Friday, July 28, 2006

Monster Dog

Smokey, the Monster Dog.  That's his new title.  It's summertime and there is a pack of wild dogs roaming around the neighborhood at night.  Smokey tries his hardest to defend the yard from the onslaught of canine marauders by barking non-stop through the night.  I try to be a good neighbor by stopping him but it doesn't do much because there are a bunch of dogs in the yard barking anyways. 

Because the power situation is bad, I closed the front balcony door to lessen the noise of the KPS generator across the street.  Smokey doesn't like that because the front balcony is his first line of defense.  So he bangs on the door handle until it goes down and steals through the door.  I usually put my desk chair in front of the handle to prevent him from going out so he starts to run from the door to the bed, staring me down as I try to sleep and challenging me to get up and let him outside.  Last night I lost the fight despite the fact that I left the back balcony door open for him to go outside.

I can't sleep while Smokey is outside barking at the wild dogs so I bring him inside the house and put on his muzzle.  It doesn't prevent him from barking or drinking water, it just makes it harder for him to get out a full aggressive Get-Out-Of-My-Yard bark.  I guess he didn't like that because this morning when I tossed my luggage in the car, I started noticing a strange but familiar smell.  Either marking his territory in the house or revenge for putting on the muzzle, Smokey peed all over the front of my dive gear bag.  Monster!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lights Out Again!

Last night the power went out for the entire night in most places all over Kosovo...again!  I haven't heard any reasons for the outage yet.  Downtown Pristina was without power for nine hours and Gracanica went without for over 12 hours.  Luckily the temperature has dropped a bit due to the storms that are passing through during the nights.  I think this must be KEK's way of proving me wrong for updating my Kosovo Tips and stating that there weren't many problems with the power and the schedule was basically 24/7 everywhere.  As soon as I updated the site, we started have problems and outages!!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

No Handshakes & Big Thunderstorms

Direct talks between Serbia and Kosovo began on Monday (24th).  It all began with a rather cold note as Serbia's President Tadic and Kosovo's President Sejdiu not shaking hands.  Gosh, even Israel & Palestine shook hands in Washington D.C. but oh-no, not the Serbs and Albanians.  It shows just how difficult it will be to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone.  Still unwilling to compromise, Serbia is saying no to full-independence and Albanians are saying that independence is the only option they will consider.  There is no timetable yet for the negotiations, but one can be expected after high-level talks in the UN in late September.  Meanwhile, demonstrators from the "Self-Determination" group protested outside the Government Building still calling for a referendum and an end to all negotiations with Serbia. 

Last night was one of those special nights with large summertime thunderstorms.  Man, I just love sitting outside on my balcony with the metal railings, sitting in my metal legged chair, and putting my feet in a warm bucket of water *hehe*  Seriously, there is nothing more awesome than a summertime thunderstorm as it rolls up on Gracanica from the south over the fields.  The good thing about the summer storms is that they have a tendency to dump a bit of rain and that means I get more water the next day :)  The bad thing is that often the power goes out during the storm...I suspect that lightening rods are needed somewhere because it usually happens after a nearby strike.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mafia Threatens Police Commissioner

The international police commission, Kai Vittrup, has admitted that he has received death threats from the mafia in Kosovo and that is the reason why his protection was recently stepped-up.  Vittrup also mentioned that his wife had left Kosovo as part of a joint decision.  This statement is interesting because Kosovo is classified as a non-family mission and family members are not supposed to be living here with staff or Civpols. 
A few studies have come out on the fact that the local economy will suffer greatly after the UN closes the mission.  UNMIK has spent 2.6 Billion Euros since the start of the mission in 1999.  One media report went as far to claim that independence would result in a total collapse of the local economy.  One of the problems identified is that should Serbia become hostile to an independent Kosovo, it would be difficult for the new Kosovo to export products or people because they would have to utilize roads through Serbia.  You can read the full EU Pillar report on UNMIK's Impact on the Economy.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bad Paint and Bucket Showers

It's been about two weeks since I returned but I forgot to mention some of the things that awaited me at home.  Earlier this spring, my landlord's son offered to paint the house since it hasn't been done in the past five years.  I agreed that it would be good and mentioned that I would be gone in June and that would be the ideal time for them to come.  So when I came back, I was greeted with banana yellow walls (not my first choice in colors) and paint splattered all over the furniture, floors, and my personal belongings (a huge drip of paint down the front of my TV was the clincher). 
I also left about 300 Euros for my landlord to purchase tile and put tile in the laundry room and bathroom.  The walls in the laundry room have molded over the years because the paint in the walls just soaks in the moisture from the dryer.  Lovely!  The tile in the bathroom is cracked and there are large holes where the hot water tank was removed....and put in the adjacent laundry room rather than in the shower.  That's a funny thing here.  You'll often find the hot water tank inside the shower, taking up half the room.  The locals don't seem to think to think much about getting electrocuted while taking a shower...might as well bring a really big hairdryer in the shower with you!  Anyways, after five weeks of vacation I came back and the tiles were sitting in the hallway.  And only half the tiles I had paid landlord's son informed me that the money I gave was enough to cover the tiles he bought and the painter/painters (which I was not supposed to pay for!)  So now I'm withholding the rent until the tiles are put up and taking 100 Euros from the total price because I'm no longer going to pay for the repairs to my place.  According to friends, I've been far too kind in taking care of the place and the rent I'm paying is more than I should...time to not be nice now, I guess.

