Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Brief Update

So I guess I will need to change the title of the blog...something like, Broke and Blogging? Joe is being tested lately. He is being challenged on his patience. Since we have been home for the holidays we have been very busy, but still feel like we have not gotten anywhere. I don't mind though, we will survive. That is what I keep telling him...just be patient, everything will work out.

So here is what we need to do in the near future:
  • Find jobs
  • Buy a car (maybe two)
  • Find an apartment to rent
  • Move into the apartment
  • Buy some furniture for our apartment
  • Save our money so that next year we can buy a house

This is what we have done so far since we have been home:

  • helped Joe's mom move
  • went to New York to attend Joe's sister's wedding
  • Bought gifts and celebrated Christmas with two families
  • Spent a little money on shopping
  • Spent a lot of money on a hotel in New York
  • Looked for cars that we can't buy yet
  • loaded all of our things from Joe's mom's house into my parent's attic

So the good news is that we went into the school offices and we will be able to by-pass a lot of the required items to substitute teach, since we have worked there before. So it looks like a week after the schools start again we will be subbing. However, we are still looking for a few other possibilities, which is time consuming on the computer. Hopefully if we start subbing soon, then we can get a car. We have the money to buy a used car, but since the car deals are so good right now, we think it might be smarter to hold on to the cash for a house and get a loan for a car (which we can only do when we can prove that we are working). And then we can also move into an apartment, which will be nice. I love my parents, but I am basically living out of a suitcase and I would like to have all my things once again. So I will keep updating and hopefully make some good changes to the blog in the process!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Return Trip Home

So it has been a rough journey for Joe and I while we have been living in Kosova. It is at a point of frustration for Joe that we gave our letters of resignation to each school last week. It is truly unfortunate, because I have grown fond of my classes and I am sad that I will be leaving the students. Trust me, there are many things that have frustrated me...I will explain in a post when I return back to the states, but I feel a deep regret in knowing that I will be letting the students down. I really feel attached to them and I think they might feel the same way. Tomorrow I will tell them that I will be leaving.

Anyhow, to all our friends, I can't wait to see you. Let me know if you can help me find a job! Thankfully we have been able to save a bit of money here and that should help us get on our feet when we return home. So I will be back in the states this weekend!

**You might find this a bit amusing. I found out yesterday that my flight home does not actually exist anymore! Our landlord just happens to work with Austrian airlines and he informed us that there was no flight on that day. Otherwise we would have shown up to the airport on Sunday to find out. So we are quickly working with the airline to find a solution. I think we will still arrive home on the same day, thank goodness!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

When we arrived in Meteora we did not have a place to stay. We figured that we would talk with the rock climbing guys that we met and get an idea of where to stay. Well, the only guy we met, in charge of No Limits, also has rooms in this beautifully renovated house. There were three rooms available to rent out with a kitchen area as well. Lucky for us, since it was off season we had the place to ourselves! It was the perfect place for 40 euros a night. Not the cheapest we had found there, but definitely well worth the money for its updated fixtures! See the video below to see what it looked like in the inside.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Meteora Monasteries

One huge reason for tourism in Meteora comes from the monasteries. Each of them has been built on the top of a cliff. In the past monks used ladders and baskets to bring people and supplies up. Let's just say they were well protected from the Ottoman invaders. It is something to marvel at and we found out way hiking around looking at the monasteries. We even packed a dress in the backpack so that we could go inside. It cost two euros to go into each monastery, but really only one of them was worth it. Most of the times we ended up just seeing the church inside, so I was very excited when we went into the largest one to find some museums, the refectory, the crypt, and the tool storage room open to see as well. I was even happy to pet the monastery cats, which I believe have the best life. Below you will see many of the monastery pictures that we took while in Greece.

When we were walking up the steps towards one of the monasteries we found twenty human skulls sitting out in the rain. I had just read how the monks took good care of the deceased monks so I could not figure out why these had been left outside to decay in the rain. We tried asking one of the monks, but he only spoke Greek. I guess we will never know. It was all a bit creepy.

