Sunday, February 27, 2005

White white snow and red tape

It snowed all last night and the world is covered in a blanket of white. Even the sky is white today, it’s hard to tell where the earth ends and the air begins. The tops of houses melt seamlessly into the sky, leaving me with a feeling that I’m living in a Guadi painting. Another perfect day for staying home and smoking a million cigarettes to occupy the empty spot in my gut. But that is not to be... someone scheduled a frisbee game for this afternoon. It's going to be sooooooooo cold, but it's better than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself for not being on a tropical island somewhere.

In other news, the American Scottish Swede, the laughable Bitter Jew (who I promptly deleted out of my address book the day after we met - within five minutes of meeting him, I'd learned he was fiercely proud of being Jewish and had a love hate relationship with Prishtina, and generally everything else in the world - leaning heavily on the hate side) and I went out to Bondsteel yesterday for Burger King, Cinnabon and shopping at the PX. Camp Bondsteel is one of the largest Army bases in the world. It's like a little American city, with fast food, shopping, just a nice piece of home. Everything was all set to go, we were in an OSCE vehicle, all had proper credentials to get me on base (or so we thought) It seems even with the high-up you still need 5 other types of special passes to gain entry. No one had a Yellow KFOR badge to sign me in, so they wouldn't let me on the base. Booooo! Guess what I got to do while everyone else was inside enjoying a little taste of Americana? I sat in the guard shack at the gate chatting it up with Mr. Jones, head of security. I didn’t have a book, magazine, or even a pamphlet on the dangers of crossing the street in Prishtina with me to read. I got everyone’s life story who popped through the door, and just made the best of the situation. What else can you do?

None of the guards are Army (at least not anymore), and yet they choose to live on an Army base where they have to follow the same rules as the soldiers. Most places that wouldn’t be such a big deal, but on Bondsteel, the soldiers are not allowed to leave without a lot of Red Tape, nor are they allowed to drink alcohol in any way form or fashion. And these people were there by choice. Most of them were Army brats, or had served and retired already (like Mr. Jones). I still have a hard time understanding the military attitude. Some of the soldiers I’ve met are just the nicest sweetest things, and you can’t imagine them ever feeling the need to harm another human being. They look so out of place with an M-16 hanging over their shoulder – the kind of boys (and I say boys because they are 18, 19 20 years old – my brother’s age) you can’t imagine in combat, because you’re afraid the minute the bullets started flying, they’d start to cry. Then on the other side of the coin, you find people that are so freakin’ gun and combat crazy, you can’t imagine them being anything but military - and you’re awfully glad they’re on your side, and not the other. It’s a strange world, the military.

Anyway, and hour and a half later Sven and Andy reappeared with a bag full of guilt-goodies for me: Lucky Charms, Burger King, candy, and the real winner – TWINKIES! I put them in the freezer for true enjoyment this evening. That'll be NICE after an afternoon of hardcore Ultimate. :D

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Just a funny story

Another funny story to tell – last weekend the Trav came up on Saturday instead of Sunday, just to socialize and get out of his small little one-horse town. So I rounded up a couple of Frisbee folks for a couple of beers and some dancing. Somewhere in the mix, the Wicked Brit started in with the Rakia. (For those of you not in the “know” Rakia is a local liquor made from the skin of grapes, like grappa but really more like jet fuel.) Shortly after that, the Trav made the wise move to go home. If I had been smart, I would have gone with him. I gave him my keys and sent him on his merry way. About an hour later, the rest of us decided to do the same. The Wicked Brit walked me to my building, and headed on to his house a little ways up the hill. I rang my doorbell. I rang my doorbell again. Let me just say that when I say doorbell, I don’t mean a wimpy little “ding-dong”, it’s a full-on screaming buzzer. I sat on the doorbell for a full minute. No response from the Trav. I called him. I called him again. NOTHING. Little shit passed out and wouldn’t let me in!! I called the WB back and made him walk back and get me so I could sleep on his couch. So while I’m freezing in WB’s unheated living room, the Trav is sleeping in my snug little apartment. Bastard. The next morning when I arrived home, not only did I find a sheepish looking Trav in my house, but he had decided that since I wasn’t home by 5 am, that he would just crawl in my flannel-sheeted, cozy bed and sleep there instead of the sofa. Grrrrrrr. I’m not going to let him live that one down for a while.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Work work work

I have been back a week, and I have done basically nothing but work. I am quickly learning that the beginning of the semester is the hardest part. There's a ton of organizational work, testing and planning, planning, planning. Plus, this semester, I am experimenting on my students again. One of the things I want to do while I am here is improve the computer literacy skills of my students. SO, I set up a Yahoo! Group for all of my classes. Everyone is required to join, I've put all of their homework assignments on the site, and added links to helpful language learning tools. I hope they decided to use it. Maybe I'll set up some special workshops if students are interested. MORE work!!! yeah! There's a never ending supply of stuff to do here... at least I don't get bored.

