Sunday, October 04, 2015

So They Make Good Wine in Macedonia

I haven't left Kosovo since I got here back in the beginning of August, but I finally rectified that yesterday.

CLO (Community Liaison Officer, or basically the morale officer for post) organized a trip to the Stobi Winery in Macedonia.

Now we all know I pretty much don't drink (probably why I didn't get promoted is sort of a Foreign Service requirement...), but I do like the taste of some wine. That said, we decided to go on the trip mostly for my wife, who likes wine a lot.

But actually, they had some really good wine! And the trip was a lot of fun.

We toured the vineyards first. They have some 600 hectares of grapes of a variety of types.

Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes in one bunch

You can see the mountains in the background

Then we toured the winery, where we got to see all the way from "skvishing" to the end of the process.

And then we got to taste...there was a frickin' lot of wine. We sampled 12 before lunch. I just took sips...some of our group were VERY happy by lunchtime (which was at 3:30! Twelve samples before a lunch that late seems risky, but fortunately everyone was very behaved.)

The logo comes from a mosaic at nearby Roman ruins...
that I didn't hear about until we got home! Guess we'll go back!

We ended up buying four cases of wine, good wine, for only about $135. We bought Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvingon, Cuvee and Sirah. We figure they will make good gifts when we go to other people's houses plus we will have plenty to serve here as well.

Plus, the trip got me another country visited...I love living in Europe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Houston, we have an apartment

It is no secret that I am a nester.

I like to have my home decorated with things that mean something to me: art, souvenirs, pictures, things that tell stories.

So when we pack our HHE (and to a degree, but less so, our UAB), I like to include things that make our place overseas feel like home.

Apparently, my wife also likes that I do this, because this time, even she was clamoring for something to make our apartment (which is ginormous) look less like a corporate apartment.

So we were both really happy when our HHE finally arrived a week ago Tuesday. And there was lots of it, like 6000 lbs (and that number is low because I deliberately reduced how much we brought this time!). Of course, probably half that amount is books...

Lotsa Stuff

The cats approved of the boxes

And the paper
And true to form, I got all of our stuff unpacked and the boxes thrown out within two days (with the help of a local holiday...yay! Bajram!..on Thursday). Admit it, you wish you were married to me.

Making progress
Friday, I put in the order for GSO to come hang our pictures (I tried it myself, but the walls are concrete and I lack concrete nails or transportation to go buy some). And they came yesterday. So now we even have art on the wall.

Even my office at work has a touch of home:

Why yes, I am from SC, why do you ask?
Now it feels more like home...for another 21 or 22 months anyway...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Anibar Internation Animation Festival

 Well, I didn't get the entire weekend off, but at least my job is lots of fun.

Sunday, I headed to Peje, a town in the mountains near the border with Montenegro.

We went with the Ambassador because the city hosts, and we help sponsor, the Anibar International Animation Festival.

We helped the festival bring Mike Reiss, one of the writers of The Simpsons, to speak and do workshops with the attendees.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, even if it was for work!

Plus, the mountains there are gorgeous!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Visiting My Happy Place

So this weekend I got to take a road trip.

Not my first, because I am a PD officer, so we get out more than your average Service Officer.

But this one was for fun.

The CLO (Community Liaison Officer) organized a trip to the Gracanica Monastery and Ulpiana.

We started off at the monastery, a Serbian orthodox monastery established in 1321 on the ruins of a 6th century church.

Gracinica Monastery

The monastery is really beautiful and has some absolutely amazing frescoes inside. You aren't allowed to take pictures inside in order to protest the frescoes, but I did take some shots from outside.

After the monastery, we grabbed some lunch...
Ribs and creme with pitalka...yum!
And then headed to Ulpiana, a Roman city located about 30 minutes outside of Pristina that was established in 169 AD and reached its peak of development in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

We were given a tour by the head archaeologist, who also is an alum of one of our programs. They are doing amazing work there despite the challenges they face (like that the country can't afford to buy the land and so they lease it for 3 years at a time and have no security in being able to keep it. Plus the land is divided up into tons of parcels, most owned by Serbian farmers who distrust the Kosovo government, so they have been able to excavate only a tiny fraction of the site. Even so, they have uncovered a massive basilica, a smaller basilica with a baptisterium, a Roman bath, and several cemeteries.
Basilica 1

Basilica 2 with Baptisterium
Roman bath

Definitely need to go back. Archaeology is clearly my happy place!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Houston, we have an Ambassador....and I have my puppy!

Our new Ambassador, Greg Delawie, arrived Thursday. I am looking forward to working for him, because everything I hear about him is great.

