Sunday, February 12, 2006

The last hurrah

I am almost certain that nobody is reading this blog anymore; I haven't posted much in the last month or so mostly because of the fact that we are ALWAYS outside the wire, and mostly due to the fact that our internet service is the suckingest thing that has ever sucked a suck. Translated into clear terms: It's pretty damned awful.

So every day I mean to write a little something, and everyday it is just too much of a pain in my ass to do it, so I give up after the end of a really long day, and do something novel like learning how to do this new fangled activity called "sleep". It really is a marvelous thing, and I highly reccomend it to everyone.

The only reason I think I am able to write now is that I technically am no longer working in an official capacity. I go home in two days. I am soooooo outta here! My only function today is to finish packing, and to give away things that I will not be taking home with me,like my dart board, and the chest of drawers that I "requisitioned" from an unlocked seahut six months ago. Stuff like that will be staying.

Had what I think was my very last opportunity to bitch somebody out around here Friday morning. Anthony, Dada, Danny and myself went to a meeting with the UNMIK representative (Zoran I can't pronounce his last name but it ends in "ic") in a village called Vrbovac to discuss the fact that the village of Klokot has no running water, and hasn't had any for more than three months now. The village leader from Klokot, Trajon Trajkovic was present, as well as some men from the village, as well as the village leaders from another Serbian village called Mogila, and representatives from a Canadian non-profit organization called IOM.

About six months ago IOM provided the money to buy Klokot a new pump, and to have the pump installed. This was done, and everybody was happy. The pump worked for about three months, then,one day, the pump seized up, died, and went to pump heaven. Now, of course, everybody in the village is very unhappy. Indeed, they are very sad, and have been oh so eager to tell the American's their very sad story. Now, as EVERYONE knows, if you tell the Americans a sad story, they will pull out their massive wallets, and throw MASSIVE amounts of cash at whatever problem YOU are having (as we all know, ALL Americans are FABULOUSLY wealthy).
So they tell us the sad story.

About the 22,000 euros donated by IOM.

About the suspicions that some of them have concerning the widely held belief that Trajon purchased a cheap ass pump for 500 euros, and kept the rest of the money for himself.
Of course there is always the VERY sad story concerning how poverty stricken they all are (which is actually true, for the most part). Of course many of the villagers in Klokot will leave out any mention whatsoever of their own responsibility for the squalor which they endure, and subsequently visit upon their children. By the way, when this part of the conversation comes up, I like to tell them to stop buying cigarettes, rakia and beer, and maybe they would have some money.

By the way, most of the villagers seem to have the mentality 13 year old dough heads; I arrive at this conclusion based upon my having to listen to all of the ludicrous rumors that they like to spread about things of which they know little or nothing at all. Bottom line: Trajon DID NOT STEAL the money! The shitbag contractor did.

For some reason, my amazing powers of deductive reasoning are completely lost on some of these people. Not all though. For instance my good friends Svezdan and his father Georgij agree with me completely. Georgij, whom I call "grandpa", is probably the wisest, kindest, and monetarily poorest man in the village. He likes to say that his neighbors are simple and selfish, but basically good people. I agree, but man can they be frustrating sometimes.
This has been true with our efforts to get their sewage problem underground, and it is likewise true of the effort to fix the whole water pump problem.

L to R: Myself, Georgij, and Dada

So this is what happened in the meeting. Trajon started arguing with the Zoran about the whole pump issue. Zoran said basically that if the people want to have their water service restored, then they have to abide by an agreement that Trajon himself signed back in December that would allow the public water utility "Hydro Morova" to come in and fix the pump. The only stipulations that the water company has before they will start work are the following:

  1. Each household will install a water meter to monitor the outflow of water for billing purposes.
  2. Each household will install a FAUCET to keep the water from flowing all of the time ( seriously, there are NO faucets in the whole village; this is part of the reason the pump died)
  3. Each household will pay their water bill.

That's all. Nothing really unreasonable.

Of course, many of the villagers don't see it that way.

Trajon started going on and on about how poor they all are, and started yelling about how they will not pay bills for water they are not receiving, blah,blah, blah.
Pretty soon the whole room is in an uproar, people from Klokot and Mogila getting all loud and belligerent sounding, the guys from IOM looking very frustrated, and staying very quiet, and the the Zoran throwing his hands up in the air in complete consternation, and Danny and dada both translating furiously in an attempt to keep up with the cacophony of loudly croaking smelly old men.

Now, before we got to this meeting I told Anthony that I would do my best to stay quiet and keep out of things. After all, I'm leaving, and I don't want to leave the wrong impression that I'm going to be around for awhile.

But all of this was really just too much for me.

So, I made myself somewhat louder than the rest of the room, and being that I AM an American (which really does mean something here), everybody quieted down and listened to me as I pointed out the following to Trajon:

  1. You signed an agreement with IOM.
  2. Contracts are binding, and that is a manner of honor.
  3. You must keep your word if you want anybody to help you.
  4. Install water meters on your houses.
  5. Intall faucets on your pipes to keep the water from running all the damned time.
  6. PAY YOUR FUCKING BILLS!
  7. Do all of the above and you will be helped, if not don't come crying to me anymore, as I have damned near broken my back trying to help you, and I'm starting to feel that you are ungrateful.

Now, with that being said, I got quiet again and tried to allow the meeting to get back on track, when Trajon went completely off topic and started up with a "what if" scenario: 'What if Hyrdo Morova does the same thing KEK (the electric company) has done to us and the pump breaks again, and they don't come out and fix it?"

A short word about KEK to provide some context concerning Trajon's question: KEK sucks big monkey nuts when it comes to the ability to deliver electricity. They couldn't deliver a charge of static electricity by rubbing a balloon and touching you on the ear, they suck that bad.
Anyway, Trajon asked his question and I about lost it. Here this guy signed an agreement with the utility TWO MONTHS ago to alleviate his people's suffering, and he still insists that they have to get something for nothing.

I told Trajon that we were not there to talk about "what ifs", our purpose was to talk about what is.

But he wasn't having any of it. He said something else blustery and Balkan that I can't remember, and the whole room went nuts.

At this point, I lost my patience with the whole thing, and told Trajon that he was wasting my time, and that I wasn't going to put up with it. I told Anthony Dada, and Danny we were leaving, got up and started to walk out. As soon as I did that, it suddenly got quiet again, Trajon left the room very quickly, without shaking my hand (which is considered a huge insult here) and very embarresed. All of the old men were smiling and nodding at me, telling me they agreed with me about what they should do...lots of handshakes all around...it was great

Dada was very upset, but that is because she really hates stubborn foolishness; God bless her.

She puts up with a lot.

