Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

If I wouldn't have been chatting with a friend back home last night, the 4th of July would have passed me by without me even remembering that one of the biggest US holidays of the year was upon me!  So, Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans in Kosovo who are celebrating with a medal parade today...and also welcome to the new class that arrived in the past week or so!
I noticed that McCafe across from Mission HQ appears to be closed.  It's unfortunate because they did have nice sandwiches and soup for lunch.  Plus it was a great place to sit and relax without getting smoked-out by cigarettes.  I have been told that there is a nice Slovenian restaurant that opened last week near the King Casino.  And thinking of the King Casino, it has been closed down.  Rumors are that the owners were laundering money and also cheating on games.  I've also seen that for some reason the "Swiss" from Swiss Casino sign has been taken down...perhaps it's just Casino now :)

Today I think I'm going to take a step back from the news and politics and discuss life in Kosovo...particularly one of our favorite mission topics: driving!  It's difficult to describe what it is like to drive in Kosovo with all the different nationalities on the road and the unique style of the locals.  But I've been thinking that I've never shared one particular individual local driving style that really makes me wonder where on earth people come up with their ideas!

I live on a one-way street but there is always traffic coming the opposite way.  The KPS officers stationed at the consular offices are more decoration than real police so they usually just watch.  Sometimes it's even the local police that come down the wrong way, stopping in the middle of the road to talk to their friends...never mind any traffic that might be backing up in front or behind!  But the thing that really makes me go "hmmm?!" is there seems to be a belief that if your vehicle is pointing in the right direction, you can drive wherever you want.  I see this over and over on my one way street.  A person will back-up the street, their vehicle pointing the correct direction, but driving in the opposite direction for several blocks.  I mean, if you are really going to go down the street the wrong way, just do it...don't try to make it look like you aren't breaking the law by driving in reverse!

Oh and of course, if you happen to miss your turn, just throw it into reverse and back-up.  If someone comes up behind you, don't move, just wave your hands around and make them back up too until you reach your destination.  This doesn't just apply for city driving but also on the highway if you happen to miss your turn.
Another interesting thing that we come across while driving in Kosovo is that people will just arbitrarily block the road for deliveries, construction, parking, and sometimes even shopping.  You can be happily driving along and suddenly find a huge mound of dirt in your lane for the building that is being constructed pretty much right on the side of the road (Building codes...ha, what building codes!!!  If you can build your structure so close to the road that people have to step out into traffic to get around, you've done a good job of utilizing your land!  But I digress, back to driving!)  You'll have to go around...if there's no traffic coming the opposite way...or maybe a guy backing in the other lane because he missed his turn a block down.  You'll also have to dodge vehicles that suddenly decide to pull over in front of you and often children playing football in the streets (the huge park two blocks away is just too inconvenient I guess!)

And today there was a celebration at the US office in Pristina and clusterf---k is the word that comes to mind when I think about the situation on the street outside.  We made the mistake of trying to drive downtown through Dragodan as we usually do but there were all sorts of KPS units and civilian vehicles going the wrong way up the one way street (of course!!!)