Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

I was able to find a frozen turkey in one of the local supermarkets but I won't have the chance to cook it for a couple of weeks.  Maybe I'll try to do a traditional holiday dinner with my friends before traveling home for Christmas.  For me, Thanksgiving was always a time to spend with friends and I'm feeling a little down today to be so far away from the comforts of home.  But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am thankful to have the opportunity to come to Kosovo and to have met the wonderful people here...all the people.

I had lunch with two of my girlfriends today.  The restaurant was full but I was able to grab the last table upstairs.  A few minutes after sitting down, I got a message that my friends were sitting downstairs in the restaurant.  I told them that I was upstairs and they came up, not very happy with the situation and I understand why.  They arrived a couple minutes before I did and when they asked for the table for three, they were directed downstairs even though the table was free in the corner where I was seated.  They were told the table was reserved.  When I arrived, I was shown to the table by the waiters immediately...and I had not reserved the table.  Why did I get the table and they were banished to the basement? 

Well, my girlfriends are from Kosovo, the label "local" or "national" is applied to them, and I am an international.  I have more money and blah, blah, blah with all the stereotypes of why the internationals are somehow better than people from Kosovo.  All I have to say is "what a crock of bull$hit."  I don't understand how a person can classify themselves as superior to another person based on the fact that they are from another country.  I often have asked myself how a person from a war-ravaged African country can think they are better than a Kosovar because there is a UN-mission here when there is also a UN-mission in their country.  How does a passport make you superior?  In the end, it is just a bunch of pieces of paper bound together by glue.  The true spirit and essence of the nature of the person lies within their heart, not their nationality.  The worth of a person is not based on where they are from but their actions and behavior to their fellow man...the contents of their soul. 

I often find myself annoyed at the behavior of expatriates in Kosovo towards the Kosovars.  I especially annoys me when I hear people talking about how they don't care about the problems and are only here for the money.  If they took a moment to look at the situation...looked into the eyes of the children begging for money on the streets...maybe they would start caring.  But too often, people miss the details of their surroundings.  Kosovo and her people are beautiful and special.  I'm glad that I am here.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Popsicle Toes

Brrrr!!! It is hella cold outside!!!  Actually, it's not that cold but it is around freezing.  It's pretty cold inside the flat as well since the heaters were off in the house for a week while we were in Brussels. Emin, the landlord's son, built two fires to heat up the house but failed to turn on any of our electric heaters *hehe*  So, when I got home, I built fires again and turned on all available heaters...but then the power went out around 3am and was scheduled to stay off until 12pm.  I guess the power plant crapped out and they were doing emergency imports of power only for the hospitals and like facilities. 

So, I am back to the morning ritual of waking up, taking Smokey outside, and spending 20 minutes hauling firewood and building fires :)  I do love the winter though...sometimes I wish I could just sit in front of the fire and not go anywhere!  Smokey was lucky to get a little sympathy from Emin while we are gone and spent some time in the house unsupervised.  Tonight when I go home, providing there is power, I will look to see if and where he peed in the house :-P

The flight back to Pristina was the late Austrian flight that arrives at 9:45pm.  Flying over Kosovo at night was a rare treat that I had not yet experienced.  You know when you fly to cities in the US, you can see defined streets, organized neighborhoods, neat and concise city planning?  Well, flying over Kosovo more looks like someone took a couple strings of Christmas lights, tangled them up into knots and threw them into a box *chuckle* 

I almost forgot to share...I bought a freshwater lobster for my fish tank right before I left for Brussels.  He seems to be doing well with the other fish although they did eat nine neon tetras overnight!  He also killed one of the other smaller fish in the aquarium...but I have to say that fish didn't do much except hang out near the maybe he deserved it *hehe*  Survival of the fittest!!!  Anyways, I now have two cleaner fish (one big nasty looking slug one that has yet to be identified), one large black fish with an orange tail, one large blue fish that hides in the castle all day, two zebra fish, one Beta fighting fish, one striped fish with a hard-spike on his back (poked a hole in the bag when I bought him and was stuck in the bag!), and finally, Larry the Lobster :)

Monday, November 8, 2004

Old Man Winter

It seems that Old Man Winter has come to Kosovo.  The temperature dropped last Thursday evening and by Saturday night, it was raining.  Yesterday, there were big flakes of snow mixed in with the rain and the temperature was only 45ºF.  I was freezing in the morning when I woke up and dragged out all my heaters.  Unfortunately, Smokey had peed on a couple of the heaters so one is now outside on the patio for him...I can't seem to get rid of the nasty smell it gives off.  And last night, I started my first wood fire of the season...ah, I was reminded of how nice a wood-fire is and how lovely it sounds :)

The power has started going off regularly again.  It looks like for now the schedule with be four on, two off until it gets really cold.  Then who knows what will happen!  Last night I had one of those exasperating Kosovo moments.  The power went out so I went outside to start the generator.  Sometimes when it has been run for a couple days, it can be stubborn and difficult to start.  So I was pulling, pulling, and pulling (starts like a lawnmower) but it wouldn't start.  So, I went inside for a second to cool down...kicking the generator usually only hurts my foot :)  Then I went outside and pulled, nothing, pulled, nothing, pulled...chug, chug, chug.  YES!  Got it started.  Suddenly it was really bright inside.  I thought for myself, wow, the generator is working really well.  Then I realized, the power was back on *hehe*  So, I turned off the generator and turned the tv back on.  Ten minutes later, the power went off again.  Grrrrr, I said to myself, I will wait five minutes to see if the power came back on.  But it didn't so I turned on the generator for the next two hours.

I scored a hat-trick last night.  Caught and killed three mice in the hallway with my old-fashioned, break-the-neck, nasty mouse traps.  I'm sure there are more lurking in the hallway so I will reset them tonight and see what else I catch.  The house I live in is 20 years old so in the winter, field mice can be a problem.  We've had the darnedest time trying to find mouse-traps.  The local markets don't seem to sell anything but luckily, I guess they have problems at Bondsteel (US base in Kosovo) because I found traps there :)  So, with a little cheese and the properly placed trap I'm a deadly weapon against intruding mice *hehe*

Thursday, October 28, 2004


Well, the fact that I didn't write anything is an indication of how quiet the election period was.  It was almost too quiet but I am thankful that there was no trouble.  In par with the rest of Europe and probably the US, only around 53% of the eligible population turned out to vote.  Of that, only 2% of the Serb population voted.  I would have thought with the displeasure at the current government and perceived lack of progress more people would have been interested in taking part.  I often told people that if they didn't vote in the elections, they forfeited the right to complain because they didn't do their part in the elections...even if their candidate lost, at least it was one more vote closer to changing the future.

I am however disappointed with the result of the election which is there was virtually  no change in the current government.  The current president's party lost one seat and the Prime Minister's party picked it up.  Other than that, nothing :-P  I really don't understand how people who say they are so dissatisfied with the work of the current government could elect the same officials to represent them for the next two years again!  I will be interested to see what occurs now...if the independence ticket will continue to be pushed before standards are set and established.  Really, I keep thinking to myself, who the heck cares about independence vs. autonomy when there is no economy, no education, no future?!? 

On the home front, there have been some interesting developments around our flat.  A couple months ago, someone broke the for sale sign outside the house.  Emin fixed it and a couple weeks ago, someone came and destroyed the sign.  This time there isn't hope to repair it because they smashed the post that was in the ground for the sign.  Then we discovered that someone had stolen part of our firewood.  They slashed the plastic over mine and then went around the corner to take some of Emin's family's as well.  I meant to replace the plastic this weekend but I was too lazy :)  But now Smokey is staying on the back balcony of our house, right outside the bedroom, because if they come back, I'm gonna give them a piece of my mind about stealing people's firewood.  It's downright impolite!!!

