Myself and Ronit took a walk over to the East side of the old city in Jerusalem to take a picture of the mount of Olives. Below and right you'll see one of the Palestinian areas.
We then went to see The Western wall; it's all that is left of the Jews great template after Titus and his four legions of Roman legionaries raised the template to the ground in AD 70. Here are a couple of pictures of it.
Whilst the world debates the future of Israel and Palestine I thought I'd take a moment to present a positive story from inside Jerusalem.
Today Jerusalem is divided into East and West. Palestinian communities live in the East segregated from the rest of Israel. A series of security checkpoints divides these communities. School children have to pass through these checkpoints daily to travel between school and home. Teenagers from the East cannot meet teenagers from the West or visa versa.
I am working in Jerusalem with language connections; an Israeli non for profit organisation to create online dialog between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian teenagers. They have found two schools who can provide computers and teachers to the project to facilitate this. The teenagers are being taught English (as a common and neutral language). We will connect them together over the Internet and create dialog using the theme of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Today we visit our first school in Jabba Muhabir; a Palestinian community in East Jerusalem. The school has around 2000 young people who live in or travel to this segregated community.
As we drove past the UN checkpoint my Jewish colleges grew quiet. For them this is a no go area and their nerves were being tested. When you feel these tensions you gain an understanding of just how difficult it is to resolve the long term issues within this region of the world.
My task is simple yet complex. I want to present computers, digital photography and image manipulation fun. I want them to be able to work with photos. I want them to take photos, share them and use them to exchange cultural references and as a source for dialog. If I can do that we stand a chance of these teenagers creating meaningful dialog over a long period of time; hopefully forming friendships and even entrepreneurial activities together.
As we descended down the hill my own nerves filled my stomach. I really had no idea what to expect.
We arrived at the school to be greeted by Mai; the teacher. We walked through the school to a small computer room where we met 15 students aged between 13 and 15. It was clear that they too had their nerves - I guess I must have been the first tall thin English white nerd that ever set foot in this class and they knew it.
The formality of the computer desks threw me. I did not want to conduct an IT class, so I did what any normal person would do; I sat on the floor and they crowded around me. Various bits of kit were pulled from my bag and the nerves from all in the room were soon gone.
I played two videos; one of Florence Griffith winning the 100m and one of Michael Johnson winning the 200m in the Olympics. From that I asked them how it would feel to be there photographing such an event. I gave them both the digital camera and the video camera and they started to play. At that moment I knew the rest of my day was going to be fun and easy.
As they played I started to ask about how it would feel like to win a Gold medal and how the community would treat them. They did not know so we put it to the test. We took a photo of one of the pupils, put her in front of the Olympic rings and put a Gold medal around her.
To a round of laugher I presented Jabba Muhabir with its first Olympic gold medalist. They all deserved Gold medals of course.
We had to end there because these teenagers needed to leave for a long walk up to the security post which they must clear before 5pm when the gate closes.
What did I learn? These young people are amazing. They are full of positive energy. The digital divide becomes obvious here. They have computers. They even work, but that is only the start of the story. We need to give them free software from which they can create and share. We need to give them knowledge so that they can learn together and finally we need (in this case) to get them digital cameras to facilitate storytelling. If you can help with that please contact us at info-at-barnraiser-dot-org.
The first part of this exercise is complete. Tomorrow I visit a school in the west to do the same exercise. From there we take both classes into a closed group on the web and I begin to feed them with tutorials about using pictures whilst Language Connections starts to create dialog between them. Another report will follow in the next few days.
Note: the software used was GIMP. The digital camera was an Olympus u750 all weather and the video camera a Sanyo xActi ca65.
We went to Jerusalem's old town; a walled in city centre to pay a brief visit. The city was founded over 3000 years ago. It's walled town centre is divided into four religious areas; Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
A small tour with panorama view for you:
and some pictures...
Looking West with the Mount of Olives (the hill) in the background.
Looking North West. The dome on the left is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church occupies the land called Golgotha where Jesus was buried.
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Built in 1898 making it "modern" in terms of it's surroundings. A church is said to have stood there since the 5th century.
The Dome of the rock build in AD 688-91. The third holiest site of Islam.
... and this very same history makes Jerusalem a hot bed of tension. Whilst i was there a funeral took place with Palestinian flags being waved right next to Israel soldiers and just after I left a suicide bomber was chased through the old town before being caught.
It's Saturday and I'm in Tel Aviv jaffa. It's Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest and taking note, I'm resting and being given a tour of the beach front from the port of Jaffa to the port of Tel Aviv. Some pictures ...
A Fisherman arranging his nets at the port of Jaffa.
The old port area is being restored. When I say old I mean it; Jaffa is one of the worlds oldest ports. It's in the bible as the port that Noah's son; Japheth founded in the wake of the great flood.
This is the view from between Jaffa and Tel Aviv looking South towards Jaffa (note the feeling of "old"... turn around and you experience the opposite...
Tele Aviv; the financial and cultural centre of Israel.
The Yarqon river which flows through Tel Aviv.
Looking at the people walking along the promenade and seeing the fishermen you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the most peaceful place on earth.
I'm here to work with an online dialog project with youth from East and West Jerusalem. I'm also here to learn for myself about Israel, Palestine and some of the issue facing this region. The following 14 days of blogging will chart my discovery process, thoughts and feeling.
My first assumption was that airport security was going to be a nightmare. As I sailed through the security checks at Ben Gurion airport I wondered what all the fuss was about.
I was met by Gal and Yakir who gave me a drink and welcomed me to Israel. They took me to Jerusalem where I met Ronit, three people who will become colleges, guides and teachers to me over the next two weeks.
Diversity is a word that sums up my learning so far. The majority of people here are not historically speaking too far away from another culture. I noticed that if you ask a person where they were born you tend to get an answer like "I was born in Jerusalem and my father is from USA and my mother from Poland"... often this continues to reveal the year and the circumstances by which the family arrived here. This has given Israel a real cultural diversity.
