with my sister Diedra. She loves me. See... it says so at the bottom.

Aren't they great? Someone who still loves you for the complete dork that you are. Aww. Family is good. (i'm proving my dorkiness, aren't I? crapola.)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's in Kosovo

2005. New Year’s Day. Hmmm. I’ve spent it in my traditional way, wathching movies and eating Chinese take out. However, instead of being surrounded with my friends, I have spent it alone. Boo. I’m really missing the Gang right now. This was our New Year’s Day specialty.

So New Year’s Eve in Kosovo was interesting. Instead of organized fireworks, they sell them openly on the streets. For the past few days you couldn’t walk through town without some little kid throwing a black cat at your feet. But that didn’t even begin to compare to midnight last night. It was insanity. It sounded like the whole city was going to explode – and it looked like daylight. We were at my friend Brikena’s house on the 6th floor and from that vantage point we had a 180 degree view of the city. People were shooting massive fireworks off of their balconies in every direction – the big balls of color, the ones that explode into white light then twinkle down like falling stars, the whistling rockets that whizzed past her windows only to explode on the ground below, whole packets of black cats falling from the roof dancing on the pavement in a cataclysmic jig – all of this mixed with the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons being fired into the air. Even with all the calamity and commotion going on, you could easily pick out the sound of gunfire amidst the fireworks. This was my first reminder in 2005 that there was a war here recently. Aside from the few remaining bombed out buildings and the occasional casual comments by my students about missing family members, I really haven't felt the whole "war" thing much. But that sound, and the smell of gunpowder that hung in the air like mist, made it come crashing into focus with the sour taste of reality. It made me glad I wasn’t in the streets, that I was in someone’s house. Brikena and her brother were joking about it being 1999, not 2005... "Helloo, NATO..." A little surreal actually. We didn’t venture out to the big parties until nearly 1 am, when most of this had died down. From there we ended up at the Kukri listening to the worst Karaoke I have ever heard in my entire life - and I've worked in bars with Karaoke. This was truly awful. Then it was on to the Irish Pub, and around 3 am we tried to go to another party, but it was €10 to get in and none of us were really feeling like paying that much to go to a party that we were likely to leave in an hour anyway, so home we went. Pretty fun, but just not the same without the gang.

So New Year’s resolutions… don’t have any this year. I actually didn’t even think about it that much. I guess I should have. There’s a lot of things I’d like to change about my life. I’d like to exercise again. I’d like to quit smoking again. (yeah, I’ve started again - it's hard not to here… dammit) I’d like to fall hopelessly, madly, deeply in love. I think two out of three of those are possible this year. You decide which ones. Ha. Anyone else got anything more interesting?

By the way, I’ve posted new pictures this week – some of the Christmas Party, and some of Prishtina in general. They’re under Kosovo December and AC Christmas Party. Enjoy!