Anyone who has lived in Kosovo will warn you about the lack of water and electricity. They will say the food is great and the people love America, but that the air is thick with pollution and the utilities are lacking.
In the year leading up to our move to Kosovo, we read many books, watched films, and talked to as many people as we could find who had been to the region. All these sources led me to believe that every night our water would be shut off from 10pm-5am or so and that there are frequent black outs at unpredictable times. I thought the water would be consistent and therefore very easy to cope with. For the majority of those hours, I would be asleep anyway.
You can be as prepared and well-read as you want but whenever you get there it’s always a different story, isn’t it?
The first apartment we saw, when we were searching for a home in Mitrovica, came with a large plastic tank for water. The landlord was insistent in showing this off to us. This baffled me at the time, though I nodded politely as he pointed in out.
As we walked the streets later that day and in the following days, I noticed many shops selling those same tanks and even larger versions. How much water can people need in a two-hour window? Did they think we would need to survive a hurricane or something?
The first night we were in our apartment, the water went out around 6pm, as forewarned by our landlord. We had already used all the water we needed for cooking dinner, so no problem. It came back on in a few hours just as our landlord had said it would. The next night, water kept flowing out of the facet, and I think I had probably already forgotten about the continual shut-off.
Three nights into our life in Mitrovica and we learned a valuable lesson. When you move to another country and you see that everyone else is stockpiling water in three gallon jugs, you better do the same; don’t think you know everything.
The water went out early in the evening. It disappeared. The pipes dried up and creaked in pain every time we tried to use them. Alright, I can handle this for a few hours. But, it never came back on. Dirty dishes often spend the night in my sink anyway, who am I kidding; this isn’t a big deal.
The next morning was my first day at a new job, meeting an entirely new staff and having to convince children that I was a responsible, authoritative adult. The alarm jolted me up at 7am. A visit to the bathroom, a turn of the facet handle, and a groaning clugg of the pipes: still no water!
I scrambled to look presentable only to arrive at work and find everyone else looking their best. After seeing them, I thought it must have just been our building or side of town without water, until one coworker informed me the school’s water was out. I inquired about her water situation only to discover that no one in the area had working water. How do they do it? How can they be so put together when we might not have water for two days at a time? Major obstacles to one person are minor to those who know no other life.
After a few weeks of sporadic utilities and an investment in extra water bottles, I am finding that constant access to water and electricity really aren’t necessary. And, I am learning a new way to plan one’s days and life. When the water is on, you take a shower no matter what time of day it is or what else you were planning to do. When both the electricity and water are working, you run the washing machine and cross your fingers the water will stay on until the cycle is finished.
In other words, you must seize opportunities right away as they present themselves and improvise life around them. Planning does little to no good here, which is indeed completely foreign to an American who has grown up with schedules, and yet life goes on.