Thursday, June 30, 2005

A woman's right to choose

I feel, as a woman, I have a basic right to choose. My own fruits and vegetables that is. (What? Did you think I was going all political on you?) Here's the way it works in Kosovo: customer approaches produce stand; customer makes half-English/half-Albanian request for produce, with a lot of pointing and holding-up-of-fingers; customer negotiates tricky territory of quantity, as the amount here typically refers to kilos, not pieces; produce vendor or shop clerk then picks for you. It totally eliminates the "squeeze-and-smell" method of personal choice that we use in the USA and as a result you have zero quality control. Your tomatoes could be rock hard, potatoes green with age, fruit moldy...and you'd never know it until you got home. A small gripe, yes, because when you get good stuff it is REALLY good in a way that the mass-transported, irradiated and chemically-grown produce back home can't even approach. But I'm hesitant to hoof that 10 kilo watermelon home without truly knowing if it is ripe, sweet and juicy.

We're in the home stretch here. There's a lot to do...organize, pack, get ready to leave. We're thinking about having a goodbye party combined with a party for D's third birthday, which is next week. We might try to get a bunch of friends together at a restaurant or maybe have a BYOB party on the patio here at the apartment. I've finally figured out how to give people directions here. It would be something like: take the main road up past NCSC, at the big intersection in front of the Ardi Mart go right, then a quick jog left by the store with the chandeliers, then straight up the hill, past the egg store. Go left at Mercy Corps, then make your first right. We're the second building on the right, white, four-stories, next to the abandoned, bombed-out brick house. Third floor on the left. Give us a call, we'll buzz you up.

Sunday we leave for six days in Budapest, Hungary. I'm really looking forward to it, not the least because we're staying at the Four Seasons and I know we'll be pampered beyond our wildest dreams. They've already contacted me asking if D has any dietary preferences (yeah, grilled sardines and plain pasta please) and asking if we need help making any reservations or arrangements. This is the customer service you get BEFORE you arrive. Yowza!

For those readers wondering how the knitting club went...not good. I did learn to knit while we were in Pittsburgh, but my fingers have forgotten how. Plus I had to use these giant wooden needles as long as my arm and apparently the part of my brain that controls hand coordination is decayed. It was a mess. I did have a very helpful "instructor" - a German woman who was in Iran before coming here with her husband. She tried hard and had a great sense of humor. Knitting is a year-round activity here, but is really taken seriously in winter.

D just came out in her "Wedding Outfit" - green skort, purple tee-shirt and hot pink plastic flip-flops. Apparently I'm officiating at a Care Bear Wedding before lunch. Wish Bear and Proud Heart Cat are the lucky couple, although Good Luck Bear usually gets to join in.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

To market, to market

Today was the last Bakery Wednesday for D & I. We went to our favorite Bakery at the End of the Road for a chocolate bun (for D) and a cherry jam bun (for me) and juice. We've spent most Wednesday mornings this way since we've been here so it was a bit sad being as our last. Next Wednesday we'll be in Budapest; the Wednesday after at home!

Then our Kosovo Friend Sharon took us to the Pristina green market. Green markets, or farmer's markets, are huge over here. They're open every day selling everything from produce to electronics to clothing and textiles. The Pristina one doesn't have as much variety as the one in Thessaloniki, nor is at as clean and beautiful as the one in Ljubjana, but there is more variety than the corner produce stands and the stuff looks fresher too. But we were on a find the yarn stalls so that we could get supplies for the IWG Knitting Club meeting this afternoon. We walked the aisles and streets for about 30 minutes looking for the yarn area; all Sharon knew was that it was near the live chickens and egg stalls. Finally, Sharon asked some of the local merchants for directions, Pristina style, "Do you know where the live chickens are? I want to do some knitting." And darn if they didn't know exactly what she meant! Only in Pristina....

So we got our knitting supplies. I may be in way over my head here, but a pair of needles and three skeins of yarn were only 2.50 euro, so it's not that big an investment. Tomorrow we're off to the textile markets and some other shops....I've seen more of Pristina in two days than the last five weeks, but that's the way things happen here.

M really enjoyed the cobbler, by the way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Baking day

Woo-hah! I've mastered the crazy oven! Today, in an effort to use up a bunch of peaches, apricots and nectarines, I made a cobbler. Not that significant a thing back home, I know. But here, lacking any kind of measuring tools, a bowl, proper ingredients or knowledge of's a major accomplishment. And it turned out yummy! So we're having dinner in for a change tonight. Rotiserrie chicken, rice, green beans and cobbler. Pretty cool.

