Monday, April 29, 2013

Welcome to Kosovo!

Written Sunday, 21 April 2013

I am amazed at how warmly we have been welcomed to Kosovo.

The welcome began before we even arrived.

It’s normal for us to have communication from foreign service personnel before our arrival—we’re guaranteed that because of the sponsorship system and because we ask the CLO to add us to their email list before our arrival. But the first time we are face-to-face with someone saying “Welcome to this country” usually is at passport control, if the passport control officer is feeling friendly; otherwise it’s when we meet the expediter or our sponsor. This time it happened early.

Our last layover of the journey from Cambodia to Kosovo was in Frankfurt, Germany. When we boarded the plane, I was surprised to see that it was a little one—only four seats across. Alexa chose to sit between Mama and the window, with Daddy across the aisle. In order to buckle Alexa into the seat using the CARES harness, I needed to fit the strap around her seat, inside the closed tray table of the passenger behind her. As I was doing this, the man seated behind me offered his assistance, since the angle was a little awkward for me. Of course this interaction led to a casual conversation in which he asked how long we would be visiting Pristina. Upon hearing that we were moving there, a big smile broke out and he heartily said “Welcome! You are welcome in Kosovo! You are American, yes?” (I paraphrase, because I don’t recall the exact words—I was distracted by Alexa throughout the conversation—but that definitely was the sentiment.) The man proceeded to assure me, and Jeff once he realized we were together, that Americans are loved and welcomed in Kosovo. He appeared genuinely delighted that we were moving to his homeland, and his two travel companions seemed equally pleased.

That was the first in-person welcome we received, but it was far from the last. The personnel at the airport were friendly and welcoming. The other travelers smiled at Alexa and stared apparently in awe at Cleo and Isis, who were loudly voicing their displeasure at being confined to their travel crates for 24 hours while being moved from place to place with no evidence that “their” humans were anywhere close by. When given the opportunity to go ahead of us through doors and turnstiles—we were slow, with the stroller, Alexa, and three carts of luggage—not a single person took us up on it. They smiled, shook their heads, and gestured for us to go ahead; they were happy to wait.

When we exited the airport and reached the public access area, we were greeted by our sponsor and no less than three Kosovan men employed by the embassy—two of them drivers (one vehicle for the bags and another for the people). Our excessive and excessively heavy baggage was loaded in no time, the carts disappeared, and we all piled into the car for the trip to our new house.

During the drive, Jeff and our sponsor chatted. It turns out that they have a lot in common, from technological knowledge to movie preferences. While they talked, I focused on Alexa. She’s a great traveler, and she did well the entire trip, but she needed to know she had my attention right then—and it’s a good thing she had it. When I interrupted the conversation with “She’s about to throw up!”, the response was immediate: the car was pulled to the side of the road, our sponsor (also a parent of young children) leaped out and got Alexa unbuckled and out of the car, and the driver was handing over a packet of wipes by the time she threw up the little that was in her stomach. I even managed to catch it in my hand and keep it mostly off her clothes (I know, gross, but it was the instinctive response, it worked out well, and I’m sure other parents understand).

No worries, Alexa is fine. We discovered during our time in the States last December that Alexa seems to have a little bit of an issue with riding in a car, particularly if she’s been under stress—such as having almost all of her toys and familiar things disappear, saying good-bye to a distraught Ming Ming, and getting nowhere near enough sleep on a journey that even the most travel-hardened adults would dread. She threw up the one time and has been fine ever since.

After our little incident, we proceeded without further difficulty to our new house. I only need one word to describe it: home. Maybe not fully home, not yet, but it definitely will be. I won’t say too much about it now, because I’m sure I’ll do another post all about it, complete with pictures. The key thing is that it is very warm and welcoming, right down to most of the walls, which are a warm beige rather than the drive-me-batty white that adorns most embassy housing when we first move in.

We hadn’t been here long before the doorbell rang. Our office sponsor and his family live just down the street, and his wife and young son had come by to welcome us and bring us dinner: biscuits, a pasta dish that earned five yummies from Alexa, a Jell-O dessert, and chocolate chip M&M cookies. She also kindly took Jeff on a spur-of-the-moment trip to a nearby supermarket, as we discovered just before her arrival that the cat litter I’d ordered hasn’t made it here yet. Later that evening, after the work day—Jeff wisely decided not to go in Friday afternoon after all—our office sponsor showed up to welcome us as well.

On Saturday, we continued the settling in process. We spent the morning—a long morning, thanks to Alexa’s jet lag—unpacking, then met our other social sponsor (they’re a married couple who both work at the embassy). She drove us all to the supermarket and put up with my questions and my repeated expressions of awe at the sheer size of the place … it may not have everything we can get back home, and honestly not even some things we could get in Cambodia, but I haven’t been in a supermarket that large, with that many options, since the U. S. She offered to let me browse the entire store—they sell much more than groceries—but I focused on my list, not wanting to keep her in the store for the three hours it would have taken to explore it fully. It turned out to be good that I didn’t browse too much, as Alexa hit her limit halfway through and started insisting “We need to go home. Lexa doesn’t want to be at the store. Lexa wants Lexa’s mouthie!” All of that was code for “I need another nap NOW!”

When we arrived back home, Jeff and our sponsor sent me upstairs to get Alexa down for her second nap of the day—jet lag is a beast, especially for a preschooler—while they unloaded the groceries. After our sponsor went home, Jeff walked down to our office sponsor’s house to borrow their internet connection and ask a few questions. He came back with two menus for pizza delivery, which is one of the first things we seek out in any new home. The settling in process goes so much more easily if I have an  option other than cooking every night, especially until I figure out what’s available to cook at the new location and until I receive my own pots, pans, and baking dishes.

We spent the remainder of the day yesterday and this morning unpacking, though we did take a break to introduce Alexa to the nearby playground, which was a big hit. At this point, we’re completely unpacked and pretty close to as settled in to the house as we will be until our UAB arrives. Right now, Jeff is test driving a car that we’ve tentatively agreed to buy from a departing diplomat, as tuk tuks aren’t available here and taxis aren’t particularly cheap or convenient.

I may be misremembering, but I don’t think I felt as settled in either Cairo or Phnom Penh after living there for two or three weeks as I feel right now, after just two days in Pristina. I wouldn’t say that I have friends yet—it takes me a while to give anyone that title—but we’ve met two couples who have been very friendly, and I anticipate that we will be friends with both of them. Now we just need to find a solid church and develop some friendships from among its membership, and I need to make an effort to get to know a few more embassy folks, and Kosovo is gearing up to be a very enjoyable post.

Welcome to Kosovo, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, so I'm blog-stalking now that we have a handshake! Thank you for what you've written about Kosovo!


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