My immediate feeling is that Israel is about history, land, religion and identity all of which bring about tensions. Take for instance the Jewish religion. You have Ultra Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Jews and secular Jews. No group visibly mixes with any other group and marriage between people from different groups discouraged. Each group has their own Synagogue.
Shabbat is a weekly Jewish rest day running from Friday night to Saturday night. It's the equivalent to "Sunday closing" in most Christian countries. Around 16:00 in Jerusalem things began to get really quiet. There were only Ultra Orthodox Jews (who wear a dark hat, dark coat and tend to have a beard), taxis and me on the street - guess who stood out.
Ronit met me from the taxi and we headed to Tel Aviv Jaffa. Jaffa is an old Arab trading port and Tel Aviv a modern (98 years old) sprawling city. The two are linked hence the proper name for the place is "Tel Aviv jaffa". We celebrated Shabbat with red wine, challah (a special bread) and Hebrew songs followed by a great meal. Joining us were the neighbors. This of course is no big deal except that we were in a Jewish house in Jaffa, an Arab neighborhood with an Arab family (the neighbors) joining us for Shabbat, a Jewish holiday. Just to really add to the mix, a couple of hours after dinner there was an Earthquake (small shake, nothing serious)... this was no to be a normal day.
Video from the first look at Jerusalem:
I woke up again to no electricity this morning. I went home to no electricity last night. I hate to think how many people have suffered, got sick or died through the electricity supply problems in Kosovo. Minus 10 really hurts here. The air is wet and the wind screams through the valley. It can be cold dark and intensely depressing. For those that are old or young it can be deadly. I guess no one here wants to see their family members dead from the cold or from the suicidal depression a lack of power can cause. Mind you, there do seem to be a few people that don't seem to care.
Electricity before the war apparently was not a problem. The Serbs managed and ran the power station which is self sufficient as it is built next to a coal mine. When the Serbs got out they took some parts which effectively closed down the power station before the UN got here. I can understand that this must have been a huge problem - European Power experts and an old Russian designed Power station. This of course needed to be fixed and fast.
KEK, the Kosovo Electricity company received an alleged 600 million Euro in aid. They say they received only 132m. So what happened to 468 million Euro? Apparently some people took it. Apparently one International got arrested in Germany and I guess there are several Kosovars that have made a nice little profit out of this aid money. Meanwhile their fellow people many of whom fought in the war for their freedom now sit in the dark and the cold. As a cynic you could argue that the only people who won that war were those that are thieves, those that took and those that did not give for their country. This has left many of those who gave with a sense that life was better when the Serbs were around.
Of course, I don't want to dwell on the past, nor do I want to focus on the negative side of things, so I have devised a manifesto for KEK, a state owned company and thus under the jurisdiction of the UN. I pay taxes in England and Sweden, a percentage of my tax goes to the UN. The UN own KEK, therefore so do I. As an investor in KEK here is my manifesto:
I demand people within KEK to have a number one priority of service to Kosovars. I want to see each worker, manager and director pledge to try as hard as they can to provide the best quality service possible. Anyone not fulfilling this pledge of ''service for Kosovo'' should be replaced.
I demand public accountability. I want to see where my money is being spent and how electricity payments are being used.
I demand a zero tolerance policy on corruption.
I want to see in public the faces of those that are in charge of KEK, those that are tasked with providing electricity for all.
I want to see the UN bring each person that took from KEK to court. I want to see them tried and sentenced and I want to see them put in prison as an example to all. Incidentally, please switch off the power to their cells until they pay.
Lastly I want to see a long term plan towards environmentally friendly service.
KEK are currently running a ''say'' YES'' campaign to payment. I want to see KEK working harder than ever to providing a quality, corruption free service for the people of Kosovo.
Dear KEK, say yes to my manifesto, say yes to quality, say yes to service and say yes to accountability and maybe, just maybe the people of Kosovo might say yes to you.
Say yes to cancer. The KEK power station; a view from downtown Pristina.
Judge Dredd, Tony Montana and Frank the rabbit - a night in Kosovo.
What a week. I went to see the Basketball. Pristina were playing and it was a great game. The fans are pretty mad and we sang and waved arms and generally enjoyed ourselves. When I got in a huge police man stopped me and searched me. He took a pencil out of my pocket and dropped it on the floor. Funny joke I thought. For some reason the word "wanker" also jumped into my mind. I bent down to pick it up and he stopped me and said "no". I said "why can't I have my pencil?". He said "offensive weapon".
So here I am standing in front of this 7 foot high policeman wearing a helmet, full Kevlar armour plating and riot gear. You are holding a shot gun, you have a semi automatic in your belt, a truncheon and a little torch and doing a pretty good impression of Judge Dredd and he is telling me that I'm carrying an offensive weapon.
Just goes to show that the pen is still mightier than the sword.
Saturday night was most definitely one of those nights out in Pristina...
We (me, Johan, Erzen and Blerim) left a bar called Lounge 16 and Johan said "I like girls that wear ties and black tops". To be honest, this was the first time that I have ever experienced total silence in Pristina. Even the Jackdaws stopped and stared at him. Anyway moving along swiftly, we went to Akbar.
Johan, Blerim, Erzen and I started a conversation about Johan talking to a girl at the bar. We spoke to a friend (she, who shall not be named:) and I asked her "what chat up line should Johan use on that girl?". She replied to me "he is a swede - you want to fuck like a rabbit". I laughed. Frankly (pun later) i would have been happy to go home then, but the night got stranger.
Johan discovered a true art in teaching the bunny dance to Kosovars. This went down very well. Johan is still alive and well which surprises me.
It was after his brush with death that I asked if anybody has seen a film called Donny Darko. To my surprise, everyone looked at Johan and said "FRANK" - hello frank. It was around this time that Tony Montana walked in, but that is another story.
Anyway, 10 minutes passed and Frank disappears. We go and find him and...and...yes of course he's sitting on the sofa with a girl talking about the bunny dance and wearing her tie.
