Care Package

On June 29, 2011 Alan spent a small fortune to mail a box to me.  They said it would arrive in seven to ten days. 28 days later, it arrived (today!).

Here’s what was inside:

1. My favorite lotion: Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Moisture Cream.  It has all sorts of good stuff like oatmeal and milk in it, and it’s super healing.  I even put it on scrapes and scratches at night, and in the morning they’re almost healed.

2. Cough drops: good for sore throats.  Also my favorite candy.

3. A wall charger into which you can plug a USB cable: my Kindle and my iPod touch both charge via USB, and this will be super convenient for weekend trips.  I only have one weekend trip left, but I’ll still use the charger.

4. Body Glide: so helpful for walking 1.9 km to work in a straight skirt without tearing up the skin on the inside of my legs.  Sensitive skin + meaty thighs = crazy mess.  But Body Glide fixes all that.  I brought some with me, but the tube was almost gone.

5. Business cards from I also brought some of these with me, but am almost out.

6. A cover for my Kindle: now I can toss my Kindle in my purse without worrying about the screen getting scuffed.

I felt like a kid in college who gets a care package.  I smiled all the way home from work.  And it was great to get things that I really can’t find here.  Thanks, Alan!


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The second trip we took was to Gjakova, which is in the far west of Kosovo.  It’s funny to me to say that a town that took 90 minutes to reach by car is in the “far west.”  Kosovo is about the size of Delaware, and you can be out of the country very quickly.

This trip was much like the first.  We visited the Legal Aid Office, and went through case files for evaluation.

This time we didn’t have an interpreter, since everyone spoke Albanian and some English.  I worked with one of the Legal Aid Officers, who was not terribly confident with his English skills.  From time to time he would ask my UNDP colleague to help him with some legal terminology.  But I have quite a bit of experience communicating with people with very little shared language, so we ended up doing just fine.

Going through case files

One of the most interesting things I learned at the Gjakova office is that they try to do as much for clients as they can the same day that the client comes.  The Legal Aid Officer told me that many of the people live in the villages, and the 1 Euro that it costs for them to get into the city is a lot of money for them.  So rather than telling them to come back to get their paperwork, they will do it while the client waits.  I thought that was really cool.

While we were in Gjakova we had coffee at a bar named “Le Corbusier.”  Urban Planning people will appreciate that :)

Le Corb restaurant

Looking down on the city at lunch




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The first trip we took as part of the Legal Aid Office assessment was to the Gracanica office.
Gracanica is a small town about twenty minutes south of Pristina.  It’s a Serb enclave, and is home to a Serbian Orthodox monastery which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But we didn’t get to go to the monastery.  We went to the Legal Aid Office.  The office was clean, and the staff was friendly.  We brought along a Serbian-English interpreter, since one of the Legal Aid Officers was Serbian.

I worked with the interpreter and the Serbian employee, and we completed our task.  As it was our first trip, we were unsure of how long it would take to finish the surveys.  It ended up taking a little over an hour, which was much faster than we anticipated.

My group finished before the other group, and I chatted with the interpreter and the employee some.  We talked about private ownership of property versus social ownership, since so many of the case files we had used in our evaluation were property disputes.  The employee was wistful for social ownership, and socialism itself.  He said that “private ownership has no soul.”  I didn’t disagree.  I think it’s important to remember that an unregulated free market economy will really screw over those with the least power and influence.  Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court.* The Legal Aid Offices really do help those who cannot help themselves.  It was really cool to visit first hand.

We left the office in Pristina at 9:45, and were back by 12:30.  It was a good first trip.

*Proverbs 22:22



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Legal Aid Office Assessments

The two projects I’m working on for the UNDP Justice and Security sector are (1) a comparative study of bar examinations in the region, and (2) an assessment of the Legal Aid Offices (“LAOs”) that UNDP sponsors.  For the LAO assessment, I got to design the surveys, which was really fun for me.  I haven’t had much chance to use my social research skills since my undergraduate days at Taylor University.

In for the rest of my time here I will be helping to gather the data using the surveys.  We are trying to evaluate the efficiency of each office from many angles.  So we have four measures:

1. How does the office run?  What are its data collection mechanisms?  This is measured with a simple questionnaire filled out by each office

2. What are the legal outcomes for the clients?  This is measured by looking at a sample of case files for each office

3. How satisfied are the clients?  This is measured with a survey of previous clients

4. How does the larger legal community view the offices?  This is measured with interviews of judges, etc.

So far we’ve been working on the first two measures.  For each office, we visit and fill out the first survey, and then look through a couple dozen cases.  While we’re there, we ask them to contact some of their clients who might answer a survey.  We’ll also try to schedule some time to talk to judges in the community.  Then we’ll go back and finish the evaluations.