D is down with a bit of a tummy ache. Too many grilled sardines in Ohrid I guess. It's the B.R.A.T. diet for a few days for her. At least I know where to buy stuff for her now, unlike the first time she got sick here.

Our new friend Sharon took us to the International Women's Group (IWG) coffee meeting this afternoon. It was at the Grand Hotel (such an aspirational name) and it was just a lovely afternoon. Our server was the worst though. We practically had to get our own drinks. Tomorrow we're going to the IWG Knitting Club meeting. Figures we meet all these people minutes before we leave. I actually thought about bringing my knitting with us when we came, but didn't think I'd have time to work on it. I'm about three inches in to a "scarf."

Our friend Janis from Pittsburgh emailed me today asking if I thought the time had gone quickly here. Which is a really good question. During our first few weeks here it seemed really long, but about two weeks ago it started to seem short. There's a lot that we never got to do and a lot that we never got to see. It's like I said at the halfway point....everything seems faster when you're heading for home.

Monday, June 27, 2005


It feels like I barely got caught up from our trip to Slovenia and then we were off to Macedonia. The trip down was fine, easy because we had a car through NCSC, long because D was asleep on my lap for several hours, making sitting and breathing mighty uncomfortable. I can't wait to go back to using a car seat! I'm still amazed at how pretty the countryside is outside of the cities. Even Kosovo has its charms. Macedonia outside of Skopje is very rural, even today a sort of primitive farming country. We saw people using horses and cows to plow, harvesting with sickles and scythes. Manual labor is the norm. The drive was lovely, through farming communities, small villages and very large mountains. Lake Ochrid was beautiful, a bit like Lake Erie. The hotel had the feel of a lakeside lodge resort, Balkans-style. The weather was perfect - sunny and warm days, very cool at night (good thing too, since no a/c there!) The lake was too cold to swim, but D had fun splashing in the shallows and collecting more rocks. It's a UNESCO heritage site, but the Macedonians displayed the same carefree attitude to littering and garbage as Kosovars. A real shame to have such a beautiful site marred by soda bottles, chip bags and cigarette butts. At least our hotel had someone sweep the rocky beach each morning. I'm not saying similar problems don't exist in the US, but I think Americans on the whole really are more conscious of their impact on the environment. The lake itself is fed by natural springs or streams - crystal clear. Very pretty and very popular vacation spot.

I was all worried about what D would eat at a remote Macedonian lake resort, but it turns out her favorite thing to eat was grilled sardines with yogurt sauce. Good thing I didn't pack the peanut butter!

The second day of our stay we woke up to no water. The whole town was without for the entire day. Everyone seemed to take it in stride (we are from Pristina, after all) but the people at M's conference were un-showered and trapped in a stuffy, warm conference room. I felt very sorry for them as D & I lounged by the lake all day. D & I also went into town with some of the other spouses attending the conference. Ohrid was a medieval walled city and still retains some original buildings and, judging by their condition, streets as well. Cobblestones, half-timbered buildings and beautifully frescoed ancient churches everywhere. D, who is completely frescoed- and-churched out, prevented us from exploring a lot of the city (to M's disappointment) but we did get to walk around a lot, sit at waterfront cafes for lunch and soak up the atmosphere. I also got a rockin' tan.

D was a dream and (I think) impressed a lot of M's co-workers with her ability to communicate in a very "big girl" fashion. A lot of locals aren't used to hearing a small child speak English (a phenomena we ran into in Slovenia as well) and they just love to hear her talk. I was amazed at how well she could hold a conversation and how opinionated she is! I wonder how that will fly at pre-school.

On the way back last night we stopped in Skopje for dinner. We drove into the city center to have dinner at a restaurant M had been to before. Down in the city it was brutally hot and reminded me of what we're going to face when we get back to Florida in a few weeks. But we had a nice meal (turkey! ham!) and it was better than trying to scrap around for dinner at home. The city center is next to the 1500-year-old Turkish Quarter. I passed on a Turkish Bath though - one of our friends here had one in Istanbul and described it to me and it just didn't sound like my kind of gig. She was bathed by what she described as a "nude female hobbit with gigantic breasts." Uh, no thanks.

