I walk through the city here and I am sure I stick out, with my fakies (not so channel sunglasses) and my bright green top. The locals don’t smile much and I think it has a lot to do with the memories of the war only 7 years ago. Today is the anniversary of when the tanks left Pristina. I went walking to see if there was any celebration – but like most Europeans the people here are preoccupied with soccer. I did see some flags hanging (US, Kosova, and EU). It’s hard to imagine the little old man sitting drinking his coffee with a gun (automatics none the less) but from what I have heard during the occupation everyone had something to protect their homes.
The trauma from the war is still potent. No ones talks about religion, but they do talk about identity. They want to be known as Kosovars; not Albanians, not as Serbs and certainly not as the western stereotype of Muslims (you know, the nasty idea that every Muslim oppresses women, hates the US, and wants to kill the free market). They see the critical issues not addressed by privatization – but they want it none the less. They love, let me repeat love, the US and especially Bill Clinton. There is a huge poster of him on Clinton Blvd. along with some scattered posters of Wesley Clarke and Madeline Albright. We talk about US politics, but despite my fervor most will not speak badly about US foreign policy. There is too much gratitude for the action the US took in the late 90’s to even think about it.
The city is a contrast of the old and new. I have said this before about Rome, but here it is a different kind of contrast. It’s sadder. The older buildings are bombed in; some of the new ones are not finished (with exposed walls no heat or running water) but people live in them; the new buildings those with proper permits are all foreign occupied and owned…it seems the only people that can get a building permit are those without Kosova citizenships.
There are two periods of time according to most Kosovars: before the war and after the war. Before the war life was hard. They all were forced to learn Serbian and the fear of Milosevic was still potent. The struggle was for survival and for peace. After the war life is still hard for most – poverty is still a common bond. But the struggle, the struggle is to set things right. After the war the population of Pristina tripled. The city is overwhelmed with people and the social services in the city cannot support the need.
There are infrequent blackouts*. The first one happened two days ago. Igo called frantic, that I had no idea what to do. I explain that growing up in MA with frequent nor-easters has more than prepared me for a couple of hours without power.
*After the war, the power company has utilized the ‘ABC’ system. The parts of the country that pay their bills the most are “A”, then “B” and finally out in the country (where abject poverty is rampant) is “C”. Scheduled blackouts in the C section are common. You can imagine the impact a blackout has on a mobile healthcare unit, or a family. During the war there was no running water, heat, or electricity for over 78 days – so perhaps this is a cake walk. Regardless, it just seems unjust to alienate an entire sect of the population because they cannot pay their bill.
Unemployment is also a problem. The factories, from the days when Yugoslavia still existed, are shut down. Most of those with jobs work in the service industry (clothing stores, café’s, ect.). The issue is that aside from a few people – most make their coffee at home and buy clothes infrequently. Go into one expensive shops and for sure there are only internationals. The doctor who cleans the KWN office started her degree before the war and had to put it off during the war. Now she can’t find a job in Kosova, where she needs to take care of her elderly mother, so she cleans. She is happy to have an income at all because she doesn’t want to take from her brothers in Germany and England.
Each time I come to a country with limited economic resources I am amazed by the resilience of the people. They take of each other. They pride themselves on making gourmet meals in one pan on a propane cooker – and when push comes to shove any of the people I have met would take care of me like family if I needed it. Materialism is a nasty word in the US – no one likes to think of themselves as materialistic, but we all are by default. I don’t really know what to think (or say) about that; right now, it is only an observation.
Slowly, I am learning to write with the voice of KWN. It’s been through a series of drafts – shot down, redone and submitted. It’s ok because there is always a period of transition when you are learning what is important and what is not to an organization. I am getting more confidant in my writing, my sense of direction and my comfort level. I still haven’t got up the nerve to ask someone if I could take a picture of them – so you will have to contend with buildings for now. A little ‘meir dieta’ (good day) goes a long way in Pristina shops – so hopefully there will be people pictures soon.
Sorry if this is a bit scattered. There is a lot to take in; in only a few days. I am much better writing about the work of KWN – but part of being here is explaining everything so I will do my best to give you an idea of this beautiful and tragic country: its history, its culture, its people, its pride.
Posted By Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)
Posted Jun 11th, 2006