Today I would like to blog about birds and in particular one type of Kosovo bird namely the Jackdaw. For those of you who did not attend bird identification classes at school, the Jackdaw is a Eurasian bird related to and resembling the crow. It has black plumage with a gray nape and underparts. It has two other traits, firstly it is loud. It flies around shouting it's head off all the time. This perhaps is not that much of a big deal until you equate in the second trait. They hang around in gangs. This is a real problem in Kosovo because these Jackdaw gangs can have a few hundred members, all hanging around shouting at each other all day long.
What is really unique about the Kosovo Jackdaw gangs is that they all choose to meet at night and have shouting matches to see which one of them can create the most noise. This ritual in itself is not a problem, however I have noticed that they like to do this right outside my fucking bedroom window at 3am every night.
Call me a cynic, but I think one of the local jackdaw informants have told them that I'm vegan. Being a vegan I cannot of course shoot them. I have therefore adopted a policy of persuading them to leave the roof. I even tried reading them poetry.
Jackdaw jackdaw shut the fuck up.
This had little effect. In fact the following night the Jackdaws were joined at 3am by a mad Kosovo man who serenaded the jackdaws with his flute.
I have to admit, this was the first time this has ever happened in my life. I had two options; bury my head under the pillow or do something else.
Today I bought a Barry Manilow album - payback time is soon upon them.
As the plane touched down I was feeling good. It always feels good to land in Kosovo. You get off the plane and see the friendly faces, take a deep breath of air and wish you had not. The power station is still tipping out fumes into the air. Seeing as it creates hardly any power I think they should name it the cloud making station or CMS (cloud mismanagement system). Clouds 24-7 brought to you by KEK, the Krap Environmental Kompany. It's really called KEK by the way (rough translation is The Kosovo Electric Company).
I woke up on the first morning and looked forward to a walk across the park to the Institute. I always look forward to meeting these students. They are a great bunch of characters.
Down the stairs and out. The Sun is out and I feel like I could dance up the street. I turn to face the half built Serb church. It has a big gold cross on the top of the dome which shines in the Sun.
I turn to look at the Institute, the National library. I always have deep thoughts about buildings like National libraries. The design and the grace or statue of the building does after all some how represent the literal knowledge of the nation.
I walk towards the car park and to my surprise I can see that someone has dumped a huge pile of shit in the car park. How strange. It can't be KEK because they can't deliver shit.
I walk closer. It's not shit because its got a strange shape, like a pyramid. There''s a pyramid in Kosovo? No it can't be.
I walk closer. The sides have steps. What is it?
I walk closer. Fuck me - someone has dumped a huge stone cake outside the National Library!
I stand below it looking up through the layers of stone towards the top. The library stands in the Sun behind and I drop my bag. I look up and my jaw drops. This could be the ugliest thing I've ever seen. It's, it's - fuck - It's got water coming out of the top. Oh my god - It's a fucking fountain. Someone has dumped the ugliest cake shaped fountain in the world outside the national library and plumed it in and no one noticed.
(one week later)
I walk with a depressed limp down the stairs and out into the day. It's cloudy. No sunny cross today. The park is damp after rain. I feel depressed. It's been six day and it's still there.
I walk across the car park and oh no. no no no. no. Noooo. I drop down to my knees. Last night someone gave it babies. The fucking fountain has two baby fountains next to it. The father must have been a small mushroom.
Oh yes. I get it. It's the world biggest fucking mushroom cake and here I stand before it getting stoned on this fountain of knowledge.
I've been in Bequia for a week. It's a small island in the middle of the Caribbean and I was out there to scope out a project. Anyway, the Internet connection was poor, hence the blog suffered. Here''s the blob over the last few days:
With Kosovo still fresh in my mind I'm sat in Barbados airport looking at the cricket. This still has me in shock somewhat. In the last week I left Kosovo, arrived in Stockholm, Sweden. Stayed for 3 days, flew to London and this morning exactly 5 days after getting on a plane in Pristina I am about to get on a plane to St.Vincent in the Caribbean.
Basically a contract came up to work on planning a web site for a yacht company in Bequia for a week. I found out that I got it 24hrs before leaving Kosovo. I can't wait to start this contract. I've been wanting to try yachting for years and never really had the opportunity until now. Diving, yachting, designing a web site....looks like this is going to be a fun week.
The temperature is a cool 29c and I still have my winter jacket on (it was snowing in Stockholm). I have to admit I'm totally disorientated. I did a 24hr stopover in London. It still felt like home when I got back. I suppose you never loose the connection with your country of birth, but never the less, it still felt strange, especially meeting friends and explaining Kosovo and now this to them. Think they thought I was insane. As I sit here looking at the cricket though my totally jet lagged eyes I'm being to think that they have a point.
Day 1 and I got up this morning and jumped off the boat for a swim. It's 34c and considering I was looking at snow 64 hours ago I'm finding this a little weird. I'm working for a yacht company who charters out cabins on yachts with a full crew, I have met three of the crews and they are such nice people. They come from all over the place, South Africa, Australia, Sweden to mention a few and they are all taking people out on week long holidays. There's very few careers I'd trade mine in for, but I have to admit this is one of them.
Day2 : the project is going well although as with most of these things I am now looking at making something completely different to what they asked for. The original plan was to spec out how to get their booking system on line. I am soon realising that they need to focus more on their membership. I asked them where their membership database was and they just laughed and pointed at a filing cabinet. In a way I would far rather do this kind of stuff than work on some large corporate IT thing. I like placing structure in something that has not even grown out of paper. I think the warm weather, cool drinks and Reggae helps though.
Day 3: I sat at a bar last night and just chatted to everyone. I met a painter from Liverpool who came out here 30 years ago and never left and a couple from Australia who sold their house, bought a boat and just took off. I'm finding myself very happy in the company of people like this. Stories and humour with it over a drink - nice.
Day 4: I went to the Cash point today. As I was walking across the street I noticed a group of girls sat outside the Bank. One of them shouted across to me "I like you, do you want a girlfriend?". Now why isn't Sweden like that? Anyway, I just said hello and walked into the Bank feeling a little embarrassed. My card didn't work. On my way out she asked me again, so I explained to her that I could not take her out on a date because I did not have any money. I won't tell you her answer to that except to say that I spent the rest of the day laughing.