A happy Dada; Not frustrated yet

About two hours later we had another meeting with Trajon, the Task Force Engineers, and the contractor for the sewer project. Trajon brought with him to the meeting a list of all of the households in the village, breaking it down into those who had water pipes installed, and those who would be willing to install water meters and faucets right away.
He had had that information the whole time and withheld it. If he had shared it a couple of hour earlier, things would have gone much easier, but instead I had to embarass it out of his hillbilly ass.

What a shithead.

That's okay though, because I got my way in the end. Sometimes you just need to act like Marshall Tito around her to get things done, then back off and let things happen on their own.

My last act here will be tomorrow when a truck from UNICEF will arrive on Camp Bondsteel to pick up "Sesame Street" toys that were donated by the 432nd Civil Affairs Family Readiness Group. The items were donated as part of a UNICEF sponsored project titled apporpriately enough, "Project Sesame Street". We are sending Elmo out into the province to set these people straight!

"Elmo says you need to square your ass away!"

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Leta's Missing Diary Entry (OOPS!)

Sigh. I am apprently going senile; I forgot to post the Christmas Eve entry of Leta's Kosovo Diary...Soooooo, here it is:


24 December 2005
– Kosovo

It’s Christmas Eve in the Balkans. And, it’s a white Christmas. Something this Southern Girl doesn’t ever remember experiencing. In many ways it is kind of nice – in other ways I could live without it. I remember many Christmases playing softball in the front yard in t shirts and pants. I sure remember having ELECTRICITY AND HEAT on those Christmases when it was cold. The Ilazis have a VERY small Christmas tree but with no presents under it. Part of me hopes that they wait until tonight to put the presents under there. Reality tells me there aren’t going to be any presents. I sent several boxes of presents over a few weeks ago. Danny decided to go ahead and let everyone open them within minutes of their arrival. Darn him! I was so looking forward to watching them open their presents. Oh, well. I’d mostly sent warm clothes, coats, blankets, etc. and they’ve been using them so – probably selfish of me to have wanted them to wait to open things they needed. And, they didn’t even know I was coming!

Today and tomorrow are MY DAYS to do as I please. Poor Danny. He tried so desperately to convince me that I should see this person or that. NOPE!!! My plan is to cook a Christmas dinner for “my” Civil Affairs Soldiers and I’m going to get started on that today!!! Besides, I’ve got to cook it on a wood stove. Hmmmm. This should be fun, challenging and down right hysterical. Since I’ve been to Kosovo before I had the foresight to ship over a few boxes of “ingredients” that I knew I could not buy in Kosovo. I wanted the meal on Christmas Day to be as close to “mom’s home cooking” for these Soldiers as it could be. Ok, maybe it wasn’t a “few” boxes – there were a LOT of them but….

Before the cooking began we made 2 stops.

As we were on our way to the first stop we had to pull over at the main Gate outside of Camp Bondsteel to wait for the other vehicle. I heard the helos. I was standing outside of the vehicle and suddenly there were 3 Apaches slowly flying over. If you’ve seen an Apache flying in a movie it’s one thing. To be standing directly beneath them as they fly in formation over you is quite another. There are NO WORDS for the feeling. I went from awe to thankfulness to chills. What an amazingly intimidating ship. Couldn’t help but think about the danger those pilots and crew often put themselves in. My guess is that Kosovo isn’t such a dangerous “gig” for them but I also guess that most, if not all of them, have flown missions in countries where it is very dangerous. It was a special moment. I felt honored to be able to witness them only a few hundred feet overhead.

First we went to Gate 5 – a checkpoint on the Kosovo/Serbian border to pick up Natalija. Natalija is a friend of Dada’s who works at the Belgrade Stock Exchange. She was instrumental in getting donations of medical supplies to treat the children in Kllokot and donations of coats for the children. I’d heard so much about Natalija and couldn’t wait to meet her. Turns out she had taken a bus for about 6 hours then a cab for about 40 minutes to get to the border. Wowee!!! This way of life just really gets me. Natalija was at the border when we got there. So, we hugged and hopped in the vehicles for our next stop – Kllokot. It’s PARTY TIME!!!!

When we got to Kllokot we turned off the main road towards the school. We wound our way through the village. As we rounded the final bend before the school everyone in my vehicle let out a gasp! We were so taken by surprise no one even thought to take a picture. The school yard was PACKED with children, parents, grandparents, etc. Heck, there may have even been a few cows and donkeys there. Too many people to really be able to tell. When the children spotted us they came pouring out of the school yard and in to the street. We had to stop the vehicles. Hmmmm – is getting out really a good idea at this point? Had to – had to move the little critters back so we could get the vehicles closer in order to unload the goods. Total chaos but in a good way. The children were smiling and yelling and jumping and hugging us. They were hanging off of us. There was a soccer game under way in the school yard with older boys and men. It was incredibly festive and very touching. Everyone except the drivers of the vehicles got out to move the kids back. We got the vehicles close enough to unload but, ah, HOW do we get the stuff from the vehicles into the school through this bedlam? Not to worry. Stava came out, said something and the crowd parted like the red sea. A few of the older children and the teachers helped us unload.

They had designated one room for the party and had put several tables together in preparation. We set about to open all of the goods and “dump” the cookies, candy, chips, pretzels, etc. on to paper towels on the table. Then we poured cups and cups and cups of juices and soda. During the process someone told me I should go look outside the front door. I took my camera and walked to the front door. The soccer game was still in progress out in the school yard but at the front door the children were all lined up by grade and were being orderly and patient. Yep, sniff sniff. I took a couple of photos then went back to help. If those kids could be so darn good about this I didn’t want them to wait a minutes longer than necessary. Confession – Little Gaga and Jovanna were inside with us the whole time. They were our “quality control” for the goodies and did a darn good job. We have tons of photos of them.

One of the young men who helped us is in about the 6th grade or so. He poured drinks, helped wrangle the empty cookie, chip and pretzel bags in to our garbage area. Then when it was time for the children to come in he took a seat. Yes he did. He took a seat until HIS class came in. AND when his class came in he went to the back of the line. I’m so in love with this young man. There were several other instances when I was around him that his manners and kindness were so prevalent. I don’t know his name but I know who he is and I intend to find him when I go back. I want to keep up with him.

Someone went to get the first group. The Kindergartens came first. The came quietly in to the room and their eyes about popped out of their heads. They were told to take what they wanted. OK, another sniff, sniff moment – they would take ONE cookie, ONE potato chip, ONE pretzel and ONE piece of candy. Some of them would only take ONE period – not ONE of each. OK, could we just review this? We had HUNDREDS of cookies and MOUNDS of chips and pretzels, etc. I was later told that many of these children had never even been to a party before. Moving? Touching? Heart wrenching? Oh, yea! Why can’t I get this picture out of my head of American children reaching, grabbing, pushing and shoving?