The weather hasn't been all that bad lately.  It is in the 50's most of the time so it has been a mild fall.  I am looking forward to when the temperature drops because I do love the scent and sounds of a wood fire burning.  Snuggling down on the couch with Smokey and a cup of hot chocolate to watch a movie :)  Ah, what a life!  But first, we have to get the brick-heater in the kitchen fixed and I have to clean the other heaters that Smokey oh-so-kindly peed on :-P  What a nasty dog!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Today there was a very large political rally in Pristina.  I could easily say that I saw around 1500 people gathering for the rally.  We received an advisory from UN-Security (unSecurity) that there would be traffic delays from 1200-1400 because of the rally.  I don't think they expected there to be so many people...and they started up by the Grand Hotel around 1030.  I could hear from my window people clapping rhythmically and chanting "UCK, UCK" (uch-a-ka), which is known in English as KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army, or the people that fought the Serb Paramilitary during the conflict.)  It makes me think that there is a possibility that there will be some civil unrest during the elections this weekend.

Can you imagine this happening in the US?  There are over 30 registered parties in the local elections for a place that only has around two million people.  There is one candidate, the owner of one of the local newspapers, that some internationals from my office like because he has a plan for the future economy, education, and social problems that people face.  But the reality is that he is not doing as well as the other politicians that have no sound plans but tout the common line of "Independence for Kosovo".  It reminds me of a bumper sticker that really bothers me.  It shows the dove of peace and states "Independence:  The only way for peace in the Balkans".  It seems like more of a threat than statement to me and it has always been my belief that they should work on building a free multi-ethnic society before talking of independence.

Monday, October 11, 2004

A Short Reflection

Today I saw something new.  There was a man set-up on the sidewalk with a laptop and projector, broadcasting messages on the blast barrier of Mission HQ.  Didem told me that earlier this week, the messages and pictures were about how bad the UN is and what a terrible job they are doing in Kosovo.  It seems that the local community no longer welcomes the UN here due to the perceived lack of progress made.  But truthfully, when I look at the Kosovo of today and the Kosovo of August 2001, I see vast changes. 
I remember mountains of trash burning in the streets, packs of rabid-looking street dogs roaming around and occasionally attacking people.  I remember a time when there was no power schedule and water was off for days at a time.  Sure I complain about my trickle-showers in the summer but really, it is a real improvement over what it used to be like.  I recall vividly the time that I went home for Christmas vacation and I came back to a house that was 20°F inside...we hadn't had power for eight days because one of the lines in town went down.  Citizens had to approach the power company and request them to fix it after several days...could you imagine your town going without power for days and having to go to the capital to ask the power company to fix the problem and then waiting several more days for it to be fixed?  That's just a way of life here.

Another thing that I probably have never mentioned before is the procession of weddings in Kosovo.  I was reminded this weekend of how interesting it is after one vehicle was almost involved in a head-on collision with the gravel truck that was in front of me.  Weddings can last days in Kosovo.  It starts with the men celebrating with the other men and the women having their own parties.  Kind of like bachelor and bachelorette parties...but lasting an entire day or days :)  The day of the wedding, all the men drive to the bride's family's home...that is ALL the men!  Often the wedding is held in the house of one of the families and a reception elsewhere.  After the ceremony, everyone jumps in their vehicles with a BIG Albanian/Serbian flag and proceeds to the reception restaurant in a convoy, honking their horns, flashing their lights, hanging out the windows and dancing to blaring traditional music, waving handkerchiefs , and overall creating a traffic nightmare.  One of the nightmarish parts of the wedding processions is if you are stuck behind one.  The other nightmarish part is if there is one on the opposite side of the road because even if they are in the same wedding procession, they insist on passing each other and very dangerously at that...hence this weekend's reminder of weddings after seeing the 10 feet of skid marks the gravel truck left in front of me.  Luckily, I was following at a safe distance so there was no trouble in me stopping in time.  Ah, another small distances don't exist in Kosovo.  Oh no, the space that I left between my car and the gravel truck was actually space for three more vehicles traveling 30kph in excess of the speed limit (we were already traveling 10kph in excess *sheepish grin*) to whip their cars into should a vehicle come the opposite way :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

A Kosovo Day

 Ugh!  I am having a Kosovo Day today.  The power was out when I woke up, which I can live with :)  But then, as I was taking my shower, the pressure started to drop off.  I thought to myself, "no, the water can't be going out."  But sure enough, as soon as I rinsed the conditioner out of my hair, there was no water!!!  Ack!!!

Then down the hill into Pristina for work.  Circling, driving, circling...looking for parking.  Emin told me that one of the offices did a study and there are 100,000 vehicles and only 30,000 parking spots.  Well, today, I was one of the suckers without a parking spot.  So, I circled and circled for half an hour until I saw someone leaving a spot in front of me.  YES!  So, I turn on my hazards to indicate that I'll be parking and wait two minutes as the guy pulls out...meanwhile, there are cars honking and whipping by me because they're in a hurry to go look for parking :)  Finally, the guy is out of the spot...YES!  I pull up to parallel park and the IDIOT behind me pulls up behind me so I can't back into the spot.  I just threw up my hands in disgust and reversed the car into the spot the best I could.  Because it was at a weird angle I ended up with both wheels up on the curb but after 30 minutes, I didn't care how I parked...just that I parked!!!

After work, I went shopping with Emin at one of the hipermarkets (or a Kosovo Walmart if you will.)  I found some really nice sushi-style plates and bought a set of four since my other dishes were getting beat-up after a couple of I never realized when buying them that the nice silver border around the edge would make the un-microwave friendly :)  Ah, you live and learn!  I also managed to find a great deal on a new toilet brush...yeah, it probably isn't exciting to you...but a normal toilet brush costs over $25 here and I bought one for $5 at the hipermarket!  It is funny the small things that you find that you take for granted, like a toilet brush, until you find that it is cost-prohibitive or unobtainable :) 

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Road Rally Extravaganza!

The Road Rally went off without a hitch and it was great fun.  Thankfully, everyone was smart about the rough roads and we didn't have to rescue anyone out of the mud :)  We had 13 teams competing and only two teams got lost.  For some reason, every year, the vehicle with the Indians (from India, that is) is extraordinarily slow or they get lost!  I don't know what it is but it just seems to be a given.  This year, I'm not sure they got lost or were just being slow in order to answer all the questions perfectly...but we ended up telling them to come to the finish when they were half-way because everyone was done and waiting for them.
We took everyone on a three-four hour tour of the Gnjlane (South/Southeastern) Region.  We took main and dirt roads through several larger towns and some very small ones.  There was some great scenery that I'll share in my Kosovo Photo Album.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Road Rally Organizer

It is time to hold a CITS (Comms & IT Section) Road Rally.  This year, I am again helping organize the event with a fellow IT colleague from Poland.  I am trusted to be the sensible one of the planning team, making sure that my colleague does not get carried away with rough roads.  He would ideally like to hold a rally on all rough roads requiring 4-wheel drive but the CITS Road Rally is designed to be for all, not just adventurers.  The Road Rally is supposed to be a fun event where participants follow clues and directions, answering questions about signs, businesses, or what towns they find themselves in.

I spent today going over the route, deciding on questions and clues.  Next weekend, the 2nd of October, we will hold the actual event and I hope that it will not rain as it has the past two weekends.  Actually the weather has been pretty bad the past two weekends...but only on the weekends!  Makes it kind of depressing when you have a break and the weather suddenly goes bad.

I took some pictures on Friday of the International Children's Day celebrations in Pristina.  It was wonderful to see all the children dressed in their traditional dress and dancing in the streets.  For Friday, it seemed that life was normal and everything was good in Kosovo.  Reality of the future for these children is unfortunate because unemployment is at nearly 70%, there is no stable economy, education is in a serious state of corruption and disarray, and there are few opportunities for those without money to go abroad and work (partly due to education and partly due to the poor reputation of Kosovars abroad because of those abusing the visa rules.)  But still life goes on and I imagine that one day someone may come up with a solution to allow these children to have the bright future they deserve.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Mouse Killer!