Day5: Helped one of the crews fix some stuff on the boat today. I miss fixing things in Stockholm. Living on a boat there is always something that needs attention and that appeals to me.
Day 6: Back in Barbados airport waiting for the flight to London. Magnus (the owner of the company) offered me a job as chief mechanic yesterday. He was of course joking, but I don''t think he realised how close I was to saying yes. One of the crews told me to go to Vietnam, buy some land and get a boat. Sounded pretty reasonable really.
Not a bad view to get up to. The net at the front is a very excellent place to chill and watch the world go by.
Same deal, different angle.
A couple of the yachts. They have 12 and they are a cool $1 million a piece. Mind you, if I had a million I'd probably buy one.
This is a sign outside of the bar. The Parrots here are pretty cool.
I was stood looking at a fishing competition which I found about as interesting as any slaughter farm. This little girl was looking at me so I took her photo. I turned the camera around to show her the photo. She stared and after about a minute she looked up her mum, held the camera and shouted "me" before laughing. Cool kid.
The front room of the boat. More like a Palace than a boat really.
Now let me think, why do I feel at home?
It was very surreal walking into the lounge at Vienna to await my connection flight to Stockholm. The snow was falling outside and the first thing I herd was "Waterloo" by ABBA. No better way of reminding you that you are going home.
The ground crew would not clear the snow off the wings of the plane as they were afraid of getting hit by lightning. This caused a 20 minute delay and me to laugh at the Captain as he announced it. Shit, he sounded pissed off. Thinking about it, who'd blame him. Most of the people in the plane were equally pissed off. A nice Swedish woman turned to me and said "now that wouldn't happen in Sweden". I just laughed and said that it wouldn't happen in Kosovo either, but I guess she didn't get the joke.
We went to the radio station called Urban FM the other night. This guy walked into the room looking pretty high. Christian said "I think I've seen you before, but didn't you have longer hair?", to which he replied "no, that was my mum", turned around and left the room. Around this time we met Dardan, one of the originators of the station. He's frankly a little hyper and he talks like Ali G, but he's Albanian. After 20 minutes of this we needed to go out...massive respect to Ali A.
We went to Lounge 16 where I got locked in the toilet. This was not part of the plan, especially seeing as I'd just left a girl who was Welsh and in between jobs on the sofa. My first indication of something amiss was when I noticed the bottle of urine in the sink. I paused to consider why the bottle was full of urine and why it had been left in the sink. Having drawn no conclusions I decided to leave and return to the conversation with the welsh girl. At that point I casually stumbled across the lack of handle. I got out 5 minutes later and returned to the Welsh girl to explain that I'd just broken out of the toilet. She left. Massive respect her.
It's not everyday you sit quietly in a bar only to have a guy come up to you and explain that the girl in the corner is a 29 year old virgin. The girl was sat with her five friends. They were the best looking girls in the whole world and I was the luckiest guy because I happened to be sat there as one of them struck up a conversation with me. She was a graphic designer. Life could not be more perfect, a subject that I can talk about. I met here friends and they all had good jobs. This was the moment that I decided to stay in Kosovo. I have after all waited 35 years for a moment like this. She was just explaining to me that her Mum was the editor of the magazine when Christian walked over, pointed at the virgin and said "what, that's your mum?". They all left.
I just Fedex'ed Christian to Iraq.
I herd a story about a girl that went home drunk. Friend of her's phoned her up the next day to ask if she was ok. She said "not really, I puked up on my Grandmother last night".
I got offered a job the other night. Not every night that a CTO comes up to you at 2am and says "Work for us, come in on Tuesday and we'll sort out the paperwork". "right", I said. He then told me that he's doing a web site for Miss Kosovo. "yer" I said.
I've been seeing Christian in a different light lately. The other night he was stood on a stool in the middle of the bar throwing glasses on the floor and shouting "come on you Albanians" and "are you tired" which is a weird Albanian greeting. I was trying to ignore him, but it was difficult with all that flying glass around the place.
Bumped into the CTO again the other night. He was talking to Miss Kosovo - doh.
Me, Bujar, Christian and Petrit.
Bet you can't do this.
Go home and die.
Pristina is in many ways ugly. The cities architectural design is a mix of communist concrete and post war brick. That is not meant as derogatory to Pristina in any way, but it's important to see this as part of Pristina's development. Pristina is not a city of architectural interest or historical value. It's ugly.
Four years ago someone dumped a load of concrete in a valley and said to 600,000 people live in that. The new Pristina was born with youth and concrete in one place. Any social engineer will tell you that the combination of youth, energy and concrete heated up with a little political tension will result in the next rebellious sub culture. London had punk in the late 70's as a result of youth being disenchanted with the system. Berlin still remains active after the wall fell. Will Pristina be responsible for a Balkanist uprising of youth culture as a result of war and political disenchantment? If young people here learn to believe in themselves and learn to express themselves through music and art then maybe in a decade we will see someone in Södermalm wearing a double headed eagle as a symbol of rebellion against IKEA parents.
By Urban Guerillas
By Urban Guerillas
By Urban Guerillas
By Urban Guerillas, work of Embrione.
By Urban Guerillas, work of Bimi.
Either commercial or something to do with Counter Strike.
By Urban Guerillas, Bimi and Embrione.
By Criminal Teacher (I think-??)
In memory of, urban roots (rap group), bimi.
Graffiti PB (which stands for Prime Bandits), made by GDK and Emir.
By Urban Guerillas.
The double headed Eagle. The flag of Kosovo (just in case you were wondering:)
Today we will tackle the subject of whether Swedes drink too much. We took Christian out last night to discuss it...
Christian warming up.
I just feel so good today. The Sun is out and the temperature has lost that cold feeling.
Life is never boring here. Christian and I got back to the apartment last night, switched on the TV to get a war fix only to see a green man who was apparently green because he was on a night imagery video phone link giving a report from somewhere in Iraq. Just as we sat down the electricity went off. Of course, as a trainee Albanian citizen this is no longer a problem. After the first time this happened I learnt to always leave a candle in the corner of the kitchen next to a lighter. We moved through a very dark apartment to the kitchen only to discover that the cleaner had moved the candles. In fact we still have not found them. Perhaps she took them. Who knows, some things in life must remain a mystery such as the location of the candles and the green man. Anyway, Plan B - go out.
