Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Reflection on 2005 and Mission

It's hard to believe that I have passed 4 1/2 years of my life in Kosovo.  The experience will continue to touch my life in many ways that I will probably never realize.  I have learned how to survive in less than optimal circumstances (no power, no water, no air-conditioning, no heating), tried to understand the local points-of-view (still somewhat baffling over the obsession over a battle taking place 500 years ago), and had the opportunity to meet people from around the world and visit some fantastic countries.  Should you be reading this log/blog/journal or whatever it is called these days and have the opportunity to visit, travel, or participate in the Kosovo mission, I strongly urge you to give it a chance.  While there are many challenges, there are also many rewards :)
I will end my little reflection on the joys that I've had in the mission now and turn to something that I've debated over a few months whether or not I should share the details.  I have decided that I should inform those who may be thinking of coming to Kosovo (particularly Pristina) of the recent increase in burglaries and robberies against international employees of the UN and KFOR.  In December alone there were 25 burglaries in Pristina in the homes of internationals.  The previous two months had the same or more.  The past three months have seen a dramatic increase in the number of robberies and burglaries against internationals.  I've updated my Kosovo Tips page with general security and the new power schedule.

Robberies have been at gunpoint and at night.  There have only been a handful reported robberies in the past few months, burglaries are far more common.  However, some people have been injured during robberies, none seriously to my knowledge.  The burglaries are normally conducted when the residents are not at home but I have known a few cases where the burglars tried while the staff member was at home.  I do not wish to discourage anyone from visiting, crimes of opportunity are present in many missions where locals know that the internationals have the best TVs and sometimes leave large amounts of money unsecured in their accommodations.  But the recent months have, as I said, seen an increase in the frequency against internationals.  So, if you are coming to Kosovo (especially Pristina), be vigilant.  Do not walk alone at night with backpacks or laptop cases.  Try not to leave laptops and other portable valuables at home.  And last but not least, for goodness sake, don't leave large amounts of money unsecured and at home!!!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Attempted Prison Break

Police foiled an attempted prison break from Kosovo's largest prison on the 12th.  An investigation is ongoing as during the prison break, a Romanian special police unit (SPU) came under fire from outside the prison.  Three prison staff were injured and two vehicles were hit by gunfire. 
In unrelated news, an ICTY appeals court has ruled that Haradinaj will not be allowed to participate in politics while awaiting trial.

Monday, December 5, 2005

Rocket Attack

Saturday evening (3rd) there was a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attack on a bus near Prizren.  The bus was carrying several different ethnicities but mostly Albanians.  Luckily, the two RPGs did not detonate and no one was injured.  Local and international politicians are condemning the attack and stating that there are forces at work in Kosovo that do not want stability in the region.  The SRSG has ordered security to be increased with more patrols and vehicle checkpoints.
In other news, a report by OSCE has been issued stating that the local courts failed to condemn the violence in March 2004 by not dedicating resources, not acting quickly enough, and allowing witnesses to be intimidated.  Over 600 Serbian homes were burned, 30 churches, and 4,000 people fled in the outbreak of violence in March 2004.  The report said that while the courts did address the deaths, displacement, and descruction of property its response was "not strong enough".  You can read more about the report at SE European Times.

Today marks the beginning of the new power schedule for A,B,C areas.  KEK is playing with the power now.  The grids have changed recently to A,B,C areas.  A areas will receive constant 24/7 power, B areas will have 5:1 or 4:2 (I forget which it is), and C areas will have whatever is left over.  As I suspected Gracanica is in a C area...or maybe even D *hehe*  Today my power was on most of the day but the voltage was running at 160V and my freezer defrosted while the power was on.  I ended up purchasing a make-up transformer to bring the voltage back to 220V so that the kitchen appliances will function normally.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Eventful Day

It's only 1325 CET and it has already been an eventful day for me.  I was stuck at home for part of the morning due to the road being blocked in Gracanica due to an "ongoing police operation", UN Security's catch-all for any event that occurs in Kosovo.  It was later this morning that I discovered the roadblock was due to a drive-by shooting that injured a Serbian youth in a nearby village.  Several hundred Serbs gathered and stoned several vehicles in downtown Gracanica.
Then when we went to lunch, we discovered a group of men (20-30) demonstrating in front of the gate at MHQ.  We aren't sure what they are demonstrating but we believe that they have lost their jobs.  Often groups of former employees gather in front of the MHQ to protest their unemployment although there is little that UNMIK can do...they should rather protest to the Kosovo government.

Fatmir Limaj arrived back in Pristina today and there was a large celebration near the university.  From 1400-1800, the Albanians were again celebrating in Pristina with firecrackers, flags, and car horns.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

ICTY Decision

Today, ICTY handed down a "not guilty" verdict in the case of Fatmir Limaj, one of the UCK commanders on trial for war crimes.  Since the verdict was announced, the Albanians have been celebrating in the streets of Pristina.  Now, we sit in our offices and listen to the passing cars blowing their horns, shouting youths, and the occasional firecrackers or gunfire.  The opinion of most Albanians is that the UCK fighters should be absolved of any wrongdoing during the fighting as they were fighting for the independence of Kosovo.  The Albanians who are put on trial are often referred to as "war heroes"  no matter what they did during the fighting.
What is little heard about is the other UCK commander, Haradin Bala, who was found guilty of torture, cruel treatment, and murder.  He was sentenced to 13-years in prison for the torturing of 3 inmates and the murder of nine prisoners in his care in an UCK prison in Llapushnik/Lapusnik.  For more information on the entire trial, check Southeast European Times article.

Monday, November 28, 2005

National Flag Day

It's National Flag Day in Kosovo today.  Albanian flags decorate the front of nearly every business and line the streets.  Last night, the flag proposed by Rugova's government were also flying on the streets but they disappeared overnight, stolen and burned by those who oppose the unilateral decision of Rugova's government to impose the new flag without hearing from the people.
So far the day has been marked with a large demonstration of youngsters (probably in their early to late teens) chanting "UCK" at the gates of the UNHQ and the constant sound of exploding firecrackers.  The demonstration was not linked to the National Flag Day celebrations but rather a demand for the release of three Albanian UCK fighters currently accused of war crimes in the Hague.  I saw it estimated that there were one thousand demonstrators.  A great number of the demonstrators I saw were young people who probably didn't even understand the politics of what they were demonstrating about...just bored with nothing to do.  Reuters has a good photo of the crowd coming down Mother Theresa towards the Grand Hotel.

Over the weekend, a different phase of my power was out.  On Friday, the bedroom phase was out.  Saturday, the living room...and Sunday, the kitchen!  It's getting to be dangerous to walk around the house because I have extension cords running from room to room so I can keep power to the refrigerator or washing machine :)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Another Kosovo Thanksgiving has passed by without much notice.  Of course, we don't' get the day off since Thanksgiving is just an American holiday.  I found cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, and even instant mashed potatoes (although I prefer homemade!) at Bondsteel a week ago.  I was thinking to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal because they were also selling frozen turkeys but the power schedule has been three on, three off the few days so I doubt that I would be able to properly cook the bird if I had bought it. 

