It has been two years, almost to the day, since I arrived here in Montenegro. While many things have changed, the daily life of those around me remains the same for much of the local population and the transition I continue to observe can be slow for many. I know that for much of the population, getting by is still a lot of hard work.
This week a local friend reminded of the challenges that have confronted this region in the not-so-distant past, and how the benefits of our work at Porto Montenegro and the that of the government are slow to trickle through to everyone.
This week he came to me for some advice about going back to school. He is fearful of it as it is not common here to go back to school once you have chosen a specific skill or path. Even if you are still young, there is really no support structure for adult education, retraining or career advancement. With a wife and child to feed, he wonders if education is a way to secure a better future or if it is just a waste of his time.
It made me think of how fortunate we are in places like Canada where education and mobility are deemed almost a right. A multitude of programs, scholarships and possibilities are often a click or a phone call away. He told me of the challenges of growing up during a war and how, since high school, the only possibility for him was to work as hard as possible, no matter what the job. It made me feel extremely grateful, humbled and gave me the desire to somehow help.
Today he is at a crossroads. Witness to a new world order in this former Yugoslav naval base. Having never really traveled beyond the borders of these Balkan states, he is unsure of what all these changes might bring.
He is the sole bread winner for his young family and takes home 400 Euros a month. That is less than 600 Canadian dollars a month. Yes, he is not far below the current national average income, but the cost of living here on the coast is higher than inland, so I can only imagine how difficult life must be.
I encouraged him to look into going back to school. There is a new university program in Tivat designed around nautical tourism – surely an industry that will flourish here in the years to come. One simply has to look at Mediterranean marinas which have been developed in the last 30 years to see how several hundred yachts in a harbour can change the local economy forever.
I pledged to help however I could, even if it was just to have another coffee this week and tell him not to be fearful any longer. He seemed to go away determined.
These are the types of personal life experiences that contribute to making my life here truly amazing. Connecting with humans whose lives have been so different than mine is perhaps the best schooling one can have in life. So, I guess my friend is not the only one going back to school!
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.
Today I had a quick, but lovely, lunch outside by the water here in the Bay of Kotor. With the exception of “spaghetti bolognese” and a couple of other items, the Montenegrin menu was difficult to decipher. Yes, I know. I should be farther ahead than I am today. The kind and attentive server, aware of the selection challenge I was having, brought me the English menu. I ordered a dish which I knew had chicken in it, but I was not sure what else was coming. It ended up being a delicious spicy pasta dish with chicken and vegitables. Perfectly wonderful. I am just glad that I did not select from the Appetyre section of the menu… chewy and bitter come to mind!
I thought you might enjoy a couple of the other menu items I came across recently. How about Roast or Boiled Kid?
Ever been puzzled about what do to on your next holiday?
Each day in this amazing life experience I am reminded of how quickly this little nation on the Balkan peninsula has been launched into 21st century Europe and the Anglo-Saxon dominated world. I greatly respect how they are catching up so quickly. Little signs like these are great, and slightly comic, reminders of the great diversity of the world we live in and how important it is to respect that diversity.
When I first started this journal it was called “365 Days of Culture Shock – a New Life in a New Country”. Well, the original title seems out of date now. We have been in Montenegro since August of 2009 so the 365 days have come and gone. The “new” country is now in its 5th year, and growing up quickly. In November it became the first Balkan state in that many years to become an official European Union candidate.
Tatler Travel Guide
The change in the last year and a half has been amazing to watch. There is a brand new round-about at one of the busiest intersections on the coast; communist apartments have been painted bright new colors and given a new lease on life; new bars and restaurants have opened and there are more on their way. While I still cannot buy soy milk at the biggest supermarket, the other day I found lactose-free milk, so you know more selection is coming soon. You can quite literally see the market opening up one baby step at a time.
The evolution of Porto Montenegro set the pace of the changes in the country. When we arrived, the project had 85 berths which it was giving away for free for the first season and we were selling some off plan apartments. Today, we have created the new Porto Montenegro Yacht Club, a Sports Club for crew, built a fuel bunkering facility and become an official port of entry, so you just pull up to the marina in your boat and clear customs on the jetties. This summer we will be opening our 65 meter over-water Lido Mar pool and our maritime museum as well as handing over the next 45 apartments in two buildings. In the fall another 9 will be available. This means that by the end of the year we will have almost 80 waterfront properties finished with 20 retail stores and services on the pedestrian walks. The reassuring part is that most of the apartments are already sold and the commercial spaces leased out! Now we also have 200 berths open to paying customers. You should join Montenegro Yachting on Facebook to see all the latest events and photos from in and around the marina.
The first month of the new year has flow by with the team out and about at the London and Dusseldorf Boat Shows. Stay tuned for more chronicles of life at Porto Montenegro!
A few postings ago I told you about my Montenegrin language skills and how they were not progressing very well. It seems that, after almost a year, I am still not doing that well even if my vocabulary has increased significantly.
The first example of my lack of progress came in the form of a request for an empty glass. You see, we have this lovely local lady in our office that brings us coffee or tea. In the morning before you arrive she leaves you an orange juice and when you get to your desk she brings your favourite kind of coffee. Simply wonderful. Well, the other morning, conscious of the fact that it is now 35 degrees during the day, I asked her for an empty glass which I thought I would keep filling at the water fountain.
What I received was a water bottle full of orange juice. I had to capture the picture for you.
Orange Juice and More
The second example came this week when we were in the capital city Podgorica. There is an Apple Premium Retailer there that we were looking for. They had moved, but we could not figure out the address. We just knew the general vicinity. So we popped into a little donut shop to ask where the Apple store was. The nice little guy across the counter said – in his very broken English – that the apple donuts would be ready in 15 minutes. So between our broken Montenegrin and his broken English we at least knew we were talking about apples. We could not bring ourselves to tell him that we were talking about a store that sells laptops and iPads… so we hung out until the apple donuts were ready.
I suppose that starting with apples and oranges is already a small bit of progress! Now I just have to start learning the verbs, adverbs and grammar! I will keep you posted.