We went to Depot. Depot is a lounge bar which would not be out of place in either New York or Södermalm (the best part of Stockholm which rather conveniently is where I live). It has a fifties red velvet wallpaper and a white and gold wallpaper along the back, not too dissimilar from the background on the Sisters billboards in Stockholm at the moment. They have a few scattered sofa's and tables and a nice candle lit feel to the place. One thing stands out though, the golden toilet. I find it most interesting that someone has taken time out to paint the toilet gold. Maybe someone got confused when they were asked if they wanted a golden shower. Toilet painting is just waiting to happen really.
I found myself talking with four people, Vjollca, Petrit who has just got back from visiting Amsterdam and weirdly speaks Norwegian, Bujar who's been living in Brooklyn, New York for eight years (they are Brother and Sister). Bujar has just got back from a three week holiday in Cuba with Edona, who is a Blonde Albanian Jew (Petrit's description). I've been thinking about this for a while and I can confirm that I've never met a blonde Albanian Jew before, especially one that just stepped off a plane from Cuba. What I found really funny about the whole thing is that she's just found out that she's Jewish and that she can get a visa to Israel. Two things struck me here. Now, I guess under normal circumstances finding out that you're Jewish is a pretty life changing experience, however being told you're Jewish here is probably just another one of those things. You know, "today, a few grenades were launched at the police, Jimmy the Swede is still shooting dogs, someone drove a jeep into a bar and, oh and by the way, you're Jewish". Secondly, I guess a holiday in Israel is no big deal if you've survived the last 10 years in Kosovo, but for me I would check my life insurance if I was going to step off a plane in Israel right now. Interestingly it was Petrit that told her that she was Jewish. Petrit and Edona used to date when they were 16. So, basically as far as I can see he managed to go out with her and forget to tell he that she was Jewish. Made me smile. I once forgot to tell my ex-girlfriend that I was going out with a few friends for a beer and she didn't forgive me for a week. He must have been in the dog house (not really though, they are obviously the best of friends).
Talking of dogs, I need to explain who Jimmy is. RTK radio did an interview with a Lieutenant called Jimmy from Swedish KFOR the other day. Jimmy's job is to shoot dogs. Christian and I have been laughing non stop at some of the stuff he said. I'll be dedicating an entire blog day to Jimmy at a later date.
Also, I guess I better explain the grenade thing. Last Friday 3 grenades were launched at UN police targets. This caused minor chaos in the city. Police drove around a lot with their sirens blazing. The police helicopter hovered overhead and police road block were set up and that basically was the last we herd about it. The weird thing about this place is the way that that kind of stuff just gets swallowed into a big news black hole. No one knows anything about it. Some say it's the Serbs, but that makes little sense. Others say it was the Mafia, but then that makes little sense either. All I can tell is that it wasn't Bujar or Edona because they were in Cuba.
After Depot's we went back to Bujar's where Vjollca opened a bottle of wine. One thing that strikes me about people here is just how friendly and hospitable they are. Anyway, and this will be something I will remember for a long time, Edona gets up and announces that she needs to give me a present from Cuba. She then hands me a small clay painted sculpture of a thing that's like a Thai tut tut (like a 3 wheeled motorbike taxi). That was so nice of her. I will be arriving in Sweden from Kosovo with a present from Cuba. Kind of sums up how crazy this place is really.
Later today I will be exploring the growth of urban culture in Pristina. What better place to start than Graffiti - photo''s later.
I set the students an assignment the other day. I wanted them to reflect their serious management techniques in picture. This is what they came back with.
The other night I was walking across the park when we herd gun fire. I think this is the first time I've ever herd close gun fire in my life. Brings home the reality of what many people went through here.
So, gunfire. It was Swedish soldiers shooting stray dogs in the park that I was walking though. A while ago a stray dog (there are lots of them in this City) had killed and eaten a child. Of course, that is a horrible thing to happen, but we need to understand that it is not entirely the dogs fault. If war had not broken out (which is an entirely human issue) the dog would still probably be living in the farm or house that it came from. It would have been looked after and would not be hungry enough to eat a child, however it was and the child was placed in a situation where a dog can get to it. You could argue that the actual dog that did it should be put down, however I do not agree with the death penalty, therefore it would be two faced of me to regard the same sentence for a dog to be acceptable. On a larger issue, because one dog kills a child it does not make all dogs into murderers, so I object to the shooting of dogs as the lazy mans answer to problems of his own making. They should be caught, neutered and found homes.
Leaving my view of animal rights to one side I have another issue with this. I'm thinking as a Swedish tax payer here - Is it really necessary to bring a Swedish soldier all the way to Pristina to shoot a dog? I've just walked past a school with no books, down a pavement with a big hole and along a street with no lighting to go back to an apartment with no electricity. Can Sweden not train a local person to tranquilize dogs, capture them and re-habituate them? Would that not free up their time to do something slightly more constructive like fixing the hospital?
On a lighter note, I have just completed my first re-branding campaign. My goal is to make the Swedish KFOR (Kosovo Force) task force more friendly and customer focused.
... and after.
It was my Mum''s birthday on Saturday. Happy birthday Mum. She's 21 again which is weird as it now makes me 14 years older than her.
Story time: Once upon a time there lived a man called Adem. He lived with his family, the Jashari's in a quite village called Prekaz lying in Drenica, a region in the heart of Kosovo. Adem was the son of Shaban whom had five sons and three daughters, Hava, Rifat, Hamza, Zyla, Zoja, Adem, Qamile and Halime. Adem, the youngest of Shaban's sons was born on the 28th November 1955. He grew up to marry Adile and they had five children together, Lulzim, Fitim, Shqipe, Kushtrim and Marigona. They lived together in their large and beautiful family Kulla (town house). Adem was a quite and patriotic man. He also happened to be the leader of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army).
