Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who's Got the Power? (Literally. If anyone knows...I need some electricity.)

A friend asked me what I do every day. Some days I ask myself the same question – the relativity of time has taken on a whole new meaning here. It is easy to lose hours in the daily tasks of living. Here are some of the ways I while away the days:

Skippy the dog wakes me at 5 am to go outside. I break more Albanian rules than I can count by letting her sleep inside, but if I can’t treat her to a doggy day spa, the least I can do is bring her in out of the cold for the night. Though since we’ve been without power most of the day and night, the part of the house in which she sleeps is only slightly warmer than the below-zero temperatures outside. I grab my phone which has a handy flashlight built in, drag myself out from under the down quilt that keeps everything but my nose and forehead quite toasty throughout the night, and brace myself as I open the door to let her out.

By 5am, the fire in the wood stove has long since died, so I bring in some wood and shine my flashlight at the stove, building a small teepee inside and burning my hand in a brand new place as I light it. Something is wrong with the stove, and though I’ve asked three different people to fix the problem, it continues to belch toxic smoke into the room whenever I start the fire. Thus, I must open the window to the street outside, letting in a fierce breeze.

I huddle under my blankets until about 7, when the fire threatens to die again if I don’t tend it. Skippy and I eat the same breakfast – eggs, veggies and chicken. I make some instant Nescafe coffee, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, and start my day of caffeine injections.
I wait for the power to come on. The last few days it has not, so I have to wait for water to heat on the stove to wash some dishes. The “Laura Ingalls” romanticism I felt when I first arrived has long since lost its appeal.

Depending on the day, I will either stay home and read one of my thick books about the Balkans, drain my computer battery by writing, or walk downtown to meet someone for coffee or tea and conversation. I have a regular meeting with two high-school kids, Luma and Safet, whom I tutor in English, as well as learn some Albanian words from them. My Finnish friend who works on the North side with the Serbian population invites me over, and so I cross the bridge to meet Serbians and hear both sides of the story (stories). (More on that later – I’m working on a section about “subjective” truth.)

By 5pm it is dark, and due to the cold and safety issues I’d rather be at home. Occasionally I will have friends over for dinner, but lately the entire neighborhood has been dark, so I close myself into my house, listening to the rattle and hum of generators powering a few homes. I read by candlelight for a couple of hours, feed myself and Skippy, then fall asleep, sometimes by 7 or 8 o’clock. I leave the light switch on, so that when the power does come on, the light will wake me up to do a few things that require electricity or heat. I quickly wash my hair and dry it, and vacuum if I have the time. (Albanians have a tradition that you should not step on a bread crumb, I think it is sacred somehow. I’ll have to ask about that.)

The electricity is obviously a major issue here. Six years after the war, people are still able to joke about how they get to be excited a few times a day when the power comes on. It does engender a sense of appreciation for the things I take for granted at home, but I’d still like the opportunity to plan my day, rather than having it controlled by the utility company. I picture the local version of Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons” standing before a large switch at the electric company, rubbing his hands and laughing maniacally before he throws the switch to “off.”

Some days I am gone for the whole day on a visit to another town. I am trying to see more of the country, as Mitrovica is well-known to be the most difficult and most divided city. It is emotionally and physically draining to be here – I long for the 16 hour days on production, which now seem like a piece of cake. Ummm. Cake. I think it’s time for dinner.

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