We’ve gone to Prishtina (the office oversees the whole program, so there we only asked questions about the program in general), Gracanica, and Gjakova.  We’ll also go to Ferizaj.  And then there is a LAO in Mitrovica, but I will probably not be allowed to go there because of the remaining political tensions.

I took a few pictures at each office, and I’ll do a post on each one.


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Sandanski, Bulgaria. Sunday: marginal redemption

Sunday morning I made sure to get to breakfast before it turned into lunch (which was had happened on Saturday).  My stomach was still off, so I didn’t eat much.  But at least it was free this time!

I packed my stuff up, since check-out was at noon and my massage was at 11. I decided to check out the town around the hotel a little, since I hadn’t been outside since Friday.  There was a nice pedestrian area with shops and cafes, so I set off on a walk.  The town was much more lively on a Sunday morning than Belgrade was, which I thought was interesting.

Hotel (Interhotel Sandanski)

Town of Sandanski

Pedestrian mall

While I was out I walked by a few shoe stores, and one was selling flip-flops!  I bought some for 8 Lev (about 4 Euros).  I also bought a coke for the trip back to Prishtina.  I made sure to get back to the hotel in time for my massage.

I arrived at the spa desk at 10:55, and a girl lead me into the spa area.  We walked into a hallway, and there was a man standing in the hallway, wearing only a towel around his waist.  I thought he was another patron, waiting for his massage.  Nope.  He was my masseuse.  Oh.

Massage table

He led me into a small room with a waist-high mosaic table.  It was warmed, and had a few drains in the center of the table.  He told me to undress.  I asked if I could have a towel or something (his English was minimal, my Bulgarian is non-existent), and he handed me one.  Then he left for a few minutes.  I undressed, laid down on the table, and draped the towel over myself.  The table was nice and warm.

Soon the masseuse came back, and said something in Bulgarian.  I understood that I was laying the wrong way.  I went to flip from my stomach to my back, but he said something else, and I figured that I was in the wrong direction.  So I awkwardly switched my head and feet to the other sides of the table, still on my stomach.  Then he took my towel off completely.  I was naked.  He was wearing a towel.  It was awkward.

He used a small shower head to spray my legs and back, and then put a smaller towel covering my torso.  The first part of the massage was exfoliation.  At first I thought he was using a soap scrub, but there was no scratchy residue.  He was using exfoliating mitts.  He scrubbed my legs, my back, and my arms, and then told me to flip over.  Then he scrubbed the front of my legs, my torso, and my arms.  It was a combination of a massage and a body scrub, and it did feel really nice.  That took about fifteen minutes.

Then he ran some water into a basin, and swished a bar of soap around for quite a while until it became all sudsy.  Starting at my legs again, he used a small bowl to pour the soap water on me, and then massaged again, this time with no scrub mitts.  The washing massage was a little longer, although it was the same process as scrub massage.  And I realized why the masseuse was only wearing a towel: it was a really wet massage!  All that water and spray—he would have gotten soaked.  Still, I think I would have preferred for him to wear swim trunks or something.

Basin with soapy water

After the massage he left, and I took a shower in the back of the room to rinse off all the suds.  Then I dressed, and headed back out.  I ran into the masseuse in the hallway, and he was fully dressed, wearing white scrubs.  Less awkward.

Now that I had flip-flops I decided to go swimming.  The water was warm, and I just really like floating around.  I swam for a half hour or so outside, and then laid on a chaise lounge and dried off.  The sun started to feel hot on my skin, and I left so I wouldn’t get sunburned.

Requisite flip-flops (and awesome forced perspective—how huge does my knee look?!)

I was then able to get my check-out delayed until 3:30, which was really nice.  Even though I was packed up, I went upstairs and took a nap.  Then I wandered downstairs, payed my bill, and headed towards the bus home.  Waiting to board the bus I finally met some fellow travelers.  I was so sick on Friday that I hadn’t really talked to anyone.

Fortunately the ride home was better.  I took a dose of dramamine in the morning on Sunday, and one right before the trip.  I had a soda to sip on.  I rested my head on the seat, which minimized how much my head bobbed around.  Also we didn’t get lost, so the trip was a manageable 5 hours.

Well, so much for a relaxing spa weekend…


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foundation dentistry

Our house has several cracks in the foundation wall, which let water into the basement.  Various people have tried adding fillings of various amalgams to the inside of the wall, but to no avail.  The time has come for a root canal.