I'm back to taking bucket showers.  With temperatures hitting the 90's now, the water pressure in my flat has dropped off to barely a trickle.  The landlord was supposed to install a water tank while I was gone too but that didn't get done either.  Supposedly it's being put in this weekend.  If not, I'll probably seriously consider moving to another place.  After five years, I'm getting a little frustrated with having to take a shower from a bucket when others have 24/7 water.  Why suffer when I don't have to???

There was a very interesting article today in the American Spectator about how the international community, especially the UN, US, and EU, have turned a blind eye to Kosovo.  The article discusses the problems that face a multi-ethnic Kosovo and some of the problems that need to be addressed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

7th Round of Talks...Still No Consensus

The latest round of talks ended today again with no results on protection of religious and cultural heritage or decentralization.  Next Monday, there will be more talks with the hopes that the talks will progress from a technical level to one of politics. The negotiation teams again failed to agree on the number of Serbian municipalities.  Belgrade is pushing for 12 while Kosovo officials want only five.  Belgrade has stated that seven of the municipalities are non-negotiable whereas five can be compromised upon.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lights Out Over Kosovo

Yesterday the power went out Kosovo-wide for nearly nine hours in most locations.  Gracanica was without power for 12 hours and then continued to have power outages throughout the night and today.  It is rumored that the Kosovo-B plant went down.  But there are also rumors in the local media that KEK (Kosovo Electric Kompany - or Krappy Electric Kompany as I like to call them!) has been selling power to Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro.  A KEK spokesperson denied those rumors stating that Kosovo-A was producing enough power to supply the province and they were not selling power but repaying power that is owed the neighboring countries (is that much different?!)  The spokesperson stated that it would take 13-14 hours before power stabalized but as we've seen, it is taking longer than that.  Local politicians, especially the Minister of Mining and Energy are blaming the problems on the mismanagement of KEK by Irish company ESBI.  It looks from the media reports that the ABC scheduling may return.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mala Krusha War Crimes Trial Begins

The war crimes trial of six Serbian officials accused of committing war crimes in the village of Mala Krusha, where a UN convoy was attacked in late May, is set to begin this week in the Hague.   The prosecution is focusing partly on the events that occurred in the village of Mala Krusha in March 1999, the night after the NATO had begun.  105 men and boys were allegedly taken into a barn, shot and then the bodies burned by the Serbian military.  In addition to the events in Mala Krusha, the accused are facing charges on the deportation of 800,000 Albanians and the forcible transference, murder and persecution of thousands of Albanians.

Among those on trial is Milosevic's successor ex-President Milan Milutinovic,  ex-deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, and ex-army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic..  The trial is expected to take nearly two years as both the prosecution and defense say that it will take at least one year for them to present their cases.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Six More Months and a Little Soapboxing :o)

Well, it looks like I will be spending at least another six months in Kosovo.  Yup, my contract has been extended...again *Woohoo!  Twirl my finger in excitement*  Actually, I'm not that disappointed to stay on until the end of the year.  Kosovo is considered to be the 5-star mission because of its location, better living conditions, and overall security.  I think that it may be time for me to consider moving on to another mission because there are times that I just can't stand being in Kosovo >:o)  So, pardon me while I get up on my little soap-box for this post...and please no's called sarcasm, get used to it or get a sense of humor :-P
I was on vacation for the past month, home in the US for a couple graduations and a reunion.  I was actually looking forward to coming back to Kosovo but quickly got over that on the way home from the airport.  I don't know what it is but the citizens of Kosovo are just annoying at times.

<soapbox...start your sense of humor or don't read any further!>The way they drive (careless, reckless, insane are a few adjectives that come to mind)...the concept of standing in line that seems to be beyond a level of comprehension...the simple act of bathing...there are many little things that seem normal that are lacking when one arrives in Kosovo.

I've mentioned driving a few times in my posts.  Boy, if you come to Kosovo are you in for a treat!  I don't know how many near-misses I've seen in my years here but it's quite scary.  You've got a mixture of people driving like they're on a Formula One track and others with a horse-drawn carts. Buffer zones don't exist here.  If you are leaving a safe distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you...nope, it's room for one more car...especially the guy who decided to pass a long line of cars without checking to look if there was oncoming traffic and has to whip in front of you before getting in a head-on collision :o)  It makes driving back home in the US oh-so more relaxing!

There are no lines per-se in Kosovo.  It's survival of the fittest...whoever pushes the most gets there first...looking out for numero uno!  Single-file, just forget about it.  Lines here are a mass grouping of people pushing their way in from the sides, middle, and wherever else they can push from.  I have found that a rolling suitcase makes for a great deterrent at the airport and is very helpful in preventing people from cutting in line...especially when you roll it over people's feet >:o)  Of course, a result of the pushing and shoving that a lot of people fail to realize is that when you push to be the first on the plane, you sit there the longest.  Or when you push off the plane, you often sit on the bus the longest and are the last off the bus!

It's summertime and I'm going to touch on that last point about the simple act of bathing.  Maybe it's a Balkan thing but when one comes from somewhere where bathing is a daily ritual, well it's just plain weird to pass someone on the street and be overwhelmed with the stench of seriously strong B.O. (body odor!)  It's not like there isn't indoor plumbing or water is expensive (a whooping 8.60 Euros per month, flat rate) but it just doesn't seem to be a concern for many people in Kosovo (and that is not limited to just one group of people's Kosovo-wide!) I know it has been a constant source of surprise for Americans who come to Kosovo that people don't bathe regularly here...I don't think I mentioned it before...but as the hottest months of summer approach, you notice it a little bit more!</soapbox>