Thursday, September 25, 2008

Exploring the Balkans

I love the Balkans.

Drying peppers the local way
Alojz, Sasho, Goce, and me lunching after climbing at Matka
Yours truly posing in front of the Macedonian Flag. Tracy loves this flag it shouts peace to her. Can't say I disagree. Flags say a lot about a nation.
Chossing up a line at Matka
Skopje at night taken from the Turkish Fortress
Alojz and me enjoying "Pivolend" (Beer land). Look at the sign for the Skopje Beer festival. Bottoms up boys!

Puka Burger, uh no thanks.
Looking down at one of the cafes in Matka canyon.
This is where we slept. Vigilante poaching skills in effect.
"Little Matka"
She followed us around the first night in Matka and then slept right next to the camper and spent the entire day with us the next day. I think she is a stray but she sure knows how to pick her hood.

Entrance to Decani Monastery
New appartment complex in Prishtina
Decani Monastery
Hey look at that sexy kitten. My wife is hot!!
Grapes from a vine at a local Kula

So... I know I'm a big slacker when it comes to updating my blog but when you spend way too much time on the computer for work than you want, updating a blog can become a tiresome chore. LIfe here for me is characterized by work, work, and way too much work, puncuated by a few great weekends where we have managed to explore some of the local beauties of the region, meet new friends, and even manage some choss-aruski (hey it sounds kind of slavic) climbing.

Work: Work, ahh, the bane of my existence as of right now. The school where I work is a chaotic mess of students, teachers, and administration all tangled up in a dance where no one knows who leads and subsequently where we all step on each other's toes. Without getting into too many details, the situation is one in which it takes me 3 or maybe even 4 times the amount of time to get basic things done to run my class. The same can be said for conducting lessons in the classroom. And in the long run this equates to me spending way more time than I care to put into work. I've always been the kind of guy who needs his own time. That is to say I can only, and only want to, dedicate a certain amount of my time, MY LIFE, to my profession. Don't get me wrong, I care about my job and most of the time enjoy it. But when things get to the point where you barely have time to eat and sleep, then in my opinion its time to re-evaluate how you've arranged your life. Okay enough said, I could go on forever but will spare you my ranting.

Exploration: We've tried to leave the city as much as possible on the weekends since we've been here. In the past 3 weeks we've done a lot of exploring throughout the region. Although all the sights, sounds, tastes, and discoveries we've made have been fascinating, hands down the highlights have been the Decani Monastery outside of Peja, Matka Canyon in Macedonia, and the Beer festival our new friend Alojz took us to in Skopje. Since, I'm still burned out on computers,(until I get this job situation under control will probably remain that way), I'll let the pictures I took tell the story.

We're are heading to the Julian Alps in Slovenia tomorrow for 4 days of relaxation and mountainization. Time to load up the pack, breath a big gulp of air, and ready myself for some REAL LIVING!!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First Impressions of Prishtina

Land mine warning in Germia Park

Chillin' at the pool at Germia

Look, Tracy is actually taller than someone

A traditional Albanian food called Pasul

Turkish Mosque in Skopje, Macedonia

Can read any of this? Neither could we.

Ahh! Peja, the local beer. I pay .50 cents for a bottle.

The "Newborn" sign celebrating Kosova's independence.

Our school, A.S.K.

Mother Theresa statue. She was from Kosova.

You mean to tell me you can't ride your bike with your dog and wave a gun around in the mall because I'm so used to doing this.

You see these all over the place.

UN land cruiser and 4-Runners are on every block.

They like tagging over here. I've seen some pretty good stuff.

War hero statue. They must have hippies here to because someone put flowers in his gun.

I can't understand it but it sure makes me feel like I'm in some Bombay ghetto club sucking on a hookah.

Local sheep herder in Rugova Valley.

The school's van overheated half way up the mountain in Rugova Valley.

Uh, Harold I don't think we'll be back in time for work on Tuesday.

Helping peel vegetables for the BBQ feast.

My new wife has decided to become Muslim.

Turkish coffee is traditionally served at the end of big meal. This stuff is lethally strong and will literally wake a corpse to life. But you got to drink unless you want to offend the host.

Clowning around with Texas Ben.