Have you seen his video? If not, check it out:

I met him at the airport. That was pretty fun. But even cooler was getting to go to his credentialing at the President's office.

Amb Delawie handing his credentials to President Jahjaga
Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Pristina
The other exciting thing that happened this week was the arrival of my puppy. Okay, she is not a puppy (she is 14), but she is definitely my baby.

She wasn't able to fly with me because only one pet was allowed in the hold at a time and I had to bring my parrot. I wasn't choosing my parrot over my dog, but it seemed like it would be harder to get a parrot in by a shipper than a dog.

Turned out getting a dog here was hard too. It took two weeks. Two weeks where I tried to hide that I was secretly miserable.

But now she is here. And happy and healthy.

And I am happy too.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


I am determined to fully immerse myself into life here.

So this morning, I went to church. The service was entirely in Shqip (Albanian). I confess that the parts where they read from the Bible (in standard Shqip, or Tosk) were easier to understand than the parts in the Kosovar dialect (gheg). But I persevered.

After church, I spotted a friend of one of my teachers. I was able to pick him out from his Facebook picture because he had sent me a message there. We went at had coffee at a place right by the Newborn monument.

The monument is a well-known sculpture in downtown Pristina in front of the Palace of Youth and Sports. It was designed by Fisnik Ismaili and unveiled on 17 February 2008, the day that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. It was painted bright yellow when it was first revealed and was later re-painted with the flags of the states that have recognized Kosovo. It is repainted every 17 February every year, and I look forward to seeing it then. In the meantime, it seems to be a sort of national canvas while still being recognized as a single word understood by non-English speakers as describing the birth of a new country.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Getting Back To Work

Okay, that title is misleading.

Language training is work, hard work, and fun (except when it isn't...I am still reminding myself to be thankful for that extra time in language because not only did I really solidify my skills but I also really solidified friendships with several of the teachers. That is something to be grateful for.), but it is nice to be back doing what I joined the Service to do.

I just finished my first full week on the job and am finally about over my jet lag. And is a week that has me really enthusiastic for the next two years.

First, and most important to me personally, it looks like my dog will arrive on Wednesday. If you are the praying/positive energy sending/finger and toe crossing sort, please do so for her. One of my awesome new colleagues is travelling to the states and is bringing Noostie back with him on Tuesday. Apparently there is a total embargo on bringing pets to Pristina as cargo but you can bring them as excess baggage. I tried to send her to Vienna and have a shipper drive her here, but even that proved too much. So this colleague is saving me a trip back to the states...I definitely owe him his favorite alcoholic beverage (or five) of choice!

Second, I have been able to do some actual Public Diplomacy work. Our section was a part of Dokufest, an annual 8-day International Documentary and Short Film Festival held in Prizren that draws artists and audiences from across the region and the world. We sponsored some American films there as well as an American Night reception in Prizren. The reception was well attended, and we arranged interviews between the press and some of the American directors. Plus, I was able to meet some of our folks from our American Corner there.

America Night reception
It was my first time to visit Prizren, but I will definitely be back. Because...castle!

Apparently we gave a pretty massive grant to Kosovo for the restoration of part of the castle, so you know, I HAVE to check on that!

Plus, I have to go back and see the churches there. I tried, unsuccessfully to visit this one.

Orthodox church in Prizren
This is an Orthodox Church in Prizren, right by where we held our reception. I tried to visit the church and photograph it, but was asked to leave the courtyard by a Serbian-speaking guard, possibly because I spoke to him in Albanian (Serbian-speaking colleagues have been allowed to go inside). Note to self: use English when trying to visit churches. Kosovo is an interesting place.

Orthodox churches aside, I am finding many opportunities to use my language here. For example, two of our Albanian teachers are in Kosovo, so twice this week we had dinners out that involved lots of speaking in Shqip (Albanian). One involved lots of Shqip and a Proper Pizza the size of our table and the other involved less Shqip but traditional Albanian food.

A proper pizza from Proper Pizza

Biftek në gurë

Tavë Shtëpie
I also had a meeting this week with someone seeking a grant who didn't speak English very well. So I said we should do the meeting in Shqip. And we did. I understood him completely except for a few words in gheg that I had my local staff member explain to me. And he seemed to understand me. My staff member also said to me that I speak freely and comfortably in Shqip. I am pretty proud of that.

In fact, I asked him to help me by speaking to me in Shqip and to teach me some gheg. But I told him that it helped me when he spoke more slowly.

So he said he would speak vvveeeeerrryyyyyyyy sssslllloooowwwwwlllly. Just like that. But in Shqip. :)