Well welcome to my first Blog post from Pristina, Kosovo. I left home the afternoon of January 1st and arrived here he evening of January 2nd. The trip to Kosovo was about 18 hours including a three hour layover in Zurich, on the clock it was about 25 hours but that didn’t take into account the 7 hour time difference. I slept through most of Atlantic crossing so it wasn’t too bad. The airline seats seem to be designed to be uncomfortable, but not utncomfortable enough to spring for the $1200 upgrade to business class.
Coming to Kosovo in the middle of winter was probably not the best time to start a new adventure. Pristina sits in a bowl in the mountains here, and smog from the cars and unfiltered power plants fills the “bowl” the altitude is fairly high and I don’t think the temperature got above freezing the first few days I was here, it has been unseasonably warm the past few days and was probably close to on Sunday. I believe winter here will be cold and grey, but hopefully not too long.
You may be wondering what Kosovo is like, if you know where Kosovo is and understand the geography, it pretty logically falls into what you would expect. If you don’t know much about it, here is my version of the low-down: Kosovo is roughly, north of Greece, west of Turkey and East of Italy. It is in Southeastern Europe in the former Yugoslavia. Ethnically, about 90% of Kosovars are Albanian and think of themselves as such. About 80+% of Kosovars are Muslim but seem to be extremely secular for the most part. As you may know Yugoslavia was arguably in the eastern bloc post-WWII and was communist. The Kosovar Albanians were the vicitms of Serbian “Ethnic Cleansing” during the late 90’s which was a significant over-reaction to an Albanian insurgency. This all resulted in a war and the war brought about the continuing US and Western European presence here. In 2008 Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia so far it is recognized by about 75 countries including the US and most of Western Europe. So that is the background and here are some of my initial impressions so far:
- The people: The Kosovar Albanians seem to really love Americans, this is a refreshing change from Iraq and due in large part to the fact that we were pretty instrumental in stopping the ethnic cleansing, it is also because we have given them tons of money, material and training. Though I think by-in-large their affection toward Americans is heartfelt, part of it, I suspect is played up to placate any Americans who might still be around.
- The Kosovars, to a fairly large degree, have a kind of a southern European mixed with middle-eastern look to them, they are definitely Caucasian but generally have a dark complexion, black hair and brown eyes. The men usually wear their hair short and are clean shaven, though it is not unusual for them to wait a couple of days between shaves; on average they are smaller than Americans but not by much.
- A note about the Kosovar women, the percentage of beautiful women is simply amazing, 95% are slender, many are quite tall; the women almost all have long hair. I would say close to half the women would be considered very attractive in the US, some just shockingly so. They dress very “western” I have only seen a couple wearing scarves or traditional Muslim attire. They seem to love to wear high leather boots and tight fitting clothing. I am told summer here is something to behold. The American Advisors here call Kosovo “Man Hell” because though the women look thoroughly western they will not look at you or acknowledge you. If you speak to a woman on the street it could be considered an insult, because here a man would only approach a woman he doesn’t know and speak to her if he thought her character was questionable. If you were able to actually meet an attractive Kosovar woman and date her, if you did anything her family felt was dishonorable, there is an old traditional law that is still observed by some Albaninas called the “Kanoni (which I have misspelled). If you dishonor someone’s daughter or sister they are honor bound to kill you to avenge her. Anyway, it seems like an awful high price to pay, so it appears that “look but don’t touch” is a phrase to live by. I might note that a number of people I talked to before coming here told me about the attractiveness of the women but no one mentioned that they would not talk to me and their family might try to kill me.
- Kosovo has a “Coffee culture” there are honestly about two coffee houses per block here, everyone drinks “Macchiato” which I never heard of before coming here. I guess it is similar to espresso. I don’t drink coffee, but they always seem to have tea here too. Business gets done at the coffee house.
- Unfortunately, EVERYONE here smokes, you cannot go into a building or office here (unless Americans run it) without reeking of smoke when you leave. This will be the single hardest thing for me to adjust to as I simply hate cigarette smoke.
Pristina: Pristina is the capital of Kosovo, it is my home for the next year. It is estimated that about 600,000 people live here. I would guess that in square miles it is about the size of Joplin or Columbia, people are much more densely packed here than back home, there are many multi-story apartment buildings here and very few single family homes, the houses tend to be large and it is the norm to have two or three generations of the same family living together.
There are no zoning laws (or they are completely ignored) and there seem to be no real building codes. There are a few very old buildings here that might be considered historic, and they are mostly churches or Mosques, most of the buildings appear to be from the communist era and they are as you would expect, then there are quite a few very modern looking buildings.
There is something here called the NQR factor. “NQR” stands for “Not Quite Right” it seems to apply to almost everything. Even in new, very nice, modern looking buildings the electrical and plumbing is done using the least expensive Chinese materials, and not-surprisingly it is not quite right. Lights never seem to work the way they should, plumbing is also questionable. The water goes out to most of the city every night between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am. Electric goes out on occasion. Regarding electric I have learned that the city is divided into categories based on how well the people living in each area pay their bills. The power company doesn’t shut off the power to your individual property if you don’t pay your bill; they shut it off to a whole section of town until the people in that section pay up. You want to be in category “A” or “A+” to avoid a power outage. I was told that one of the former heads of the power company sold off the scrubbers to the power plants and left the country with the proceeds which is why Pristina is covered in Smog in the winter.
Pristina is, without a doubt much better than Baghdad, there is trash pick-up, there is a lot of new construction, no one is lobbing mortars in my general direction and you can find about any consumer good you want here. Consumer goods are subject to the NQR factor, almost everything is a Chinese copy of a name brand. Clothing appears to be sized at random and you have to try something on before you buy it. There is a strict no refund policy for any purchase you make. The streets here are lined with retail stores; there are tons of shoes stores (mostly women’s boots) a lot of fashion clothing stores. Every other place seems to be a coffee shop. One interesting note is that I have yet to have a bad meal here. This town is filled with small restaurants including, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Pizza places, Steakhouses, and pretty much anything else you would want. So far everything I have tried has been excellent. This is not Iraq. Unfortunately it is not Western Europe either. As you might suspect based on the geography, it is something in-between.
I could write a lot more, but it is late so I will post this and go to bed. I am sorry about the lack of pictures. I will try to do better next time, though the only camera I have is my cell phone camera.
Finally I have a couple of housekeeping items. My cell phone number, will not work anymore as of February 1st, at least not until I get back home, the account is on hold until I reactivate it, and actually I took the SIM out of my phone and am using the SIM out of the work supplied phone (so if you call I won’t know it). If you would like to try and call me that number is +377-45-322-930. Any email address I have used in the last 5-6 years still works and you can contact me with it, if you are not sure which emails work here is the most used: email@example.com . Since I am not with the military this go around and I do not have access to an APO address I am told it is nearly impossible to send anything to me. Bummer.
- Kosovar Politicians in Middle of Real Organ Harvesting Trial (waronterrornews.typepad.com)