DANGER tape to keep out personal injury lawyers and eggshell clients…

The first job is to peel back the gums – er, I mean, the dirt – all the way to the footer (~ 4 feet deep).  This was complicated by someone’s half-hearted attempt to fix the problem earlier by digging a shallow hole and pouring concrete into it.  How do you remove concrete with hand tools?  Undermine and conquer…

Here is the completed access hole.  The problem should be obvious.  Several of the corners have similar cracks – I think as the foundation settles, the main walls move as a unit, but at the corners were they interlock with the other blocks, they get sheared.  Also, the clay beneath the topsoil is very hard and very impervious to water.  I sprayed off the wall with a little bit of water, and the water was still there the next morning.  The crack is probably more permeable to any rainwater in the soil than the clay below it, so the water follows the path of least resistance.  Into our basement.

The first step is to remove any carious tissue.  I do this with a masonry chisel and small sledge.

underground barefoot dentistry

As I carved away the block, I realized that behind the small lesion was a large cavity!  Actually, I think these were always there.  The blocks are apparently hollow, kind of like cinder blocks, but with much narrower channels.  Water can move vertically down the wall inside these channels.  Unfortunately, the masons didn’t add enough mortar to the interior parts of the blocks to seal them horizontally, either.  What this means is that if there is a crack *anywhere* on the outside wall, the water coming into the wall can move both vertically and horizontally until it finds a weakness on the inside wall.  This is why trying to patch the inside is so ineffective – it will just find another hole to ooze out of.  This also explains why water continues to seep out for several days following a rainstorm – it is being “stored” in all these channels.

With the root canal done, it is time to fill it.  First, a layer of Great Stuff…

This is, indeed, Great Stuff.  Perhaps I got a bit carried away…  First time I’ve ever used the entire can, though.  Then a crown of hydraulic cement:

Next, a layer of tar:

If I had been waterproofing my boat 200 years ago, I would have used the same stuff (although they had to heat their tar first, making tarring and feathering particularly unpleasant…).  Kind of amazing that we still haven’t found a better way to do it.

Finally, another layer of Great Stuff and a piece of foam insulation for sealant.  Although we think of Styrofoam as fragile, the wall will probably biodegrade before it does.

Now fill the hole back in, and wait for rain (none yet).  Kind of back-breaking, but worth it if it works.

What to plant here?

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Sandanski, Bulgaria. Saturday: miscommunications and confusion

I woke up around 11, and was still feeling nauseous and woozy.  I decided to catch the tail end of the complementary breakfast.  It was more of a brunch, and I ate some mashed potatoes and a piece of bread so as to not trouble my tummy.  The waiter didn’t speak English, and pantomimed that the meal cost 18 Bulgarian Lev, which is about 9 Euro.  He asked for my room number, and charged the meal to my room.  I paid 9 Euro for mashed potatoes and bread?  Ugh, again.

I then wandered around the first floor of the hotel a little to try to find the spa and swimming pool.  There were no signs, and I didn’t find anything.  So I went back upstairs and relaxed, since I was still feeling off.

I looked in my room for a map of the hotel, or a list of spa services.  But I couldn’t find anything.  The only thing was a list of phone numbers for the front desk, hairdresser, manicurist, and medical consultant at the baleonology center (pool).  I called the manicurist and scheduled a pedicure.  It was around 2:20 when I called, and she said to come at 3:30.  I asked what floor they were on, and she said the first floor.  So I read a book for an hour, and then gathered my things and headed downstairs.

But here’s the thing: in Kosovo the first floor is what I call the second floor, because they call the first floor the ground floor.  It was the same in China.  So I didn’t know whether I should go to the first floor or the second floor.  I went to the first floor and wandered down some long hallway that looked promising.  I could smell the chemicals of the hairdresser, and saw this window:

It’s a good thing I read Cyrillic.   

м = “M”                          п = “P”
а = “A”                         
е = “ye”
н = “N”                          д = “D”
и = “I”                           и = “I”
к = “C”                          к = “C”
ю = “U”                         ю = “U”
р = “R”                          р = “R”

I sort of wandered into the waiting area there, and in a minute or so a lady came up to me.  I said “Hello” right away (it’s my subtle way of letting them know I don’t speak Bulgarian), and then said that I had a pedicure at 3:30 and pointed to my watch.  She said, “no, 4:30.”  I’m sure that the lady on the phone said 3:30, but I was okay with waiting for another hour.  I read my book for a few minutes, and then the lady came back.  She said 4:30 again, and pointed to a clock on the wall.  It was 4:30.  There was a time change I didn’t know about.  That one’s my fault, but it was still annoying.

So I got a nice pedicure.  I asked if I could charge it to my room, because I hadn’t been to an ATM yet and didn’t have any Lev.  She said no, that the manicurist isn’t part of the hotel.  So I paid in Euros, which she thankfully accepted.

