Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 16

Well, I have been really busy! Last week Kat was sent to the hospital and it looked like our little grandson was ready to come. Thankfully he decided to wait awhile and she is back home on complete bed rest. After that scare I decided to come on home and am now back in Council Bluffs. I'm happy to report that Kat is doing well but complete bed rest is really hard.

I left Mitorvica on Friday and got into Council Bluffs on Saturday afternoon after a stop-over with Aaron, Jennifer and Charlie in Chicago. We got the news about Kat in the hospital on Tuesday, had an earthquake on Wednesday, and I left on Friday so it was quite a week. Oh the earthquake...it was my first and hopefully last earthquake experience. Evidently they are not uncommon in the area and are of two kinds: the swaying, shaky kind and the boom kind. We had the boom kind and it was boomy enough to scare me to death and to cause enough damage to the courthouse to close it until repairs can be made. Charlie and the staff are working out of a building in south Mitrovica for the time being.

I was able to take some photos of our neighborhood in Mitorvica before I left and will post them when I get time.

Charlie is very busy so he will definitely be kept occupied while I'm gone. All the EULEX judges met in Peja last week. Peja is a small city west and a little south of Mitrovica. Charlie drove to the meeting and said the area around Peja is just beautiful. Unfortunately there was alot of fighting there during the war and some scars remain. But there are also lots of beautiful fishing streams so he is getting his flies tied. Aside from his usual criminal trials he is serving on a couple of committees so his time is filled. He is also finding an important position as the only judge who speaks English as a native (he is now known as "The Native Speaker") so he is very helpful in composing anything that needs to be written.

I am planning on being here until a few weeks after the baby comes. As I said I would like to post the pictures of our neighborhood but after that I will be taking a respite until I am back in Kosovo. The adventure continues...

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 8 additional

I forgot to mention that if you click on the pictures I posted (under March 1) they will enlarge.

Also, I forgot to include a really funny incident. Yesterday Charlie and I went to the Pharmacy to get some medicine for his cold. The pharmacist didn't have the correct change (about 5 cents) so he gave us a pain pill instead! We are fighting over who gets to take it.....

March 8

Well, I now know how to post pictures and have posted the blog about our trip to Skopja. I hope it worked like it is supposed to.

This weekend was beautiful with sunshine for two whole days! Unfortunately Charlie was down with a bad cold so we spent the weekend inside. He is feeling a bit better and did go to work this morning. I had a pretty typical day. This city is very European in the sense that you have to go shopping alot. Fortunately for me my trips to Dublin prepared me for this. In general refrigerators over here are very small and they don't use preservatives like we do so you do have to go out quite a bit to keep stocked up. So this morning after I dropped the garbage off at the local dumpster, I went to my favorite store - it's like a bodega in New York or a small 7-Eleven in the US - to pick up a few things. One of the young men at the store speaks English very well and is very friendly and willing to help me. Then I went to the little store in our neighborhood that sells only coffee and got some coffee for espresso. I usually also go to the bakery for bread but didn't today.

We have a great location. Thank goodness we live in the heart of Mitrovica. There are lots of little stores everywhere. We can find just about everything we need within a few blocks. My favorite neighborhood store is just around the corner and sells birds. The owner puts the birds in the window every morning and outside in large cages if the weather is warm. I think they are some kind of small parrot. They are the prettiest birds with brilliant colors. They brighten everything up.

Last Friday we went to Pristina to meet and have dinner with an American woman from the UN. She was very interesting and after living here for 10 years had much great information to share with us. Like a typical newbie I commented about all the garbage and she did offer some enlightenment on that subject. She said that because these people have never really had their own country they may not as yet have developed a sense of ownership and pride. It's also possible that over the years dumping garbage was a way to get back at their oppressors. I was glad she made this observation. It taught me not to view things through my own lens only. There is usually more to anything than meets the eye. It's so easy to be judgemental.

I actually made chicken and dumplings for dinner on Saturday. Somehow accomplishing that made me seem not quite so far from home. It was really good and such a good comfort food for ailing Charlie.

We tried the local kebabs at our favorite restaurant this week. They are pretty bad. They are like a bland meatball only formed like a little sausage. They are served with a spicy sauce - too spicy for me - and accompanied with potatoes.

We are hoping to go to Thessoloniki, Greece this weekend with a group from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). We just learned about the trip and are late in registering so I hope they let us join them. Thessoloniki is supposed to be very beautiful and is on the Aegean coast. Hopefully it will be lots warmer than it is here. It's been snowing all day and is really cold.

Our landlord stopped by yesterday to tell us he will be cleaning up the yard as soon as the weather warms up. There is a perfect spot for a herb garden so Charlie is getting anxious to get some things planted. It will be fun to come back after Kat's baby and have it be late spring or early summer with grass and flowers instead of mud. I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

March 5

I have written the nicest blog about our trip to Skopja, Macedonia last weekend but am having difficulty with the photos so will post it as soon as I get that figured out.

