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.

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 ...