Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 28

For those of you readers who don't know...our younger daughter, Kat, is expecting a baby in late May. This past week she experienced some complications which had me quite concerned and ready to jump on a plane home. Fortunately she is better now but will be on complete bed rest for awhile. Anyway...that's why I have been lax in posting blogs...just a little preoccupied.

And now to catch up a bit - Charlie and I met his co-workers for dinner on Wednesday night and we had a great time. They are such a good group of people. There were three judges (one each from Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria), and ten others (legal officers, language assistants, etc). All but one live in Mitrovice or Vushtrii (a nearby town). It is so nice to be able to put a face with names when Charlie talks about work.

For dinner I ordered a typical Kosovo dish which consisted of veal served in a kind of puff-like thing made with yogurt and egg. It was very good. Typical Kosovo dishes are cooked/baked in "baking dishes" which look like heavy pottery bowls. They use a variety of ingredients. Salads here consist of chopped ingredients like cucumber, tomatoes and onion with a type a vinaigrette. I have yet to see lettuce in a salad. It seems like every restaurant serves pizza, too. Pizza - the international food! BTW - the local wine and beer is quite good. There are vineyards all around but primarily in Montenegro.

Everyone here smokes - and I mean everyone. It's been a long time since I had dinner with people smoking before, during, and after a meal!

We did get a replacement for the armoured car. It's a brand new Nissan Patrol (SUV) and is much easier to handle than the tank and all the windows work. We broke it in by driving to Skopja (pronounced "scopia"), Macedonia on Saturday. It is about an 80 mile (130 km) drive. The road actually wasn't too bad but the trip was time consuming because of the delays at the Kosovo and Macedonia borders. That added well over an hour to the trip. This area is quite mountainous which surprised me. It was a pretty drive, though, with snow topped peaks.

I'll tell you about Skopja tomorrow. It is an ancient city with lots to talk about. I even have photos if I can get them downloaded.

We went through Pristina on the way to Skopja and I spotted a Belgium chocolate shop so things are looking up! Unfortunately the shop was closed but we are going to Pristina on Tuesday so I will definitely check it out then.

Now for a few disjointed observations.....

You see alot of houses around here seemingly left in various stages of completion with people living in them. When we asked about that we were told that it is not only prestigious to have a big house but also a necessity since extended families live together. So people just begin a big house and complete what they can afford then take a break to earn enough money to do more. They move into whatever part is livable for the duration.

You also see TONS of garbage everywhere. They definitely need Lady Bird Johnson here for an anti-litter campaign. I thought it might have something to do with the broken post-war infrastructure but they have it in Skopja, too, so I do think it is a culture thing. is really a problem. Also, they don't pick garbage up at your house. You have to take your garbage to one of the dumpsters located around town. That could be part of the problem. But on the plus side they have had a concerted effort to clean up junked cars here. Now you see nice organized piles of junkers here and there instead of broken down cars everywhere. If they can do it for junkers, I know they can and will do it for garbage.

So enough for now. More on Skopja tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23

Charlie is in Pristina all day today working and hopefully getting us a car.

The car is an interesting issue. When he picked me up at the airport in Pristina, Charlie had a loaner car from CPI (his employer). We walked from the terminal (I use that term loosely) to the parking lot for the car. It was a huge black SUV. As I climbed in Charlie informed me that the car was fully armooured - a grenade could go off under us and not even dent it. (We were better armoured that the first troops into Bagdad!) Unfortunately, he had rolled the passenger-side window down to ask directions and it had stuck. So I entered a fully armoured vehicle with the bullet-proof window stuck halfway down on my side. I'm sure there is a metaphor here...maybe more than one.

So we are trying to get a little lighter vehicle for our stay here. Hopefully, Charlie will have something when he gets home tonight.

Tomorrow night we are going out with Charlie's co-workers. I am looking forward to meeting them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22

One week ago today I was standing in our living room with four suitcases absolutely stuffed to the max (What do you take with you for a year's stay when you can take only four suitcases? You prioritize quickly.) Standing there I think it finally hit me ... I really am going to Kosovo for a year. What am I doing? How did this happen?

Well, it all started almost five years ago when a friend of Charlie's asked him if he would be interested in going to Kosovo to work for the UN as a judge. He was definitely interested but the timing just wasn't right. But the seed had been planted. Eventually the UN began decreasing its presence in the region with the European Union assuming more responsibility. So...Charlie was contacted last fall to see if he would be interested in working in Kosovo with the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX). Since he had been considering retiring, the time was right. He retired from his position as an Iowa District Court Judge and accept the position as a judge with EULEX.

Believe me, things happened fast after that! Charlie retired on January 15 and flew out on January 25 and has been here since.

This is a very interesting and challenging assignment. This part of the world has been in conflict for literally ages. There is much, much history in this region and most of it is pretty sad. Most recently, after the fall of Tito and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, war raged in this area. You have all hear of the troubles here where the term "ethnic cleansing" was coined. Well, it hit especially hard here in Mitrovica. The saddest part is that before the war this was a well integrated city where Serbs and Albanians lived together and successfully. Now the city is divided by the Ibar River with the Serbs living north of the river and the Albanians living south of the River. It is a very segregated society with Albanians unwelcome in the north and Serbs unwelcome in the South.

We live in south Mitrovica, the Albanian side. (Albanians are Muslim hence the mosque across the street.) Charlie works in north of Mitrovica where the Courthouse is located. This poses some unique challenges for him but all is working out and he is finding the work interesting and enjoyable.

That's a bit of background for now. I'll talk about my first impressions of Mitrovica and the area at my next post. I've also taken some photos which I will try to share.

Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19, 2010

The call to prayer is broadcasting from the minaret a block away. I must be in Kosovo. I find this call to prayer oddly comforting after a long journey. I arrived in Mitrovica on Wednesday a little over 28 hours after leaving Council Bluffs. I am very jet-lagged.

I chose a very auspicious day to arrive in Kosovo - the second anniversary of their declaration as a nation. Everybody was celebrating so the drive from the airport in Prishtina to our place in Mitrovica was crowded with revelers. Charlie had been warned about the "happy shooting" - shooting your gun into the air to celebrate - that would be taking place and since the "happy shooting" bullets do come down randomly we were strongly advised not to go outside on Wednesday night. We did indeed hear shooting, shouting, honking horns, fireworks and other sounds of celebration into the night. It was a good night to arrive.

Our place is very large, nice, clean, bright and cheerful. The inside walls are painted a beautiful color of orange ... I never would have thought...but it is a great color.

I would like to talk about Kosovo, how we got here and why, first impressions of Pristina and Mitrovica but am too tired today. I'll save it for tomorrow.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Beginning

On Tuesday, February 16, 2010, I leave our home in Council Bluffs, Iowa to meet Charlie in Mitrovice, Kosovo. He's been there almost three weeks and I am anxious to see him and our home for the next year. I hope we all - Charlie, me and you readers - enjoy this adventure!