Living in Montenegro: Four Summers later

Living in Montenegro: Four Summers later

Living in Montenegro has been an amazing experience. This month marks a milestone; it is our fourth summer living here in Montenegro. My love affair with this country has only continued to grow since we first landed here on that hot summer August day in 2009.

When we arrived from ultra modern Vancouver, it was like stepping back in time. The 40 stories I have written since then are testimony to the country in transformation and the cultural differences I have experienced and continue to cherish. However, as time went, on I noticed less and less the differences between my old life and this new one.

It is only now though that I realize that I was protected by a team of incredible colleagues who worked through all the idiosyncrasies of living here; they made my life as easy as possible.

I was recently sent back to those early days here… when I went to get my car registered. This was, of course, after I extended my residency permit because I was not able to register it past the expiry date of my work permit. This would have been fine – register and insure the car up until the day my permit expired; you know, pro-rata from now until that day. The only problem is that here you cannot do that. No matter when you register your car, you must pay a full year of registration and insurance. Then when you renew your work permit you have to pay that full amount again. So, whether you are registering or insuring for a month or 12, you pay the same amount.

With residency recently extended through to January 2013, I went to get my car registered. It is a second car, so it had been sitting in the garage since last November. I had to do ten separate payments, payable to various entities and through various offices, ranging in size between 4 and 300 Euros to complete the “transaction”. I had to take off my license plate and give it back. It was an iconic plate, Tivat “007” which perfectly suited the 1999 BMW Z3 which it was attached to. Now the car has Tivat “009”, and it just does not seem as fun. Payments and paperwork completed, I had to wait a full week to get my registration card before I could drive the car.

Anyone back home in British Columbia would have done the whole operation in less than 15 minutes. Nothing happens too quickly here, and that is one of the things I love about it.

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Of course, not everyday am I able to hone my Erkhart Tolle skills and be completely in the “now”. This week I needed to get new mobile phone number; not one of those pre-pay things that you get when you are travelling, but a regular contract where they send you the bill at the end of the month. On Monday morning I went in to the local telecom store and they told me I had to go in to Kotor. It is only 15 minutes away, but I found out immediately after that I really did not need to go to the neighbouring town. So, I went back to the store and was told to come back in 20 minutes as there was someone who spoke better English who was coming in to work. In the end it took 5 trips to the store – an international telecom giant – to get my new SIM card. It was supposed to be activated by 6pm on Tuesday. Well, it took until Friday morning to start working.

There is something beneficial about being forced to slow down. It really did not matter if I got the phone activated on Monday or on Friday; the urgency, of course, was self-fabricated.

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So, as we begin our fourth year here, one must note that some things have not changed at all and a few things have. This past week reminded me of my first posting: “Coffee, Cigarettes and Ink Jet Printers“. There is still lots of instant coffee around, but the “Illy” brand has also arrived on the scene from Italy. Cigarettes are still smoked here more than any other place I have lived, but there are now government sponsored anti-smoking campaigns and laws against smoking inside (not always respected, but we are getting there). I have not seen ink-jet printers in a while, but I did see carbon copy paper getting used the other day at City Hall.

Old and new. The lovely essence of this little country in the centre of the Mediterranean.

There are exciting changes on the horizon. New projects and new challenges ahead as this life in an emerging market proves to be as interesting, exhilarating, rewarding and fascinating as the first days when we arrived.

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No Logo, No Ceasar…

No Logo, No Ceasar…

Ceasar Salad

One of the most refreshing aspects of living and working in Montenegro is that the country has not been overrun by international corporations and brands. There are no Starbucks Coffee shops ensuring you get the same latte here that you find back at home; there are no fast food chains that guarantee you will get the same super sized meal here that you would find back at home in anywhere USA or Canada; retail chains like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, The Body Shop, Tim Hortons, Boots Drug Stores and so on are non-existent here.

Organic, local, family retailers and national brands are more the vibe here. Finding things you need often becomes a bit of a hunt, but that is half the fun.

Sometimes though, I get a ping for something familiar, so when I saw Ceasar Salad on a restaurant menu a while back, I had to have it, but I was left disappointed as it was not at all what I was expecting, or I should say, craving. Unfortunately for me, as I subsequently explored this menu item around the country, I realized that only the name was familiar. All of the ingredients you think you are going to find in a traditional Ceasar Salad are, here, open to very wide interpretation… from basic (yet fresh and lovely) vegetable platters to chopped up green leaf lettuce with a soupy mayonnaise dressing topped with a couple large pieces of bacon.

Silence, Slow and Community

Silence, Slow and Community

I could go on and on about what is missing here in this developing country, but I think I have hammered that point home enough. As you have witnessed the absence of familiar things periodically induces cravings for everything from sushi to Home Depot and even Starbucks coffee. However, this “absence” does present some other interesting side effects.

Silence, Slow & Community…

View from Muo House

At night there are no sirens; no speeding cars; no noise from bars as they close their doors. In fact, the silence is almost eerie. You can hear a dog barking on the other side of the bay a kilometre away, you can hear the boats splashing in the waves on the roadside docks below, you can hear seagulls talking amongst themselves as they circle the Bay of Kotor. Recently, the only thing that has woken me up at night has been the winter wind storms that rattle the wooden shutters and pound the stone walls of the house. Occasionally a car will race by our door within a couple of feet (watch out when you leave the house), but other than a few of these louder exceptions, this is a very quiet land. I imagine summertime will be a different story as boaters and tourists return to a warm version of this beautiful place.

As much as slow bureaucracy, service and response times could make you crazy, it can also make you slow down in a good way. Coming from a place of instant gratification, this takes a little getting used to. Nothing is particularly quick or easy, but perhaps there lays something to be learned. Being forced to slow down lets you appreciate other things you may have missed while rushing around and finishing a to do list. Learning to slow down takes away the stress of every day life. Once you know that the pot-holed roads will make your trip longer (metaphorically and literally), you slow down and poke your head around corners that you would have otherwise missed.

Here there are no fast food restaurants, no drive throughs, no express check outs, no pay-by-phone parking meters, no delivery services, no express lanes on the (one) highway. It is the perfect venue to practice the teachings in Carl Honore’s book “In Praise of Slow”.

There is also an absence of shiny glass condo towers (gritty grey low rises and stone homes are more the norm), but that brings something else to the equation: community. I had forgotten what it was like to have a real dialogue with your neighbours; to borrow tools and share a glass of home brewed schnapps. I had completely forgotten what it was like for friends to ring your door bell to say “hello” because they saw the lights on. The first time it happens you run to the phone to “buzz” them in… but then you realize that they are not 28 floors down waiting to pass through all the layers of security and anonymity that condo dwelling provides.

So, as we collectively embark on 2010, a respectful celebration of the New Year and all the good things that turning back time brin