So we have arrived.
It's not a big secret that I didn't really want to be here. I was prepared for Skopje, Macedonia and had my heart set on it, even though I'm somewhat (okay, a lot) tired of the Balkans. But, beggars can't be choosers, so I was willing to see the best in Macedonia (beautiful country, awesome school, close to the beach) when Doug's company told us that we couldn't live in Skopje, we had to live in Pristina.
[They put the blame on USAID but I think they just didn't want to deal with the paperwork. The local middle/high schools aren't listed on the State Dept/USAID list of accepted schools for their own people, so we have a right to be stationed in a nearby place with an accepted school. The company seems to do this a lot, not giving us what we're entitled to. This is putting a major damper on pretty much everything, if you have to claw and fight for every little thing.]
At that point, only a few weeks out, I just couldn't wrap my head around this. There was too much to do and arrange, there was the agonizing choice between two mediocre schools for Alan, there was the scramble for a dyslexic program at home (in Skopje, they have a special ed program), the move to arrange with four bored kids at home on summer break. I only started reading up on Kosovo the night before we left Germany. I didn't even know the most basic of Albanian words which is totally not how I usually do this. I couldn't get excited about Kosovo because, let's be honest, Kosovo is simply unexciting. I have friends who recently moved to Nepal (which has been my dream destination since I can remember), to Kampala/Uganda, who live in Bermuda and South Africa, in Dubai and Rome. You know, cool places. Kosovo is definitely not cool.
So, it's not cool. But sadly, it's also not charming. Pristina itself is quite unattractive. Its suburbs endlessly stretch out along the 30 or so kilometers to the border, so all you see upon approach is bad traffic and bad roads. Oh, and the odd mosque, which is a little bit exciting. I do like mosques, and I like the call of the muezzin.
Pristina is dirty. Now, Ubud is dirty, too, and Istanbul, and, oh dear, Ramallah. But how weird is it that a city can be dirty in a charming way? Do you know what I mean? Pristina does not do dirty the charming way. If anything, it looks tired. The surrounding vegetation is yellow and dry and done for the year. It reminds me a bit of Yerevan which is also not a beautiful city - however, you don't notice it because you keep staring at beautiful Ararat towering over the city. There is no Ararat here.
The new buildings in the city (and there are a lot of new buildings) are a mixture of bewildering and plain WTF? *What* were you thinking? Is this really supposed to be, you know, used by humans? And everything, even new construction, seems in disrepair. The big Germia pool right next to our house has large patches of the concrete surrounding missing, revealing the criss-crossing rebars underneath. The supermarket has potholes on the floor. Our house is newly built and has only been lived in for a few months. There are holes in the walls and odd openings, and cables, and things break down all the time.
But here's something that is utterly charming about Pristina: The people.
I have never ever met a friendlier people. People who forgive you and wave at you when you're driving the one-way street in the wrong direction the moment they identify you as a stranger. Who help you, who speak English or German in abundance, who smile at you - and I mean everybody, from the youngest to the oldest, from teenagers ("Can you tell me how to get to Matiqan?" -- "Dude, you really got messed up here, let me see, you need to go back...") to policemen. It seems everybody is genuinely happy to see you. It started with the immigration officer at the (non)border to Serbia, and hasn't stopped yet. Yesterday was trash day and I didn't know. I heard the garbage truck and ran downstairs, out into the yard to drag the trash bin out - and caught the garbage men as they returned the bin back into our front yard. They had opened the gates, dragged the bin out, emptied it... and then they smiled at me and said, "Mërkurë, po? Mërkurë!" Right, lady? Next week you don't forget to put the bin out? I don't know a country where that would happen.
We also seem to have lucked out with Alan's school. Everybody is charmingly friendly and welcoming. There are a lot of new teachers who are very motivated, and there is a very dedicated new principal. I had a long-ish talk with the principal about the dyslexia and the ADHD and he told me that he and his wife (who is Alan's teacher) have an extensive background in special ed. They asked me not to put Alan on Ritalin for the first few weeks, to see how he is doing, and reevaluate sometime in September. "We can always go on medication if the class interaction makes him bounce off the walls. But who knows? He may not need it at all!" This is truly the first time a teacher has told me that. Hard not to love that, eh? After Alan wrote his placement test, his teacher told me he did fantastic and she's looking forward to having him in her class. What a difference to the German school system!
Alan has his first day today - a field trip to a local pool. When I dropped him off at the school, we ran into two other American kids. The boy seemed 16 or 17, and his sister maybe a year younger. The principal said to them, "This is a new kid...", and the boy replied, "Don't worry, we'll take care of him." What's not to like?
So. Rocky start. The house has lots of problems but it's also roomy and we can work with it. The move hasn't arrived yet. Doug's company is underwhelming. But the people have already won me over. It only took them a few days.
Well played, Kosovars.