Sunday, May 5, 2013


We’ve been pretty busy around here. A lot of it for me has been around the house—unpacking, doing laundry, ironing, cleaning, organizing. But we’ve also been busier outside of the house than we typically are, and I’m beginning to think that we will continue to have fuller schedules here. The U. S. Mission to Kosovo seems to consist of a social bunch, and we intend to join in.

Our first Sunday here, we accompanied our sponsors to a cookout. It was a nice introduction to a few people, including our sponsors’ two children and one other little girl. We even met a man who grew up less than an hour away from my hometown. Jeff joked that we had our priorities right: We went to an embassy party before we went to the embassy.

The following week, I stayed busy at home while Jeff acclimated himself to the office. That Thursday, Alexa and I accompanied him for the newcomers’ orientation. It was my first visit to the embassy.

The embassy here is vastly different from the embassies in Egypt and Cambodia. In Egypt, the U. S. embassy was a compound surrounded by a thick wall, with local police on every corner and local guards just outside every entrance. The word “fortress” comes to mind. In Cambodia, the embassy had a wall, but it wasn’t the heavy-duty wall of Cairo—it served its purpose while being more attractive and less intimidating—and the grounds were more manicured and beautiful. Both of those embassies had office buildings inside the wall, though the character of the buildings differed in ways similar to those of the walls around them.

In Kosovo, however, the embassy has an entirely different feel. It has a wall, complete with guards, but it encloses a couple of city streets that look residential. The embassy is those houses, renovated for use as offices. So rather than entering the security perimeter and then having a choice of one or two office buildings to enter, in Kosovo, each office has a house. It gives the embassy the feel of a village, rather than an official compound.

Anyway, we spent our Thursday going around the embassy “village,” checking in with each office. Our first stop was breakfast at Uncle Sam’s, the “cafeteria” (more of a café, really), which has delicious food and friendly service. After that, we visited the Community Liaison Office, the med unit, the Regional Security Office, Human Resources, and CAPE (Cooperative Association of Pristina Employees—a group that employees can join in order to use their combined resources to perform functions that the government can’t or won’t perform, such as member-only gyms, libraries, or restaurants; discounts to internet service providers; or bulk orders of hard-to-obtain grocery or other items). We introduced Alexa to the playground, which was much to her liking.

After all our orientation activities were done, Jeff returned to his office and Alexa and I took a taxi home. The taxi took a different route than we’d taken on the way in, so I caught my first glimpse of downtown Pristina that day as well. I look forward to exploring it more fully on foot.

The following Saturday—last Saturday—morning, we followed our sponsors to Camp Bondsteel for our first visit to the PX. Everyone here calls it the commissary, and based on comments I’d overheard, I expected a full supermarket with an attached smaller PX, like what we had in Egypt. It wasn’t like that, however; it was reversed—a full PX, complete with electronics, clothing, books, and household goods, with a small grocery section attached. As small as the grocery section was, however, it was stocked with plenty of things that made my eyes light up, including creamer for my coffee (we’d been told it wasn’t available here), Cheerios for Alexa, and plenty of grill-worthy meats to go with the grill we purchased that day. After lunch there (we had a choice of Burger King or Taco Bell, neither of which are otherwise available), we headed back to Pristina.

That afternoon, we went to the home of the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) for the spring picnic. We met several new people and chatted with the ones we’d met previously. We enjoyed the hamburgers and hot dogs provided by the DCM and the sides and desserts provided by everyone else—and we made our contribution of chips and salsa purchased that morning, since I didn’t yet have the supplies needed to make a homemade contribution. (Our air freight had not yet arrived, so I was limited in my baking dishes as well as in ingredients. I’m still working out what ingredients are available here.)

While at the party, I became aware of a ladies’ night out scheduled for that evening—I’d been invited already by email, but I didn’t have internet access yet. Jeff agreed to care for Alexa, so I accepted the invitation to ride with a neighbor.

Accordingly, Saturday evening, I walked down the street to my neighbor’s house, and we drove downtown together. The venue for the night’s festivities was a Mexican restaurant, so margaritas and appetizers abounded. Maybe 10 of us were there, and everyone was friendly and welcoming. There was lots of laughter, accompanied by well wishes directed toward the one woman who’s leaving soon. It was a nice time, unfortunately cut short when the woman with whom I’d ridden received a phone call from her husband—he’d been called in to the office unexpectedly, and we needed to get back so she could care for her son while he went in.