I'm determined to really enjoy what's left of our time here. Excluding our trip to Budapest next week, we only have 7 more days in Pristina! After our initial rough start, I'm enjoying international life and will miss some of the friends we've made here almost as much as I've missed our family and friends back home. As we were unpacking and unwinding last night, our neighbor Eric made stove-top popcorn (what a boy scout!) and we enjoyed a twilight snack with him on the back balcony, watching a game of pick-up football/soccer. It was the perfect end to a great vacation week.

Lots doing this week: a friend with a car is going to take D & I around to see some sights and stores, lots of laundry, some preliminary packing up...hard to believe that two weeks from today we'll be on our way home.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Slovenia soujourn

We just got back from a wonderful weekend in Slovenia. The country looks like something straight out of "The Sound of Music" - sub-Alpine mountains, forests, lakes. Plus the awesome city of Ljubljana. As M called it, "the land of milk and honey." Walking the city streets was a pleasure, with plenty of pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and cross-lights and not a single car or bus tried to run us over! The shopping looked awesome too, unfortunately since we were there over the weekend we didn't get a chance to enjoy that fully since the shops all conveniently closed at 1:00 on Saturday and weren't open at all on Sunday. At least my credit cards were spared a workout.

Saturday we walked all over Ljubljana, toured Ljubljana Grad (castle) and explored the Old Town area. The Town is a wonderful mix of architecture, lively people, music, food. We ate in some fine restaurants and also had some delicious burek from a street vendor. Another feature of the city is the huge - HUGE - farmer's market. Fresh produce, hand-crafted items, artwork, clothes, honey, it was truly awesome.

On Sunday we took a tour out to Lake Bled to see Slovenia's oldest castle (dedicated in 1004!) and the lake there. In the middle of the lake is Slovenia's only island, complete with an ancient church and the "wishing bell" - legend has it that anyone who rings the bell five times will have a wish granted. You reach the lake via rowboat and we discovered our oarsman had just returned from a trip to Tampa. Small world, indeed. After a few hours in Bled, we went over to Bohinj to visit Slap Savica, a waterfall. Unfortunately, D, exhausted from touring the castle, had fallen asleep on the drive to Bohinj and objected heartily to having to go see a waterfall in the middle of her nap. I had to carry her, literally, up the 500 steps to the top of the falls with her screaming and crying the whole way. At the top of the falls, she stopped crying but refused to have her picture taken (I had to resort to trickery) and pouted until we left. Then of course, because she's three, she was all smiles and sunshine and told stories and chatted merrily the whole way down. I'm sure our tour guide thought she was bi-polar.

I'm exhausted after traveling all day, so I'm sure I'm not doing it justice. We leave early tomorrow to spend the rest of the week in Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Not sure what our Internet access will be like there, so I'm not sure how much posting I'll be able to do. Stay tuned though and I'll get caught up when we get back next weekend.

p/s - For everyone wondering why there's no pictures attached to this blog, I'm not able to upload them via our satellite Internet connection. It takes forever! So you'll just have to wait until we get back to the States in July.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Weekend plans

We're off to Llubjana, Slovenia today for a weekend trip. We got some good recommendations on what to see and do (and eat and drink) from a law school friend of M's who is Slovene and spends a lot of time there. It ought to be a great weekend. I'm looking forward to getting out of Pristina anyway.

We had a nice dinner last night with some American friends. The restaurant was very local, very Albanian. They have neither menu or price list, they just show up at the table and start rattling off what they've cooked for the night. M had baked lamb and I had a delicious veal/chicken kebab with some spicy vegetables. D had a chunk of bread, 3/4 of an apple with Nutella and a sugar cube. I just can't get her to eat anything anymore. I worry about malnutrition, scurvy, what if her brain stops developing, but it's only for a few more weeks and then I can stuff her arteries full of transfats and processed meat again. Hahaha just kidding, she's always been a pretty good eater - broccoli, carrots, fruit, etc. - but lately she's just stopped. We'll get back to normal once we get back home. I'm hardly an example of healthy eating myself.

We get back Monday afternoon from Slovenia and then leave early Tuesday for a week in Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. M has a big meeting there and we're tagging along. It ought to be interesting, the weather should be nice, the Lake is supposed to be beautiful, I've heard the shopping is decent, they say there's a lot of historic sites there. That's a lot of "ifs" and "maybes," but that's life in the Balkans - a plate of conjecture, with a dash of hearsay and a side of practical advice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Halfway home!