Saturday, November 19, 2005

KIA is at it again!

The Kosovo Independence Army is at it again.  This time they are threatening to attack Pristina on the 23rd of November since it is the base for the "modern occupiers".  The KIA further stated that not only will UNMIK be unable to stop them but that we will be "asking for a corridor to be made by our troops in order for them to flee in shame".  If you have been reading my log for awhile, you will recall the KIA as being the group that is manning illegal checkpoints in southern Kosovo and that threatened to kidnap and murder nine innocent UNMIK staff if independence was not declared by 15 October (neither of which happened.)

Friday, November 18, 2005

It's Snowing!!!

Today marks the first day of snow in Kosovo.  I took Smokey outside this morning and it looked like just any other fall day, cloudy and gray.  But when I looked out the window 30 minutes later, it was snowing!  It snowed up until noon and has stuck to the cars and ground so this may be the beginning of winter.  The temperature has dropped down from the 40F's to freezing this morning.  Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day in the 50F's! 
There were a couple interesting reads today.  An article titled "Many Options But Independence for Kosovo" in the EU Observer explored the different options on the table and analyzes the actions of the international community in Kosovo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Explosion Downtown

Around 2035 hrs, there was an explosion in downtown Pristina.  I happened to be getting in my car to go home at the time when I heard it.  Since there had been some thunder already, I first thought it was but then I realized that the sound was not quite the same because the boom was too short lived.  The security guard didn't seem sure to let me out of the compound but I was allowed to leave...good thing I turn the other way to go home!
Then, I promptly got stuck in traffic going up the hill out of Pristina due to a huge traffic accident.  Two vehicles lay smashed up, completely blocking the southbound traffic lanes.  We had to jump the median in order to pass.  I guess the rain combined with high speed was the probable cause.  Reckless driving seems to be a major traffic issue in Kosovo.  I often joke about how poorly they drive here but I think most people would honestly go stark-raving mad after experiencing just five minutes in Kosovo traffic.

Last night the power was out in Gracanica for nine hours.  I think there was a problem at the power plant because it was only on for two hours before going off again.  I think I said a few things about "crappy" and KEK in the same sentence as I fired up the generator again.  It seems like they are having some trouble switching the power back on in my area at times because it will go on-off every couple of seconds for awhile before finally coming on for the scheduled period.  When the overhead lights are on it's like being in a disco *hehe*

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Fate of the Balkans & Thanksgiving

There was an interesting article about the Future of the Balkans beyond 2005 at site called OpenDemocracy a few days ago.
It seems that winter is upon us.  I know I keep saying that but every couple of weeks, we think that winter has arrived and then it gets warmer.  But now the past couple of days a dense fog has rolled in at night and up until lunchtime today it was still a bit foggy.  The temperature hasn't dropped really low yet.  It's still in the 40's during the day and just below freezing at night.  To me, January is always the coldest month in Kosovo with a week or two of temperatures in the teens.

So far the power isn't so bad *knock on wood*.  It seems to be regulated to 5:1 (five on, one off) but we never know which one hour it will be off.  I'm still contemplating whether or not I want to attempt cooking a turkey for the Thanksgiving weekend.  If the power goes off in the middle of cooking, I don't know what I'll do (you'd probably see me outside on my balcony saying not so nice things about KEK :)  I saw that they are selling Butterball turkeys at Bondsteel this year.  I already found some cranberry sauce, stuffing, and gravy at the PX.  Maybe I will try to treat my friends to a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner over the weekend.  Unfortunately I will have to work on Thursday since they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Kosovo (yet!)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bomb Blast in Pristina

Last night/this morning at approximately midnight, a car bomb exploded outside the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) headquarters in downtown Pristina.  The vehicle, reported to be an Audi 44, was destroyed but there were no injuries.  As usual, there is little information available, in fact I didn't even realize that it had occurred until checking up on a friend in Amman who had already heard about it all the way in Jordan!  Crazy how we in the mission wouldn't even know about it and someone in another country does!

Also the French Commander of the base located Vucitrn has apologized for the excessive use of tear gas during some exercises with local police.  Reportedly, 18 children from Vucitrn and some elderly from villages near Novo Selo were treated in hospital for the effects of tear gas.  All are reported to be in good condition now.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Illegal Checkpoints & Another Shoot-Out

Reports of illegal checkpoints set up by armed Albanian groups are emerging again. Between 11-11:30pm on Sunday, the group was reportedly stopping vehicles and checking IDs, welcoming those they stopped to inform the police that they were doing so.  A KPS official from Ferizaj confirmed that KPS was aware of the illegal checkpoints and activities.

On the 8th, a Czech Republic KFOR soldier was injured in a shoot-out with a group of Albanians.  One Albanian was also injured and several were arrested.  The KFOR soldiers came upon the Albanians illegally cutting wood.  The Albanians resisted and a warning shot was fired.  The Albanians then returned fire.  The KFOR soldier is being treated in a military hospital in Kosovo.

In other news, a bus of 40 Serbs was stoned by Albanians near the village of Djakovica as they were attempting to visit a cemetery.  The bus was being escorted by KFOR and KPS.  The Serbs are refugees from the town who fled after the conflict but returning to commemorate the restoration of some Christian monuments that had recently been destroyed.  The bus suffered minor damage but no one was injured.
There was also an interesting article about Kosovo and Montenegro's accension into the EU.  In the distance future in many people's minds but it's a good read -->  Red Tape In the EU

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Black Shadow Group

A break-off of the recognized terrorist group Albanian National Army (ANA) is demanding that the Presevo Valley area be included in the "independence package" of Kosovo.  The ANA was officially labeled as a terrorist organization in 2003 by the SRSG for their activities against police in southern Serbia and parts of Macedonia.
You might remember the Presevo Valley from the news in 2000-2001 when an armed group of Albanians were fighting Serbian police. In one and a half years of shadowy fighting, 100 people were killed.  Belgrade only had a light security presence in the area because the zone was part of NATO's Ground Security Zones (GSZ).  NATO finally convinced the group to lay down their arms and there hasn't been much news of trouble in the area since.

The Black Shadow group issued a statement that Presevo, Bujanovac, Medvedja municipalities should be part of the independence negotiations and that the group will not accept any negotiation outcomes if they do not include those areas.  The group also warned the international community not to repeat the mistakes of the past that lead to war in the Balkans as well as mentioning that Albanian police officers should take care in their actions else they would be considered collaborators with the Serbs.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

As I joked a couple days ago, the Albanians are more American than Americans at times.  While Halloween is typically considered an American holiday, for the past two years, they have celebrated Halloween in Kosovo.  Tonight we can expect to see little ghouls and witches running around downtown Pristina searching for candy.  There was a Halloween Party on Saturday night in the UN with yours truly (Dj Vegas in da Haunted House!) that was pretty fun.  We spent all afternoon carving up pumpkins and making decorations for the SRC Lounge at MHQ.  I had a pumpkin lighting my front balcony last night as well...Smokey was interested as it was the first time he had seen a pumpkin before...thankfully he did not try to claim the pumpkin is his as he does with all the trees in the yard (and lately the front gate)!