I think these cats found the perfect spot in the monastery. There were snoozing on top of the heaters and I could not help but pet them. I think Joe was embarrassed, but I saw two guys take pictures too.

"Yo, dude. What's up?" I am so irreverent....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving Break - Greece

Joe and I took a trip to Meteora, Greece for our Thanksgiving break. It was so nice to get away and I think both of us were feeling better because of it. We took way too many pictures so I will have to sort through them and figure out what I am going to post. These are just a few to see how much fun we had!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A morning surprise

We heard that it was going to rain and snow today, but rumors of snow have been in the air for over a week now. So when I woke up in the middle of the night to hear rain or sleet I knew it might be true. Joe planned a hike with some of the high school students in Macedonia so I am going shopping with the ladies from the school today! Anyhow, when we woke up in the morning this is what it looked like outside our apartment door. It is very pretty, probably because it covers up all the litter!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Weekend Trip to Montenegro

This past weekend Joe and I went to Montenegro. It was meant to be his birthday present to get him out of the city. We rented an overpriced rental car and did a lot of driving to find somewhere new to explore. It would have been more fun for him if I was willing to climb the largest peak even though it was covered in fog and probably snowing. I declined, so we just did easier hikes. He wished for more hiking time and less driving time. But what could I do?

The trip was still filled with some crazy experiences though. There was a lot of traffic getting out of the city so it took us a while to really get on the road moving, but thankfully we found all the signs in Kosova to guide us to the border checkpoint. It is at the top of a mountain and we were warned about it being a bit of a dangerous mountain pass. So I begged Joe to drive really slow around all the corners...there were not that many markers to warn of switchbacks.

We survived and passed through both border checks without any problems and headed on our way into Montenegro without real clear directions to get around. We knew that we wanted to go to Durmitor National Park. We had both read about the beautiful Tara Canyon, which supposed to be the second largest canyon in the world, next to the Grand Canyon. I think that is in length, but I am not sure. And there were a lot of peaks and hiking trails. Getting there was a bit difficult and we found ourselves at one point pulling to the border check going into Serbia, which was definitely not where we wanted to go with Kosovo plates! So we had to tell the guard that we wanted to turn around and I asked Joe to find a hotel room for the night and we would find our way in the morning. Luckily we found a hotel pretty quickly with a price of 30 euros for the night with breakfast in the morning. It was decent for the price, but we found the breakfast to be disgusting. The waiter did not speak much English and since we understood omelet we thought that might be our safest bet. However, it came out burnt with sour cheese inside!

So instead we headed on our way and found the destination just fine. They are doing a lot of construction there, with many ski bungalows. I'm sure in about five years it is going to look like a great place, but it still looked a bit trashy with the construction. The town looked a bit dead too. I thought it might be quiet, because it was in the middle of the summer and winter season, but I didn't realize that the tourist center, hotels, and many of the restaurants would be shut down too. In fact, the only time we saw a lot of people in the town was when a butcher pulled up with a large truck. A crowd of men made their way over with wheel barrels and plastic coverings in the back of their cars. Then the butcher opened the back of the truck and we could see he was selling pig halves (cut straight down the middle from neck to tail). Surprisingly we found the main park and started hiking. It was nice for me, not too steep, but outside in the wilderness. It was cold too, so I was glad once we really started moving.

After hiking we ate dinner at one of the only open restaurants, but unfortunately all the good food choices were not available, since it was out of season. No porridge for me and no bean soup for Joe. Instead I ordered chicken fillets and he thought he ordered the best steak, the Durmitor steak, but instead he got a breaded chicken breast with cheese filling! And he still ate it. The waiter found us a room for the night in a families house, for eight euros each. Joe took a look at it and decided it was good enough and it would also be warm enough, so we decided to stay there. I think it was the teenage son's old room because we found a picture of a naked woman on the wall and about seven nudity magazines on the bookshelf! We both just laughed. The second day was filled with a lot of driving and sight seeing. Although it was a bit short, it was also fun to get away and see something new.