One cold morning on the 30th December 1991 he and his two brothers, Rifat and Hamza were at home when a large group of Serb Police and Military arrived to lay siege to the family. Many people from surrounding villages came to help them and after the family shot several Police they left and did not return for a further seven years.
Meanwhile over those seven years Police entered surrounding villages where they were met with many men whom had learnt the lesson from Adem and thus defended their families and villages. Unfortunately many fell while doing this. The news spread and more people came. The KLA had become the resistance to oppression and regime.
On January 22nd as dawn broke specialised Police units surrounded his house. As the Sun broke over the village the Police attacked with mortar and automatic weapon fire. Several of the family members returned fire and after a fire fight the Police retreated, but had wounded two of the family, Selvete and Iliriana. After the failure of the attack Police sentenced Adem to 20 years in prison, however they had to capture him first.
On the 28th February huge police forces amassed and under tank and helicopter support entered two local villages, Likoshan and Qirez. They had killed several villagers along with the men of the Ahmetaj family. Adem and his fighters entered the villages despite the tanks and helicopters and helped the residents.
By the 5th March great parts of Drencia where besieged. The various Serb forces were heading for one meeting place, Adem's house. Of the 30 members of his family 22 where home that morning.
At around 6AM the first shots were herd. Tanks and Artillery opened up on Adem's house. Adile was shot while carrying ammunition to Adem, but the rest remained unhurt until night fall when the fighting died down.
For three days Adem and his family fought. On the fourth day a shell hit the back wall of the house and killed thirteen of his family. Only Besarta survived to hear Adem singing and fighting. He finally fell at the front door of his house.
And the consequences of this battle? The Jashari's families death had shocked the international community into action. The KLA was becoming stronger as many people took up arms to fight. In an abstract way you could say that Adem had sacrificed his family in order to save his country.
The 28th of November is celebrated here since 1955 when the Kosovo flag was lifted for independence. The Serbs took that and a man who was born of the same day took the first steps to return that independences to Kosovo. A real dude.
I got home last night to find an electrician in the apartment. The fuses had blown. This meant that I spent 3 hours in a cold dark room reading a book by candle light. I'm glad I've spent some time in Sweden. One of the things I have learnt is just how pleasurable candle light is compared to a bulb. At home I regularly read by candle light, so it was quite nice to actually being forced to do nothing for a change.
The electricity came on at 10pm, so I cooked something and sat down to look at the latest war fiasco. The media are loving this and we just buy it. I fully recommend switching your TV off and doing something different.
I got a taxi home the other night. This was a big mistake. I walked up to the taxi and realized that it did not have any door handles on it. The taxi driver opened the door from inside, so I climbed into the oldest shitiest car I've seen in a long while. Wanting to go home, I did not mind this too much. "Can you take me to Sunny hill?", I said. The driver just looked at me. After a moment I said "Sunny hill?". He continued his stare until he said "Pristina". "Yes", I said, "sunny hill, 2 minutes south east of here, past the library, then up the hill". "Pristina", he said. Ok, I thought, let's do this a bit at a time. It just so happens that Albanian for library is exactly the same as Swedish for library. "Bilbilotek" I said. Unexpectedly "Pristina" was the reply. "pom Pristina Bibliotek" (which is 100% ok Albanian as far as I know)". He just stared at me. 5 minutes had now passed, with is pretty devastating seeing as it's only a 20 minute walk to the apartment. Eventually I got him to start the car and follow my hand directions. This resulted in me virtually grabbing the wheel on two occasions. In fact on reflection, I should have just taken his car, but then it's the worst car in the world so I'm not sure what I would have gained by doing that.
We arrived at the apartment at which point he held up 2 fingers followed by 5 which means 2.5 Euro, the standard fee for a taxi ride in Pristina. I said "no" and held up two fingers (felt so good). I then explained to him in polite English with appropriate smile, "Your clutch plate is slipping. At worst you need to replace it. I then explained that I once did this in a field on my trusty Series II Land Rover and it took 4 of us 2 hours. I then hinted to him that if he was going to drop the gearbox out, he may wish to consider replacing the first gear as it is clearly shod. I then started going through the basic principles of tappet adjustment, carburetor tuning and general servicing techniques. After this I explained that I would not normally give this kind of information for free, but I liked him. I said goodnight, gave him 2 Euro, got out of the taxi and walked to the front door with the knowledge that yet again I had done the world a good deed in true British colonial style.
Ok, ok. This is not the taxi, but it's close.
Been an strange couple of days. The cleaner took my flannel. I assume they put it in the bin. They can hardly have taken it. There was a PC and a mobile phone in the same room and my flannel had a hole in it, so it has no street value that I know of.
Talking of holes, I was walking home the other night with Butrint (one of the students) when I fell into one. It was pitch black (there is still no street lighting here). We were watching two cars who had got their bumpers stuck together. The drivers were playing a strange game of ''tug of war'' to try to untangle their cars. Whilst all this was going on I casually fell into the said hole. Now call me old fashioned, but you kind of get used to the pavement just being there in Stockholm. Anyway, I climbed out just in time to see one of the cars drive away with the bumper on the back seat. To our immense relief I managed to do all this without spilling any of the two beers I was holding. Quite proud of myself really.
The electricity went off last night just as I got back the apartment. I sat in the dark and cold for two hours which is when the electricity is meant to come back on (four hours of electricity followed by two without in rotation). Half an hour later it dawned on me - Aha, tom, so you're clever, why is the video light blinking with no electricity on then? After much thought and consideration I deduced that in fact half of the fuses had blown and I was left with a couple of working sockets and no lights. I moved the heater around and lit a candle. Kind of homely feeling really.
One reason to buy a torch.
We went to Prizren today, a town to the south east of Pristina. The drive took about 1 hour and 40 minutes and took us towards the mountainous edge of the valley. There are many small towns and villages along the way, all of which are either building or repairing houses to replace those damaged or destroyed in the war.
Every community you pass has a memorial to KLA, Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK in Albanian) fighters that died. Nearly all of them have engravings of their faces on the memorials which some how brings me closer to them. I found myself wondering who they were, what they did and of course how they fought and died for their beliefs. I think I'm discovering that I have a certain fascination with war and the way it has pushed these people to their limits. I think if Stockholm does not work out for me I would like to return here and make a book of the history behind the fighters on these memorials. Their stories of courage, determination and resilience are, know doubt a lesson us all.