For some reason, the power was horrible from Saturday afternoon until Sunday noon-time.  The schedule seemed to be two on and four off.  The worst thing about it is that my generator was in for service so I ended up sitting in the dark while I was home (luckily we had the party so I didn't go insane!)  But I have a feeling that it will be long, cold winter!  The weather is dropping down to freezing at nights now so I'm starting to fire up (no pun intended) the wood stove in my living room.  After a discussion with friends yesterday, I'm considering buying a wood stove heater for my living room.  They cost around 100 Euros but I think it would help to retain some more of the heat in the living room than the old classic stove that I have now :)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cracker Jack Box

I think many of the drivers on Kosovo roadways received their driver's license from a Cracker Jack box.  During my bi-weekly visit to Bondsteel (I hit the PX every other weekend if I can) I witnessed two near misses for a head-on collision, was cut off three times by a driver who failed to have enough room to pass the line of vehicles in front of me, and saw no KPS traffic control points.  Honestly, I think the people drive here on sheer luck rather than skill.  I already dislike being cut-off by other drivers but when I am cut-off going 80 kms per hour by someone who just doesn't care to check if it is safe to pass and thinks that he can just jump back into the line of traffic if he sees an oncoming vehicle...that just makes my blood boil.  To read some more about Kosovo driving, you can check the humorous Kosovo Driver's Handbook :)
One of the more frustrating things about driving in Kosovo is that many of the local and international police just don't care to enforce the laws.  In fact too many of them (particularly the KPS) are the ones who are driving like maniacs!  Some of my friends have blue lights for their UN vehicles and occasionally use them to pull people over.  They joked that I don't get one because I would pull over all the stupid drivers :o)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Shootout at OK Corral

Okay, it wasn't at the OK Corral but in Kacanik, near the Macedonia border.  And it wasn't much of a shootout...more like a shot-at...but I do like that title! 
Last night, gunmen opened fire on a KPS vehicle carrying four Serbian police officers.  This is the third attack on Serbian KPS in the past two months and is increasing the thinking that there is an organized violent campaign in the area.  I believe it was just last month that two Serbian KPS officers were killed by attackers in the same area.

In unrelated news, for the first time, Kosovo has received its first asylum seekers.  A group of ten Bangladeshis, two Indians, and one Pakistani arrived on Monday (24 Oct) seeking asylum.  It is the first case and there is currently no system to deal with asylum seekers arriving from other countries.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Welcome to Kosovo!

I just wanted to wish the new group of US CivPol Officers a warm "Welcome to Kosovo".  I hope that you enjoy your time in the mission and have what can be the "experience of a lifetime" during your time here :)
There was an interesting article on the Antiwar website today.  While not the same news source as say CNN or BBC, the information to a great detail is accurate and the message clear.  You can read the article titled "The UN's Last Winter in Kosovo" at the site.

The weather is warmer again.  It was an absolutely beautiful day yesterday and this afternoon was also nice.  I was able to sit outside with several of the latest US contingent at the Peacekeepers Restaurant at AHQ this afternoon.  This is the second time that someone has recognized me from the pictures from this site...does that make me a Kosovo novelty? *hehe*  Anyways, I am happy to hear that this site is helpful to those who are coming to mission and I've added some of the information they suggested to the Mission Tips for people arriving :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

UN turns to FUND

Today around 12:20 CET around 100 demonstrators assembled at the gates of MHQ and proceeded down Police Avenue spray-painting the letters F and D around the UN on the doors of the vehicles.  "Fund" in Albanian means "the end" so I guess it is a sign that they want the UN to leave.  Most of the staff members eating along Police Avenue were stunned by the sudden demonstration and it appeared that the police were equally surprised as the entire city block was vandalized before the demonstrators were stopped.  According to the news, the leader of the "Self Determination" group Albin Kurti, whose father is reported to work for UNMIK, was in the group that was arrested by KPS (Kosovo Police Service) following the demonstration.  As far as we could see from our front-row view at the Chinese Restaurant, no one was arrested during the demonstration...we only saw KPS bring a couple vehicles full back to the station 30 minutes after it dispersed. We got some pictures of the vandalized vehicles (and maybe the vandals!) and I'll share them as soon as I download them off the camera :)

News is emerging about the group that threatened to kidnap and kill international personnel.  The group call themselves the "Independence Army of Kosovo" or UPK and have been operating in the Pec/Peje region. Reportedly, the group has stopped two KFOR vehicles and told the occupants that they should pack-up and leave or face harm.  KPS is denying that the group exists but both the UN and KFOR acknowledge the existence and have restricted travel in the Pec/Peje region.  The group appears to be organizing and uniformed in black with masks.  They have been manning illegal checkpoints and controlling passengers in western Kosovo so vehicle traffic has been restricted to certain areas as it is a serious matter.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lights Out

I spent most of Monday night in the dark.  The weather has taken a turn to wintertime and part of the B-plant went down.  The power was off for around four hours and on for two.  My generator ran out of petrol after three and half hours and I discovered that I didn't have much left so I had to trudge down to the petrol station at 9:30pm to refill.  Then just as I was finished filling the generator and gave it one unsuccessful pull, bam!  The power came back on.  I know I said some unkind things about the power company...they probably heard and that's why the power went off an hour later :)  The officials from the power company (KEK) said that the power schedule would be four on: two off but Monday is was just off-off-off :-P  Now the problem seems to resolved or Kosovo is importing power but with the weather quickly reaching freezing points at night, I'm sure that the power cuts will become a regular thing.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Kosovo Update

ICTY decided to allow Haradinaj to participate in politics while awaiting trial.  He was previously restricted from giving public statements or participate in the leadership of his political party (AAK - Alliance for the Future of Kosovo).  The chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, immediately protested the ICTY decision to allow Haradinaj to participate in politics while awaiting trial and ICTY temporarily reversed the decision.  Should the decision be reinstated, Haradinaj would be allowed to be involved in the political process and make public statements under the supervision of UNMIK.  The Hague court gave UNMIK the task of determining if Haradinaj's involvement was beneficial and granted the responsibility of allowing or refusing his activities on a case-by-case basis
This decision comes at an interesting time because the Kosovo parliament (at least the Albanian part) has started working on a draft for independence.  Aside from this, there is a group in Kosovo that have stated that unless Kosovo is granted independence by tomorrow (15-October) that they will kill nine innocent UNMIK civilians.  Now that leads to another interesting we received notice that our movement is restricted in certain regions during the nighttime and then another announcement this afternoon that we can request a security escort to our residences.  Coincidence???

In other news, a Turkish politician was killed in a drive-by shooting on Tuesday.  There isn't much information right now but if I find out more, I'll update :)  Also a Serbian special police member, Dejan Demirovic, was extradited from Canada to Serbia to face war crimes charges.  He is charged with the murders of 14 Albanian civilians near Podujevo in 1999.  He has been living in Ontario for the past four years but will now stand trial in Serbia.