Sunday morning we had hoped to attend church, but that didn’t work out.  We still haven’t located an English-speaking congregation to which we know we both have access—there’s a chapel service at a military base nearby, to which Jeff could go, but Alexa and I are not allowed on base. Instead, Alexa and I stayed home while Jeff made the drive back to Camp Bondsteel. He had set up our new television the night before, only to find some stuck pixels right in the middle of the screen. An exchange was in order.

Monday was supposed to be a typical “clean the house” day for me, but it turned into something else. We’d experienced a small leak in a filter in the garage. A couple of embassy plumbers had come to fix it as best they could, but they told Jeff that what they had done was temporary, and they needed to obtain better parts before they could do a permanent fix. On Monday, the need for the permanent fix became very apparent.

We woke up to the sound of water running in the garage. The leak was back and bigger. Jeff called it in, then went to work. To make a long story short, the plumbers came and looked, left to purchase a new filter, then came back and replaced the filter. They assured me that this filter was stronger, and they’d attached it very securely. I don’t doubt them, but they had underestimated the water pressure coming into this house—apparently we’re right off the water main, and the pressure is extreme. Not long after they left, my washing machine started making a funny noise, and I checked it to discover that there was no water. On my way up the stairs, I heard a waterfall in the garage. The new filter had fallen off completely, water was gushing out, and there was a good inch of water on the floor, despite Jeff having left the garage door partially open so water could run outside. I called Jeff, told him to get the plumbers back NOW, and followed his instructions for how to turn the water off.

Shortly after that, a couple of electricians came to fix some transformers. They turned off the pumps (needed to push the water all the way up to the top level … though maybe not with the excessive water pressure), then proceeded to deal with the transformers. As they were leaving, another plumber arrived to turn off the water—half an hour after the gush had started. If Jeff hadn’t told me how to turn it off already, it could have been very bad indeed.

Then the original two plumbers came back, looked, went to buy another filter and a valve to regulate the water pressure, then came back and fixed the problem. This repair seems to be holding, as we haven’t heard any running water (or waterfalls) in the garage since then.

Oh, and on Monday, I also hosted a couple of men from the internet company, who set up our home internet service. Later on Monday, I turned away two more men from the internet company who didn’t realize that the first two had come.

Then came Tuesday. Tuesday morning, Jeff stayed home while we accepted delivery of our Unaccompanied Air Baggage, which arrived much sooner than expected. He put together our mattress while I unpacked the kitchen goods and some of Alexa’s toys. She was incredibly excited to see “Daddy George” (a large Curious George doll) and Yow (a stuffed tiger), as well as her balance bike and several other toys.

Tuesday afternoon, Alexa and I went back to the DCM’s house for Spring Tea. I originally had declined the invitation because I don’t have a babysitter yet, but then I was told that child care would be provided and that Alexa was welcome. I took a chance and accepted the invitation, fearing that Alexa’s screaming would cause me to make a hasty departure. It turned out both better and worse than I feared: Alexa didn’t scream, and we didn’t have to leave early, but she also refused to stay with the young lady who’d been hired for childcare. She sat right beside her mama, in a chair left empty due to a last-minute cancellation, and she was quiet and well-behaved as she ate her fruit cup and cookies and drank her water (Mama had forgotten to bring her boxed milk). She even favored the DCM’s husband with a smile or two when he played with Daddy George, without whom Alexa had refused to leave the house. It was a nice time, and Alexa received several compliments on her behavior, for which I was grateful.

The following day was May Day, a local holiday. We relaxed at home all morning, then went to our sponsors’ house that afternoon for a “Meet the Parents (and Kids)” cookout. I met a few more ladies and several more men, Jeff socialized with people with whom he’d interacted primarily professionally, and Alexa found a safe haven—the “house” at the top of a slide—from which she could observe the other kids while considering whether or not she’ll ever acknowledge their existence. All in all, a good day.

Thursday and Friday were more busy days at home. And finally we come to this weekend—a long one, because tomorrow is a local holiday for Orthodox Easter. We had ideas about going out, visiting a local mall, trying a nearby restaurant. Jeff had ideas about inaugurating the basketball court. None of that has happened; it may or may not happen later today or tomorrow. Instead, we’re enjoying the opportunity to relax. Upload pictures to Facebook. Write and publish blogs. Order some things online we’ve been meaning to get around to ordering. Watch a Star Wars movie—mandatory for yesterday, May 4 (otherwise known as “Star Wars Day” – May the “Fourth” be with you).

We’re just enjoying a nice relaxing weekend in our new home. Finally.

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