Wow, I've been kind of bad at keeping my log up-to-date lately!  I was on vacation for one week but otherwise, I've been busy with work and every day life.  I did start doing graphics for my site (you might notice holiday graphics around) in my spare time for fun.  I've gone a little PSP Tube crazy the past week and even subscribed to a site so I could have access to 2000 tubes *hehe*  But hey, whatever makes me happy, right?

I started to keep Smokey indoors when I am home in the hopes that he will become more calm.  He really is a maniac, always jumping up on visitors and trying to playfully bite them.  I started working with a water bottle this evening to teach him not to try to steal my food when I am eating.  Right now, he is not being a spaz but quietly sitting on the couch next to me because there is no action in the house...but if I move, he will follow me.  No matter where I go in the house, he seems to be on my heels...which I can't say bothers me :)  The most humorous is when I go to take a shower and door opens halfway through and he peeks his head through the shower curtains to see what is going on.  Such a funny, curious dog :) 

Today when I was walking Smokey in the yard, he saw a field mouse and attacked it.  He dug a half-foot hole in the ground trying to capture it and succeeded.  Being that we have a problem in the house during the winter and spring with mice, I praised him for his catch.  I didn't realize though how much he was enjoying the mouse until he proceeded to start playing with it.  He was actually lightly holding it in his mouth and then tossing it up the air to go chase it again.  I think the dog-mouse game lasted about 10-15 minutes before the mouse was dead.  Anyways, I gave the new nickname of "mouse killer" to Smokey in addition to the all-time favorite of "spaz mutt" :)

Saturday, August 21, 2004


Saw something interesting this past week that I almost forgot to share!  While sitting at lunch outside on the patio of a restaurant with some friends from work, I actually saw someone toss a bathtub from the second story of a building to the ground.  Yes, I did say bathtub.  It made quick a ruckus and we really could not believe our eyes!  But hey, I guess when you are remodeling, if the tub has to go, it has to go!!!

I had a Mexican fiesta this evening with friends.  I had brought back a bottle of Margarita mix in my hand-luggage so they could get a taste of real margaritas with Jose Cuervo (which by the way, you cannot purchase in the region unless you go to Greece.)  If I mentioned the Mexican restaurant before, I take back anything I said about it being great.  The last time we went, the food was not so good and when the power went out, the restaurant did not have a generator, which made us wonder how they were keeping the food fresh.  Anyways, while I was gone, Didem went there and ended up sick...soooo, I'm thinking that the only fajitas I'll be eating are the homemade ones from now on.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Container for the Joy

 I'm having difficulty containing the joy I feel in being back in Kosovo.  I missed having dribble showers in the mornings and playing the power-schedule guess games!  It is wonderful to be back in the uncivilized world!  Most of the time the power is off or goes off when I get home and dinner is usually served around 9-10pm when and if the power comes on.  The water pressure suddenly dropped two days ago after I was thinking the problems were over...and I got a trickle shower this morning :) 
I need to bring a plumber over to the flat sometime next week to fix the kitchen sink and bathroom toilet.  Both are flowing a bit too freely for my taste.  It is virtually impossible to completely turn off the cold water in the kitchen so I finally stuck a post-it note says "Do Not Use Cold Water" after ripping the knob off and using pliers to turn the tap off.  Sometime the boiler above the sink creates a waterfall down from the cabinet where it is hidden into the sink area which is annoying when you happen to be standing there when the water starts flowing!  I imagine that the kitchen faucet and boiler will need to be replaced.  Then the toilet is missing a large chunk of the porcelain from inside.  I normally have a decorated towel covering the ugly tank with a heavy candleholder sitting on top of it to make the bathroom a little nicer looking.  Smokey wanted to see what it was and ended up knocking the very heavy candleholder into the toilet and breaking the piece off from the inside.  Plus the toilet is frightfully ugly and the water-pipe from the reservoir to the toilet leaks...while it is clean water, it still kind of grosses me out.

You know what I miss about being home?  The ability to identify food!  Yesterday, Didem asked me about a special type of flour that she needed to make a Turkish cake.  While I knew what she needed, neither of us knew how to correctly identify it at the supermarket because basically everything is in a Balkan language (Serbian, Albanian, Slovenian).  I also have trouble finding good cheese (man do I miss cheddar!)  They don't call Swiss cheese Swiss cheese here...and trying to identify the different types with how they taste...well, I'm a lost cause.  Mozzarella comes in a package with water and is not dry as it is in the US.  The cheddar I find here is from England and tastes very different than our Wisconsin cheddar.  And the only shredded cheese you'll find is if you want cheese for your gotta do it yourself.

I think I may have a new neighbor as I saw a vehicle with Oklahoma license plates this morning.  That was kind of weird!  Kosovo is about the last place I would expect to find license plates for a Native American Indian tribe!  There isn't a checkpoint per se anymore except the occasional one set-up by the inept KPS who stare at you like you have sprouted three heads as you drive by.  They sometimes take a break from gossiping to check the documents of passing vehicles but mostly it seems to be a coffee break minus the coffee.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Back in Kosovo

I'm back and boy, it sure didn't take long for me to remember where I was!!!  It's my second day of work and I'm ready to go back on vacation!  In fact, I'm already planning a two week break at the beginning of September :-D

The story of my adventure back to Kosovo start with the flight leaving Zurich which was delayed about an hour which seems to be a normal occurrence with Macedonian Airlines (every time I've flown, it has been an hour off schedule) so we sat on the plane for an hour at the gate.  Then while we were waiting, a lady a couple seats in front of me decided to get comfortable so she took off her shoes and planted her bare feet up at the top of the window where she was sitting.  The flight then took off and there isn't much to discuss except the plethora of crying babies that seem to be a given on any flight to the Balkans.  Upon landing, people were in a rush so immediately when the wheels touched the ground they were opening the bins for the carry-on luggage and getting ready to de-plane...all as we are taxing to the terminal.  Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you that they applauded after Capt.. Kangaroo landed the plane.  Finally, as I was waiting in line (or at least what is considered a line in the Balkans) some dude (I refuse to call him a gentleman or man) came along the side of me, cut in front of me and then proceeded to do the same to the man who was in line before me!  Man I love traveling in the Balkans!

Then it was 1 1/2 hour joy-ride around semi-trucks, tractors, and horse-drawn carts back to Kosovo!  Finally, I arrived home and surprisingly enough, the power went out!!!  Reportedly, the power was off for four hours and on for two over the weekend.  Because I don't have any idea about the power schedule (UNMIK hasn't updated us since April) it is a blind guess of whether or not I'll be able to eat when I get home or if I'll have to wait two hours for the power to come on.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

What's Up Wit' Dat?

Whoa X 100%!!!  I spent around 15 hours without power yesterday.  It was probably due to the huge thunderstorm that descended on Kosovo like a rabid, starving pack of dogs would on a discarded steak.  I very sarcastically offer my opinion that maybe the power plant was struck by lightening and blew up AGAIN (happened in the summer of 2002 where the lightening insulators had a shelf-life of 25 years but in the power plant, they were over 40 years old.  Lightening struck during a storm and the station was pretty much destroyed).  Today the power situation appears to be stabilizing to four hours on and two hours off.  But I have to admit that last night tested my resolve (why oh why am I here?) while I sat in the semi-dark of my house listening to the hum of the neighborhood generators. 

On the waterfront, it has been raining non-stop since yesterday night so there isn't a lack of water in our flat now.  I had a nice shower this morning before running out of hot water because there wasn't electricity to run the boiler...yeah, yeah...can't have my cake and eat it too, right?  Anyways, I'm looking forward to coming home to the States for two weeks to take long hot showers, eat Taco Bell Seven-Layer Burritos, shop in the Galleria Sunset Mall, and see some of my friends from the university...ah, the life!!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Sittin' in the Dark

Whoa!  What's up with the power???  All of a sudden, we are having severe power problems.  Severe means that we are going with two hours of power and then four/five hours without power.  It for a lack of better description...really sucks!  I'm afraid that I will end up tossing all my food out of the freezer and fridge unless the situation improves in the next couple of days.  Luckily I still have the trusty Honda generator on the porch so it is running now so I can update you :) 

It's almost ten o'clock at night and I just had my shower.  The water was off last night and this morning. 
Actually, this morning really wasn't a good one for me (other than being sick) I had just finished lathering my shampoo when the water went out.  I had to rinse the soap out with a tiniest trickle of water while hanging my head upside-down because the trickle was ice cold and I wasn't about to let it run down my back!!!