Winter is on its way.  Every one is getting ready with firewood and pulling the dustcovers off their heaters.  The temperature has dropped down into the mid-teens Celsius (55-60�F) and this morning it started raining.  I've ordered my five meters of firewood, discovering that I paid about 100E more than I should have last year!  I'll probably be working on stacking it behind the house this weekend if anyone wants to help *hehe*

Saturday, October 8, 2005

5th Annual CITS Road Rally

We held our 5th Annual CITS Road Rally today.  The weather took a turn for the cold with overcast skies and a strong chilling wind but everyone seemed to be in good spirits in the morning despite the cold.  I'm proud to report that only one team got lost this year and only for 15 minutes :)  They fortunately realized that they had made a wrong left turn and went back to the point where they should have made a right turn.  We had 10 teams competing for the champion position this year.
The route took the teams from Pristina through some Serbian villages (Uglare) to Shtime.  From Shtime, we went into the mountains where they are excavating granite and came out near Ferizaj.  From Rerizaj, we took the teams up to the top of another mountain to the Hollywood Restaurant.  I will share the pictures in my Kosovo Photo Album as always :)

Friday, September 30, 2005

President Ibrahim Rugova

News has emerged this month that President Ibrahim Rugova has lung cancer.  He was diagnosed at an American military hospital in Germany earlier this month.  Reportedly, the cancer has only attacked one lung so far but he is visibly weaker.  He has stated that he will not resign from the position of President because he wishes to see Kosovo through to independence from Serbia.  However, he has turned over some of the day-to-day functions to his successor in the LDK party, Nexhat Daci.  Whether or not Rugova will be able to live to see the realization of the Albanian dream to have an independent Albanian state of Kosovo will partly be determined later next month when the report on standards is presented to the UN Security Council by the special representative to the Secretary-General Kai Eide.  There are some fears that Rugova's departure from politics will severely hamper Kosovo's bid for independence because he seems to be the bridge that unites his LDK party that is bitterly divided.  So we will have to wait and see if Rugova can continue his battle against the cancer that is attacking his body and the international politics that may prevent his dream of unconditional independence.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Scrambled Eggs???

There is was a protest today by the "Self Determination" group and they tossed eggs at the entrance of MHQ.  Security was droning on and on this morning that we should avoid the area...guess that means I should have packed it up for lunch and gone home for a nap?!  Yeah, I wish!  The weather is definitely nap weather...cold & rainy.  It is hard to be enthusiastic about waking up in the morning after two weeks of glorious sunshine in Egypt :)  But se la vie...what can I do?
This past weekend, four Serbs from Gracanica were arrested for war crimes committed in 1999.  Since then, the Serbs have been protesting by blocking the roads in Gracanica.  While annoying, it does a good job of making a statement because the main route to Gjilane is through Gracanica and when the road is blocked, the alternate way takes about twice as long to travel.  The Serbs say that they will continue the roadblocks until the arrestees are released.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Drive-by Shootings

This past Saturday night, two Serbs were killed in a drive-by shooting in Strpce.  Another two were injured.  There is a current of nervousness passing through the offices in the UN because it was almost the same sort of incidents that set-off the deadly riots in March 2004.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Certain Smell in the Air

There comes a certain time in the year when the farmers in Kosovo begin to burn the fields.  It is a strange sight where I live to go out on your balcony and see the night illuminated with the fierce orangish-red color of fire.  Last week the fields behind my house were burning so I had to keep the doors and windows closed on that side of the house.  The scent is not the most pleasant and while I can't remember ever seeing the ranchers burn the fields in the US, I suppose there is a certain chemical benefit to having the ash fertilize the soil.  Actually, I imagine that burning fields is prohibited in most places because of the air pollution it produces.  For a few weeks, the clean air I so love where I live will be hazy and thick with the scent of burning crops.
I drove a colleague to Prizren yesterday to the German KFOR hospital.  A trip that should take 1 1/2 hours took 2 1/2 hours due to overloaded trucks and three traffic accidents on our side of the road.  The area between Shtime and Prizren is mountainous and the road winds quite a bit...the impatient drivers cannot handle being stuck on a one-lane road behind a slow moving truck so driving can be dangerous when they attempt to overtake.  Seeing beyond a curve isn't a necessity to some of the drivers...I guess they imagine anyone coming the other way will stop for them if they see them coming...not realizing that it takes time to slow a vehicle!

Monday, August 1, 2005

Bucket o' Fun

It's that time of year again...bucket shower days in the dog days of summer.  I actually couldn't even get a good bucket shower this morning at home and had to shower in the bathrooms at work.  I think the cleaning ladies got a kick out of that and I know the guys in my office do because they tease me about it :-P  But se la vie, when the farmers near Gracanica need to irrigate their fields, I have to do without water or enough pressure.  Perhaps one of these days they will separate the residential water supply from the agriculture supply...but I doubt that I will still be here when that happens.
The power is being regulated four on-two off in my area.  I heard that KEK is going to start regulating power based on the payment of individual bills.  So if you pay more than 55% of your monthly power bill, you will not have power cuts.  If you pay between 25-55%, you will have five on-one off.  If you don't pay or pay up to 25%, you will have four on- two off.  Of course, I still have never received a power bill and I again heard that Serbia is sending power to Kosovo for some of the Serbian areas...but I doubt that Gracanica is included in that list because of its location.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Declaration of Independence

Today, students were passing out declarations of colonial independence flyers in front of MHQ.  I briefly skimmed over the flyer which contains the text of a UN Resolution from 1960 before tossing it in a garbage dumpster down the road.  I wonder who exactly the students think is the colonial power?  Maybe the UN but passing out the text of a UN resolution will not bring any results.  I saw some UN vehicles driving around with the flyer still stuck under the wipers...I think the demonstrations gather more interest and attention (sans egg throwing because that's just wrong!)
I forgot to mention a couple weeks ago but the blast barrier and concrete blocks at the front of MHQ were defaced with "Jo Negociata.  Vetvendosje" which means "No Negotiation.  Referendum".  The blast barrier was repainted and that evening the graffiti "artists" struck again.  I think they sprayed the blast barrier three times.  Then when the Serbian PM visited, there was an egg-tossing protest.  I think some of the regular UN staff ended up with bits of egg in their hair and clothes...I would have been a bit upset.

Elsewhere in Kosovo, Serbs blockaded the Mitrovica-Zubin Potok highway this past week in protest of attacks on the village of Zupce from a neighboring Albanian village.  It was reported that shots were being fired from the Albanian village into Zupce and a hand grenade was thrown into the backyard of a house causing damages.  The blockade was lifted after ten hours when UNMIK and KFOR pledged to establish permanent checkpoints in the area.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

You know, there are times in your life that you just have to laugh...and in Kosovo, you do it loudly.  This past Saturday, Andriy and I headed south of the border (Macedonia, not Mexico!) to see about picking up some tickets for a Deep Purple concert in Skopje.  At the Kosovo-Macedonian border as we were entering Macedonia, we witnessed something that just made us smile, shake our heads in disbelief, and laugh out loud.  There was a KS-vehicle in front of us at the border.  Supposedly to save money on fuel, one of the popular things to do while waiting in line is to get out and push your vehicle.  Well, this strapping, healthy 20-30 year-old man had his 70 year-old grandfather get out and push the car across the border!  Truly unbelievable to see this old man pushing a car through the border (at least 20-30 minutes in the hot sun as well!)  Maybe the old man didn't know how to drive but his grandson could have at least sacrificed a pack of cigarettes as to not make the poor man push the car through the border on a hot summer day!
The weather has been going from hot to rain to hot to rain.  As I usually say, just wait five minutes and the weather will change.  As a strange turn of events, my power was off for eight hours last night.  There seem to be some problems at the power station and some speculate that unless the problems are fixed soon, we may be without any power from KEK (worst case scenario would be no power from KEK but importing from outside...probably paid for by the UN).