Hurrah! Today is the official halfway point in our stay here. From now on it is all downhill to the big return to Florida. I'm hoping the last half of our visit is less stressful than the first. Marking time here must be a popular pastime because I mentioned it to someone else this morning and she said it was her halfway point too.

A happy halfway-home discovery: my favorite Bakery at the End of the Road (BER) has a name: Furra Qerimi 2. (Furra = bakery, Qerimi = ???) I also found the bigger and better Furra Qerimi 1 which is down the road from M's office. They have, in addition to all my favorite bread products, a huge array of pastries and cakes and tortes and foccacia-like things. I justified our trying several varieties as we had to walk the steep hill down and back. Probably only about a mile, but an obstacle course of potholes,constructions sites, moving cars, parked cars, schoolkids and people. Walking here makes me feel like I'm in a video game called Mortal Street Combat.

I've learned a lot of things about myself in the past few weeks, some flattering some not. I've learned that I am soooo NOT a "Survivor" type person, happy to be cast out into the world with a bare minimum of tools and comfort items. I am REALLY dependent on my car. I LOVE my family wholeheartedly or I would have turned tail and ran weeks ago. I am ALWAYS an optimist at heart. I've also discovered a previously unknown Zen-like streak. I'm much more content to live in the moment, not rush around multi-tasking. I'll look at the clock after a busy afternoon playing Care Bear Mail Delivery with D and be amazed to see it's almost dinner time. Ok, so maybe that doesn't really qualify as a Buddha-like quality but it's a far cry from my usual mantra of "Hurry, hurry, c'mon, hurry." or worse, "Hang on a minute, we'll do it later." I will cherish these long, uninterrupted days of playing and talking and Hokey Pokey-ing in the living room. It is unusual to really not have anything else, let alone anything better, to do. I'm thankful for this, if nothing else. Ju faleminderit, Pristina.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Arts n' crafts

We were downtown again today, making the rounds of the travel agencies trying to get our weekend/vacation plans firmed up. Then I saw it..right there on the plain view...a SOUVENIR STAND. The first one I've seen since we've been here. For such an ancient culture and for a people with such a strong ethnic identity there is a shocking lack of evidence of their cultural heritage here in Pristina. Other than the Kosovo Art Gallery (more like a History of the War) there is very little local artwork, and no handicrafts, tchochkes, memorabilia, not even a T-Shirt shop. I asked someone more familiar with the area what the Kosovars were known for before the war, and the answer was a very vague non-answer about embroidery. But there seems to be nothing that is made here (anymore). So it was a shock to see the souvenir stand. Sadly, on closer inspection it was selling the cast offs of other countries' souvenirs. Things like a figurine made of out dried coconuts that said "no worries"; an assortment of plastic bead jewelry straight out of the Oriental Trader catalog; carved wooden pots that screamed "made in China" - and not one thing reflected anything about Pristina or Kosovo (other than the coating of dust on everything). Looks like we're only taking pictures back with us.

Come to think of it, even when we were in Prizren we didn't see anything that was representative of the culture. Where did all the artifacts go? Why aren't there shops on every corner selling local native handicrafts to the huge international population here? The only things you see on the corner are the omnipresent cigarette-and-prepaid-cell-phone-card vendors.

My new mission is to find something representative of traditional craftsmanship.

Something made locally, besides bread.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Out on the town

We had a nice family weekend in Pristina. We explored some of the ethnic restaurants in town and Sunday we had Gushta (our favorite taxi driver) take us 90 minutes south to the town of Prizren.

The ethnic restaurant tour surprised me. We started off Friday night at an authentic Italian restaurant (Il Pescatore) up on Dragodan Hill. It's run by a lady from Italy and she makes everything by hand - pasta, sauces, desserts, etc. - in her little home kitchen. The plates and silverware look like they're right off her family table too. But the food was delicious. We had the antipasto buffet - grilled fresh veggies, frittatas, marinated cheeses - the lasagna, and I indulged in a slice of the most heavenly tiramisu. Such a friendly, homey atmosphere - the proprietor spent 10 minutes at the end of the meal talking to us and trying to get D to say "Ciao!"

For lunch on Saturday we went to a Mexican restaurant that was also surprisingly authentic, with touches like real steamed flour tortillas, cumin-rubbed chicken, beans and rice, and tortilla chips with dip! Yum! I'd go back just for the chips and dip and an ice-cold Coca-Cola Light. Especially since besides the regular salsa and sour cream they served my favorite dip - a mixture of sour cream, yogurt, farmer cheese and green onion. It's fresh and delicious and good on everything, including tortilla chips. The only thing missing was the large-screen TV in the corner showing some college ball and we could've been in any small TexMex restaurant back home.

