Life in Kosovo – Update

"Newborn" sign in downtown Pristina.

It is a mid-July Sunday morning as I write this, and while I have a number destinations to report on I was in the mood to write about life in Kosovo after seven months of living here.  

Dragodan Stairs leading into downtown Pristina

A lot has changed in Pristina, since last I wrote about the city.  The first and most obvious change is the weather.  Winter was cold and long but there was not as much snow as I am told is the norm.  Spring here was long and pleasant.  Both wild and domesticated flowers were (and still are) everywhere, fruit and other trees bloomed out and the whole place smelled wonderful.   That was something I was not expecting. 

Almost every yard here has fruit trees and grape vines.

Spring flowers

  Cherries, apricots, mulberries, pears, plums are abundant and can be picked for free (with permission) or bought cheaply almost anywhere, apples and grapes will be ripe in the next month or two.  When the vegetation began to grow it wasn’t long before it covered most of the trash that in the winter seemed to be everywhere.  Kosovo can be a beautiful place.  It is mountainous, somewhat like Colorado, but the vegetation is more like southwest Missouri.  There was more rain and the weather was cooler than usual this spring. 

More Spring flowers

It has been a great year for crops and the countryside is abuzz with activity.   The wheat harvest is in full swing.  Often you see people in one field reaping wheat by hand with scythes while a kilometer down the road they are using modern combines.    Farmers plant small fields with grains such as wheat, barley, corn, etc, or potatoes and a wide variety of vegetables.  Green beans, one of my favorites, don’t seem very popular here.  There are very few large and many small farms here, people seem to graze their sheep, goats and cattle on the commons, often the road and highway right-of-ways.  On the way home from Peje last week we were delayed by a herd of cows avoiding the mid-day heat by laying in the main highway in the shade of an overpass.  Oddly no one seemed over concerned by this, least of all the farmer.

The Rugova Valley, in the Mountains near Peje, Kosovo by the Montenegro border

It has only been that past couple of weeks that the weather has gotten particularly hot.  It has been in the mid 90’s most days lately.  That is, by all means, unpleasantly hot.  However the humidity is low and due to the mountains and our altitude the nights and mornings are always pleasantly cool.  My apartment, like most others, doesn’t have air-conditioning.   That can be somewhat unpleasant, but if you open the windows, turn on fans and don’t move too much, it really isn’t too bad.  Adapt and overcome.

Pristina is getting a facelift.  I don’t know who is paying for it or how (I know it isn’t the individual building owners) but almost all of the buildings on the main streets are having their facades re-done.  The workers just start at one end of the street and put up scaffolding and repair, re-stucco and repaint until they get to the other end.  It is a huge improvement. 

Newly laid sidewalk in Pristina, Kosova

This spring many of the sidewalks in town were completely torn up and for months it has been a pain to get around town.  But in the past week they have started relaying the sidewalks using cement paving stones of various colors.  From what has been completed so far it appears that it is going to be a huge improvement.  I am sure those who drive downtown can’t wait for their old parking places (sidewalks) to become available again.  Even the Dragodan stairs are having broken and missing tiles replaced.  Pristina, with its disregard of zoning regulations, lack of historic buildings and abundance of old communist block apartments will never be a particularly attractive city, but they are making an effort.  They are even replacing missing manhole covers as they redo the sidewalks. 

 I have found that I can find almost anything I really want or need in the stores here, with the notable exceptions of decent bacon, smoked sausage and Captain Crunch cereal.  The selection of items in the stores seems to be getting better, you can find butter and something close to bacon in the stores now.  There are some very nice new supermarkets opening on the outskirts of town.  There are very few items available from the US but there is almost always an adequate substitute.  I may have mentioned that I bought a car recently so I can get to the places that were too far to walk pretty easily now if I am willing to brave the Pristina traffic.

Stray Dog

They have been culling the stray dogs, which is beneficial though it drives the PETA people nuts.   The way “culling” works is after midnight hunters come out on the town and shoot the stray dogs.  They are paid by the government by the dog.  The embassy sent out a warning telling people to keep their dogs inside at night and not to walk them late.  Only in Kosovo do you have to worry about an overzealous hunter shooting your dog if you walk it after dark.  I wish they’d cull the cats. 

I recently read that in an effort to meet “international standards” they are going to stop the culling and start spaying and neutering the strays.  Yea right, someone is going to catch them, fix them free of charge and release them back on to the city streets.  That is hard to believe on a number of levels furthermore, if the surviving dogs were smart enough to avoid snipers they will avoid dog catchers.  Do you really think there are international standards for culling dogs?  If so I would say that there are some attorneys at the UN with way too much time on their hands…   … “Yordan, what are you doing this afternoon?”  “Why nothing Johannes, I thought I might go have some coffee.” “I know, let’s draft some international standards on dog culling, I hear they still do that in the Balkans…”    …But I digress.

Though I am still aware of the differences, I have gotten used to Kosovo.  My Albanian is not progressing very well, I still cannot speak more than a sentence or two, but I find I can often understand what people say enough to get the gist of it. I can read most of the signs I see now.  It is unfortunate I do not watch very much TV because I find when I do I learn a lot of words just by paying attention to the Albanian sub-titles.   After my last trip home in May I have decided I actually like not being able to understand what people in the coffee shops are talking about.  I can assume they are all having intelligent conversations about interesting topics, I am sure the reality is much the same as in the US.  

The Albanians still like Americans and I still like them.


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