It's wedding season again!  Yup, this year it is my mission to capture the Kosovo wedding convoy in action on Skopje highway or elsewhere in Pristina.  Seeing is believing and before I leave the mission, I have to have it down on film.  The tradition is quite interesting and the people seem to be enjoying themselves so much that I really want to get a picture for the site.  I wished I had my camera on Sunday when I went to Bondsteel because there was a wedding convoy with several traditionally dressed musicians on the back of a flatbed truck playing on the side of the road.  Ah, se la vie...whenever you really need a camera you usually don't have one!

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Another Explosion

There is another explosion to add to last Saturday night's list.  On Monday, a bomb exploded in front of the building that houses the Ministry of Returns and one of the Serbian political parties.  As usual, there have been no claims of responsibility.  Luckily no one was injured but the building was damaged.  It seems that since the special advisor has arrived to check on the standards the factors that do not benefit from stability will try to make it difficult for Kosovo to proceed to what is looking like full-independence.  While I personally don't think that Kosovo can support a multi-ethnic and fair democratic independence, the political rhetoric seems to all point towards a break from Serbia instead of automony.

Monday, July 4, 2005

Happy 4th of July

Wow, four years in Kosovo without ending up in a mental institution!  It's hard to believe it but I've really been here that long and the time has flown by.  Previous 4ths have been on the weekend so I was able to throw a BBQ but this year, it was on a Monday so it ruled out a party at my place :(  But, I decided to take my friends out to dinner at Hani 2 Roberti, a very nice restaurant near the MHQ.  It was a grand night and lots of fun.  We not only celebrated the 4th but my four-year anniversary.  Strange to think that it has been that long!
In other news, there were three explosions in Pristina on Saturday night.  Two grenades were thrown: one into a travel agency next to Irish Pub and one into the parking area of the Government Building.  Then an explosive device was attached to a UN vehicle in the MHQ compound through the fence.  It's the second time that this has happened in the compound.  We joke about it being UN-Security but these kind of things make you think about it.  There are no claims for responsibility and the SRSG sent out a letter asking the staff not to speculate whodunit but to continue working towards the goals (like packing up and leaving!)  I find myself being cynical at best right now but for all the talk of progress, it's evident to me that many things are just lurking under the appearance of being calm.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005


The weather is being sporadic at best lately.  It goes from hot/sunny to cold/rainy every few days.  We had an incredible storm on Sunday night.  I arrived back from a weekend in Greece with my capris and sandals to find strong winds, lightening, pelting rain, and overall really bad weather.  I ended up hiding in the house of a colleague until the storm subsided since I wasn't really dressed to brave the elements :)  Today is sunny with temperatures in the 70's but who knows what it will be like tomorrow!

Oh, I forgot to mention that my contract has been extended another six months.  When I called to tell my mom, she guessed what I'd say before I did.  "I've been extended another six months but after that, I don't know".  It seems to be one of our mantras in the mission.  Never knowing how long you'll be needed in the mission or if they'll want to move you to another location.  Some of my family asks if I want to come back to the US, especially my mom.  But actually, right now I am enjoying being overseas and I am still fairly young so I feel that I better take advantage of the opportunity to travel the world while I have it!  Maybe some day I will return to the US but not now.  If I am no longer needed in Kosovo, I hope to move on to Africa if possible to another peacekeeping mission.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Time Flies

My goodness, has it really been a month since I wrote?  Well, it means that things are quiet and I was on vacation from Kosovo :)  I did have a moment of excitement last week when I was driving to the office.  I was in the right lane of traffic and someone decided to make a right turn in front of me from the left lane.  I ended up slamming on the brakes and throwing everything in the backseat onto the floor.  I got the typical "what'd I do" look from the other driver who made the illegal turn.  Really bizarre but then it is Kosovo!
DJ Vegas in da house!  I have become UNMIK's newest DJ.  I held my first SRC party last Saturday and it was a success.  I still have people coming up to me and telling me how much they enjoyed the night, so my ego has been getting a bit of a boost lately.  I am thinking to arrange another party next month and be on the regular lineup of DJs for the SRC parties.  The SRC (Staff Recreation Committee) exists for the welfare and morale of the staff on mission.  The SRC in Pristina consists of a Trips, Sports, Movies, and Social Committees.  I am currently the Head of both the Sports and Movie Committees therefore I chose not to run for the Executive Committee as suggested by the previous President.  Just too much on my plate if I did that, I'm sure!

The weather has taken a turn towards summertime.  The temperature went up almost 20�F in one day into the 70's earlier this week.  It has made for some great outdoor lunches :)  I also planted a flower garden near my entrance the week before I left for vacation and the flowers are starting to come out.  I have one bizarre rose bush that I planted last year or the year before and it simply just grows up, up, up and never blooms.  Really strange!  Smokey is also enjoying the weather and started to sleep outdoors again.  Plus he's shedding his winter fur so I am having to groom him every other day :-P

Monday, April 18, 2005

Haradinaj Family

On Friday, the 23 year-old brother of Ramush Haradinaj was shot and killed in a reported "clan" dispute in Peja/Pec.  The Hague temporarily released Ramush to attend the funeral.  The Haradinaj family has an interesting history with this generation of brothers.  Two were killed during the fighting in 1999, another has been convicted of murder, and now this incident and the arrest of Ramush.  Movement to Peja/Pec was restricted until this afternoon due to the shooting death and possible security risks to international staff traveling in the region. 
There was an explosion in Pristina last night near the Illira Hotel.  There aren't many details right now but the explosion is reportedly near one of the political party offices (ORA).  The attack was targeted at the political party of Veton Surroi, a publisher of one of the local newspaper (I think Koha Ditore).  Three children were injured in the blast as I believe the party's office was located in the ground level of an apartment block.  The children were living on the second floor of the building and luckily not seriously injured.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Criminal Animals

Today an elderly Serbian couple (ages 71 and 73) was attacked by assistants who beat and stabbed them in an apparent ethnically motivated attack.  The couple, Mr. & Mrs. Vucic, were attacked outside their home about 50kms outside Pristina.  They were taken to the hospital in Mitrovica where they were treated for broken bones and stab wounds.  One is still in critical condition and the other is recovering.  All I can think is what kind of criminal animal would attack an elderly couple in such a brutal manner and for what reason?
While it has been recognized that progress is being made in minority rights and freedom of movement, this establishment of order seems to be bothersome to some groups.  Attacks on minorities have increased to almost one per day in recent weeks.  These groups do not seem to want an independent, democratic, or orderly Kosovo.  They are probably relishing in the criminal freedom of an interim administration and some incompetence on the part of the local government to realize the grave threat the groups pose to the democratic process.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Trip to Brezovica