The wild dogs in Gracanica are running around in a pack now.  They seem to like coming in our yard around one o'clock in the morning and picking fights.  Smokey is kept in his kennel for his safety so that he doesn't get his butt kicked again...and isn't mistakenly shot by KFOR when and if they decide to clean up the streets.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Where'd the Time Go?

Wow! Has it really been two weeks? I've been working like crazy and I really lost track of the time! I've hardly been online from home lately to chat with those of you who are online in the mornings in the know, those of you who are getting ready to have lunch and I say "Well, off to bed!"  My project is getting ready for deployment and that's why I've been offline and spending so much time in my office. 
I do have to share with you though that I believe I had my first case of food poisoning (or at least bad food) in three years last week.  I woke up in the middle of the night last Tuesday with a stomach ache and things progressed from bad to worse on Wednesday.  I ended up going home in the afternoon so I could be close to the I spent the rest of the day running from the bed to bathroom.  I won't share all the gross details with you but let me just say that I've never been so miserable in my life.  Now, it may have not been bad food to blame...because of the water shortages and rationing of late, it is possible that the water that was used to wash vegetables or the dishes was contaminated.

The temperature took a dive last week into the 60's and it rained for a couple of days.  The summer has been rather interesting this mild that I fear we will have a harsh winter.  Luckily I still have quite a bit of firewood left over from last year and it will be nice and dry!!!  But the weather got a bit nicer over the weekend so maybe summer isn't quite over yet :)  Our water problems seem to have been solved by the rain last week as we've had an abundance of water up until this morning.  This morning I had a regular shower but without a lot of pressure...but I won't complain too much as long as there is warm water coming out the showerhead!  I just hope that the water isn't connected to the rain but rather the work they've been doing along the road in the next village.

KFOR can't seem to make up their minds whether or not they want the checkpoint to be manned.  As of late, the American KFOR soldiers are coming after dark and setting up a checkpoint.  They gave us a bit of a scare one night because it was pitch black as the power was off, no moon, and no one was wearing reflective gear and the only lights they had were the little green chemical glow-sticks.  A stroke of genius on their part...and luck on ours that we didn't hit anyone!!!

Monday, July 5, 2004

Happy 4th of July!

The 4th of July passed with little notice for me this year.  There were no parades, no fireworks...only a small gathering at Didem's flat just for fun (not to celebrate American Independence.)  An interesting thing is that many Albanians celebrate the 4th of July simply because they credit the US with ending the war.  I believe it is on the 2nd of July that Kosovo received its autonomy in the 1980's from Serbia and last year, the celebrations were deferred to coincide with the 4th of July.

I went down to Prizren on the weekend.  It is about a one and half hour drive from Pristina through the mountains to Prizren.  I was surprised to see four marked mine fields right on the side of the road and then discover later that the mine fields were just found last week!  Three years ago when I went through my UNMIK orientation, we were informed that Kosovo was 99% clear of mines...but really, I wonder how accurate that statistic is if they find four new mine fields after three years and the fields exist right along the highway?!?!

I am becoming the queen of the bucket shower...okay, it's not really a bucket but a really big mixing bowl :)  The water pressure is so poor in my flat that I haven't had a really good shower in over a week!  Yeah, I know what you are thinking and the answer is yes, I have been bathing :-P  But how I would love to stand under a strong warm spray of water for five minutes!  And if I get home after 10pm, there isn't even a gram of water to wash your face, hands...unless your bathroom looks like mine with 15 refilled water bottles sitting on the floor *chuckle*

The checkpoint is completely unmanned now except for Saturday night.  The soldiers were doing thorough checks of the vehicles entering and it took us about 20 minutes to go the distance of six houses!  The concrete blocks, barbed wire, and metal barriers are still there so the soldiers can setup the checkpoint on the fly if they want to.  I imagine that they probably will be around during the weekends.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

It's Official :(

News came out today that the water company will start rationing the water supply between 1000-1700hrs every day due to outstanding debts of 13M Euros and illegal connections to the water supply.  They are also (I happily note) encouraging people not to misuse the supply to water sidewalks and/or gardens...but as I have learned, a great many of the people here have little respect for anyone other than themselves.  It is apparent in the way they drive, conduct themselves in restaurants and lines...most aspects of everyday life.  
Oh, I probably forgot to share earlier, but my contract has been extended until June 2005.  While I doubt that I will stay in Kosovo all that time due to the foreseen end of my project, who really knows what will happen in this crazy world of ours?!  I've learnt that in the UN most of the time it is "believe it when you see it" and the same applies for the rumor mill that is ever circulating information :)

The checkpoint is again unmanned although there is still a tank parked there.  But I haven't seen soldiers since last night...maybe their napping inside the tank?  It is unlikely that KFOR will be "allowed" to leave the entrance of Gracanica.  According to UN Resolution 1244 which created the mission, Serbia is allowed to have troops in Kosovo for the safety and security of the citizens (read Serb written between the lines.)  Now, because of the violence last March and the inability of KFOR/UNMIK to protect the Serb population, there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not KFOR can actually handle the security for the Serb population in Kosovo to prevent this kind of reverse "ethnic cleansing". 

Tuesday, June 29, 2004


It's Summertime!!!  That means, it is hot, dry, and dusty in Kosovo :-P~  
As usual, there is a problem with the water and lack of conservation and respect for the supply.  While residents of Pristina continue to water the sidewalks and streets with a garden hose (which theoretically carries a 50 Euro fine but is not enforced), I am forced to take a bucket shower in the mornings because there is not enough water and pressure in Gracanica...even though we are located closer to the water reservoir.  I was fortunate this morning to be able to wring some hot water out of the tap but this past weekend, I was forced to take artic temperature bucket showers.  It is disheartening to think that this will continue until mid-August and one of my little joys in the morning is standing under the warm shower to wake-up.  So I declare:  No more bucket showers for me!  I will be purchasing a water tank and perhaps pump (for pressure) after work today so that if the water is turned off or there is not enough pressure, I can at least enough a warm shower and do my dishes (which are piled almost as high as Everest in the kitchen due to the lack of water...hey, you can only do so much with a bottle of water!)

Warm weather also means that the swimming pools in Kosovo are open.  To tell you the truth, I don't think many of the internationals go to the local swimming pools for hygiene reasons.  One reason is that most pools are not equipped with the regular filters and not chemically-treated as they are in the US.  The water often has a green-algae tint to it and you can't usually see the bottom *eww*  The other reason would be the sheer number of people at the swimming pool...I imagine that you'd have to tiptoe around the entire pool as to not step on anyone.

This past weekend, I had a "Summer Solstice" BBQ in Gracanica.  I invited a small group of friends over Sunday evening for steak, chicken, macaroni salad, and my now famous Bailey's Cheesecake.  It was a blast and we ended up competing for louder, better music with a neighbor who has been blaring traditional Balkan music (nicknamed "snake music")  for a wedding celebration that has lasted at least four nights so far.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Updates Galore!

I know, I know!  I finally received my new laptop which allows me to edit my photos without the hassle of a physical memory for your viewing pleasure, I have added photos with hopefully more to come as I continue to search for non-incriminating photos of my life and friends :)

Now, about the laptop.  You wouldn't believe the interesting time I had while ordering from Dell.  I am for about six years a loyal Dell customer so when the time came to update my laptop, I naturally chose to order online from Dell.  The difficult part was sending the laptop to Kosovo so I decided to order to my friend's house and have him ship it to me.  So, I placed my order and waited patiently for the ship-date (approx 1.5 weeks after ordering.)  The day after it was supposed to ship, I checked the order status and it was still in production.  So I called Dell Customer Support from Kosovo (at the tune of 10 cents/minute) and asked why the order was delayed.  The response was that because I had truthfully indicated that the laptop would be exported from the US, they needed more information from me.  So, I spent a half an hour verifying my personal information with the rep.  Then it came time for the export information:

Do you work for the US government, agency or an international organization?  
Yes, I work for the UN.  
The UN?  
Yes, the United Nations.  
The United Nations?  
Yes, the United Nations. 
Pause...the United Nations?  
Yes, I work for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  
Pause...umm, okay.