I've decided to come back to Iowa at the end of the month to help Kat out and wait for the baby's birth. I hope he doesn't come early but if he does we'll be ready!

We've had alot going on this week. On Tuesday we went to Pristina and had dinner with a judge from Minnesota and a woman from Texas who are here working. It was very interesting to get their prospective since they both have been here off and on for several years.

It is interesting that so many international resources have been spent on this tiny country over the last 10 years and they still don't have decent roads or dependable electricity or water. I wonder what the international priorities are. Seems like they should have gotten the basics taken care of first. (Kosovo is about the size of Charlie's Fourth Judicial District which could have been entirely paved in electrified concrete in 10 years.)

I also hired a woman to help with the housework. She is a local who was formerly employed by UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees). It seems like alot of the internationals are cutting back staff. She no longer works for them and is trying to get a cleaning business started. It was such a pleasure to meet Aferdita. She went to Germany during the war and speaks pretty good English. She is married and has three children but is the only one in her extended family with a job. She seems to be a very hard worker and I'm glad I found her. She will take good care of things while I am gone.

Tonight we are going to Pristina again for dinner with another American. We found the chocolate shop in Pristina on Tuesday and it exceeded my expectations! Can't wait to make a return trip today.

I want to get involved and volunteer here. Mitrovica doesn't have as many opportunities to do this as Pristina but there are two organizations I am interested in. One is the UNHCR (there are still alot of displaced people here) and the other is Community Building Mitrovica. CBM works to improve issues in the city both north and south. If I can't get this off the ground before I go, I will look forward to following up when I get back.

Hopefully I will be able to get the photos of Skopja figured out this weekend. It is cold and snowing here so this may be a good weekend to stay home and work on that.

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 1

I promised pictures from our trip to Macedonia and here they are. I finally figured out how to upload them. This is a shot on the road. The area is mountainous and there was snow on the peaks. The road wasn't too bad, either. This was taken while we were waiting to cross the border from Kosovo into Macedonia on our way to Skopja.

Skopja is a very ancient city which has been a trading center for centuries. It sits on the Vardar River which flows south through Greece and empties into the Aegean Sea. It's remarkable to think that this area has been inhabited since 4000BC. The Romans began their rule here in 148BC. Then in 395 AD the area fell under the Byzantine Empire. In 1393 the Ottoman Turks began their 520 year reign. The Ottomans were ousted in 1912 in the first Balkan War. Sadly, in March 1943 the entire Jewish population of Skopja was deported to Treblinka. In 1941 Macedonia joined Yugoslavia and became independent with the collapse of that country in the late 1990's.
I think as an America it is hard to really imagine what it is like to have such an ancient history. It seems in our country we think anything 200 years old is ancient. When you think of the prejudices and injustices done in our short history and the results thereof in our society and then think of the centuries of hatreds and injustices in these old countries it gives you some perspective on how deep-seated they are and how difficult it is to overcome them. I think about this especially here in Mitrovica where so many awful things happened to people we know during the latest war. And it's just a repetition of what has happened to or was done by their ancestors for ages. But they are capable of putting this all aside and moving forward no matter how slow and difficult.
But I digress...Now back to the travel log....
In 1962 an earthquake destroyed 80% of Skopja so many of the old, charming buildings are gone. Today the city is undergoing a massive restoration and renovation. The city does have its charm. The old bazaar survived the earthquake and was a fun place to visit.
We had to cross this Stone Bridge (Kameni Most) to get to the bazaar. The bridge spans the Vardar River and was constructed in the 15th century . It figures in a great deal of Skopja's history. It joins a large and pretty plaza on one side of the river to the old town and the bazaar on the other side. From it you can see the riverfront restoration the city is undertaking.

The bazaar was true to its name: sights, sounds, smells - everything you would imagine a bazaar to be. We stopped for lunch at this little cafe and the owner was kind enough to prepare us a meal of typical dishes. I'm not sure what is was but it was really good.
We also went to the Daud Pasha baths which were constructed by Sultan Mehmed II in the mid-15th century and currently house an art gallery. This is a shot of one of the domes. They had plastered some of the ceiling to show what the original looked like. It was interesting to see that the stony walls we see were once all plastered and sometimes even colored. The baths are an important example of Turkish architecture of that time.
There is still lots more to see of Skopja - we didn't get to any of the mosques - so we are planning on a return trip.
At the Macedonia/Kosovo border we saw this sign posted. We wondered how many people have smuggling and corruption to declare at customs. That sure makes it easy for the customs people!
So our first outing went well and we enjoyed the day.