Actually, it was last weekend that I took a trip to Brezovica but I didn't get a chance to write about the interesting trip :)  I've always heard about how beautiful it is up at the ski resort at Brezovica.  A misconception is that the mountain is called Brezovica but it is actually the name of the village located at the base.  The mountain is really called Sara but if you tell someone you're going to Sara they probably wouldn't know where you were going :)
A friend invited me to go up to Brezovica with him last weekend to visit a breeder of the famous Sharr Mountain dogs.  The dogs are mammoth in size with a coat of shaggy fur, a head the size of a lion, and a bark with the bass of James Earl Jones.  On the way, we passed the KFOR checkpoint and were stopped about five minutes later by a group of young Serbian men between 15-21 years-old.  They were dressed in normal clothing but with some sort of fur shawls and many had masks (traditional or ski masks).  They demanded that we pay money to continue on the road.  A KPS vehicle was leaving the group when we pulled up...and now I wonder if they paid the fee to pass as the group effectively stopped all traffic on both sides of the road by sheer number on the road.  My friend refused to pay and ended up being called a SOB by some drunk kid but we eventually passed after a verbal challenge to get out of the car and fight the drunk youngster...and then probably all of his drunken friends after that :-P

Then we reached Brezovica and discovered that someone came up with the idea to charge a fee to enter what they now classify as a "National Park".  The fee was five euros but when informed that we were in a KFOR vehicle, the price went down to a "just pay two or three and you can go".  My friend didn't want to pay so the attendant started complaining that the international organizations weren't paying but we passed after a moment.  Passing through Brezovica, I noticed many destroyed houses.  I was informed that they were Albanian homes that were burnt down in last March's violence...which was interesting because you didn't hear much about the Albanians losing property last March

When we got the resort, the sheer number of people and vehicles astounded me.  If all those private vehicles paid five euros, the attendant made a couple hundred euros that day!  Naturally, I got some pictures at the resort :)  If you happen to visit the resort, I recommend stopping by Pizzaria Tina for a fantastic pizza :)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

One Year Anniversary of Riots

Today was marked with commemorations and memorials of last year's March 17 riots and violence.  We were informed that there was to be a commemoration in Gracanica around 1200 CET and then we started getting advisories of other memorials being held in other villages this afternoon.  The only disturbing event of today was a bomb threat against the municipal building in Peja/Pec.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Hell in a Handbasket

1030 CET:  Security has informed us that KFOR will be making a series of controlled explosions in the vicinity of this morning's incident.  I suppose that means that they found more bombs.  Reports are that the first explosion came from a garbage dumpster while Rugova's vehicle was passing.
0820 CET:  An explosion broke the morning commute today near King Casino in Pristina.  The target appears to be President Rugova whose vehicle was damaged in the explosion.  Fortunately no one was injured but windows in nearby buildings were blown out.  The EU Foreign Policy Advisor, Javier Solano, arrived yesterday and Rugova was on his way for a meeting with him.  Details are sketchy right now but as more emerges I'll post more.

There was no demonstration in Pristina yesterday but a village of Serbs did protest the power situation by walking to Obilic.  Lately the power is being cutoff to Serbian areas (although Kosovo Electric Company-KEK says that it is not them just the equipment) and KEK is stating that they will not repair the problems until the bills are paid.  Of course, I have a problem with that statement because I have never received a power bill for the past three and half years I've been in my flat.  I wouldn't mind paying if they sent me a bill :-P  I've heard that rather than punish individuals, KEK collectively punishes the people living in apartment blocks or villages by leaving the power off until 75-80% of the inhabitants pay their bills.

I emailed some of my friends and family this morning as the news of this morning's incident will no doubt reach the news in the US.  I called home when Haradinaj was arrested too just to assure my folks that I was doing okay.  One of the worst parts of being in the mission is having loved ones worry about me and whether I am safe when things happen.  I do remember though in March when I called dad to tell him everything was okay and he asked "is something going on?" *hehe*  I guess sometimes things that are big here aren't so important in the rest of the world.  But trying to blow up the President is fairly big so I'm sure it'll be in the news :-P

Friday, March 11, 2005

Attack in Pristina

At approximately 2330 CET, two hand grenades were thrown into the area below the Sports Center where some of the Police&Justice have offices.  Two civilian vehicles and one UN vehicle were damaged and one civilian was injured.  There still is not much information on who was responsible for the attack but I've heard a rumor that it was related to Pristina Mafia rather than the indictment against Haradinaj. 
There was to be a peaceful demonstration on Monday in Pristina but after the incident, it was cancelled.  If people decide to demonstrate anyway, I am certain that there will be zero-tolerance on the part of the police for any troublemakers.

Movement to Peja/Pec is still restricted and no international staff are allowed to go out after 1900 until sunrise.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

All Calm for Now

1230 CET:  It has been announced that there is a peaceful demonstration in Decani, Peja/Pec Region.  Security very clearly stated that it was in control of the police.
1130CET:  Our movement is still restricted in the Peja/Pec region but that is probably due to the fact that on the 7th of March two hand grenades were thrown at UN vehicles (one Coca-Cola and one white) and a bus of Serbs was stoned.

If you can remember back to mid-January where a Nigerian police officer was killed in a car bomb explosion in Prizren, I heard something interesting yesterday from a colleague about it.  Reportedly, the bomb was placed by the ANA (Albanian National Army) who has said that they are specifically targeting black and Asian persons.  I've heard little about the ANA except that it is a radical group.  I'm not sure of their intentions for operating in Kosovo but I'm definitely going to look into it.

Smokey is still caring for his little puppies.  They have doubled in size but still can slip through the fence for his kennel.  I'm not sure if they are the same two that I saw in January because they are both dark (sort of a bad mix of black, white, and brown I think.)  I have not seen the adorable brown puppy I took pictures of before.  I think maybe it was not lucky enough to survive the winter and/or crossing the road.  I still have not gotten over the amount of road-kill on the road between Pristina and Gracanica.  There always seems to be at least one dog or cat on the road every day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Day of Reckoning

2200 CET:  Several hundred students are staging a peaceful demonstration over the indictment of Haradinaj.  In the freezing temperatures, it only lasted about half an hour.  As soon as everyone got excited it was over.  I think after the March riots people have a tendency to get over excited about any gatherings.
1400 CET:  Ramush Haradinaj officially has been indicted for war crimes by ICTY and resigned as Prime Minister of Kosovo.  The SRSG gave a statement calling for everyone to remain calm and thanking Haradinaj for his leadership the past few months.  Haradinaj has said before that if he was indicted he would go willingly to the Hague.  It is a good political step for him and also will hopefully lead to a calm situation.  I do not doubt that there will be demonstrations against the decision to indict Haradinaj but the final result of those demonstrations, peaceful or violent, is the question in everyone's minds.