So after this little bump in the road (and serious cause of I-can't-believe-this on my side), the rep entered all my export information.  So now the laptop should ship.  I check back two days later and this time, the order is cancelled.  I am slightly upset as I call Dell Customer Support.  The new rep apologizes and tells me that the order was cancelled because the export office needed more information from me (I'm thinking, so logically they cancelled the order rather than contacting me?  Right!)  So, we place the order again and thankfully, because of the mishap, I retain my special online deals that had since expired.  Then the next day, I receive an email from the very helpful rep asking me to fill out some supplementary information for the export department and fax it back to them on my company letterhead. 

First, I respond that I cannot use the letterhead of the United Nations because the laptop is for my personal use but that I am a US citizen but working overseas for eleven months out of the year.  Then I open the attachments.  I CAN NOT BELIEVE what I read:

"Accordingly, we hereby agree:
that we will not transfer, export, or re-export, directly or indirectly, any Product(s) acquired from Dell to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Sudan, and/or Syria, or any nationals thereof, or to any other country subject to restriction under applicable laws and regulations, and that we are not located in, under the control of, or a national or resident of any such country;

that we will not use the Product(s) in any activity related to the development, production, use, or maintenance of Weapons of Mass Destruction, as defined by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, including without limitation, uses related to nuclear, missile, and/or chemical/biological development and or production and that we will not transfer, export, or re-export, directly or indirectly to any party engaged in any such activity; if we are engaged in the development or production of Weapons of Mass Destruction, we acknowledge that we could be subject to and responsible for U.S. export licensing requirements;"

Then after my response that I can't do anything, I don't hear back from them.  So I think great, my order is going to be cancelled again.  Then I start tracking my order online and it is going through the production process.  It gets built and then stays in the boxing prep stage for about a week.  Now I'm really thinking that they are holding up the order because I couldn't do the export paperwork like they wanted.  Ship date comes...and whoa, the order is shipped!  I couldn't believe it...and now, I'm happily working away on my new laptop...meanwhile, very seriously holding up my end of the bargain not to make WMDs with it >:-)  Ummm...right!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

ORB Extended!

Yippee!!!  Our one-week "free" vacation has been extended until the end of this year!  A one-week ORB (Occupational Recuperation Break) is given to international staff in the Kosovo mission  for every three consecutive months they spend in the mission area (Kosovo, Skopje, Albania).  It is a one-week salary-paid vacation basically to ensure that staff members don't go crazy :) 
At the beginning of 2004, some bigwigs in New York decided that Kosovo was such a wonderful place that we no longer needed the week break from duty.  So we received an email in late December saying that effective immediately, we would not have any more ORBs.  Then in March, through a lot of hard work on the part of our Director of Admistration, a true staff member champion, our ORB was reinstated until the end of June.  The DOA again went to request continuation and we received the confirmation email last week that it was extended until the end of the year :)

Of course, the bigwigs in New York were also the ones who decide on the rate of our living allowance.  Due to the low dollar value, the staff members have lost around 700E from our allowance a month.  When a delegation came from New York to visit the mission and re-evaluate the allowance, it was discovered that they did not realize that Kosovo has been on the Euro since 2002.  Um, yeah, they're in touch with the conditions of the field missions :-P~

Monday, June 21, 2004

Where'd the Time Go?

Wow, unbelievable that I haven't updated for almost a month.  But I did go on vacation for a week at the beginning of the month :)
In Smokey news, he has started climbing on top of his dog house.  Emin told us that he saw him doing it while we were gone and I didn't quite believe it until I came home one day and he was indeed standing on top of the dog house like he was king of the world!  I am trying my best to get a picture of it because it is just so hilarious looking :)  Other than that, Emin informed us that we have an excellent guard dog as while we were gone, a man came by the house at 2am and tried to get into the house.  Fortunately, Emin lives below us but his father & grandma left for a summer holiday in Montenegro so he was the only one home.  I guess Smokey went wild barking.  What a good boy!

As for Kosovo, while we were gone, there was a drive-by shooting in Gracanica where I live.  A 16-year-old boy was killed at a hamburger stand...I believe in the middle of town at 2am.  I am slightly humored by some of the reports that came out in the media about the shooting.  An official spokesperson said that the checkpoints in the village may have been reply is "dude, what checkpoint?"  Before leaving for vacation, the checkpoint was unmanned for several days.  Now, after the shooting, I believe that the road may be closing at night again and there are KFOR soldiers manning the checkpoint.  In fact, I had a tank parked practically in the front yard a couple days ago.  It is reassuring but at the same time, disappointing.

It doesn't seem that there is any long-term solution for an agreement about what to do in Kosovo between the Albanians and Serbians in Kosovo.  The Albanians for the most part want an independent country while the Serbs of course want Kosovo to remain an autonomous state in Serbia&Montenegro.  My personal opinion is that neither side's politicians care much for the people living here but are simply acting out on their own agendas.  There is far too much lip-service and little action.  Basic social services are lacking on both sides...and the mafia operates pretty much unchecked by local or international authorities.  The local Albanian population has recently started showing their displeasure towards the UN-administration by holding anti-UN protests and some of the politicians have suggested that the UN should pack its bags and leave.  But I can honestly say that most people believe that if the NATO troops that are in Kosovo leave, war will break out the next day.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Puppy Power!

The great debate has been settled.  DotNet is a girl :)  One of my colleagues suggested shortening her name to Dnet...I think that sounds good.

It looks like I will be keeping the adorable little one for at least another week until she gets her distemper shot.  There is great debate in my mind and heart about letting her go as she really is such a cute and loving puppy.  I've taken the role of mommy now and she follows me around the office hallways and at home.  Last night while I was working in the kitchen, I lost track of her and discovered that she was sleeping under my chair :)
In the meanwhile, Smokey is still in his kennel.  The one day that I decide to let him out to play in the yard, what does he do but almost immediately locate a spot in the fence he can fit through and disappear for an hour.  Upon his return, I discovered that he had rolled in the sewer or cow manure, take your pick...maybe both :-P~  I'm afraid that he is really a street dog and while I love him with my heart, I don't think he would be a good dog to have around other people. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


It was an interesting day today.  This morning a colleague gifted me with an one-month old male puppy (I guess I'm the animal rescue person of our compound *LOL*)  She had given him a bath since he was dirty, which was a bad step because it is too easy for the poor fellow to catch a cold when he is that young, so we blasted him with one of our heaters until he was warm and dry :)

Then Didem and I ran over to Ardi Supermarket and I purchased a baby bottle and fatty milk.  Then I spent about 30 minutes bottle-feeding the starving little guy.  I have some pictures that my boss took and will post ASAP b/c he is absolutely adorable.

Well, at least we think it is a he!!!  As I told our chief, there weren't any experts in identifying the gender of dogs in our office.  In fact, when our boss asked what gender the puppy was, Didem and I both said that we hadn't really examined his underside and Didem promptly picked him up and let our boss decide *LOL*  I am pretty sure that it is a boy as his underside looks similar to Smokey's when I took him home.  Smokey btw is green with envy but got a nice snack of leftover chicken for staying in his kennel one more night while I decide what to do with DotNet.

Yes, we named him DotNet after the current software release that my project is working on :)  Most people don't understand the meaning of the name but it puts a smile on the IT-geeks' faces in my office *chuckle*

Friday, May 21, 2004

Smokey Update

Smokey is doing well but going a little stir-crazy in his kennel.  I let him out of the kennel with a leash to roam around the garden last night for about 15 minutes and he was happy as could be :)  His appetite is enormous and he thoroughly enjoys scarfing down the cut-up hotdogs I've been treating him with when I get home from work.  I can't wait to give him a bath though because he looks unbelievably scruffy!  Actually, he looks a bit wild because he has tuffs of hair coming out and is still dirty because I was advised not to give him a bath yet because of his wounds.

