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.


Sandy said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I'm glad we can stay in touch with you and Tracy through your blog.

What a great experience this is for the two of you. You will be telling these stories for the rest of your life.

Happy Villain said...

What a great narrative, full of honesty and insight. It's sad that you are stuck in an area where climbing isn't possible, but I'm wondering if you could start something. Are there areas you could climb, even if you had to drive a ways on weekends? Could you teach climbing to the locals and lead them on climbing expeditions? Could you raise money to have a rock climbing wall added to a gym or something? It seems like there must be some way to satisfy this need in you, lest you start binge drinking and smoking and tagging the buildings. :) It really is a fascinating time to be a part of an up-and-coming country. You seem a great observer and I look forward to more stories about the people you meet.

Emil Raev said...

Nice story Joe ... it reminds me so much of Bulgaria some years ago. Here is what we used to do: my dad would have an extra car battery and when the power goes out he could connect a couple lights and even this small TV that ran on 12V. It sounds a little primitive but it is much better than candles; as far as water, we would always have several 2 gallon containers and use the water as we need. I admit that taking a shower on your own is a little tricky this way but you wouldn't have that problem. I would not recommend drinking off the tap even though it is probably fine but bottled water is so cheap and some springs even have healing effect. Smoking is really annoying but there is nothing you can do. The real danger is the cheap tasty liquor and I have seen several volunteers like you just getting wasted in Bulgaria ... not a good thing. I do not know if they have any climbing in Kosova but you are just an hour flight from most European countries with plenty of options. Keep on blogging ;-)

Munky said...

Yea I just have stay positive about things here and I'm starting to figure out how I can get my climbing fix in non-traditional ways. For example I been "playing around" on a local playgrounds,stairwells, and other infrastructure.

Emil it was great to here from you. You need to update your blog, man. How's VA? How's your finger doing? I hope its healed up so you can enjoy the great weather in the fall. I can almost feel the crisp texture of Old Rag's granite on an early fall day. Keep in touch.

lpcyusa said...

Monday, April 20, 2009
Robert Latham at New School Allowed Ethnic Albanian To Condone Genocide Against

Serbian Orthodox Christians in Kosovo Posted 3/2/2009 2:37 PM EST

Robert Latham at New School Allowed Ethnic Albanian To Condone Genocide Against

Serbian Orthodox Christians in Kosovo
Posted 3/2/2009 2:37 PM EST

I couldn’t get the link right so read the scoop here -> Robert Latham at New School
Miss Jill Louis Star wrote:
/>> > Dear Friends: I have told this factual autobiographical account prior. However, this
was during the height of NATO’s illegal war launched against Jugoslavija so I am unsure

if this
e-mail ever reached the entire audience for which it was intended. Hence, I am re-sending

a brief
account of whereby one United States University in New York City assisted Bill Clinton

Tony Blair in plotting, orchestrating, launching and perpetuating Albanian-KLA

Nationalism and
ethnic genocide directed against the Orthodox Christian Serbs in Kosovo. (See

Attachment for
formal proof).
/>> >
/>> > I. It was in the Fall of 1997, my first semester in graduate school at the New School

Social Research when I noticed the bulletin on the wall that announced the Albanian Pro

Nationalist Fatmos Ljubonia was going to give a lecture on Albanian Nationalism at the

School for Social Research in NYC (5th and 14th Streets in Wolffe Conference Room

floor). This lecture was undoubtedly funded by the USIP and the WPI (the World Policy

resides on the fourth floor of the schools location).
/>> >
/>> > II. Evidently, this particular lecture sparked my interest like none other owing to

my serious
commitment in following the various political & international trends regarding the

Kosovo / Serbia
& Bosnia wars and what would occur next. Therefore I made it my business to sit in on

/>> >
/>> > III. At that time, primarily the students attending this lecture and (it was a full

house) were
from parts of the world (like Asia) who knew nothing about Serbia and Kosovo. So they

very interested to hear what Fatmos Ljubonia had to say about the plight of the ethnic

in Kosovo. There were only two graduate students who really knew what was going on in
Kosovo at that time between the Albanians and the Serbs. (me and this Albanian student).