I decided to continue down this hall, in hopes of finding the spa and pool.  And I did!  There was a desk with a few teenagers sitting behind it.  I asked if I could schedule a massage.  They put me down for 11:00 on Sunday, and asked what kind of massage I wanted.  I looked at the list, a little overwhelmed by the choices (and the prices!), and just pointed to the first option: “full body massage with foam and peel,” whatever that means.  The girl at the desk said, “that massage is with man.”  I said OK, gave her my name and room number, and then continued past the desk in search of the pool.  It smelled like chlorine, so I knew I was on the right path.

I found the pool, but for the first time, there was a sign.  The sign said that you must wear flip-flops in the pool area: no bare feet, no shoes.  I didn’t bring flip-flops to Sandanski.  I didn’t bring flip-flops to Kosovo!  I looked around to see if they had some I could borrow, or if they sold them for a few Euros.  Nope.  Nothing.  I couldn’t even go swimming.

Tired, and still feeling sick, I went upstairs to my room and read a book for a while.  I fell asleep early, and slept through.


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Disaster Risk Reduction Training

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a national training on Disaster Risk Reduction (“DRR”).  DRR, much like the name sounds, is an effort to improve infrastructure and systems—such as early warning systems—to minimize the effects of a natural disaster.  I had written my final paper for an international development class on development as DRR, so I both had some knowledge and some interest in this subject.

The training was sponsored by UNDP, and there were representatives from many Kosovar government ministries and NGOs in attendance.  It was held at the Hotel Prishtina, which is located just a few minutes walk from my office.

There was a representative from UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) who presented an overview of what DRR is on the first day.  The second day was composed of group work and a presentation by a representative of the Swiss National Platform for Natural Hazards, PLANAT.  PLANAT is an advisory board made up of civil servants (not politicians), and experts on seismology, meteorology, and other scientists.  They are sponsored by the government, and advise the government on a national strategy for disaster risk reduction.   Part of the training in Prishtina was to consider whether such a national platform would be a good idea for Kosovo.

Group work: identifying which organizations can contribute to DRR

Presentation by Jean-Jacques Wagner, PLANAT representative

One of the most interesting parts of the training for me was the translation service.  Because of the language barrier between native Kosovars,  and the international trainers and foreign NGO representatives (like me!), they had real time translation set up.  Everyone had a headset, and all of the presenters spoke into a microphone.  Just outside the room an interpreter would listen to the presentation, and immediately translate it into either English or Albanian.  I’d seen that sort of translation on televised UN proceedings before, but it was the first time I ever got to use it.

Two men listening to the translation into English, one man listening to the speaker in Albanian

It was a great two days for me.  I really enjoyed learning more about DRR, and it was cool to talk with both the international trainers, and the Kosovar representatives.  I had some great conversations with people from UN Woman and from the Kosovar Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning.


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Sandanski, Bulgaria. Friday: getting there

So two weekends ago (July 1-3), I went to Sandanski, Bulgaria.  My co-worker said that it’s a rather well know spa town in the Balkans, and that I should definitely go.  I’ve never really gone to a spa before (I had a few massages in China, and there was a shop where I would get facials from time to time, but it wasn’t really spa-like), and it sounded kind of cool.  So I signed up for the trip!

The day before I left I found the phone number for the hotel and called to see if I needed to schedule any spa treatments ahead of time.  When Alan and I were in Gersfeld, we wandered up to a big hotel to inquire about massages, but you needed to call ahead and they were all booked up.  I didn’t want the same thing to happen in Sandanski.  When I called, after a little language difficulty, the clerk informed me that I could make all of the arrangements when I arrived.

I packed my bag, and went to work (to DRR training, actually).  At 3:00 I changed out of my suit and into a dress and leggings.  Then I called a taxi.  The UN trips leave from the UNMIK complex, which is outside of the city.  The traffic was horrible.  It took 45 minutes to go 3.2 km.  I really could have walked in that amount of time.

Then I got on the bus, which retraced the path back towards Pristina: another frustratingly slow journey.  We were finally on our way!  The trip to Belgrade had been remarkably smooth for a bus journey.  I get car sick pretty easily, and was wary of the whole bus travel thing that seems to be standard for the Balkans.  But like I said, the first trip was no problem.

This trip was not so good.  The road to Sandanski is mountainous: bumpy and winding.  I felt sick almost immediately, especially after the 45 minutes taxi ride.  I listened to podcasts to try to keep my mind off of my belly, and looked out the window.  But it wasn’t enough.  Eventually (after five hours or so), I threw up in the bus bathroom (which is totally disgusting, I hope to never do that again).  I got a can of soda and sipped on it to try to settle my stomach (it didn’t work).  And the worst part of it is that the bus got lost.  So what should have been a five hour trip was a 7 and a half hour trip.  Ugh.

Getting totally car-sick was a really bad way to start the weekend.  We arrived at the hotel around midnight, and I just went to bed.  I decided to sleep in as much as possible, to see if I would feel better when I woke up.



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