I discovered what was wrong with his ear and he is no longer looking like he has a severe cramp in his neck *chuckle*  Actually, it was quite cute watching him flop his ears back and forth.  But the problem was that he received a bite near his ear and possibly some of the blood went into his ear canal.  Then he scratched so much that he opened a sore on the lobe of his ear...making things even worse!  But the vet gave me antibiotics and cleaned his ears out (again!)  Now I have to apply the medicine and give him a little ear massage each night when I go home.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Fresh Soup Anyone?

I have to share the story with you because it is so funny!!!
We have a semi-restaurant in the UN compound called the "Terrace Lounge" which serves sandwiches, pizza and pasta for lunch/dinner.  They started having daily specials and today, they had chicken soup.  Now, I've had the chicken soup there before when it wasn't on special, and it was Cup-o-Noodles style (out of a packet!)  So, just to make sure that the special was 'special', I asked if the soup was fresh.  The waiter said yes, it is fresh.  Then he thought for a minute and said that it was from the packet.  So, I said okay, it's not fresh.  His response was yes, it is fresh out of the packet.  Fresh Cup-o-Noodles!!!

It reminds me of a similar incident in one of my favorite restaurants in Pristina, Pinocchio.  On the menu, they listed fresh orange juice which happens to be one of my all-time favorite drinks.  I ordered a fresh orange juice and to my surprise (I really shouldn't have been surprised but you do hope!) the waiter came with bottled orange juice.  I looked at him and said, "no, I wanted fresh orange juice."  He told me "it was fresh when it was bottled"  *AGH!*

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Rain, Rain, Rain :-P~

Agh!  I have CABIN FEVER!  It has rained for almost three weeks straight...okay, except for five minutes of sunshine here and there.  I am ready for sunshine like you wouldn't believe!!!  We are still on vehicle restrictions in Kosovo so even a day-trip down to Prizren for fresh fish is out of the question.  So, weekends are being spent inside drinking hot chocolate and surfing the internet.

On a good note, the rain is making everything incredibly green!!!  My rose bush and pansies are doing wonderful...but I never did get the vegetable garden planted because of the weather.  Maybe I will try to do it this weekend...or else it will be getting too late!!!  I bought seeds for lettuce, radishes, peas, and beans...all of which are difficult to find during the summer. 

I remember when I first arrived in August of 2000 for a visit.  The only vegetables that were available were tomatoes, peppers, onions, cabbage, and cucumbers.  Now we have two kinds of peppers *LOL*  No, just kidding.  Now it is possible to find almost everything...except that you usually only have a choice of one kind of thing.  What I mean is if you want lettuce, you can have butter leaf lettuce...if you want tomatoes, you can have regular big tomatoes (or if you are lucky, they might have some mushy cherry tomatoes).  The vegetables also usually sit outside the markets in the heat/sun all day so that by the time you go shopping in the afternoon, the lettuce is wilted, the carrots are soft, and the tomatoes are mushy :-(

Friday, May 14, 2004

Butt Whuppin'

Smokey escaped out of the yard last night and because the weather wasn't so good, I chose not to chase him around in the rain and mud.  Emin says that he saw him around 11pm when he opened his window for fresh air but thought that I was out walking him as I usually do at night before going to he didn't think twice until he saw him sleeping outside his window in the morning.  When I saw him, I hardly recognized him!  He was smelly (I mean SMELLY!), muddy, and beat-up.  His nicely groomed fur was muddy, matted, and more tuffs of winter fur were coming out *yuck*  When he came into the house, he went straight to his water bowl and noisily slurped up an entire bowl of water....then went into the living room and passed out on the floor (long night, I guess!!!)

I've had Smokey since he was one month old so he is more familiar with people than wild dogs.  The vet says that he probably thought he was king of the world until some street dog whupped his butt over a female dog in heat :-P~ 

Anyways, the poor guy is in kennel quarantine for the next 10 days due to a large bite on his back leg.  He also has something wrong with his left ear but no visible marks...we just know it is bothering him because he keeps tilting his head to the side and shaking his ears.

Saturday, May 1, 2004

May Day

I saw something new this year for May Day.  The Albanians in Hajvali and near where I live in Gracanica celebrated the coming of spring/May Day.  They lit fires Friday night and were dancing, jumping, and celebrating around the fire.  It was an unusual thing for me to see but I guess that the origins are quite old...coming from the pagan worshippers in Turkey prior to the rule of the Ottomans.  In old times, it was the Shaman that danced and leapt through the fire while communicating with the spirits.  During the ceremony, he would make predictions of the future.  I also heard that it was a pagan ceremony to pray for fertility, both in crops and family.

Monday, April 19, 2004

One Month Later

It has been a little over a month now since the Kosovo riots.  The road in front of UN MHQ opened last week and things appear to have returned to least on the surface.  I like to think of Kosovo as a duck on the pond.  Everything looks calm on top but underneath, the feet are moving a mile a minute.  The checkpoint basically in my front yard remains and appears to be a semi-permanent fixture at the entrance to Gracanica.  I wouldn't be surprised if the checkpoint remains until the end of the summer.  The road closes from 8pm to 6am with razor-wire dragged across the road.
Tragically, three international police officers were shot and killed (11 others injured) in a shoot-out in the Mitrovica Detention Center, allegedly over a discussion about Iraq.  Two female American CivPols were killed and the Jordanian that was accused of starting the gun-fight...the 11 injured include one Austrian and the rest are Americans.

Monday, April 5, 2004

Toilet Paper Express :)

It isn't everyday that you see a police escort for toilet paper.  No, I'm not joking.  The road in front of  UN MHQ (Mission HQ) has been blocked to non-UN traffic since the 17th.  The contractor's van carrying toilet paper for HQ had a police escort this morning as I was coming to work.  It must have been VIP (very important paper!!!)  

I spent the weekend doing my spring cleaning and planting flowers on my balcony.  You wouldn't believe how dirty my walls get during the winter with those wood burning stoves.  Amazingly enough, the original color of my TV is black :-P~  My back is complaining this morning but the house is clean!!!

The weather is good with temperatures in the 50's.  I was able to open up the house and air-out after being shut up all winter.  I love the transition from winter to spring...taking a walk and breathing the fresh, brisk air...seeing the flowers coming up and the trees budding...planting a new garden...the newborn animals :)  I took a walk into Gracanica yesterday down to the monastery and took some pictures that I will upload when I get them off my camera :)

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Cabin Fever Galore!

Things are quiet in Kosovo with continuing vehicle restrictions and checkpoints.  The Swedish soldiers continue to ask me if I am Albanian or Serbian.  The other night when they asked to see my ID, the Swedish soldier was very taken aback when I showed him my UN ID.  He said "Oh, you work for UNMIK!"  

Many of us are suffering from cabin fever now.  We've been stranded in Pristina for nearly three weeks.  The DOA (Director of Administration) keeps sending out situation updates stating that the airport and border crossings are open...but we can't get to the border unless we take a taxi some 60 kilometers!  I will try to alleviate some of my cabin fever this weekend by planting my garden...I just hope that I'll be able to stay in Kosovo to see the results :)

Monday, March 29, 2004

Lovely Day in the Neighborhood

The weekend passed with little incident although we are still restricted to duty travel only.  That means that I am taking a taxi to and from work each day.  The checkpoint at the entrance of Gracanica is back...and I imagine that it will remain there for awhile until things are "deemed" to be normal again.

A couple humorous things happened over the weekend to me at the checkpoint.  Friday evening my friends took me out for dinner and we stayed at the restaurant until nearly 12am having a grand time.  When returning from Pristina, I was stopped and asked if I was Serbian.  I personally don't think I look anything like a Serbian.  Of course, I said no...and was allowed to proceed to the house in the taxi.  The Albanian taxi driver was so flustered with the procedure that he almost didn't stop the car when I told him to stop.