Class by class they came through in the same manner. Well, OK, some of the 8th grade boys reminded me of being back home in America. What the heck? After all of the classes had come through there were still mounds of food left. So, we let ‘em all come in. Now it got a bit interesting. It was FANTASTIC and I’d do it ALL over again!!! Definitely the BEST Christmas Eve Day I’ve ever had in my life.

After the party we cleaned up a bit – the teachers insisted we leave everything for them to attend. So, we TRIED to get in the vehicles and go. Not before more hugs, snowball fights, laughter, photos and hanging on. I ran out of film. Every one of the children wanted to 1) have their photo taken with me AND 2) take a photo with my camera. Then there were the 10s of invitations to “come to my house.” Sorry, I have Christmas dinner to cook…………..

Before we left Kllokot we met with the engineers again. Since they are rotating out one group (CA) and another in (TX) the “old” group brought the “new” group out to see what needed to be done. Quite an adventure attempting to walk around with all those little ones in tow. At one point this lovely older lady came up to ask what we were doing. Dada talked to her. She was dressed in the older “customary” clothing with the headscarf, apron, etc. She was beautiful. I asked if I could have my photo taken with her. She seemed a little apprehensive at first but Dada talked to her and then she smiled. I LOVE the photo! Anyway, after Dada told her why we were there she wanted to know if we were going to fix the sewer around her house “upstream”. Dada translated to her that we would get to that “in time” but for now we were trying to fix it around the school for the children. She was pleased with that.

As we walked back towards the school I noticed that some of the older boys from the school were hanging into the back of one of the trucks the engineers were in. MISTAKE!!!!! – There was a box of MREs in the back of the truck. We rescued them and the engineers decided it was time for them to leave. Us, too. Merry Christmas to my new friends!!!! And my wish to all for a good night!

Back to the Ilazi house. We got Dada and Natalija settled in to “my” room. I’ll be bunking with Adelina (youngest daughter) tonight. She is beside herself that I’m going to be sleeping in her room. I made her PROMISE not to snore!

Danny, Dada, Natalija and I went to the Euro Market (grocery/department store). Danny and I (OK, I) filled 2 carts and could barely push them. When we were checking out they gave me a free calendar for spending so much. We got a laugh out of that. Then we got to the car and the laughing stopped. I don’t know what kind of car Danny had but I know 2 things – it doesn’t always run and it’s TINY!!! We ended up pushing things in here and there and holding the remainder on our laps. PROBLEM – Dada, Natalija and I area all smushed in and Danny isn’t in the driver’s seat. In order for him to get in the driver’s seat he has to crawl from the passenger side. Uh oh!!! When we got back to the Ilazi house we unloaded and put things away. I doubt they buy most of the things I bought (butter, cream, “luxury” type items) and I know they don’t spend that much in a whole month. It was fun to watch them as we unpacked. They were very excited and oooing and aaaing over the stuff. I bought “extra” for them to have after I am gone.

Then to the kitchen/family room. I began unpacking the boxes of food I had shipped. The stove was stoked and ready. Not sure how “ready”. Not sure how this baking/cooking is going to work but we’ll figure it out. As I began unpacking boxes of cake mix, canned icing, canned vegetables, canned pie filling, bags of cornbread dressing mix (yep, from the South remember? We wouldn’t eat that Northern “stuffing” for ‘nothing), marshmallows, etc. Dada began to laugh. “You Americans really do have many things easy” she said with a laugh!!! I even had one box full of aluminum pans. I had shipped the ones for pies, for casseroles, for cupcakes, etc. Danny’s mom was in shock! I tried to explain that this was all disposable so that there wouldn’t be any clean up and she wasn’t having that. My guess is that she’s still washing and using them. Oh, and the zip lock bags – I had every size! Those were a HUGE hit! They’d never seen those before either. Reality check for me – big time!

Now I LOVE to cook and my kitchen at home is OFF LIMITS to anyone but me. However, I had decided that we were all going to do this together and have a grand time. We did. There were a few occasions when I wanted to step in and just “do it” but I took a deep breath, got a glass of hot tea and let it roll. Didn’t kill me.

We began with Adelina making cupcakes. I showed her how to open the cake mix, measure out the liquids (oh, I brought the measuring cups) then to mix it. Then we put the paper liners in the aluminum cupcake pans and in to the wood stove. Hmmmm – no timer but, heck, how many minutes per wood log does it take anyway? We’ll just keep an eye on it. Danny’s mom would open the door every now and them and “move things around.” I learned to do this before it was all over with. While the cupcakes were baking I made the crusts for an apple pie. Everyone was watching with great interest. They have some amazingly wonderful desserts in Kosovo but I’ve never seen a pie. Not sure they had either. I even used some of the dough to make an apple design on the top. Now Natalija was interested. So, she took over and made the crust for the Mincemeat pie. I showed her how to lattice the top crust and it looked PERFECT. Then we made a cherry pie – Mrs. Ilazi’s favorite fruit.

Cupcakes came out of the oven baked to perfection. We set them aside to cool as we popped the apple pie in. After the cupcakes were cooled I popped the top on the canned icing and showed Adelina how to ice them. EVERYONE got involved. Adelina was so proud of herself and we made a big deal out of it – as we should have. Then we made chocolate chip cookie bars for SPC Kim Gorman. She LOVES those. I had sent them to one of the Soldiers in the last deployment and Kim had eaten some of them. Just that day she had asked me to make her some and send them when I got back home. Tada!!! I had the stuff with me to make them TODAY and we did!!!

Dada made a waldorf salad (under my direction since she’d never seen one), we all made green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, deviled eggs (mom and dad even got in on the peeling of the hard boiled eggs), cornbread dressing, and a couple of other dishes. It was so much fun. The BEST part was that Mrs. Ilazi who is always buzzing around and attempting to wait on me and everyone else actually sat the whole night, relaxed, laughed and enjoyed herself. What a happy holiday this is. We ended up “storing” several of the dishes on a ledge outside the second floor of the house. Believe me, it was cold enough not to worry about spoilage! Hot tea all ‘round then off to bed with visions of sugarplums all in my head! Probably in Adelina’s, too, since I was bunking in her room. She was beaming the last time I looked over before we turned off the light.

A footnote to today – SPC Pelliccio is a very devout Roman Catholic. He was on cloud nine today as an Archbishop was visiting Camp Bondsteel and Anthony had been invited to have lunch with him. So, while Anthony missed the party at Kllokot, he really was honored to be invited to that lunch and to get to meet the Archbishop.