Well we arrived safely in Prishtina nearly 3 weeks ago. So it's safe to say that we are beginning to feel like this is home. My God, I can't believe I just said that! Let me further explain. This city is not unlike any other city in the world in that it is a chaotic mess filled with way too many people, way too many cars, way too many building, and way too little green space. Surely God did not intend for people to live like this. I think it was Minor Threat who sang "concrete and chaos rise up as one". I always remembered that line and now living in the heart of a city for the first time, I must say that it rings with more truth than I have ever realized.
Where do I start? Our apartment is a 2 room rig on the top floor (4th) of what is considered an above average apartment complex in Prishtina. Its not too bad of a place except for the fact that the building is tagged like it was sitting in the Bronx and many of the exterior niceties that you would have in the states are not there. Basically, it would be the most ghetto complex in the hood but here in Prishtina its occupants aren't members of the Wu-tang Clan, but instead people working for the state department, UN, or EU. As far as our unit goes it does have its share of problems but nothing that isn't livable (hell, I've spent many nights bivouacked under boulders where you wake up with a rock partially melded to your back and where squirrel size rodents scurry beside you all night, hoping that they might find some crumbs underneath you from the night's dinner. I can do this).
One thing that is kind of annoying is the fact that the electricity seems to go off daily at the most inconvenient times. There simply isn't enough power to supply the city so the way they deal with it is to cut power in random areas of the city on a daily basis. So imagine renting a movie, the popcorn is popped, the beer is poured, and all of sudden whomp! the power goes off and you are suddenly transported back to medieval times where you use candles to light rooms. WTF! If that isn't annoying enough, they also cut off the water at certain times of the day (usually at night after 9pm and until 6am). So lets say you need to leave the flat (that's what they call apartments here) before 6am, well you best sport that bed head with style and hand pick out those eye crusties because you ain't getting a shower. Or lets say you have to take a leak, or even worse, a dump after 9pm, well, its gonna sit in the toilet all night long and brew and you can't wash your hands unless you have a bottle of water sitting underneath the sink like we've learned to do now. I'm not an easily grossed out person, but personal hygiene is something I care to keep up. Yea, its true that I can spend a month out in the mountains rarely showering only swimming or washing up in a river, alpine lake, etc. but somehow in the wild I never truly feel dirty, in fact I always feel cleaner in a sense. Or for better words, more pure. But in the city, doing the 9 to 5 thing, and all the corrupt crap you put your body and mind through I always feel dirty and I always want that shower or hand wash. So when that water goes off it really sucks.

Alright enough about that the apartment, or flat (like my Irish UN friend Dave would call it), let me tell you more about the city. I was expecting simple people dressed in clothing that you would find fashionable 20 years ago and at that kind of ragged. I also expected the people to be malnourished (I read that Kosova has an unemployment rate of nearly 60%) with all the complexities that that brings such as missing teeth, hunched over, etc. I couldn't be more wrong. People here are dressed in the newest fashions from around the world. In fact it seems that every other shop in the city is either a trendy clothing boutique with a name like "Arsenal" or a shoe store. People here aren't malnourished either. I'm not a tall guy, but I've never really thought that I was extremely short either. Here, it seems that everyone is 6 feet tall, including the women. Most people have extremely good hygiene, at least it seems) and are very attractive looking. Guys, I swear to you when I say this- the women here are downright gorgeous. I'm talking HOT EUROPEAN SUPERMODELS gorgeous. Unbelievably gorgeous actually. And I'm no homo (sorry I'm not a PC type of guy) but the dudes here are some serious studs. There is no real "look" to Albanians (People from Kosova are actually ethnic Albanians). Some have blond hair and blue eyes. Some have dark features with blue eyes. Some have dark hair and features and brown eyes. Some have a typical Russian look. Some have a Mediterranean look. But I swear to you when I say this, it seems as if the largest modeling firms in the world have set up shop in Prishtina and everyone of their models lives in this city.