1000-1200 CET:  The morning started off like any other until UN Security announced that all travel to the Peja/Pec region was restricted.  Then the rumors started going around.  We were told that it was likely that Ramush Haradinaj would be arrested and told to be on alert with our overnight bags ready.  I shot home to pick up my bag and laptop (hate to lose my baby if anything happened!)  The only thing that I worry about in these situations is Smokey because he has to stay at the house.

Monday, March 7, 2005

Teacher's Day & Night of Fire

1700 CET:  The security situation has returned to normal.  KFOR EOD blew the trunk out of the vehicle and removed the suspicious bag.  The vehicle was registered in Macedonia and it could have been that the driver did not realize that civilian vehicles are not allowed to park on Police Avenue (although there is a sign stating it near MHQ.)  But then again, better safe than sorry!  It is difficult to find the results of the happenings in Kosovo but if any of what I know is confirmed, I'll let you know!
1445 CET:  There is a little bit of excitement in downtown Pristina right now.  We first heard UN-Security tell us that we needed to move our vehicles off Police Avenue.  Then we got a Security announcement that the front gate was closed.  Finally, there was a message that Police Avenue was closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  All those messages came out in about 1/2 an hour.  I was on my way to the bathroom when I saw the KFOR EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) vehicle drive past.  As it turns out, there is a suspicious package in a civilian vehicle parked on Police Avenue.

1200 CET:  Today is Teacher's Day in Kosovo.  Schools are not closed but classes are shortened 15 minutes.  It is tradition for the students to give their teachers flowers.  I'm not sure if they do the whole apple thing as well.  I guess I should investigate a little more :)

It is also the Night of Fire tonight.  It is the end of three-days of celebration/memorial for Adam Dashuri, who is pictured a couple stories tall on the Pristina Sports Center.  I personally think he looks a bit like Grizzly Adams myself.  But the memorial is for what happened to Dashuri and his village.  Dashuri was one of the founders of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army or UCK in Albanian).  Dashuri's men were snipering off Serbian police.  The Serbian police went to his village near Skenderbeq and basically killed everyone there (men, women, elderly, and children).  Tonight, the Albanian community remembers those that were killed, celebrate the KLA, and the fight against the Serbian para-militaries.

Oh, and by the way, it's still snowing :-D

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Guess What?! More SNOW!!!

It is still winter in Kosovo.  There is about a foot of new snow since last night.  It took a group of us about two hours to drive down to Bondsteel (a trip that normally takes 45 minutes.)  It's great to see everything all white (for a day at least before it gets muddy) but the power is getting a little worse.  It was off for around 2 1/2 hours earlier.  There doesn't seem to be a regular power schedule.  It seems to go off at all hours.  I suppose that it is going off when the system is overloaded.  My wood pile is pretty much exhausted but the landlord offered to let me take what I need from their pile.  But se la vie! 
I didn't post much last month due to the fact that I was sick for about three weeks.  First I got a cold the day of the concert.  I was going through a box of Kleenex every day for half the week.  I finally went to the pharmacy and asked for something to make my nose stop running.  I ended up looking like Rudolph after a few days.  The next week, I developed a horrible cough and ended up being kicked out of my office...told to go home and rest until I got better.  Everyone in my office ended up getting this nasty virus.  But because I didn't stay home and went out in the cold after a day of rest...I ended up being diagnosed with bronchitis :(  I took anti-biotics and am happy to say that I'm recovered and back to work now.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day from Kosovo.  Since most of the girls in our offices are away from their honeys or single, I picked up a little bouquet of roses and lilies for them in the morning.  One of the other ladies had the same idea so I ended up with a nice red rose for my desk as well.
The Valentine's Benefit Program & Party went well this past Saturday.  We managed to raise over 700 Euros in a single night by asking for change at the bar and holding a raffle with donated prizes.  Many Pristina restaurants gave free dinner donations to the cause (Bella Vista, Home, Thai, Chinese, Himalaya Gorkha, Rio, Gresa, Mexicana) and I donated five DVD players as a contribution to the cause.  Just to be safe, we asked the managers of the American PX to use the DVD players for the raffle.  Sometimes people get upset when they see someone carrying a bunch of DVD players and there have been cases where electronics have ended up on the streets.  The electronics at the American PX are some of the best quality and much more affordable than the ones imported to Kosovo (or the ones that fall off trucks and end up in Kosovo).  Like most situations, there are people who will abuse the privilege and make others suffer for their greed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Still Snowing!

I can hardly believe it but the snow continues.  We thought that winter was over after a mild, warm couple of months but it looks like it was just late!  At least with the amount of snow and rain, there will be more water in the summer (I hope!)  I'm not looking forward to another year of bucket showers.  I saw a cool gadget in the AAFES (American Armed Forces Exchange Service aka PX) that is a five gallon bucket with heater for camping.  I'm thinking about spending the $150 to get it and shower attachment just so I don't suffer through the summer as usual.
My wood pile is getting low.  I hopefully will have enough to last through the rest of this late winter.  I guess the snow can't last much longer but it has been snowing for nearly two weeks!  I took new pictures of Smokey and his "kids" to show the difference in the weather.  The picture I took a couple weeks ago was of him in the kennel with dry dirt...the next pictures I took everything was covered with snow.  I also got a picture of the snowman the CD-sellers built near the entrance of MHQ.  I'm glad I stopped to take the picture because someone knocked it down the next day...kind of sad, it was a good reminder that life can be normal here.

Thinking of a normal life, I am reminded about the children of Kosovo.  There are a great number on the streets of Pristina, begging for money and selling cigarettes.  I do urge people not to give them money because the fact of the matter is, they never see the benefit of it.  I have noticed on many occasions that an adult stands outside the restaurant and as soon as they see someone giving money to the child, they take it away.  I was outraged one summer day when I gave a child a few euros and as I walked away, the woman seated further down the street got up and took the money from the child.  These street children are basically kept in a poor state to gather sympathy of those passing by.  If I see a child come into a restaurant during the winter, I often will order a hot chocolate or a coke during the summer.  At least then, the child can briefly have something for them to enjoy.

A coworker of mine noticed a child with his mother begging near OSCE several weeks ago when the weather was cold.  His daughter had outgrown her snowsuit so he brought it downtown seeing that it was the right size for the child.  Instead of putting the suit on the child to keep her warm, the mother put the suit in a bag and a few days later in passing by, my coworker saw that the child still was not wearing the suit but the barest of clothing.

I have heard rumors about the Romas (gypsies) that flood Kosovo when the weather is good to wash windshields at the intersections.  It usually is the young men that are washing windows and the mothers with children who sit on the streets.  Usually there will be a younger or infant draped over her arm, sleeping or unconscious.  The rumor I have heard is that they often beat the children senseless because it gathers more pity than if they were up running around and playing.  I'm not sure how true that is but seeing now they use the children as a tool of trade rather than a human, it is quite possibly true.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

And More Snow!

