There are so many divisions here. It sounds clich? when I am referring to a place that was recently plagued by ethnic conflict, but this theme keeps reappearing in the subtlest ways.
I spent four days in a predominantly Croatian village called Janjevo. Remarkably, this town peacefully brings together Croatian, Albanian, and Roma inhabitants. But inside its beautiful church, men sit on the left and women on the right. The children were very excited about the presence of strangers in their town…and after asking me my name and my age (a favorite question in these parts) they proceeded to tell me theirs – but only after indicating that one of the girls within the group of curious five-year-olds was Muslim and the rest Catholics. And the training camp I participated in was strictly for boys…girls apparently don’t play soccer in Kosovo.
The presence of internationals. Although it is intended to serve the Kosovar population and help piece things together, the relationship is bizarre. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems to me that one rarely sees internationals spending time with locals. Normally language barriers break down when you spend a significant amount of time in a country, but most internationals don’t speak Albanian, and few care to learn it. I only point this out because it’s very striking that half the population of Pristina seems to be from abroad. It’s hard to compare this to any other part of the world – UNMIK is not an oft-repeated phenomenon. In the end, though, you look around Kosova and think about how many NGO’s and international organizations are present, and realize how difficult it is to separate who does what, who’s the good guy and the bad guy, who does more, who does less…never mind the “why.? But you can definitely see a divide between the locals and the internationals … There is no animosity, but to each his own, as they say.
The real divisions. One night, while celebrating a friend’s birthday, I decided to teach my Italian friends a little Latin dancing. In so doing, I met some people who work for the UN who invited me to join them for salsa lessons the very next day. Imagine my excitement… I even invited my friend Aspen, who is here for a few days doing some work for the Advocacy Project. When we showed up the next day, we met the group and were herded into a UN car. Odd, I thought, as we were standing directly in front of UNMIK Headquarters and I couldn’t imagine why we needed to drive. We were informed by our new Pakistani policeman friend that we were headed for Plementina Camp – a Roma camp outside of Pristina in Obiliq, right next to the lovely smelling coal burning facilities. That fact alone gives a clue about the conditions in this camp.
The salsa group performed for the dusty inhabitants of Plementina camp, who watched and imitated and laughed the entire time. There I was, in the middle of Kosovo with a diverse group of internationals, dancing salsa with the Roma in impoverished surroundings. But they loved the music, they liked to dance, and it felt good to see them enjoying themselves so much. All joined in and danced, boys with boys, boys with girls, girls with girls…they didn’t care, and they seemed incapable of reaching the point of exhaustion (unlike me).
The Roma were fascinated by the cameras…lots of little (and not so little) hands desperately waved right in front of my face. That meant, “take my picture,?and it was usually more of an order than a request. Streams of children surrounded us and asked endless questions that I couldn’t understand. In the end, they felt it necessary (well, the girls did) to give us each several of their hairclips in remembrance of the night.
Although the whole event lasted only a few short hours, it was refreshing to see a group of internationals making an effort to connect with the locals on a personal level and not from an office; particularly a Roma camp that is completely isolated and can definitely be said to be “divided?from the rest of Kosovo. After seeing the conditions there it was even sadder to discover that this is one of the Roma camps that has received the most attention in the entire region. Salsa dancing served as the remedy for that night’s woes, and as glue between two of Kosovo’s divided communities.
Posted By Claudia Zambra (Kosovo)
Posted Jul 22nd, 2003