Saturday night we walked to downtown Pristina. It was beautiful - a bit warmer than the last week or so (although we still need long sleeves and fleeces) and the rain has dampened the dust. Ok, ok, it was actually quite muddy, but still better than being indoors. We bought some bootleg DVDs, and I was amused to see they had a copy of Madagascar, which I believe just opened last weekend in the States. Then we went to a nice Thai restaurant in downtown Pristina for some good Pad Thai. It was nice having a change from the regular, albeit delicious, fish and potatoes or curries or grilled sausages that are standard fare in most restaurants here.

Sunday we woke up bright and early (I feel like I'll never sleep past 5:30 a.m. again) to the nicest day we've had since I've been in Kosovo. We decided to hire Gushta to drive us to Prizren, a small border town about 90 minutes south of Kosovo. Gushta is quite the character. He's a Kosovar, but has lived in London, Germany and all over the Balkans. He speaks five languages, including English. Anyway, he knows everything about anything in the grand tradition of taxi drivers. The drive to Prizren was lovely, up through the mountains, and Prizren itself is a real treat to Pristina-weary eyes. It has a very charming "old city" alongside a river, with real Balkan-style stone houses, monasteries, mosques and some old ruins. There were also a LOT of KFOR troops there from France, Germany and Italy. I'm beginning to get used to seeing tanks and Bradleys and heavily armed soldiers everywhere. We had a nice lunch, walked along the river and then sat at a cafe (which is almost an art form here) for a bit. Altogether a lovely day and a great break from the city. I think M was a little disappointed that there wasn't more to do (i.e., ruins to explore, museums, something with a cultural feel) but it was just so relaxing to be outdoors near water and people watch. Plus D was NOT in the mood to go exploring. I think she just wanted to sit and people watch too.

My outlook for the day really depends on the weather, so I was happy to wake up this morning to more sunny skies and mild temperatures. D and I made our regular Monday morning bread-and-fruit excursion, then it was back home to do some Laundry.

We've finally settled into a routine here. I think.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Hoard mentality

I've always been slightly amused and confused by what I always thought was my parents' tendency to hoard food and household supplies. A pantry stuffed to overflowing with canned goods, a second refrigerator/freezer in the garage, the main freezer stuffed to overflowing with meat, veggies, leftovers. Why? I wondered, you can always go to the store if you run out of something. Their explanations that they were stocking up for hurricane season or that it was a mentality brought on by the severe shortages they sometimes experienced when we were living in Jamaica in the '70s, the uncertainty of never knowing if you could find food, made sense but always made me shake my head.

Ahh, how things have changed. My experiences with food here --the finding, buying and cooking of food-- have been one of the most difficult things about living in Pristina, and have made a hoarder out of me in just three short weeks. I can't wait to get back home to cut up and freeze whole sides of beef, entire pigs, as much fish as I can stuff into Ziplocs. I may even take up canning. I will always have a special shelf or maybe a whole closet dedicated to nothing but paper products. I will be like those crazy cat collectors you see on "Animal Cops" but with toilet paper and crackers instead of animals. It's not that you can't get food here. It's the energy that it takes to get to the store, to try to interpret what is there, to determine if it is fresh, to communicate with the people in the stores, not to mention that without a car you are limited as to how much you can buy. It makes you want to stock up, hoard, buy it all, because you never know if and when you'll be able to get back. There's also no take-out, delivery or fast food, those mainstays of busy city lives, to fill in the gaps. Add to that the pressure of feeding a three-year old who could live on Fruit Snacks and Chik-fil-A, and believe me, you start fantasizing about supermarkets.

I'm going to go inventory the pudding supply right now.

A note to readers who may stumble onto our blog by chance or happenstance: the reason we are in Kosovo is that my husband (M), who is a lawyer, is part of a joint effort between local and international agencies that are working to develop a court system for Kosovo. In a nutshell. There is much more to it than that I'm sure. Because he was asked to be here for a couple months, we decided that it would be better for my almost-3 year old daughter (D) and I to join him rather than hang out all alone in Florida for the summer. So yeah, despite all my griping, we actually chose to come here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Getting creative

Slightly warmer today and the sun was playing peek-a-boo so I decided to do laundry. I'm hoping our duvet cover dries before bedtime! We'll definitely need it.