As we drove back we herd various US politicians talk on the radio about the pending war with IRAQ. I have herd stories of Albanian people being beaten while Swedish soldiers looked on*, of Albanian people being massacred while Dutch soldiers* looked on, of people fleeing while tanks pulled up outside their houses. One thing is common, the majority of people who died or fled here were innocent.
For those fighters that died here I am only sorry that they cannot be here to rebuild their country and their communities. I am appalled by the way the international community has failed Kosovo. I am disguised to think that this will happen again to the 22 million innocent Iraqis trapped between a dictator and a western power blind to history.
Anyway, here's the pictures. I promise to tell a funny story tomorrow....
* They were ''observing'' before NATO entered the war. Bullshit politics basically.
The main square. We could not go to the church on the hill as it''s a KFOR base.
The old Mosque.
A look down through the main street.
The old church, now a KFOR base so we were not allowed in.
Up through one of the side streets.
New and old (human and brick).
This kid was just dancing up the middle of the street without a care in the world.
I'll never call London untidy again.
[left to right] Fitore, one of the students here. She's never been the same since she saw Matrix. Akan, the founder of IPKO and Martin a friend of Akan's over from America.
7-11 Prizren style.
Look right of the 2 trees and you'll see 2 KFOR German armoured transporters.
One of the many monuments to the KLA fighters that died.
Different approach today - my walk to work in pictures.
There is no light in the hallway outside of the apartment, so getting in can be fun at night.
Down the stairs. You can see bullet holes in the glass.
...and out through the front door. This reminds me of Hulme and Mosside in Manchester in the mid 90's or Brixton in the 80's. People often ask me why I like Stockholm so much. If you'd have lived in a place like that you wouldn't bother asking.
The path up to the street. There is a huge amount of litter everywhere here. The UN have put out bin's, but people just set fire to them. I've put litter in the bin's a few times now and you do feel as though everyone just laughs at you when you do it.
A little further up the path. Checkout the blank advertising board. It's about $4 to advertise here. I'm thinking of advertising here - something like "what right has America to declare war on 22 million IRAQ people? Hoot your horn if you think that Bush is an asshole".
The birds here can read.
This is just an excellent poster. I need to ask the students who it's from, but I guess it's one of the political parties. Red and Black is the colours of the Kosovo flag.
The school. No climbing frame, seats, football, basketball hoops, nothing to do. Frankly it really annoys me seeing this when you see the ridiculous amount of money that is waisted here.
The view from Sunny Hill down to central Pristina. For some reason it looks a long way away on this picture, but you can walk down to the centre in about 15 minutes.
7-11 Kosovo style.
The start of the walk down the hill. Check out the Therapy sign. I assume that is for westerners as it's not in Albanian.
I'm still trying to figure out how to book a wash time here.
The red building in the background is the bakery. Transport varies a lot here.
Now I know that you should not take a photo in to the sun, but I wanted to capture this as I know of a few friends that will take particular interest in this. "Women's rights are human rights, 8 March 2003, International woman's day. From the office of gender affairs (UNMIK)".
A street corner. There is building everywhere, however I see no standards or safety going on. In fact half of these building look like they will fall down if Pristina suffers even a tiny earthquake.
A few days here has the same effect as dressing up as a rabbit, dropping an LSD tab and going to Gröna Lund (Stockholm's amusement park). It's a very strange feeling standing in a pitch black corridor trying to find your keys and hearing the sound of flowing water from inside your apartment. I got in, lit a few candles and discovered that all the taps were on. Christian has said that in months of living there he has never seen the cleaner. He assumes he has one as the apartment is tidy every Tuesday. I guess she/he left the taps on when the water went off.
I walked to work this morning and saw 3 people wearing white coats in the space of five minutes. I bought some bread and the assistant asked for 65 Euros, which I gave her, she then told me that I'd paid too much and gave me 20 Euros back. I said "oh, sorry, you mean 45" to which she replied "no 65".
I walked down the hill to witness chaos at the crossroads because the traffic lights were out (no electricity this morning). Two policemen were there. In London they would be in the middle of the road directing the traffic, in Pristina they stand on the corner, smoking and chatting and not even watching the traffic. After all that I got to the school to see three men pulling weeds out from the pavement. In order to do this they had moved the litter to a different part of the pavement.
I found out that the KFOR base is 66 sq km's of land to the east of Kosovo. They do not let anyone in or out, there are no services linked to the base and to my knowledge no one knows anything about it outside of Kosovo. This apparently is the deterrent. Once war comes to a close in a country, if there is no major dominant power another country can invade the two waring countries. This base makes any bordering country think twice before invading. Makes sense, but I wonder what goes on in there that is so secret?
I went for lunch yesterday with four of the students. They spoke about Macedonia and Kosovo and how Macedonia closed it's borders to refugees in the war whilst it negotiated help (money) from Europe. I remember seeing this on the BBC. The bit I forgot is that they were left in no mans land in the freezing cold where many perished. Many young people here helped the aid organisations, KFOR and journalists in the war as translators. I was thinking about this. They are approx 19 to 25 and the war ended 4 years ago. It's weird to listen to these stories from someone who would have been about 17 or 18 in the war and then compare that to how naive I was at that age. Deep. On a lighter note Indian rave music is becoming big in Pristina.
I got taken home from a bar by a drunk taxi driver. I guess in Stockholm or London I would have jumped out of the taxi, maybe even phoned the police, but in Pristina life if different. You just laugh. It does however make you think about the value you put on your own life and how that value can change with circumstances. Perhaps I'm being in work out why these people always appear to be so happy.
The students did their first presentation. What I really like about working with them is that if you give them confidence, time and pride they fly. They really got into what they were doing (presenting a site they like and something they would do to the user interface to make the site easier to navigate). This was the first time I saw in their eyes "I can do this and I can make a site better". They are beginning to discover things about themselves and it's great to be part of it.