AND SPC Gorman had a REALLY big day today. She received, (from a 4 Star General), the Combat Action Badge. The medal was given for her service in OIF1 (Operation Iraqi Freedom 1) I’ve always been so darn proud of Kim and I was so happy for her to receive this medal and to be honored by having it awarded by the General. Perhaps one of the best notes about this other than her getting it is that she is the ONLY female Soldier in Kosovo who has the medal.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day. I couldn’t be happier that I’m spending it in Kosovo with my “adopted” family, the Ilazis and with “my” Soldiers. How much luckier could a girl get? Bring on the reindeer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Leta's Kosovo Diary (Part the 6th)

26 December 2005 – Kosovo

Departure Day.

Adelina woke up with her sad face. I HATE that. Oh, it’s not one of those pity faces. It’s truly a sad face and it cuts right to my heart. I was already in the family room having tea with Mr. & Mrs. Ilazi when she came in. She crawled up on my lap and put her arms around me. Oh dear! We just sat there for a few minutes and said nothing. Best. I don’t think I could have held it all together. Then I assured her that I would be back soon. Didn’t really seem to help. The other sisters showed up soon after with long faces, too. The WORST face to deal with is always Mrs. Ilazi’s. A very painful look. ARGH!!!! We had tea and chatted a bit. Mrs. Ilazi told me, through Adelina, how happy she was the Danny was getting the opportunity to come to America to get an education. She then held her hand over her heart and said that she had dreamed and felt in her heart that this would happen for Danny and that she would never be able to thank me enough. Her eyes filled with tears. Mr Ilazi had tears rolling down his face. Danny’s sisters all began to weep silently. Then my eyes filled with tears. I’m looking at a mother who loves her children, who wants what ANY mother would want for her children, who dreamed of opportunity for her children and NEVER imagined or expected she would see this dream/opportunity come to fruition. Powerful and humbling.

I went upstairs to shower and pack. As I would pack a bag I would take it quietly downstairs. Mrs. Ilazi has been MUCH better this trip about not “waiting” on me. She didn’t wash my clothes every day but, then again, I was really good at hiding them from her. Back in the summer she would wash my clothes EVERY day. Anyway, I knew if I didn’t take the bags down she would and I just didn’t want that to happen.

As I was showering and packing I reflected on the week and how things were, especially with the Ilazis. I’ve had kisses and hugs to last until I return. I bought them all coats (they didn’t have any). I had sent them warm gloves, hats, scarves, blankets, sweaters, etc in October. I had gone grocery shopping twice and knew they had enough food to last at least a month without having to buy any. I had, purposefully, cooked enough “extra” food for dinner last night to leave them a week’s supply of leftovers. Danny’s car was full of gas. Guess there’s really not much more I can do to thank them for their hospitality.

I’ve met new Soldiers that I’ve been supporting but hadn’t yet met and I got to see some of the Civil Affairs men and women in action – golly they are amazing, amazing, amazing. And, I NEVER tire at the positive feedback, acceptance, appreciation and results they get from the locals.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting Camp Bondsteel. NOTHING feels better when you are overseas than being on “American soil” and surrounded by our volunteer men and women in uniform. NOTHING!!!

I met some of the Texas National Guard commanders who have just arrived for their rotation here.

I had been to Kllokot, seen the sewer problem, met the staff and children, had a party and made new friends. I’d surveyed the situation with the engineers, met with the materials supplier.

I’d gotten to spend more time with Dada. I LOVE Dada and have so much respect for her. I REALLY hope it works out for Danny and her to come to college in America. May have to have Danny play that quiet game a lot!!!

I met Natalija which was a bonus I didn’t count on. She is so very special and a HUGE support for Dada. They have been friends for years. I hope to spend many many more times with her either in Kosovo, Belgrade or America.

I’d seen Mr. Imeri and Mr. Zefi and Resul and INPO and other friends again and loved every minute I got to spend with them and get the paperwork filled out for the Sister Cities project.

I’ve seen my INPO friends and caught up on the projects they have completed since the summer as well as those they are working on now.

I’d met the fantastic people of Caritas Kosovo and am impressed with the amazing work they are doing across ethnic lines.

I’d had THE BEST macchiato (not nearly enough), and gallons of hot tea.

I’d had Rikia TWICE – probably can skip that from now on.

I’d been to Mitrovica. Good to say I’ve “been” there. Not sure how soon I want to go back. Still WAY too tense there for my comfort level but I’m glad I went.

I’ve seen cows on the road, in the back of trucks, in wagons (not pulling them), in the back seat of cars (oh, yea).

I’ve eaten the world’s most expensive chickens.

I’ve made cupcakes and pies and cookies with Adelina (first time she’s ever done any of that).

I brought UNO cards with me and had several heated games while drinking hot tea at night. I brought the UNO cards because it really doesn’t matter what language you speak to be able to play. It was a good choice. I’m leaving those behind.

Had snowball fights and made snow angels.

I’ve laughed more than I’ve cried (that’s an improvement from the last trip)

I have a couple of new projects and my batteries are “recharged” to continue this journey.

We packed my things in the vehicle. I HATE saying good-bye to the Ilazis. I HATE leaving them behind. Oh, I know they will be OK but darn it – now is when I cannot help but say (which you’ve never heard me say) it’s just not fair!!! They, like so many others, don’t deserve this. They are too kind, too deserving, too smart and too decent to be living this way with so little hope in the immediate future. The other night Danny expressed to me how he was concerned about his family “making it” without his salary as an interpreter when he comes to America for college. I assured him I had factored that in to the costs and that I would NEVER allow them to “suffer” while he was getting his education. NEVER!!!

We stopped by PoPo to have a macchiato and to say goodbye to Resul before I left Kosovo. Resul wasn’t there. BIG BUMMER!!! Still had 2 macchiato, though.

We drove north towards Prishtina. We actually went to a restaurant in Film City that overlooks Prishtina. I didn’t make it to Prishtina on this trip. There’s just NEVER enough time to see everyone and do everything.

We sat down at the restaurant and the waiter came to take our drink orders. I asked for a macchiato “this big” and held my arms out as wide as I could - last chance you know. I then commented that they could put it in a soup bowl if they wanted to. So, we’re looking at the menu and I’m trying to decide what I want to eat when the waiter puts this HUGE HUGE HUGE mug in front of me. There were yelps from both ends of the table. HA HA HA. Seems the others simply ordered macchiato, cappuccino or soda and weren’t specific about their desires for BIG!!! The BIGGEST cup of macchiato known to man was placed in front of me and the others yelled “no fair.” GET OVER IT!!! I had 2 more of those before we left.

Off to the airport. I’m holding up just fine. Confident that this departure will in no way be emotional like the last. Now I know that I will be returning over and over and over again so it’s OK. Chitter chatter in the vehicles. Rehashing events, etc. of the trip. Solemn moments and laughs.