Pristina demands creativity from its residents. Last night, right in the middle of D's bath the hot water gave out, then ALL water stopped. Quickly, creatively I told her we were camping and you only have cold water when you camp.

The last few days have demanded I ramp up my creative parenting skills, inventing such indoor games as Balloon-y Soccer, Tap Your Pen, Rock-and-Play-Doh Stack 'Em, Broomdog Chase and the really popular, Where Did Mommy Hide It? Thank goodness for D's latest video obsession, Alice in Wonderland. It prompts hours of discussions and re-enactments. Too bad she's terrified by the Queen, and either hides or demands I sit with her through the last 15 minutes or so.

Right now we're playing Camping with the Care Bears, tents courtesy of some English-language newspapers our next door neighbor Eric left for us.

Mealtimes are the one area where my creativity seems to have lapsed. I don't know whether to blame it on myself or the lack of proper equipment, supplies or food. I can barely muster breakfast, let alone lunch & dinner. So we try to eat dinner out as much as possible, but it's hard with M's schedule. My only interest is in making sure D is eating regularly, if not properly.

I've been able to talk to my mom, dad and sister back home via Skype for the last two nights and it has done a lot to improve my mood. So good to hear their voices and get caught up on what's going on back home.

The sun is shining again.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Chilling out

Rain. 49 degrees today. And rainy. Did I mention it was cold? And rainy? Is it really June? D and I are totally stir crazy. Three days trapped inside. Today when M left for work we took a taxi with him down to the Bakery at the End of the Road (BER). Normally we'd walk. But not in 49 rainy degrees. D & I split a cherry pastry and a box of apple juice. The BER people think D is the cutest baby, at least I think that's why everyone who works there pops out to pinch her cheeks whenever we come in. They even point her out to other customers who responded likewise. At least D no longer shrieks and runs from all the pinching and cheek-kissing. Now she just shrinks back as much as she possibly can and then, when she can go no further, stands their stoically. All my Stranger Danger training is out the window for sure.

The BER is the nicest, cleanest bakery within walking distance. Their stuff is good, fresh, identifiable. They have a nice clean refrigerated case with juices and yogurt and a coffee vending machine - regular, espresso, with milk, extra sugar. All sorts of fresh breads, soft pretzel-type things and sweet rolls. It's sort of a Pristina Panera, without the bagels. Don't get it confused with Cafe Boston right next door though. They're more of a real coffee shop that serves cakes, baklava and towering, whipped-cream intensive pastries. They're also open in the morning, but here the morning coffee ritual is reserved exclusively for men. The one showing D and I made was very awkward. All these middle-aged men openly staring, clearly hostile, wondering what some Amerikana chick and her kid were doing in the middle of all their manliness. You don't have to speak the language to understand.

Since we're having an indoor week, I'm thankful I brought D's favorite DVDs with us. I'm also thankful for my iPod. What are we listening to? Thanks for asking. Lo Fidelity All-Stars, Massive Attack, PJ Harvey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack and the Wee Sing 25th Anniversary Celebration are currently in heavy rotation. I have to resist listening to Bittersweet Symphony (The Verve) more than once a day though. It makes me all nostalgic for the stuff that we used to dance to in college. (Y'know what I mean Lisa?)

Gotta go crank up the heater now.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Rainy days and Mondays...

...always get me down. Rainy and cold today. Everyone says it's just like that here. You'd never guess it was June. We had a very low-key weekend while trying to recuperate from the cold bug that's got all of us. D has chest and throat problems, M has nose and chest and I'm throat and nose. So we've pretty much covered all the bases. Saturday we had dinner at a friend's house. They've been here for over a year so were able to track down goat cheese, Brie and hummus for appetizers, a bechamel-sauced lasagna, apple pie and chocolate covered strawberries. The conversation was lively, even with M & I zoned out on cold medicine, and D had several little friends to play with. A nice way to spend a Saturday night. All the men ended the evening with the fine Balkan tradition of downing shots of potent fruit liquors - slivo and homemade pear brandy. Sunday we stayed inside all day and rested, then capped off the weekend by going to Ristorante Pinnochio - home of the only reliable steaks in Pristina. It is up on Dragodan Hill, which overlooks the city, so the air was clear and we had a gorgeous view of Pristina and the surrounding hills.