On our way into the national park we had to stop because of a felled tree. The strange thing was that we had just seen two cars pass us the opposite way so we knew the tree must have just fell down. To our surprise two old men were headed down the hill with a chainsaw and ax. Apparently they had chopped the tree down. What we want to know is why they were doing that right above a busy road? I guess we were lucky it did not fall on us! My good husband went out and helped them move the tree.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Here are some things that don't happen very often when I was teaching in the United States:

1. Everyone cheered when the city heat turned on in our building. Yesterday I was wearing thermals under my pants and two sweaters and I was still cold. I found it interesting that I had a group of 10 eighth grade boys cheering, because they would finally be warm.

2. We had to bring the students inside early today during recess, because there was a protest. People were marching down the street and gun shots rang in the air as they showered their angry cries. Oh, they were headed for the building across the street, which is the UNMIX building, and I don't know all the facts, but I know enough to realize that the Albanian Kosovars are really upset at them.

3. I had a student with a bloody nose (which isn't that unusual) except that she came back to my room because there was no toilet paper in the bathrooms to help her. I had to give her the tissues from my purse. In fact, it is not uncommon to have no toilet paper or paper towels in these bathrooms.

Just something to make you appreciate living in the states. My husband is having a hard time here and I don't even know how long we will be staying here. It makes me sad...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Good 'Ole Days

So yesterday I went across the street to a small grocery market to buy mandarin oranges to teach a lesson on the hemispheres. I had a 20 euro bill in my wallet and 50 cents. The total costs were only 1.20 euro. When I passed over the bill the grocer told me that he did not have change and that I could come back tomorrow and pay him.

So this afternoon I went across the street and paid my bill. It is a great thing to know that you can do that here in Kosova. In fact, there is a grocer down the street from out apartment that would even put things on a "tab" for us, which makes me feel like I have gone back in time about 50 years. I thought it was a cool thing and I thought I would share it with you all.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What I see on a normal day in Prishtina

Each morning I wake up and I try to jump in the shower. I say try, because that depends on whether or not there is water. Sometimes it does not turn on or the water is cold. Actually, it is pretty predictable when the water will go out (at night and comes back on around 6am and then from noon until 5pm), but when the electricity goes out you never know for how long or when it will happen. Luckily, I have heard from all the internationals that it is not that bad this year, but the locals also say that is because it is not that cold outside yet, so not everyone is turning on their heaters.

So I prepare for work and usually join my husband on our walk to work each morning. We have tried a few different routes to get to work, and have found one that seems to have the least amount of traffic. Unfortunately it is not the prettiest route. Actually they are all ugly, because litter is a major issue in this city. So I am constantly looking at a view of garbage around my feet. Most mornings I walk by faces I have never seen before, but there is one girl who always crosses by path. She walks the opposite way, but I always see her and wonder what her routine must be. From 7:30 until 4:00pm I am required to be at school, but like many teachers I sometimes leave during my planning break to get a tea at a close-by cafe.

After work we usually walk home and try to figure out what we will make for dinner or if we will go out to eat. At home, I would never eat out as much, but it is fairly cheap here and there is not much else to do at night. In the evening local vender's set up shop on every street corner selling roasted chestnuts. We usually buy a paper cone for one euro. It is always a nice snack that I enjoyed at Christmas time, but now I get to eat everyday if I want!

Traffic is crazy here. Even though you are supposed to take a driving course, most drivers have decided not to follow the rules. They stop for lights, but that is about it. It can be scary to cross the street. I have even found out that my 8th grade students driver their parents car and when the cops stop them they do not get in trouble (that's because their families are wealthy in a corrupt way so the cops leave them alone). It is a common occurrence to see cars speeding down side roads, with pedestrians walking along the side. Or passing cars at any time, even on one lane roads with solid lines. We are thinking about renting a car this weekend, which might be a scary experience.

