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.