We were inside all day today because of the rain. It would've been nice to have access to a car, but then again, where would we go? M brought some balloons home at lunchtime which helped to occupy the afternoon hours. Thank goodness D is back to taking regular naps (helped along by cold medicine, of course). I may start taking them myself.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Things I never thought I'd say - part 1

Here are some I'd never thought I'd say, but have in the last two weeks:

"The clothes dry quicker hanging on the front balcony."

"Who wants chocolate pudding for breakfast?"

"Would you like to watch another video?"

"Hey, that's the door where I hang my towel!" (No hooks in the bathroom.)

"Sit down while the car is moving!"

"It's sunny today - let's do laundry."

I'm sure there'll be more over the next few weeks.

On a down note, the highly anticipated care package got caught at the border. Customs will not permit any medicines or food products - not even M&Ms. Boo! Now we're at the mercy of the local pharmaceuticals. Like the "Tretesire fiziologjike" (we were supposed to put that in D's nose to help the stuffiness) or the "Sirup od jagorcevine," which is supposedly a cough syrup/expectorant, but the box just has pictures of wildflowers, no ingredient list and no English instructions at all. If anyone reading this is fluent in Albanian and can interpret medical terms, please drop me a line.

Beautiful weekend though. We found a faux-American BBQ place called the Saloon and Steakhouse. They featured the usual suspects of grilled fish, salads, curries and a mixed bag of Italian pasta dishes, along with BBQ chicken and ribs. We were highly suspicious of the ribs, but took a chance on the chicken. It was what BBQ would taste like if you were trying to describe it to someone who's never had it before. The most unusual thing was the side of potato salad - the potatoes were mashed with tons of herbs, shredded carrots and green onions. No dressing or sauce though. Not my fave, but M liked it.

Another decent night's sleep so we're all feeling much better today. Hopefully we won't have any other setbacks this week and will get to do some more traveling over the next few weekends.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Picking our battles

D is still pretty sick, but we all had a better night's rest. She only woke up a few times and was able to get herself back to sleep. More importantly, she stayed in her bed until 5 (prayers, light) and then she & I went out to the couch where it is marginally darker and went back to sleep. I woke up with M at 7 (coffee, light), but she slept until a little after 8. The bad news? Now I'm coming down with the same thing. But at least now I'll be able to sympathize with how she's feeling.

Yesterday we were worried enough to round up an interpreter and take D to a local pediatrician who prescribed some antibiotics. Not happy about it, but she says D has a throat infection, and no one could translate the word for "strep," and I'd rather be safe than sorry. So now we're doing battle over the antibiotics. They are liquid, but because we're living in the Stone Age here, the meds aren't flavored. Not even with that nasty synth-cherry taste. With the first dose, she made a face like we gave her rat poison flavored with cat poo. By the second, she was on to our game, and absolutely refused to take it. Kicked, screamed, coughed, choked, flailed and wailed - with her lips tightly pressed together - for about 45 minutes. Luckily the kicking, screaming, coughing, choking, flailing and wailing of the last few nights had prepared M & I and we were able to stay calm and cool. First we tried reasoning, then bribing, then force, then getting mad, then stern, then loving. Did you know it's almost impossible to sing Hush Little Baby to a screaming child, while rocking them on your lap, while your husband tries to force a spoon of amoxycillin into their clenched lips? I never imagined we couldn't. Most of our clothes now have a thin, sticky layer of antibiotic protection.

Finally, we brainstormed and gave it to her mixed into a container of chocolate pudding. At 9 at night. This morning, I didn't even mention it to her just calmly mixed it into some yogurt and we had a "breakfast picnic" while she watched her Kipper video. At lunch? My deception took the form of a small cup of choco-vanilla swirl ice cream, which she helped pick out during our morning supply expedition. I don't know if I can keep up the parade of doctored dairy products for another 7 - 10 days though. At some point she's gonna get suspicious.

Since she's hardly ever, ever been sick before - and certainly never to the point where she needed antibiotics! -- we're in uncharted territory here. Just like the rest of our life in Kosovo.

Anyway, if any of our neighbors (Hi, Eric!) here ever stumble onto this blog and recognize us, my sincere and heartfelt apologies for all the ruckus. We're only here until mid-July!! If we were in the States someone would have probably called DCF by now, based on the screaming and crying. They're probably talking about us behind our backs, but I just keep a pleasant smile on my face when I see them in the hall and nod and say "hi hi hi" over and over.