The second was Saturday evening when returning from Pristina.  I jumped in a taxi to go home and was stopped at the entrance of Gracanica.  The pretty blonde Swedish soldier-girl asked to see the driver's ID and then asked about me.  Albanian or Serbian were tonight's choices...which I have to say, I don't look Serbian and I certainly don't look Albanian!  So, blah and blah, the driver could not enter Gracanica because he was Albanian and I had to walk from the checkpoint...luckily it was only four houses :)

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Day After Hope

1200 CET:  Day of Hope passed without too much incident.  There were rather large but peaceful rallies through-out Kosovo...with political leaders at most urging for calm.  The only report incident was that of a Serbian throwing a hand-grenade from N. Mitrovica towards the bridge and injuring two French KFOR soldiers.

An interesting happening is that leaflets were found in the Prizren region, supposedly distributed by a radical Albanian group LKCK, urging the Albanians to continue their fight and condemning UNMIK for its long presence in Kosovo. 

There are still nearly 400 IDPs (internally displaced persons) living in KFOR camps and a total of 4000 Kosovo-wide.  There was a clothing drive in Pristina for those who lost everything and several people from my office, including myself, donated spare clothes or things we didn't need.  The death-toll has been lowered to 20 people with 55 KFOR soldiers being injured.  Nearly 120 Serbian homes and 16 churches were destroyed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Day of Hope

1000 CET:  Today marks the 5th anniversary of the NATO bombings of Kosovo.  There are rallies pretty much all over Kosovo to celebrate what they call "Day of Hope".  UNMIK and KFOR issued a joint statement asking for calm during the rallies but the chances of them turning violent is high, especially after last week's events.

Overnight, uniformed men attacked a marked UN police vehicle in Podujevo (a kind of suburb to Pristina), killing an international police officer from Africa and an Albanian KPS officer.  Another KPS officer and language assistant were injured in the incident as well.  Also this morning, there seems to be an incident near Didem's house as the roads are blocked and she was not allowed to walk our normal route to work.  There are many sirens heard in the city this morning but little information as to what is happening.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Another Day in Paradise

It seems that things are back to normal.  At least, according to the local population.  From their actions and mannerism, they act like there weren't street wars going on in the capital city just four nights ago.  Sixteen churches were not burnt down...4000 people were not displaced from their homes...600 people were not injured...nope, just another beautiful spring day.  The women are walking around in their "high" fashion, the men sit in the cafes chatting and chain smoking black-market cigarettes.  Everything is as it was except there are no UN vehicles driving the streets (when it used to be out of every 5 vehicles, 2-3 were UN), the main road in front of the HQ and Police HQ is blocked and closed, we have a 5pm curfew within the compound, and there are heavily armed British patrols out on the streets.

I was able to go home briefly on Saturday to gather some clean clothes (I spent three days in the same pair of jeans!)  Smokey was excited to see me but I had to leave him there.  My poor puppy!  Emin is taking good care of him though...taking him for walks and playing with him. 

I really appreciate having a more than financial relationship with my landlord and his fact, they really treat me as one of the family since I arrived.  I remember the first summer I was here, they were always leaving a basket of vegetables from the garden on the stairs for me and Nena (Grandmother) was always giving me stuffed peppers and cabbage salad :)

Friday, March 19, 2004

Purgatory (Day 3)

1615 CET:  Emin was able to get home to Gracanica using different backroads (I believe the term "worst shit" entered the conversation when he was describing them.)  He closed all the shutters and turned off all the heaters I had on...before the roads closed, it was still not warm...but now the temperature in the house was well in the 80's!!!  Smokey is doing fine and occasionally barking at the soldiers that have been stationed at the KPS police station across the street.

Blame as to who is responsible for the violence the past two days has started to fly as an international mud-slinging contest begins.  The Prime Minister, Rexhepi, has blamed the UN and NATO for failing to halt the bloodshed.  A NATO spokesman stated that the attacks on Serbian villages appeared to be pre-mediated and orchestrated.  The Serbian Foreign Minister has called it an orchestrated attack to ethnically cleanse the Serbs from Kosovo. 

1530 CET:  I have been checking for a way to go home as I've been informed that my landlord needs food and medicine.  All the roads are still blocked and I was informed that there are snipers around Gracanica and even the back roads are not safe.  So, it looks like I won't be able to go home anytime soon.

1100 CET:  Remember Andriy who was lucky to get his belongings yesterday?  We returned to his flat this morning to retrieve the rest of his belongings.  His apartment had been broken into over-night even though the building was "protected" by KPS (Kosovo Police Service).  While nothing was stolen, they broke what they could and made a mess.  Any of the apartments that hadn't been broken into was and any of the vehicles that hadn't had the windows smashed out (including international) were destroyed.  We tried to get to Gracanica but the road was still blocked with no chance of getting through.  The KPS officer said that the backroads were open but we decided to return to the office to check with Security first. 

0900 CET:  I saw three UN vehicles going down the street today on my way into work.  Two were being driven and one was the burnt remains of a UN vehicle on the back of a tow-truck.  But life seems to have returned to normal for the local population.  It is very strange because they act as nothing has or is happening.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Hell (Day 2)

1500 CET:  All non-essential staff was ordered to go home and not return until tomorrow morning.  We are waiting for hand-held radios for emergency contact in case the telephone lines go down.  The cell service was overloaded before this now it is even worse with people calling around to check on friends and relatives.  The roads are still blocked with no indication of when they might be open.  The airport was also closed today by order of KFOR.  

1300 CET:  We have been directed to stay in the compound as people are gathering in central Pristina for a protest.  We ordered out for Thai food since some of us are hungry and hopefully it will be delivered before the compound is locked down.  We are also experiencing water and power shortages and have been requested to conserve as much as we can.

11:00 AM CET (Central European Time):  I spent last night in Pristina as full travel restrictions were placed Kosovo-wide for UN staff.  We turned off the lights around 10:30pm when automatic gunfire and explosions started in our area.  We tried watching local news and listen to local radio but information was sketchy at best.  For some reason, the broadcasting was mostly classical music rather than news of what was happening around Kosovo.  This morning, the death toll is at least 22 people with over 250 injured.  Fighting broke out in pretty much every region of Kosovo with violence against UN police and other populations.

Several Serbian houses in Cagalavica were burnt down along with Serbian government offices and a health center in Kosovo Polje.  This has been the worst outbreak of violence since the end of the war in 1999.
I am currently unable to go home for any of my belongings but luckily carry my important documents with me at all times.  I hope that this afternoon, things will be a bit more calm and I will be allowed to travel to my house to gather some clothes in order to stay in the capital for the next couple of days.  So far, my landlord says that things are okay in the area that I live.  I was a little worried about Smokey over the night since he was outside in his kennel.  I hope that I'll be able to go feed him...and maybe bring him to Pristina although I don't know where he would stay! 
One of my colleagues, Andriy, was very fortunate in that his apartment building (YU Project) was attacked (it is one of the few Serbian buildings in Pristina) but his apartment was untouched.  The vehicles in the picture above are from in front of his building...which the walls were still too hot to touch from the fires that were set to most of the apartments.  In another part of Pristina, Sunny Hill, at least three internationals were forced out of their apartments, robbed, and then the apartments set on fire. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

All Hell Breaks Loose - A Dark Day for Kosovo

I was able to go home last night but when entering Gracanica, I was told that if I lived past the police station, I would not be allowed to enter.  When I told them that I lived before the station, they responded that it was okay but if I drove past the station, it was my responsibility!  This morning, the roadblocks were still in place but I was able to come into Pristina without any trouble.

Last night, three Albanian children drowned near the flash-point town of Mitrovica.  Mitrovica has the largest divided ethnic population (the Albanians and Serbians separated by a river.)  Newspapers reported that the brother of one of the children said that they were being chased by a group of Serbians and jumped into the river to escape. 