It is almost like a caste system in this society and servers are treated like crap. People will yell at them to hurry up! And no one knows how to make a line. I have seen them try to cut lines in the airport and at stores. So many differences that really make me appreciate what I have at home.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Take Everything You Think Is Normal And Throw It Away

So now that I have been teaching for a few months at my new school I am beginning to have greater and greater appreciation for my old school. Sometimes it is just absolute craziness. For one thing, I have less students so therefore, I have less to grade, but I am ten times more overwhelmed. I feel like I am constantly planning, because I teach four different grade levels. However, I am pretty proud of myself when I come up with something that turns out good.

I have never had students that make my blood boil like they do here in Prishtina. I don't know what it is, but since they are a bit spoiled at home, they can be very rude and disrespectful. I have had a few blatantly rude students who will yell at me, which I have never experienced before and it is usually because they were talking through my lesson. The funny thing is that they talk, because they don't understand all the English, yet their English will not improve until they learn to use it. So that can be very frustrating and it truly pushes my buttons. Oh, and I have never met more disconnected parents, sometimes they don't even show up for parent conferences (so no wonder their children don't care about their own growth). Or they act like the one parent whom told me that if his son learns English it will be because I was a good teacher and I had to say, "actually, your son needs to put forth effort, and no matter how hard I work nothing will matter until he works too." As I prepare for parent teacher conferences I am feeling more reason to keep a paper trail to prove why their grades are the way they are.

Breakfast and lunch are always interesting, yet they are starting to become routine. Actually, we go upstairs to our cafeteria (which is a bar in the summer) and the students take seats. Then we call them up one grade at a time to get their food. Most meals are served in a small basket. Breakfast usually consists of bread. Mondays kids get something that looks like a bagel with sesame seeds on top (so plain!) with tea. On Fridays kids eat burek (a meat or cheese filo dough pastry, but there is usually not a lot of meat in the school burek), and other days there might be bread with cheese, soup, or sandwiches with meat or scrambled eggs. Most days they serve herbal tea, which I am thankful for because the school is freezing. And they are offered half of a banana or a quarter of an apple.

Lunch in usually a bowl of bean soup, goulash, stew, or if it is a good day then a chicken leg with cabbage salad and rice. Oh, and almost always they serve a whole loaf of white bread. Unfortunately there never seems to be enough food and when the kids ask for more they are refused any. Hopefully that means I am losing weight. Actually, I have been bringing a piece of fruit each day to supplement my diet.

I take my own attendance, forget about sending it to the office. I have no idea how I am supposed to put together report cards, but I think I have to write them all by hand...thankfully I only have about 48 students. Supplies are coveted in this school and I cherish every piece of white printer paper I can find! There is one copy machine for the school and one man is in charge of making copies, oh and he only speaks Albanian. He is learning though (12 copies, front and back please, with staples).

Bullying is a huge problem and pushing and kicking are a daily routine in the hallways. I am constantly trying to keep kids speaking in English in my classroom, but it is a clear problem when the 8th grade students make rude, inappropriate comments (did I mention it is a class of 9 boys and one girl?). I have one laptop in my room and no computer lab, there are some computers for student use, but it is mostly a high school advantage since it is part of their side of the building. I miss the technology that I had access to last year. Oh what I could do with a LCD projector everyday.

I can leave the school to run errands, which I kind of like. Once a week I go to the coffee shop next door and I drink an herbal tea or hot chocolate while others order coffees. That is a cool way to spend my planning, but since I constantly feel overwhelmed I can only do it once a week. Some days I walk to school with my husband, sometimes he is running later than me.