It looks like the weather forecast was accurate for these two days.  It is still snowing.  Yesterday we got about 5cms (2 inches) of snow.  I bet the ski resort, Brezovica, is just absolutely buried in snow now.  Maybe it would be a good time to learn how to ski!!! 
Because the snow was wet, the roads were quite slippery yesterday.  It only took 40 minutes to reach home last night but as usual, there was an interesting traffic situation.  The large hill out of Pristina was pretty slippery.  A semi truck got stuck about halfway up the hill and had to start backing down the road.  The highway is divided with two lanes going each way so it wasn't really a problem for the truck to go down one lane, escorted by two private vehicles.  But the amazing thing was that people were trying to pass the line of traffic up the hill in the lane that the truck was using to go down.  I'm sure the truck driver was muttering choice phrases under his breath.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Old Man Winter

It's snowing, it's snowing!!!  It looks like the warm winter is over.  The forecast for the next week is snow, snow, and more snow!  Then later in the week, the temperature is supposed to drop to -14�C (that's about 6�F!)  Brrrrr!!!  We have had a very strange winter this year. November, December, and most of this month has been unseasonably warm.  In mid-December, we sat outside a couple of days because the temps was in the 50�F range and sunny. 
I am reminded today with the extremely slippery roads of my first winter snow storm in Kosovo back in 2001.  It was around Thanksgiving, the week of I think, and what started out to be a beautiful sunny morning turned into a snow storm that dumped half a foot of snow in three hours during the afternoon.  By 4:30pm, it was dark and still snowing.  The road out of Pristina was closed to any traffic without 4-wheel drive but people were still trying.  The five minute trip out of Pristina took one hour because Golf's were trying to make up the road out of Pristina but were getting turned around by KFOR.  Finally, I reached the highway and road up the hill out of Pristina.  It was slippery but manageable in the 4Runner.  Then I turned off the highway onto the road to Gracanica.  There is a gradual hill starting as soon as you finish the turn-off for about a mile I guess.  About halfway up the hill, a large truck had slid half into the ditch and half on the road.  A passenger bus tried to pass the truck on the left-hand side of the road but it was too slippery to start from a full-stop and they ended up being stuck.  Now the road was blocked both directions.  KFOR arrived and the passengers of the bus ended up pushing the bus out of the way so the other traffic could pass.  I'm sure that's not the trip that the passengers were expecting!  The normal ten minute trip ended up taking two and half hours that day.  I hope that tonight is not the same!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Me Fat Bajram

That means "Happy Bajram" in Albanian.  There are actually two Bajrams (or festivals) each year.  There is little Bajram that falls at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and it lasts for three days.  Then there is the sacrifice Bajram in November that lasts four days and celebrates something to do with Mohammed (Emin couldn't exactly tell me what it is.)  A common misconception about Bajram is that is a time for fasting.  It's actually quite the opposite.  It's a time for eating, eating, and eating!
Bajram gives people time from their busy lives to go visit family and friends.  During Bajram, it is typical to go visit your friends and family for about 10-15 minutes to wish them well and catch up on what's new in life.  During that time, they will serve coffee and cake.  Then it is off to the next house for more coffee and cake!  Eventually, you'll stay home and serve coffee and cake to your friends and it is quite an enjoyable time.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Tragedy Strikes

This morning at approximately 0820, a Nigerian police officer was killed in Prizren when his vehicle exploded while he was on his way to work.  BBC reported the incident and have a picture of the officer's vehicle.  You can see little damage to the outside of the vehicle but if you look at the black scorch mark under the vehicle, you can only imagine what it is like inside the vehicle.  You might also notice that the hood (fairly heavy) of the 4Runner is open...indicating the force of the blast.
In an international police force of nearly 3500 officers, the Nigerian contingent has 50 officers in the mission.  The SRSG of UNMIK has expressed his condolences and described the incident as despicable but I have heard little as to the reaction of the local population to this tragedy.  My thought go out to the officer's family and friends.

The details of the incident are still emerging but this is a tragedy that will have deep impacts on Kosovo Albanians' bid for independence.  It is expected that talks on the final status of Kosovo will start this summer but continued instability demonstrates that Kosovo may not be ready for the desired independence they so crave.  In related news, a coalition government has been formed in Kosovo between the pacifist government of Ibrahim Rugova and the political offshoot party of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) headed by Ramush Haradinaj.  The former well-liked Prime Minister Rexhepi is not mentioned so I'm unsure if he has a place in the semi-new government (Rugova's party headed the last coalition government.)  The international reaction to the election of Haradinaj is not exactly positive; truthfully, the Albanians could have picked a less controversial figure to lead them towards showing the UN that the standards are being met than a former KLA commander who may be called to the Hague to answer to the charge of war crimes!  You can read more at the BBC about Haradinaj.

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Smokey is a Father?!?!

Oh please, please tell me that it isn't true!  After arriving back in Kosovo, I discovered two little puppies visiting Smokey in his kennel every morning and eating his food.  Smokey did not chase them off but rather sat on top of his doghouse and oversaw the eating of his food.  I first noticed a little black puppy (about a month old) in the morning because I heard very high-pitched barking outside.  The puppy was defending the food from the birds and chasing them off.  At least he knows that part better than Smokey!  Then I saw a little brown puppy who doesn't seem as afraid as the black one of me.  I was able to get close enough to take a picture of Smokey and the brown puppy together and the resemblance is scary!!!  Could Smokey possibly have become a father during one of his famed escape nights?

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Happy New Year

Wow, it has been three and a half years since I arrived in Kosovo, fresh-faced and ready for an adventure.  Some days it feels as if I just arrived but most, I feel like I have been here for a very long Kosovo is my home.  I remember people laughing when I said that I was going home when returning to Kosovo but it is true.  Kosovo is where I have made a small one-bedroom flat a home for myself.  I have pictures of my family decorating my dressers, a loving dog greeting me when I get home from work, and a landlord's family that treats me as if I am part of theirs.  My friends joke that I'm going to be given a golden UNMIK Travel Document (the UNMIK Passport) for all the time I've spent here.
There are a few new things in my life...

I recently took over as Head of the Staff Recreation Committee (SRC) Movie Sub-Committee...both "jobs" done voluntarily.  About a week after taking over that committee, I was asked to do a rush sign-over of the SRC Sports Sub-Committee.  So now, I am overseeing the two UNMIK gyms as well as the Pristina Movie Cinema.  But now I have more incentive to go to the gym which I always say I will go to starting on Monday :)  It also gives me some non-stress time on the computer and a new challenge to focus on as my work slows down.

I also am involved recently in fundraising for the victims of the Tsunami Disaster in Asia.  A group of staff from UNMIK are taking donations that will be given to UNICEF.  I created a couple funny little see-thru boxes from my Christmas ornaments for the gyms and movie theater...I guess it is better than nothing.  I hope that the boxes will fill-up quickly.  We are scheduled to make a collective donation to UNICEF on the 25th of January from UNMIK.  Then in February, there probably will be two concerts in which any donations will go to the Tsunami survivors.

I also am enrolled at the University of Phoenix Online for my Masters degree in Management Information Systems.  I estimate that it will take me about one and half years to complete my degree.  I'm excited to get started with the courses and happy that with today's technology, even though I am far away from home, I can continue my education with a US-based school.