Got to the airport, through security, bags checked, boarding pass. Time to take a few last photos. SPC Gorman is over at a kiosk making a purchase. I walked over. She bought a bug wooden turtle to put in her vehicle as a symbol of going so slow I could walk faster the other day when we were coming down out of the mountains from Stubbla. She had it wrapped so that the others couldn’t see it. I laughed so hard.

SURPRISE!!! I turned around and Resul was there. He and I had missed each other at PoPo that morning when we stopped by for macchiato on our way out of Ferizaj to the airport. He had been in Prizren. I hugged him so tight. What an honor for him to go out of his way to come to the airport to say good-bye. However, another reminder of why I came to Kosovo under the radar – I was concerned that several people would come to the airport for my arrival. Just not a necessary thing but……………that’s the way they are.

More photos. Gotta have them with Resul, too. I guess Kim called him when he wasn’t at PoPo and that’s why he came to the airport. Thanks Kim. VERY nice of you.

As we were chatting I made a comment about how much easier this departure was than the last one. None of the people at the airport this time other than Danny had been with me at the airport the last time so they didn’t “remember” how I got emotional, stood up, hugged and walked away. A few minutes later I was “done.” The emotion snuck up on me and hit me like a brick. My brain went into: 1) I’ve been privileged to spend time with these Soldiers and their families haven’t seen them for months – how unfair is that and 2) I’m leaving my Kosovo friends and family behind. Done!!! Tried to fight the tears. Not working. Thank goodness I had already done the hugs. I turned to them all, said goodbye, turned back around and walked to security. AFTER I had gone through security I turned back around one last time and they were gone. That was good.

Off to Vienna, Zurich (spent the night), Atlanta then home.

Time to do some work on these projects and plan the next trip. I think late March sounds good!!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Leta's Kosovo Diary (Part the 5th)

25 December 2005 – Kosovo

Merry Christmas!!!! Golly, I’m not even homesick. That was nice!!! Had electricity when we woke up. That was nice!!! Took a warm shower. That was “normal.” Froze to death when I got out. That, too, was “normal.” Trundled to the family room for hot tea. That was FABULOUS!!! No presents under the Christmas tree. That was depressing!!! Thought about all of the Soldiers stationed around the world and the families they are away from. That was sad.

OK, I have to “confess.” I’ve been pulling a prank on the Ilazi family and I did it to so many of them they are now doing it to unsuspecting visitors – and they have TONS of visitors!!! One of my family’s traditions during the holidays is to always have chocolate covered cherries on hand. Knowing that Mrs. Illazi’s favorite fruit is cherries and that they all LOVE chocolate, I brought a health supply of them with me. When I gave Mrs. Ilazi her first one I TIRED to explain via hand signals to be careful about the oozing/dripping of the filling. Oops – guess I didn’t use the correct hand signals. She bit in and the juice went straight down her chin and to her shirt. We laughed. Then she called in one of the daughters and gave her a piece of candy but did NOT warn her about the oozing/dripping center. The daughter screamed then laughed and Mrs. Ilazi bent over in laughter. SOOOO good to see them laugh. Don’t get to see that too often. So, from then on every time someone new came in the room or came to visit the chocolate covered cherries were brought out and the room would fill with laughter. Guess I’ll have to send more. I sent 2 cases of microwave popcorn and 2 cases of hot chocolate mix to them back in October. Can’t get either of those in Kosovo. By the time I got there in December all of it had been consumed. So, when I send more of that in a couple of weeks I’ll through in some more cherries. I have some in the freezer just for that purpose.

We’re going to Stubbla today to the Catholic Church. Several of the Soldiers who are rotating out have donated blankets, etc. for the church to disburse to the poor. That just kills me – the poor. I always wonder just how they determine who is “poor” when the majority of the population is. The Soldiers were late in picking us up. At one point neither Danny nor Adelina (who speaks great English) were around so to call so I wanted Danny’s sister to call Danny to call them to find out where they were and when we could expect them……I needed to “talk” to Danny’s sister who speaks Albanian. I would speak English to Dada who would speak Serbian to Mr. Ilazi (who speaks Albanian and Serbian) who would speak Albanian to the sister then back around again. It was comical but got the job done. Anyway, the Soldier came and off we went.

Stubbla is up in the mountains. REALLY up in the mountains. We had concerns about whether or not the vehicles would be able to make it up there. You see, the roads hug the side of the mountain and there are few, if any, guard rails or retaining devices of any kind. One slip and it’s, well, over the edge. We took our time, put the vehicles in 4 wheel drive and low “something.” and made it just fine. HOWEVER, the mass was already in progress so we chose to wait outside. We had Santa hats with flashing lights, a few snowballs were thrown AND. I taught SPC Pelliccio how to make snow angels. Yes, we have photos. OK, I do find it a bit sad that a young man from New Jersey had NEVER made a snow angel but he can now mark that off of his “things to do in life” list.

After the mass we were standing outside the front of the church “looking” for someone who spoke English. We hadn’t taken an Albanian interpreter with us. There were a lot of people standing very closely together visiting. All of the sudden, BAM. I jumped off of the ground. Sorry, just a single fire cracker. I felt really bad. So, we continue standing there “looking” for someone who spoke English. SOOOOOOOOOOO funny when I think back on it. How in the world did we think we were going to “find” someone who spoke English simply by standing there. So, I walked up to these 2 ladies and asked, “Do you speak English?” One of them said, “Yes!” Hurray. So I asked her to help us find the priest – he was expecting us. Guess what? Seems the only word she knew in English was, “Yes.” Hardy har har. We finally found 2 men who spoke English. They took us to the priest who took us to the rectory. We went in to this room that had a table about 30 feel long with about 40 or 50 chairs around it and they asked us to have a seat. THEN, out came to glasses and the Rikia. Ok, refer to the night of Day 1 in Kosovo. Yep, here we go again – Soldiers in uniform – glasses of Rikia. Not gonna happen!!! I only drank 2 glasses this time. And, I’m not sure if my throat was still anesthetized from the first time or if this “batch” was just smoother but it sure didn’t burn as badly. After a few pleasantries and the fact that most of the congregation was coming in the room for a meal we excused ourselves and asked where we needed to put the donations. We went outside and they showed us this building “down the hill.” The hill was so icy and slippery that we formed a human chain to “move” the boxes. After we finished some of us were walking back to the vehicles to leave. We heard a call to come help. A truck had gone down the hill to the rectory and had gotten stuck. Said we needed to come help because, as I heard it, there was a child in the back coughing. Well, that wasn’t the case. Actually, there was a child’s coffin in the back of the truck. Ugh! I hope there is really no need for me to comment further on that other than to say how awful I felt for that family!

