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.