Tomorrow we're hoping a friend with a car will be able to take us to the grocery store for supplies. We'll be able to load up on the things that are too hard to lug back to the apartment on foot. Like liters and liters of water. I hope they have a good supply of this water that doesn't upset my stomach as much as some of the other brands. It's called "Bonita," but we don't know if it means the same thing in Albanian as in Spanish. Although I suppose they could be using the Spanish word in a purely ironical sense. The big grocery where we're going is also rumored to have frozen potato products, which will provide welcome variety to my all-carb-dairy-fruit diet. If I come back lean and mean, I'm writing my own diet book.

Oh, and another new experience, we ran out of TP! That's because on yesterday's supply expedition I grabbed a package of Zewa (which is the brand) and because I couldn't read the label and the package was opaque yellow we didn't know until this morning that it was paper towels instead of TP. Yes, over here they use the same packaging and brand names for all the paper products. Can you imagine buying Brawny toilet paper in your local supermarket? Marketing is different here because I guess they don't care that the attributes of one product may be associated with another. I mean, we all hope that our TP is the "quicker picker-up" but we don't want to be reminded of it everytime we buy it. Right? Our current bout with illness has also introduced us to the local brand of kleenex, the literally-named Wood Flowers. Imagined heavily perfumed wood pulp. It's a bit like those "green" recycled paper products in the States, but without the soft texture and thickness. When in Rome...

When we were still just planning to come over, I remember thinking how nice it would be to not have TV, get D weaned from the shows she watches, spend more time talking and enjoying each other's company. Yeah, right. I forgot that when your kid is sick nothing's better than a day of quiet TV watching. I let her watch a bunch of old Warner Bros. hyper-violent cartoons - you know, the ones we loved when we were kids - like Roadrunner and Tom & Jerry and stuff. They were dubbed in Albanian or something, but Roadrunner still said "beep! beep!" Imagine trying to explain The Coyote's horrible accidents to a child who's never seen anything more violent that Oswald the Octopus falling down while roller-skating. She doesn't seem too scarred by it, although she walks around saying "beep! beep!" a lot.

Anyway, a good night's sleep and I've recovered a bit of my sense of humor about things. As someone very loving and wise recently emailed me, I've got to learn to stop worrying about the stuff I can't control. Still, I'm secretly hoping there are M&Ms in the care package!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

There and back again...part 2

If you ever get a chance to visit the Halkidiki region of Greece, pack your bags and go! The region, although covering a large inland area, is best known for the "Three Fingers" -- three peninsulas that jut out into the ocean. We visited Cassandra, the first peninsula, as it was the closest to Thessaloniki but we heard the other two were less populated and had more wild terrain. Cassandra has gorgeous beach/mountain scenery, a little similar to the Monterey, CA coastline. We drove from village to village making a tour of the entire finger. Rolling hills and wide-open greenland give way to sheer cliffs; mountains covered with lavender and other wildflowers become dense pine forests. It's amazing. Nestled in between all of the natural beauty are villages, beachside communities and farms - and lots and lots of hotels and villas. We spent a good chunk of the day in Afitos, on the eastern coast of the peninsula. We spent some time at the beach where D collected rocks for her burgeoning global collection. Unfortunately, the water was take-your-breath-away, turn-your-feet-numb, only-Germans-swimming, freezing cold. So we dipped our toes in, but no way was this Florida girl going in! I hope we can go back when the weather warms up a bit, but everyone says the busy season starts in June and I'm not sure I want to battle the rest of Europe who come to visit as well.

After (another) delicious meal in Afitos, including the Best Vanilla Milkshake Ever for D, we continued our drive, stopping along the way to take pictures, sightsee and check out the beaches. Then back to Thessaloniki for some rest in our comfy hotel room and to luxuriate in one last steaming hot shower from a real showerhead before bedtime.

The drive back to Pristina was uneventful, except for us getting lost at exactly the same point we did on the way in and having to turn around at the same old tollbooth. It was a bit of a shock returning to Kosovo, and D unfortunately developed a bit of a chest cold seemingly overnite. So now I await a care package from the States with some good old cough medicine.

M came back to a frantically busy week. Some colleagues from his Firm were in town for a series of meetings that lasted pretty much all day Tuesday and Wednesday, including a reception that M helped to coordinate and organize.

Between work and D's cold it doesn't look like we'll get to travel this weekend, but maybe we'll get together with some of the other expats here.