As we started back down the mountain to Ferizaj the roads were a little dicey in the mountains. One of our vehicles (not the one I was in) was very light. We were in the lead and they were REALLY going slow. At one point I got out of our vehicle and was walking faster than it was going. We had a laugh over that. Luckily we were almost out of the mountains.

We had to get Natalija back to Gate 5 to catch her cab to take her to her bus to go back to Belgrade. Not many things are “cut and dried” here in the Balkans. Definitely a different way of life. Only part of us went to Gate 5. The others stayed behind to rest and visit since they have the day off. Just before we left I pulled Danny aside to remind him to pick up the chickens at 3:30 PM. I gave him 20 Euros and asked if he thought that was enough. We had ordered 8 chickens. Couldn’t get a ham or turkey. At least we didn’t think we could get a turkey. Danny said that he really didn’t think that would be enough –that these were “special” chickens. Uh oh. I’m afraid there has been a misunderstanding and we MAY be getting 8 turkeys. He needs around 80 Euros. Ladies and gentlemen 0- that’s close to $100.00 USD. Uh oh! I didn’t have the nerve to mention that to the Colonel. Will “deal” with it when we get back – gotta scoot.

The good news is the roads in the valley are BETTER today. The sun has been out and some of the ice and snow has melted. Traveling time was much less than in the past few days. Thank you!!! Didn’t have to push anyone out of a ditch today. Guess that’s Christmas present enough.

As we were coming back to Ferizaj to the Ilazi’s house for the Christmas dinner I got a call from SPC Gorman. I had asked them to peel and begin cooking the potatoes with the intention that I would mash them when I got back. Remember from yesterday? I don’t like to share my kitchen. Ok, Ok, it’s not MY kitchen but I’ve pretty much taken it over. Besides, I don’t trust them to mash them correctly and with the exact amount of butter and cream required. Anyway, SPC Gorman announced that the potatoes were cooking and wanted to know where the mixer was. HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLO. Remember where we are? As many would say from my part of the country, “Ain’t no mixer!!!” I told her to hold off and I would take care of it when we got back – we were about 30 minutes out. Told her to pull the pot (yes, I just wrote THE pot) off to the side. (Again, back to that wood stove “thing.” Put the pot in once place and it cooks like heck. Put it in another (off to the right side – NOT the left) and it just simmers. SPC Gorman relayed my information and SPC Pelliccio starts grumbling about mashed potatoes and not creamed potatoes. GET OVER IT!!!!! AIN’T gonna be any creamed potatoes and wouldn’t be any mashed potatoes if I hadn’t shipped the potato masher in advance!!!

It was at this point that I decided to “confess” to COL I and SFC Pointer about the chickens. After I told them the story we were ALL concerned that there would be 8 turkeys waiting for us at the Ilazis house. IF so we’ll run around giving them to the “poor” and have a good laugh.

When we got back to the Ilazi’s house and went in to the kitchen I laughed so hard. SPC Pelliccio, Gorman and Quigley had peeled 20 pounds of potatoes and were cooking them all (refer back to my ONE pot comment above). There were THREE pots of potatoes cooked. Now do you understand why it is MY kitchen? Guess I should have left better directions. I just “assumed” they would know to cook only one pot. Oh, well – maybe potato pancakes in the morning?

Now, about those 8 chickens – they REALLY were chickens. Holy cow!!! 78 Euros for 8 chickens? NOT EVEN IN AMERICA!!! Danny explains that these are “special” chickens from a particular village. Danny, they’re CHICKENS!!! OK, I’ve FINALLY been HAD in Kosovo. Guess it had to happen. No worries – it’s Christmas and, quite frankly, I’m happy we don’t have to deal with 7 extra turkeys.

I asked Danny if he and his father would mind if I had COL I say the blessing before we ate. They were honored for that to happen in their home. So, COL I prayed and Danny translated for his family. It was a very special moment to share we all of them – “family” and friends. Danny had invited some of his friends to come share the feast with us. And, it was a feast. I doubt they’ve ever had so much food on the table at one time. When I stopped to think about how we do this at every holiday and other times through the year I was not sad or guilty but happy to be able to share this “tradition” with them.

Just about the time people were around the table (set up like a buffet) filling there plates – total darkness. Yep, power outage. Candles were lit. Just about the time the candles were lit the lights came back on. This occurred about 6 or 7 times over the next hour or so. We finally just left the candles burning in anticipation.

After we had all eaten and had “bagged” the left overs in those curious Zip Lock bag “things” we were sitting around visiting. Danny was on a roll. He was loud, singing, beating on drums and driving several of us crazy. Now Danny is 20 but Danny CAN be bought. When I was here last Summer he got on one of his rolls, too. So I taught them the “quiet game.” I asked if they wanted to play the quiet game again. Danny wanted to know what the prize would be. I told him 10 Euro. Hey, I knew he needed gas for his old beater of a car and I knew I was going to buy the gas so why not make this a win/win situation? Danny IMMEDIATELY clammed up as did everyone else. Now, Danny doesn’t exactly get this “quiet game.” Within a few minutes everyone but he had talked. He remained quiet. He pointed and motioned and we understood that he was asking how long he had to be quiet. I just COULDN’T tell him that he had already won. So, I told him he had to be quiet for 15 more minutes. The whole room applauded me. As the minutes ticked off people were making comments in an attempt to make him talk, they were tickling him, etc. His mother laughed so hard at his being quiet that she had tears running down her face. It really was priceless. Rarely do I see them so relaxed, so entertained, having so much fun. And, we had declared that she was not to wash one dish or do ANYTHING all Christmas Day. She finally bought in to that and I was pleased. She smiled ALL day and sat on the couch like a queen on her thrown.

Well, Danny finally noticed the time on the clock but was still afraid to talk. He wanted a declaration that he was the winner. OK, guess we HAVE to allow this to come to and end. Darn it!!! This may seem very simple to anyone who reads it but it was the most absolutely fun time I’ve had on Christmas that I can remember. The Soldiers were all relaxed. They LOVED having home cooked food. The Ilazis and their friends were stuffed and all really was good with the world. To heck with electricity.

SPC Gorman had snuck some presents under the tree while I was getting the food on the table. She had gotten candles (how appropriate) for Mrs. Ilazi and the girls. I don’t remember what she had gotten for Danny and Mr. Ilazi. She had also gotten me candles, a pewter figurine and candy. We then took photos of different people with the Christmas tree. OK, the tree was so small it didn’t “make it” in to all the photos but we knew it was there.

Pie, hot tea, Turkish coffee, candy and cookie bars. The Soldiers went back to Camp Bondsteel. We had more tea then off to bed.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Leta's Kosovo Diary (Part the 4th)

23 December 2005 – Kosovo

Here we go again………………..

When I was in Kosovo this past Summer it seemed that my schedule grew and grew and grew each day until finally I had to put my foot down and say, “NO!” Well, that happened again today. I didn’t mention in my diary entry from yesterday that I snuggled in to my cocoon sometime after midnight last night. Honestly!!! There are only 24 hours in a day and when I’m in Kosovo it seems that I’m out and about for at least 16 – 18 of those. Add to that the requisite morning and evening tea and visiting and it there’s not much time left for sleep. The Ilazi family is ALWAYS up waiting for me each night whether I arrive at 9:00 PM or midnight (or later). I don’t know when they sleep. I hope they are taking naps during the day.

Oh, we did have power ALL day today!!!!!

Today I was scheduled (unknowingly) for 2 press conferences and other “events”. I knew we were having one press conference and dinner tonight at Mr. Imeri’s home. So, I said, “NO” to the other press conference and events. Once the word got out that I was in country INPO’s phone began to ring, ring, ring from other organizations and individuals wanting to meet with me. If you read my entries from day 1 you know I purposefully came in to Kosovo “under the radar” on this trip. The above is why.

I arrived at the INPO office for an 11:00 AM press conference. Two TV stations, 1 or 2 radio stations and several print journalists were there. I knew many of them so we did that right cheek, left cheek, right cheek kiss thing around the room for several minutes. Then we ordered macchiato. We stood/sat around waiting for that to arrive – no need to get in any hurry you know. Guess it must have been a real slow news day for all of them to want to spend so much time with me.

Finally got the press conference under way. INPO made a statement about me being there and introduced me. Then I commented about several of the projects that INPO either has finished or is working on and how darn proud I am of those kids. From there I went in to a short talk about the Sister Cities project, Kllokot project, meeting with Caritas Kosovo, etc. Danny did the translation back and forth from me to the media and from the media questions to me. He and I have gotten to be quite a team. I’ve learned not to speak for minutes before I give him a shot at the translation. OK, I have to admit, every now and then I just have to “test” him by going on and on and on. Of course, the joke is on me because I have NO IDEA if he is really translating what I am saying. Oh, he is but he and I always joke about that. I’ve begun calling him my Interrupter!!!

After the press conference I bought lunch for the INPO members. I’m telling you – these kids NEVER eat. And, when they do it is obvious they haven’t eaten for a while. We had pizza. Several of the guys ate 2 each. I had ordered extras in anticipation of that.

Mr. Zefi, reporter for Bota Sot newspaper, invited the KFOR group and me for lunch at his relative’s restaurant. The restaurant is called Route 66. It looks just like an American soda fountain. We really didn’t have the time but decided to go for “coffee”. Naturally we ended up eating. Hey, it’s Kosovo. Gonna be fed whether you like it or not. When we walked in his relatives (I think they were nephews) greeted us. They had a table reserved for us. We settled in and ordered. Yep, Macchiato my way please. I also ordered the Nachos.

As we were waiting for our food we began to talk. The conversation turned out to be something I had been wanting but ended up wishing I hadn’t heard. I’d asked a couple of locals to tell me their “story” about living in Kosovo during the end of the Milosevic regime and during the NATO bombing, etc. I never pressed them for their stories and they never told them to me. I can only imagine how difficult and painful it must be to relive those awful times and days. Well, Mr. Zefi began by pointing across the way to a school yard and one of the MANY memorials built to honor the dead (martyrs). He told the story about how the man was shot in cold blood and in plain site of many of them. He told of how his father was paralyzed and how he, Mr. Zefi, had carried his father on his back for miles to get him away from the area and the Serbian army or paramilitary (I’m not sure which it was). I wish I had been taking notes but it just didn’t seem to be appropriate.

As he continued with his story he pointed across the road to a house. Danny, of course, was interpreting. He mentioned that before the NATO bombing he, his wife and their 7 children were hiding in the basement of the house. At one point the Serbian Army came in to the house. Some of the Soldiers were going to kill Mr. Zefi but one of the commanders told them not to and they left. He was quite graphic in his story but I will not write those details here. I will say that it was very difficult for me to listen and I know it was VERY difficult for Danny to interpret. I realized later that Danny must have been reliving his own days. I felt really bad and really guilty. The stories NEED to be heard by those of us who weren’t there but I suppose it’s just unfair to ask someone who lived it and survived it to retreat to those awful times and memories.

On a second occasion Mr. Zefi came face to face with Serbian soldiers who talked about killing him while he listened and his family watched. Once again a commander saved his life by not allowing them to kill him. He did tell about seeing others murdered. Finally Mr. Zefi left his wife and children to hide in the attic of a church. He was there with another man for 3 months. He had no idea where his family was or if they were safe during those 3 months.

Just before the NATO bombing began Mr. Zefi was included in a group of people who were given, as he indicated with his hands, 3 inch by 3 inch infrared sensors. That group of people literally placed those sensors on the houses and buildings known to house the “bad guys” so that NATO would know where to bomb. Ladies and gentlemen you MUST remember this was only in 1999. This was not 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. This was only 6 years ago. You could have heard a pin drop as he told his story.

A happy ending – after the bombing was over and Mr. Zefi got the “all clear” he went back to the house where he had left his family in the basement and found them all alive. At this point in the story Mr. Zefi became very emotional. Tears were running down his face. I asked Danny to tell him to stop unless he wanted to continue. He chose to stop. Well, I’m not sure he really “chose” to stop. I’m not sure he could have emotionally continued at that point. There was total silence in the group – mostly out of respect I think but also because of the inability to comprehend what it must have been like. After a couple of minutes to give him time to pull himself together I told him how much I appreciated him telling me the story. That it is a story that needs to be heard so that we, who can never imagine what it was really like, can TRY to understand. He then told me that this was the FIRST time he has ever told his story to anyone and that he was surprised at how real it seemed. I felt so very bad. No one else at the table had ever heard a local tell their story so it was a bit quiet. No one really knew what to say.

After lunch we went shopping for the food for the party at the school in Kllokot tomorrow. We filled shopping cart after shopping cart with cookies, chips, candy, juices and soda. It was so much fun!!!

Then we went to Camp Bondsteel. I needed to meet with COL Iadimarco about the contracts, etc. for Kllokot and some of the other officers wanted to meet with me. I LOVE going to Camp Bondsteel and I ALWAYS consider it an honor to be there. I’ve gotten to be a veteran with regard to the procedure. We roll up to the gate, show IDs. They pull the vehicle over and one of the Soldiers and I get out to go get my visitor’s badge – ALWAYS #49 – hey, it’s become tradition!!!! Then we get back in the vehicle and roll up to the next check point. The Soldiers get out to “do their thing” and I get out and “assume the position”. Because I am a guest they have to wand me and my purse had to be searched. No big deal. But they rotate the guards and the guards who haven’t seen me always look at me like I’m crazy when they turn to see me standing there with my arms out and feet spread. Just trying to do my part!!! Now, don’t construe this as me being silly. I take the security of our Soldiers and Camp Bondsteel very seriously. It’s just that there’s no need for me to act like I don’t know what’s going on and to have them tell me each time what to do.