There is no heat in the school right now and there won't be until November 15th when they plan to turn our building on. Unfortunately the elementary/junior level is located on the side of the building that does not see sun until the afternoon and even then we are blocked by a second floor. It is always cold and I have to wear thick sweaters or my jacket (most teachers wear scarves too). Soon I have a feeling I will be wearing gloves. They may have to buy heaters, and I certainly would love that.

I am starting to get into the routine of things and hopefully things will improve with student behavior, unfortunately it is my experience that they usually get worse as the year progresses. So I don't know what to think! I am just trying to survive. Next post...my daily routine in the city.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Had a Dream!

Lately I have been having some really crazy dreams. I think a lot of them about been surrounded by the stress of teaching at this international school. Last night I had a dream that one of my sweetest 5th grade girls was smoking a cigarette. For some reason I can't seem to get it out of my mind. Remember she is only 10 years old and yet I was staring at her as she made this tough face and puffed out her cigarette smoke!

Too many people smoke in this country and there are moments when I feel like I am going to die of second hand smoke. They smoke on the bus, in the airport, at restaurants, upstairs in our cafeteria....and I just found out that some high school girls were caught smoking in the primary grade's bathroom! Plus, there is great advertisement that smoking is so cool...check out the candy bubble gum package that my 5th grade students shared with me! If you blow on the gum then powdered sugar comes out! What is a straight arrow Mormon girl doing here?

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Teeny Weeny Greek Vacation

This past weekend was a three day weekend for our staff and students so I set out on a short but very sweet trip to Greece and Macedonia. I parted from my husband and then went on a road trip with the principal and kindergarten teacher from my school.

We left right after school at 3:30 in the afternoon and by 9pm we were in Greece. How cool is that? We stopped in ThessalonĂ­ki's, which is in the Northern part of the country but also along the Aegean sea. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner where I tried sardines for the first time. I was also impressed by the large crowds at 11:30 at night with no signs of stopping. Unfortunately I was exhausted after a full day of teaching and a long drive listening to Abba.

We spent a quick morning in the city were I found some great shopping at reasonably prices. Oh, I can't wait to go back. Then we were off on our road trip to look through the countryside for other Greek towns. I must admit, it was not the Greece that you might expect to see, because it was inland but the fall leaves were a nice change from the dirty city of Prishtina. My travel partners were very excited to see water so we stopped in Kastoria for the night. We almost were out of luck until we finally happened upon a hotel with one double room left! It was actually a really nice place, but a reasonably price and the hotel owner could have fit perfectly in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I was also excited to see a wedding at the church in town while we were there.

The next morning we headed off to Lake Ohrid, Macedonia to spend the final night. It is a beautiful tourist town (they also claim to have the oldest lake). I also found some fun shopping here for Christmas presents. We ate a huge meal and I was able to get my own room in the hotel for the night. Then after a short hike in the morning we were heading back home. Below you will see some of the pictures that I took of Greece and shortly I will post some pictures of Lake Ohrid.

Kastoria, Greece is known for their furs. Apparently it used to be an old beaver town, until they killed them all off. Now they import North American furs to see to all us tourists.

We happened upon this quaint ski lodge and restaurant that looked more Austrian than Greek.

During our stay in Kastoria we found a desert bar where each of us enjoyed a treat!

I had Aztez Chile hot chocolate which I chose from a menu of just hot chocolates!

Fall foliage in Greece.

The warm fireplace in the ski lodge!

We traveled down some of the smallest streets.

An old Greek church just nestled in the middle of two houses.

We saw many of these little prayer spots along the roads. Actually this was one of the largest that we had see on the entire trip.

Can you read this? Greek road signs can be quite tricky when going 110km an hour.

A look at the cute walkways in ThessalonĂ­ki's.

People must love to eat in Greece, because it was busy when we left at 12:30 at night.

They don't tear down old relics, they just build around them.

A man made waterfall with a whole park built around it. It was actually quite cool.

Kastoria lake in Greece.

Update in February

One might think that having several snow days would give me the time to write in my blog, but I have been spending a lot of time working on ...