This morning, all hell broke loose in Kosovo.  The Albanians gathered in Mitrovica to protest about the children and things turned sour.  Riot police were called in and fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.  Two UN police vehicles were set on fire and the officers pelted with stones. 
In Cagalavica, it is reported that the Serbs started a street battle with KFOR soldiers and several were killed, many were injured.  We haven't seen any reports about this yet but news has been slow coming in.  It was also rumored that Albanians are infiltrating the Serbian enclaves through the farm fields and starting fights with the Serbs.

Around 5pm, a group of several hundred Albanians gathered outside Mission HQ chanting UCK and booing. 

The Prime Minister is calling on NATO and the UN to calm the situation and to figure out what went wrong later.  Full travel restrictions have been put in place outside the fact, I am not allowed to go home this evening and will have to stay in Pristina.  We also have been told that once we go home, we are not allowed to go out...and we cannot take our vehicles home but must take UN shuttle buses.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Crazy World!

It is a crazy world we live in these days!  
Yesterday, an 18 year-old boy was shot in a drive-by shooting in Cagalavica, a Serbian village near where I live.  The Serbs blocked the highway to Skopje in protest.  The Serbs in Gracanica, the Serbian village where I live, is also closed due to a protest near the police station.  Basically, Kosovo has been shut-down because the major roads are blocked by protesters!  In fact, the roads have remained blocked the entire day.  I almost had to spend the night in Pristina but luckily, they opened the road to UN vehicles at 5pm :)

This past weekend, a grenade was thrown into the President of Kosovo's house from a passing car, which supposedly has been identified.  On Saturday morning, there was an explosion at the UNHQ in Mitrovica...but of course, no one knew about it unless they read the local media!  I only heard about it from Emin Monday morning and he didn't know any of the details...just that there had been an explosion and no one was injured.  I am surprised (and at the same time, not) because UN Security did not issue any warnings to stay clear of the area or alert the staff in any way.  The common joke is that it is "Un-security" :)

Two weekends ago, a bomb threat was called in to MHQ (Mission Headquarters in Kosovo) where I work.  Local police discovered a 4.8kg plastique bomb alongside our perimeter fence set on a timer.  Two days later, they evacuated the compound a little after 10pm for another threat while earlier in the day, a bomb threat was called into the Grand Hotel next to MHQ. 

On a brighter note, spring appears to have arrived (knock on wood!!!)  The weekend was beautiful and sunny.  Sinan and I spend the weekend lazing around his flat, watching movies and chatting.  We decided to walk the streets of Pristina on Sunday afternoon and took in some of the sunshine.  It was an absolutely wonderful weekend :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Let It Snow!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!!  Master Winter has not let go of Kosovo yet.  Last week, it snowed almost every day (just a light dusting that doesn't stick.)  But last night, about an inch of snow got dumped on us after dark!  While the snow is great, I would have to say that I'm ready for some sunshine and warm weather!  

I found a great new restaurant between Pristina and Gracanica called Rron.  I was so pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant with great food and excellent, elegant service.  They even have real chocolate mousse, not the pudding pass-off that so many other restaurants have :-P 

Smokey has a new girlfriend in the neighborhood.  I heard barking like crazy this past weekend while he was outside in his kennel (why, oh why, can't he let me sleep in?!)  When I looked outside, it was actually a female dog barking at him in his kennel while he ran (or that funny little doggie-prance) back and forth.  Emin informed me that she is small enough to actually get in the kennel with him to eat his food and play with him!  I think I will need to find a way to "lock-down" the kennel so that he won't have any uninvited visitors...the blackbirds already steal enough food as it is!

We'll try to escape this weekend to Skopje for some shopping.  There is a great Irish Pub on the ground floor of the shopping center called (surprisingly enough) "The Irish Pub"!  There is also another good restaurant (great ice cream in the summer but pass on the lemonade which is really lemon juice!) kitty-corner from the shopping center's fountain.  There's a large terrace equipped with misters that is heavenly during the hot summer months.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Happy Valentine's Day

After a successful Christmas Concert, I was asked to MC the Valentine's Day Concert titled "This One's For You".  The SRC (Staff Recreation Committee) agreed to follow the concert with a Valentine's Bash.  We filled the cinema hall and had a wonderful time :)  There was no charity drive this time, it was for the pure musical enjoyment of the staff.

The weather is still rather gray and dreary.  Of course, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow so we can expect six  more weeks of winter :-P  Didem screened "Groundhog Day" for the movie committee as it is ever the classic Groundhog Day movie :)  On the 13th of this month, the temperature dropped down to -15�C (or 5�F)!  Brrr!!!
I finally kicked Smokey out of the bedroom for excessive shedding and muddy paws.  Whenever he had the muddiest paws in all Kosovo, he would run straight to the bedroom and jump on the bed.  Luckily, this winter I was a bit wiser and purchased a duvet cover since the comforter never fit in the washing machine. 

Thinking of the washing machine, I was slightly surprised to discover that European washer and dryers are smaller than our "economy-sized" washers in the US when I arrived in Kosovo.  I can usually wash two pairs of jeans and a couple of shirts but that is all.  Then, if I am lucky, there will be enough power to run the dryer but usually not.  I often end up spinning the excess water out of my clothes by removing half the laundry and running the spin cycle again...and then remove a pair of jeans or sweater from the laundry for a hang-dry.

Friday, January 23, 2004


I wrote to my mom last week to tell her how the weather was wonderful and the temperatures was up to 55�F but this week, I take it ALL back!  Brr!  It is freezing cold now!  The temperature took a sudden dive from pre-spring into the bitterness of a Kosovo winter.  Two days of 20mph wind with temperatures in the teens!  Today it is clear and 14�F, which is still bitterly cold!  I am fortunate to have those two wood-burning stoves in my flat to heat the house up when I get home from work.  I usually spend 15 minutes in the morning hauling firewood upstairs before taking a shower.  It's a good work-out for me!  Plus, you really can't beat the crackle of a wood fire while you sit on the couch and drink hot chocolate :)

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Happy New Year

I have been in Kosovo for the past two and half (2.5) years now.  While many people complain about how horrible it is, I can see that a lot has changed for the better since August 2000 when I first visited.  I remember the days when you didn't know if you could cook dinner because the power might go out, mornings where you took a cold shower out of a bottle, piles of burning rubbish on the streets, packs of wild dogs roaming the streets, and worse to all...bad pizza was all you could find to eat (ketchup as tomato sauce, bologna as meat!)

The power still occasionally goes out but life goes on.  At least it is regulated now (5 on: 1 off,, 4 on: 2 off during peak hours.)   Winter is a little worse than the rest of the year because power consumption goes up due to heating...the worst I can remember the winter of 2002/3 when it was one on/five off for a week or two (usually it is four on/two off.) The winter of 2003/4 was not that bad. Yes, the temperatures dipped down into the low teens but the power was only regulated to four on/two off during the worst days (maybe three hours off every once in awhile.)

There is still an estimated 50,000 stray dogs in Kosovo but there is a Humane Society trying to help take care of the problem.  I have taken two litters of puppies born in the UN compound to their facility in the hopes that they'll go to good homes.  Plus I did take that one special (sometimes I think he's "little yellow bus special" but I still love him) puppy home :)

There are some problems with crime.  Last month just after I left, we had reports that unknown persons booby-trapped two UN Police vehicles with hand grenades.  Luckily, no was was injured because the officers were aware of their surroundings enough to find them.  Additionally, there has been a group of men attacking women and stealing their handbags.  Two ladies from my office have been mugged but fortunately, the assailants did not manage to steal their bags.  Petty and organized crime are two problems that Kosovo still faces and the UN along with local authorities will need to work on resolving.

Overall, I have learned quite a bit about myself in the time I have been in Kosovo.  I think that when you come to a mission, you discover new things about yourself that you might not have in a comfortable environment.  I made great friends from all around the world and learned much about the world around us for a unique perspective that I might not have gotten elsewhere.