I visited Vancouver for the first time in over two years this month. It made me appreciate Montenegro for a couple of its unique traits.
The first being the incredible sense of community that is present there.
When I was walking the streets of Vancouver, considered one of the cities with the highest “quality of living” in the world, you cannot help but notice the homelessness and panhandling.
In Montenegro you see non of that. So even though the country has a relatively low average per capita income and very few social institutions to protect those in need, there is nobody left out on the street at night; nobody begging for food or money. No matter how little anyone has, there is always room to help a neighbour, family member, friend or stranger. The only apparent exceptions to begging are the Roma people.
Peter Block has written an excellent book entitled “Community” about how modern society is plagued by fragmentation. The people of Montenegro seem to have taken some positive lessons from his book.
The other thing you notice in Vancouver are the vast numbers of people walking around (often quickly) with big paper cups full of coffee. With the exception of the Costa Coffee shops at the airports, you never see Montenegrins walking around with their coffee in throw away cups.
They always take the time to sit with friends, have a conversation, and enjoy their coffee.
As I sit in my London hotel room about to continue my journey back to Tivat, I look forward with anticipation to the sense of community, respect of time and the slower pace of life that Montenegro has to offer.
Last night my colleague Beckett said that there are stories to tell every day in this new land. Stories of small and large differences, funny and odd experiences that we, as foreigners, are all having here. I think that was a sign to keep this blog window open all the time and take note of the all the things along the way that are worth documenting as we learn to live and work alongside this emerging country’s journey.
His remark brought me right back to my first blog posting about ink-jet printers and the speed of things here. Yesterday, on a mundane trip to the local market, I was reminded that not everything is moving a the break neck speed of the construction on our site.
The speed of things and, for some reason cats, seem to be recurring themes here. Yesterday when purchasing cat food for ours, and not for Mamma Fudge’s dumpster gang, I had a relapse into my habit of impatience. We bought about forty cans of the same brand and exactly the same flavour and brought them to the cashier. She promptly scanned each and every single can; one at a time. About 15 scans into it, I tried to explain that scanning one can and keying in a multiple of 40 would get you to the same amount in about a 10th of the time. My (lack of) language skills and her devotion to getting it right, prohibited that from happening.
The lesson here I guess is balance. On the one hand we are finishing 29 homes, building the next 45 apartments, constructing jetties for 100 new yacht berths, opening a 50m over-water pool and doing all of the ancillary sales and marketing work around these efforts. All of this is happening by this July, so the pace is intense to say the least. The trick is to leave the office and be able adjust to, and appreciate, the calmer environment that surrounds me.
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