It's an absolutely gorgeous day here today - sunny, warm enough to walk around with just a light jacket, and everyone is in a good mood. It makes me feel a little better about being back. I still can't help wishing I was still on an island somewhere. Oh well - spring is coming, spring is coming - that's my mantra today.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Home again, home again - boooooooo!

Well, 56 hours and just about as many nervous breakdowns later, I arrived in Kosovo. I left 85 degree weather and sun to come to freezing temps and snow and ice. Someone please tell me what is wrong with me???? I have never not wanted to be somewhere so badly in my entire life. BUT, I have a job to do. I jumped right in and started teaching at 10 am the day after I got home. It was really nice to see my students again. I've got a thousand and one ideas for classes and I'm pretty jazzed about this semester, but GOD I wish I was somewhere warm!!!

Anyway.... does anyone have a copy of the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" that they would like to ship me immediately? I want to use it for one of my classes but can't find it here. I can send you an address in the States that will get to me in about 10 days..... let me know.

P.S. I've posted all the pics from Indonesia. Go make yourselves jealous!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Just trying to go home...

Ok, so I owe you lots of stuff about my trip to Indonesia, but right now I feel a great need to winge and whine about my trip home to Kosovo (so far, anyway- I've been at it 36 hours and I'm only half way there). It all started in Semarang Saturday evening. Mr. M's* neighbor drove us to the airport where I was to catch a flight to Jakarta, connect to Dubai, connect to Istanbul then connect to Prishtina. Well THAT didn't happen. It seems a little rainstorm caused a plane to slide off the runway and into a concrete embankment, closing the Semarang airport for two days. UH OH. Garuda (the airline I was on to Jakarta) said the best they could tell me was re-book to Jakarta the next morning, and speak with the customer service office in Jakarta when I arrived. The good news, I got to spend another night in Indonesida, the bad news - I missed all of my connecting flights, and things went downhill from there. SO I booked a 6:30 am flight to Jakarta, figuring that might give me enough time to catch another flight to Dubai (I had an 18 hour layover there) and hit the rest of my connections. About an hour later they called and cancelled that flight without offering to rebook squat. I called them back about an hour later and cried until they booked me business class at 8 am. :D Hell of a lot of good that did me, they bumped me back down to Economy when I got to the airport the next morning. At least I was on a plane.

When I arrived in Jakarta, I was under the assumption the airline would put me on any flight available to get me where I needed to go - NOT the case. It seems they will only work with the route you are scheduled and the airlines you are scheduled with so that it really doesn't cost them anything. It just gives me one big FAT headache. Finally after two hours of haggling, we managed to arrange something that wasn't terribly unacceptable - I would get back to Skopje instead of Prishtina, but I would get there Tuesday instead of Thursday that way. Mind you, I was supposed to be home on Monday. In the mean time, I was stuck in Jakarta for 8 hours, but they put me up at the transit hotel to pass the time. Took a nap, watched a movie, did some shopping and packed up and left.

So I got to Dubai finally at 5:45 this morning (Monday). My flight out is at 3:30 am on Tuesday, so I needed somewhere to hang out for 22 hours. I had hoped to just go into the airport and check into the lounge that I stayed at on the way to Indonesia. BUT, since I was changing airlines in Dubai, I had to collect my baggage and go back through customs. And since I'm not flying out on Emirates, I am flying on Turkish, I can't get back into the airport until midnight tonight. So here I am, stuck outside the Dubai airport in the rain with all of my baggage and no where to go, thanks to some festival that has every hotel in town booked up. Cried again. Someone took pity on me and hunted up a room at a 5 star hotel (NICE) for the day, at the mere cost of $165. Greeeeaaaat. As they were giving me my voucher for the hotel at the Emirates counter, they also proceeded to inform me that my flight from Dubai to Istanbul wasn't confirmed, that I was on Stand-by. Just so you know, if I don't make this connection, there's not another one for two days, which leaves me stranded here - with no hotel room in sight, and no one to pick up the tab - thank you Garuda! I marched my irritated, and exhausted ass to the Turkish Airlines office this morning and cried for the third time in 36 hours (when did I turn into such a baby?) as they proceeded to tell me that not only am I on stand-by, but that I also have to pay $75 for all of the changes to my route, although I had absolutely NOTHING to do with them. Garuda should have taken care of all of this, but since tehre is no Garuda office here, I am in a bit of a fix. It would cost me as much for the phone call to get them to straighten everything out as it would to just pay for the ticket. The woman at the Turkish office said she would do all she can to try to fix this, but I won't know anything until after 5 pm tonight. Great. Again.

Needless to say, I'm stressed out, tired, and just want to go home. On the upside, I AM in a 5-star hotel with the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in - big fat down pillows and comforters, wireless internet in the room, and a lovely view of the parking lot. Too bad I can't sleep. I was going to go lay out by the pool all afternoon, but lucky me... it's raining. *sigh* I just can't win. Anyway, wish me luck... I hopefully will be home in a few days. Since I'm stuck here, and have good internet, I'm going to try to post some of my pics. Check them out when you have some time. :)

* I've decided to not use anyone's real names anymore in my blog, just in case I want to bad mouth you (just kidding)... however, you should be able to figure out who you are. :P

Monday, February 07, 2005

Private Islands

I love vacations. I haven't been this relaxed in ages. I have so much to write about, I don't even know where to begin. I'll save the stories of my wanderings through back-alleys in Semarang for another day and jump straight to our island adventures.

Mr. M planned this incredible trip for us the second weekend I was in Indonesia. He chartered a plane to take us to this little island 80 km north of Semarang in the Karimunjawa Archipelago - a string of 29 tiny islands in the middle of the Java Sea. We were going to spend 4 days on the only resort in the area on a tiny island, Menyawakan, a 30-minute boat ride away from the main island in the chain. As we got to the airport and checked into the tiny little counter for Kura Kura Resort , I really had no idea what to expect. We sat in the main airport lobby, which isn't much bigger than that of Prishtina airport (read as TINY), and watched the jets pull away. On the far side of the tarmac sat three small planes - two that sat about 6 people, not including the pilot, that we were comfortable enough with. Neither of us are great fliers. Then there was the other plane. The kind you see torn into a thousand tiny pieces when some inexperienced pilot hits a power line or something... it was a 4 seater Cessna (that included the pilot and co-pilot seats). We were certain that was not our plane. In the mean time, we had to fill out the release forms for the resort. It had the usual "we are not responsible for injury or death resulting from activities on the island... blah blah blah" stuff that most release forms have, and as this was a diver's paradise, it was to be expected. However, the clause that caught me off-guard was the bit about not being responsible for injuries from falling coconuts. Would they be issuing some sort of hard-hat to us as we got off the plane? How do you guard yourself from falling coconuts? I just kept picturing Yosemite Sam marooned on the island and getting beaned on a regular basis with coconuts from nowhere. It could happen. Especially to me. (Pops, I think that would be worse than 10 tree branches from my youth!!)

The resort's personal hostess came to get us in the lobby and escort us to our chariot of the skies shortly after we sat finished filling out our forms. She walked us towards the two beautiful, slightly larger planes... but then, began to lead us to the teeny, tiny, single-prop, mosquito of an airplane. Destiny. My stomach began to knot up and my palms started to sweat. Mr. M gave my hand a squeeze and it gave me a short-lived sense of reassurance that his palms were wet too. I wasn't the only one freaking out. Mr. M cracked a couple of cool jokes about the size of the plane, the pilot laughed and told us to climb in. With a nervous glance behind me, I stepped on the wing brace and squeezed into the back seat. Honestly, I've seen Volkswagen Bugs with bigger back seats. Five minutes later we were airborne over the Java Sea, swearing and praying and trying to relax. Thankfully the skies were clear, and we had stunning views of the sea around us. About 40 minutes later, the islands were in view and I was struck into utter silence. The water was so crystal clear that you could see the reefs even from our cruising altitude of 3,000 feet. As we descended into the airport (if you can call a one room cabin with runway shorter than most people's driveways an airport - however, it did bear a sign that said "Karimunjawa International Airport), all we could see were tiny fishing boats and coconut trees. We descended from the plane and headed to our third mode of transportation in 2 hours. It was on to the boat. A two minute drive around the airport building took us to the dock where a speed boat awaited our arrival. They whisked us away, dodging coral reefs and diving spear-fishermen along the way.

When we finally arrived at the resort, we were greeted by the smiling staff holding cool drinks served in, what else, coconuts. Again, Yosemite Sam entered my brain - coconut soup, coconut fricasee, coconut a la king "I HATE COCONUTS!!!".... what would the menu entail??? In fact, the menu was pretty extensive, the food was good, and the service excellent. It ought to have been - we were the only guests in the entire resort that weekend. Our own private island for 4 days - unbelievable!! After a long walk around the island, exploring the little nooks and crannies and finding hidden beaches, we settled into our beachside bungalow, had some lunch and relaxed.

That night we dined on a sumtuous seafood feast by the light of tiki torches - a table for two set on the beach, with the sound of the waves caressing the reef that surrounded the island and the smell of salt thick in the air. It was perfect. So perfect I didn't think I'd ever want to leave.