I spoke to one of the students about his views which were along the lines of America and Europe manufacturing a war after the death of Tito to hurt the Soviet Union. If someone had told me this in a bar in Stockholm I would have told them to stop talking shit, however this was an Albanians student and I don''t know much about this war, so i listened. Of course we know Maloshevic was the bad guy, but how did he gain so much power so quickly? From a European perspective someone in power must have at least discussed the possibility of turning Yugoslavia into a democracy and therefore extending European influence on the world stage. Did Europe have anything to do with starting this war? I hope not. What about Americas involvement? Was Yugoslavia's situation viewed as a chance to break Russia's cold war hold on the Balkans?
Pristina is a strange place. A mix of 'town people' and people that have come in from the countryside. The city has expended very quickly after the war. As I walk around I see many young people, probably with an average age of 22 or 23. I guess that they are mainly students from the University here. The other thing I've noticed is that in 2 days here I have seen only 3 children and only one baby. I have yet to find out if this actually reflects the population of Kosovo and if so, why.
This is the main room at the Institute. There are 17 students in one room which is good for them as they learn from each other.
In 1948 74 percent of all Kosovo Albanians over the age of 10 were illiterate. There were only 49 industrial enterprises in the whole of Kosovo employing only 16,000 people in 1958. Boy, this place is changing. I walked past a school today and approached the subject of education. The facilities here are poor. They have hardly any computers or equipment and the University teachers are hardly ever here because they are on strike over pay (150 Euro per month). With all this aid money being pumped into Kosovo you would have expected a little more for the Albanian people. It seems from my initial opinion that a huge amount of money gets waisted before it gets to them. There seems to be UN and KFOR soldiers everywhere, but there is no fighting. They just drive around appearing to waist money that should be going into the building of the region. Why can't the UN simply send some of them home and replace them with people we can teach and build a country? I have been surprised by the UN's money management so far. If you meet people that have been to Kosovo, don't go "oh, you're so great for helping those people", go "so, what did you actually do?". Christian told me about some Swedish guy out here that does absolutely nothing. He gets paid 5000 Euro each month and he is here to save up for his new Mercedes (his words). What pisses me off is that if I met him in a bar in Stockholm I would think he's a really cool guy for coming down here and risking his life to help others. Not anymore.
I just saw a news article from Pristina - "Police report that two international police died at special forces HQ last night following a quarrel with each other". What? Anyway, it seams that they quarreled, one killed the other then turned the gun on himself. Meanwhile all the people from Pristina I've met have been really nice calm people. Ehm?
Anyway, my first day with the students. 17 people that I guess have been through a lot in their lives. What a great bunch of people! I could not be more fortunate. They are keen, interested and learning very quickly. I'll put up pictures tomorrow.
I met a man in a bar today that has set up a publishing company in Pristina. He left his wife and children to return to home from London. He has not brought his family here because of the poor education for his children. I wonder about my love for my country and what I would have done in a similar situation. He mentioned this in passing, no big deal. People here have a different perspective of life. They have been through so much and still fighting to make something. I really respect that.
On a lighter note, a PC blew up in front of me today, something to do with a power surge. What was interesting although I guess expected was that nobody jumped. And the laugh of the morning was that the school lift has broken. It set a new record this week by working for three days before breaking again. You learn to use the stairs in Pristina.
I went up to the TV tower block and took some photos of Pristina. The tower block on the left is the Grand Hotel where all the Journalists stayed during the war.
The school. Probably one of the weirdest looking buildings I've ever set foot in.
As I sat on my Austrian airways flight 777 to Vienna I could not help but think that the airlines have missed one of the ultimate branding opportunities - soup. I found myself already constructing a business plan for healthy airways commuter soup. For virgin airways I could serve a tomato (red and white) soup in a white cup with a white tofu cream virgin swoosh across the top. What could be more Swedish for SAS than blueberry soup (blue and white). Who knows a nice mushroom soup might even be the thing that finally convinced me to get on a united airways flight (grey and white). For British airways of course, I reserve vegetable soup which looks like puke and clearly reflects their current branding campaign.
The connection flight to Kosovo proved the first major surprise to my little adventure. In the departure lounge there was of course the solders, the UN workers, me and well what do you know, the complete NFL Cincinnati tigers cheerleader group. Blinks, looks again, yes it is, complete NFL Cincinnati tigers cheerleader group. They are in Kosovo to for the American soldiers. I was not impressed of course as America is in my sin bin as a war mongering country who's president has the brains of a dyslexic gibbon.
I went to Christians apartment. The water was not working, so we went out. The electricity and water have a curtain random feel in Pristina. We sat in a coffee shop and talked for a while. I've already learnt a lot. The English soldiers have pulled out and handed the administration over to the Swedes. There are now army Landrovers driving around with KFOR signs on them and a Swedish flag flying. So let's analyze this a bit. KFOR, Kosovo Force, the NATO force that looks after Kosovo, so, Sweden, a country not in NATO (at home at least) are actively in NATO when in Kosovo. Well well, so much for peace and neutrality. This is the first time i've ever been disappointed in Sweden. I wonder what people in Stockholm will think when they see their troops driving around in NATO colours.
My second learning experience is that whilst the British troops walked around casually (there is no fighting here anymore), the American troops still choose to walk around in Kevlar body armour and carrying large guns. I guess the American >PR war machine cannot afford for one of their boys to get shot. Pathetic, what kind of sign do they portray to a community trying to build itself when they bring in cheerleaders and drive them to there (wait for it) 9 square km base, complete with McDonalds and Burger King so that they can enjoy themselves while the rest of Pristina suffers random water supplies.
We watched the film "Three Kings this Evening" - very apt.
It's very important for the American soldiers to carry guns even when they are keeping the peace, on in this case waiting for a group of cheerleaders.
...who arrive to the stares of the locals. By the way, take a close look at the plane in the arrivals logo;)
Thankfully they are escorted to an awaiting bus by about 12 Soldiers, one of whom is in picture. Good old American taxpayers money.
Didn't believe me? A Swedish KFOR vehicle.
Tom Calthrop, Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines