Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Meredita from Kosova
After 30 hours on planes and extra-long layovers due to weather, I arrived at the Pristina airport, quickly passed through customs and was overjoyed to see that both my checked bags had arrived as well. I walked out into the dark and cold (I have no idea HOW cold - anything below 50 feels the same to me - freezing.) Maybe it was 30 below - 35 F. Watching others reunite with family and friends, I stood with a smile of expectation, which quickly froze in the cold and the thinning crowd. Soon there was just me, the police patrol, and the taxi drivers who looked ready to pounce upon my bags and take me somewhere, anywhere. Since I didn't know Maria's address, that was out of the question.
I stood in the dark, watching airport employees leaving, realizing no one was there to greet me, and I had no cell phone with which to contact them. I asked a policeman about a phone, and he found another who could speak a few words of English. The airport was closed, I was informed. I'm sure I was still smiling, mostly because I was too tired to move my facial muscles. I asked if I could pay to use someone's mobile phone, and the policeman offered his for free. Maria answered her phone, called Isaac, and then called me back to say Isaac was running late. This didn't surprise me, but it wasn't the welcome I had envisioned.
The remaining airport personnel (the cleaning ladies) allowed me to stand inside while I waited. Isaac arrived with a story of taking the wrong road and being stopped by police. I was too grateful for a familiar face to worry, and then too scared by European driving to care about anything else than safely arriving at Maria's.
Since the book is tentatively titled "Christmas in Kosovo" I thought I'd comment about the celebration of the holiday here. They do celebrate in Pristina (the capital) and there are plastic Christmas trees for sale, and I saw a plastic Santa mask at the market on Saturday. Almost as scary as a clown in a horror film. We were in Pristina yesterday to go to a couple of bookstores for Luli, the filmmaker who is the subject of Isaac's documentary and a good friend from our time here in 2003. Luli's in charge of buying a bunch of books for the NGO office he works at, to start a library. There were white lights lining the main street. I asked if that is because it is where the UN is - and there's such an international presence they now celebrate and decorate, but he said that they've always celebrated Christmas in Kosovo, by going to Pristina. When I asked why they do so as a Muslim nation, he said it was out of respect for their "neighbors," people who live there, Catholics and Orthodox, who do celebrate. We're going to go down for Christmas Eve.
It's fun to hang with Luli and Aferdita, who used to translate for Maria and now works for a magazine, and is an actress - does a candid camera show and others for local TV. We had a "housewarming' last night at Maria’s - the power had been out all day, so we sat in candlelight and watched some footage on Isaac's (battery powered) laptop. Then sat and talked - Luli shared more of what he wants to do, how I can help. They talked about me creating a curriculum for kids to learn about writing/journalism. Luli also wants to start a cultural magazine - a monthly b&w. I also need to work on my alphabet - it's hard to wrap my mouth around some of the sounds that we just don't have.
It's good to be here. This morning, the power was on, so I listened to a CD while I made breakfast and cleaned up a bit. Still having to stoke the wood stove to cook on - the power is too unpredictable to cook or heat by it. It's losing a little (okay, a lot) of the romanticism, when I can't get the fire going, I’m choking on the smoke that is filling the room and I just want to cook an egg. But in comparison to many, I am living in luxury in Maria's western-style home, so I'm trying to remind myself of that when it gets frustrating.