The city itself is in the process of becoming a 1st world European city with a vibrant cafe culture and nightlife. Matter of fact, most of the restaurants, stores, and cafes are less than 3 years old. So what you have is a city that is mixed with the most ghetto buildings imaginable (many still have half of the wall exploded off from the Serb conflict 10 years ago and rubble piled all over it) with brand new building with beautiful glass exteriors and fancy decorations etc. Did I mention that most of the population of Prishtina, all 500,000 of them, is young. 70% of the population is under 30 in this city. That makes for a lot of partying. Also, everyone smokes. I mean everyone. Hot Euro-supermodel women, old Turkish looking men, principles of schools, policemen (KFOR). People wake up in this city with a macchiato and cigarette at one of the 1000 or so cafes. I've never realized how much I actually hate breathing in cigarette smoke until I move here. I've had a cold for 2 weeks because of it. There is no escaping that friggin' smoke. I wake up to the smell of a neighbor smoking, I walk to work past hundreds of people smoking cigarettes, I eat lunch at a cafe or restaurant where the place is clouded in a haze of smoke, and I go to bars where not smoking isn't an option because involuntarily you breathe in the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes in a few hours drinking there.
Let's see, what else can I say about life here. Oh, my co-workers at school are great. There are almost as many Canadians as there are Americans and definitely more Albanians than us but everyone is really cool. There's Jeff, the 40 year old from Ontario, who works as a teacher on an Indian reservation but is on sabbatical for 5 years while he teaches abroad and travels. He's super chill, loves music (collects vinyl and has over 5000 classics so far) and reminds me of friends from Boone in the way that carries himself and parties (if you know what I mean). Then there is Erwin who is from Banff, Canada but isn't at all what I would expect a person from Bannf to be like. He seems to be super conservative but has a hidden wild streak that should be tons of fun to see uncaged throughout the year. Janet- she from Michigan and is working to save money for her kid's college tuition. She is the mom of the group and is sincerely a nice person. Seems like a great teacher also. Heck she even likes Mark Knopfler, Paul Simon, Dylan, and many other great musicians. Then, there is Emin who is a local who "fought "for his country against the Serbs. I put fought in quotations because it wasn't much of a fight. The Serbs had an airforce, modern weaponry, tens of thousands more enlisted, and the backing of the Russians, where the Albanians didn't have an airforce, and fought with rifles and hand grenades and a few modern weapons that the U.S. and other Western nations began to leak to them. The war was basically a holocaust in which the Serbs closed off the borders, made the Albanians stay in doors most of the day, closed down Albanian businesses, schools, etc. and eventually began a mass genocide through villages and towns in order to regain that region for a greater serbian empire. This all was happening while the U.S. was involved in the Persian Gulf War so it wasn't so much as we allowed it to happen, but rather, that we had our priorities elsewhere.
Anyways, Emin lived through this, he was one of the young 18 year olds up in the hills trying to defend against an advancing Serbian army with his rifle, knife, and friends to "protect" his village. Admirable beyond words. I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more stories from him. I can tell the wounds run deep and I won't pry but hope as I befriend him I'll learn more about this horrible time in his life. Emin also owns a dojo and on the side he is martial arts instructor. The dude is a serious bad ass. He looks at martial arts as I do climbing. Its a way of life for him. A life long pursuit which will continue to mold him until the day he dies. I've been working out with him occasionally. But must say I've been so depressed with the lack of climbing, hell the lack of any real wilderness area nearby that I've been doing a whole lot more drinking than I care to admit. Nevertheless I've managed to join Emin for runs at Germia (the only park in Prishtina where the cafe is more appreciated than the trails) We also go to his dojo sometimes where I'll pretend to be the next Randy Courture in training punching and kicking punching bags, lifting weights, doing other exercises that I hate. I'm a rock climber damnit, not a meathead Men's Health type of guy. Climbing and hiking doesn't feel like exercise to me, it's a passion. I've never had to exercise in the traditional way and when I have in the past I've always hated it. It feels like torture. Hell, it is torture. But if I don't do anything while I'm here I'm gonna come back to the states so out of shape and so weak on rock that I'll be disgusted with myself. I also become a raging alcoholic with the pace I've been consuming. If I don't figure out a way to squash my restlessness and general dismay over city life I'll go insane.

Besides Emin, there is Harold and Charley, the two principles at our school. Both are great guys in and out of school. What I love about this place is that not only do we all work together but we all hang out together too. We drink beers together, share dvds, go shopping together, we basically are a family out here.
Although I've been bitching and complaining endlessly to Tracy about living in a city (and after this I'll never live in a city again-I'm just not the city type) I've come to realize that this is a great time to be here. There is a refreshed, vibrant spirit about the people here. They know that they are at a the dawn of a new era for Kosova and its people. The nation isn't even a year old yet and is still filled with UN, KFOR, and EU troops throughout the city to "keep the peace". But the locals know that things are getting better. They know that within 20 years Prishtina could be the new Budhapest. They know that Rugova Valley could be on the travel circuit for many European tourists. And because of this spirit, you can't help but get wrapped up in wanting to be part of this transitional period. I guess my part is helping to teach the youth here. But also, it's in the connections I make with the people. The stories we share. The experiences we share. The heated conversations over our 3rd macchiato about politics in the world. Some how I know that years later I will look back on this experiece will great memories and admiration for these people, my co-workers; and cherish the first years of my marriage.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Here is the link to the pictures from our wedding. The photographer took over 1000 snaps so you're bound to see some good ones. I'm no Derek Zoolander hence the many frankenstein poses. :)
Be sure to check out picture #665 to see Chewbacha. Dude, shave that Jeremiah Merle Watson beard of yours, for the love of Nascar. :) Engeline you might have a career as a supermodel. There are some great pictures of you. Little Lila (Ryan's daughter) steals the show though. What a cutie. I'm posting about Prishtina tomorrow with tons of pics.
Browse to the private wedding galleries and look for Tracy and Joe
Password: boehl