Since they are in the middle of a change of command I was able to see a couple of the “outgoing” commanders as well as meet 2 of the incoming ones. Again, an absolute HONOR. These men and women are busy yet wanted to take a minute to say hello to me and discuss what PTP, Inc. is doing in Kosovo

COL I and I were standing outside talking and a strapping young Soldier drove up, parked and began to go inside the building we were standing in front of. I spoke, he spoke, he saluted COL I. I noticed the Texas accent so I mentioned something about him just getting to Camp since I knew the Texans were “arriving.” Long story but he is actually originally from Texas but now lives in California and is with the California National Guard. He will be going home in about 3 weeks. I asked where he lived in California and he told me. Then he told me who he worked for as a civilian. COL I and I both looked at each other with our mouths wide open. Turns out this Soldier works for one of the largest publishers in the United States. AND, he works in the EDUCATIONAL DIVISION!!!! Yep, another one of those amazing moments that just keeps happening over and over again. So, I told him about what PTP, Inc. is trying to do with regard to education and he gave me his email address at home. I told him I would give him time to get home, spend time with his family, etc then I would be in touch! Holy Smokes!!!

Deputy Municipal President Imeri had invited COL Iadimarco, SFC Pointer, SPC Gorman, SPC Pelliccio, Danny and me for dinner at his house tonight. So, off we go slip sliding away on the icy roads. I haven’t mentioned in any of my writings but during the week there were several incidents when we were all involved in pushing vehicles out of the ditches, etc. Luckily we didn’t have that experience tonight. We’d already done that a time or two today.

Mr. Imeri and his wife met us at the door. We were asked to take our shoes off – pretty much a custom in Kosovo. Now, when you are wearing Army boots it’s not such an easy or quick task. But, the Soldiers have all gotten used to it and seem to have a race and to who can finish first. I suppose it one of those “pride” things. (A side note here about the taking off of the Army Boots – gotta tell you how proud I am of those men and women. I’ve yet to see one pair of socks with holes in them! HA HA HA)

We were shown in to the family room. I knew that Mr. Imeri, ok, ok, ok, Gafa. He wants me to call him Gafa. So, from here on out that’s what it’ll be. Easier to type anyway. So, as I was saying, I knew that Gafa was Muslim. No big deal. I only mention that because I was surprised to see the most beautifully decorated Christmas tree displayed prominantly in one corner of the room. And, I noticed that the room was lined with couches for sitting. In many Muslims home, for those of you who don’t know, the living room is either lined with couches (more Western) or with pillows for reclining. We met Gafa’s wife and son. I fell in LOVE with is son who is about 8 years old. So much so that the little guy, apparently, was afraid of me and scooted out of the room. MAY have had something to do with me asking if he wanted to marry me. Oops!!! His wife is very attractive and, in Muslim tradition, asked about our families. They always ask “in general” as per custom. So, we each took our turn answering. Then we met the 4 daughters. And…………………………….the power went off. Surprise! Gafa has a small generator that lit the room we were in. It had to be filled with gas 2 or 3 times while we were there.

After a bit of visiting and enjoying some wonderful juice we were invited to dinner. Gafa’s brother had joined us for dinner. His wife, daughters and son (custom again) did not join us for dinner but, rather, stood by to serve us. OK, I personally don’t like that but…………it’s THEIR custom and I choose not to question it. I have this crazy kind of eating “issue.” Can’t eat any steak, chicken, pork, etc unless it has been ground up. Gafa had asked me what we’d like for dinner and I had told him anything so long as the meat was ground. Down the middle of the table were platters of different kinds of salads that looked amazing. The presentation was incredible! We were each served a bowl of chicken soup. Then came a couple of platters of roasted chicken. THEN we were EACH given a platter with stuffed cabbage leaves, rolled beef with an incredible filling, a pasta dish with ground meat, a bread with a million flaky layers and a cheese filling, and 2 other dishes I don’t remember. I think we all about died at the amount of food. And, again, the presentation was unbelievable. I commented to Gafa that the presentation was like something I had seen in a 3 to 4 star restaurant in New York. He jokingly told me I must stop making comments like that or his wife might decide to move to New York and leave him alone to take care of himself. We all got a laugh from that.

So, there I sit having dinner by candle light with “my” Soldiers, Gafa and his brother. What DID I do to deserve such a treat? OK, the candle light wasn’t planned but…………………….who cares?

When we were all so darn full we could barely move (and most of our plates had enough food left for at least one more meal) we moved back to the family room. His family moved to the dinning room to eat their dinner. We visited for a few minutes. It was getting late and I made apologies that we really had to go. As we were beginning to hoist ourselves up from the couches (not an easy feat after all that food) Mrs. Imeri came out and spoke to Gafa. Uh oh! We hadn’t had desert, hot tea or Turkish coffee. Out come the daughters with plates of dessert for each of us. NOT dessert plates – PLATES!!! Holy Cow! One of the deserts was something I’d never seen before but it was fantastic!!! The other was a pastry with a creamy (but not too sweet) filling. Then more trays with the hot tea and coffee. I think I’m gonna die!

After a little bit Gafa began to yawn. Our “signal” to make a move out of there. There is a VERY funny story that happened when we were all putting our boots back on but if I told it here I’d probably be hurt so, just laugh like you’ve never laughed before – make up some REALLY funny story and hate me for even bringing it up. (You’re welcome for the omission, sir!)

Back to the Ilazi house slip sliding away on the icy streets, greetings with hugs and kisses. In to the warm and toasty family room for hot tea then off to bed. Let me tell you, one must be in shape to withstand these days in Kosovo.

Leta is kind, but I am not. The part of the story she woud not tell Involves COL I (sorry, sir). As we were leaving, he bent over to put his boots on, and Mr. Imeri was standing behind holding a flashlight so the COL could see what he was doing. Now, you have to understand that the COl has a considerable girth, and bending over after such a HUGE meal presents certain....risks.

Poor Mr. Imeri.

The COL bent at the waist mightily to lace up his boots...and...

He let out the most impressively loud fart I have heard in quite some time, right on the Deputy Municipal President of Ferizaj.

In front of all of us, including Mr. Imeri's wife.

We, of course, all disintegrated into laughter.

It was hilarious!

That is all!