I sat
in for about 1 and 1/2 hours taking notes and listening. Then I left. Here is a short and

description of the lecture.
/>> >
/>> > IV. Primarily Fatmos at first attempted to elicit as much sympathy as humanly

possible from
the New School graduate students. He began the lecture by explaining that the Serbian
government had imprisoned him for 20 years. and treated him in an inhumane manner.

He did not
explain why to us.
/>> >
/>> > V. He quickly then shifted (to be blunt)–he spent the rest of his lecture lying to the
(students) about the current situation in Kosovo. He supplied lies as answers to the

questions about Serbia, Albania and Kosovo and Fatmos completely bad-mouthed the

government blaming it, for myriad human right violations not only committed against him

(as he
claimed) but also against him all ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
/>> >
/>> > VI. He completely this question and answer session quite pleased with himself since

of my classmates later indicated to me that they were shocked to hear about the

conditions under
which Fatmos claimed the ethnic Albanians were living under in Kosovo. I knew the man

was a
filthy liar but I could not say anything at the time. So he lied lied and he lied more!
/>> >
/>> > VI. As I said I left early but I will never forget his phrase stating: “I, Fatmos

Ljubonia, have
come to the New School for Social Research to ask you, The New School students, to

give me,
Fatmos Ljubonia, new creative nationalist ideas to PROMOTE AND TO CONSTRUCT

/>> >
/>> > VII. Now there were a hell of a lot of New School faculty members also present

knew the truth about what really was going on between Serbia, the Western liberal think

tanks at
the New School for Social Research and their king, Bill Clinton regarding Kosovo.

evidently these were the same political science professors such as David PLotke who

tossed me out of graduate school only three weeks prior my anticipated MA graduation

date on
April 22 1999 at knife point (we all know about my Civil Rights Case against the school
/>> >
/>> > VIII. I, Jill Starr have always stood up for the right political and social group, the

Serbs of
course. For it was not the Serbian authorities fault that NATO members and their

politicians with a guilty as hell mens rea instigated and escalated the present ethnic

and genocide now occurring in Kosovo today!
/>> >
/>> > XV. For this reason it does not surprise me that the semester before I was tossed

out of
school by POL SCI DEPT. CHAIR David Plotke, during my classes with the renown

Latham (from the SSRC in NYC) no one did anything when my Albanian classmate stated

front of many UN Diplomats that he 100% promoted “ethnic genocide against the

Christian Serbs in Kosovo!” Of course I reported the incident to both my human rights

Adamantia Polllis and also the Dept. Chair David Plotke, yet neither of them did a damn

What they did do is allow my Albanian classmate to continue going to school and

graduate while
they decided to throw me out of school and ruin my life to the best of their corrupt

/>> >
/>> > X. The Albanian classmate of mine even said to me in front of Robert Latham’s

entire class
(FALL 1998) this to me when I said I’d like to see a copy of his paper which he said is

written to
promote ethnic genocide against Orthodox Christian Serbs in Kosovo this— />”Jill, you

surely die before you ever see my term paper!” The New School faculty threw me out and

the genocidal Albanian on April 22 1999! See attachments!
/>> >
/>> > PS: I’d like to give some lectures describing this experience in America to my

friends in
Serbia. David PLotke even came towards me with a swiss army knife!
/>> >
/>> > Respectfully,
/>> > Miss Jill Louise Starr USA
/>> > PO BOX 635
/>> > Newfoundland NJ 07435 USA
/>> > (973) 208-8372

Post your own opinion for: ROBERT LATHAM

HH said...

if anyone wants to do rock climbing there is a few nice places with a lot rock climbing routes with diferent dificulties and every one is welcome...

it is not worth to coment on what ths girl has writen for albanians and serbs in kosova, she has no idea how it was being albanian and living in kosova before june 1999.

jupiter said...

There is climbing possibility in Kosovo. There is a group of locals that organize climbing during the weekends in mountains in southern Kosovo, in the Accursed Mountains where the view is breathtaking. Search for Snownjeri in Google, you have the page in English too!

jupiter said...

You will see mainly ski center photos but they do climbing as well.