Today I am in Orhid, Macedonia; the jewel of the country, if you consult my Lonely Planet. Having not seen much else, save the mountain roads I traveled to get here, I would tend to agree. Orhid is a quaint, touristy, village by a very large lake that separates Macedonia from Albania. I came here in the KWN van with Igo and Nicole, who had planned a weekend for themselves across the border.
Yesterday though, I ventured out for an evening walk around Prishtina (I now know that I have been spelling it wrong all this time). Prishtina has many faces: the downtown, mostly occupied by internationals and business people; the hillside, where mansions look down on the city; and the in-between, where most of the families live. The in-between, itself, is a surfeit of various neighborhoods. The traditional Muslim quarter teems with old men in white fedora-like hats and women covering their hair with colorful scarves. Up the rode from there is the green market, where you can find everything from hairdryers and unregistered phones to tomatoes and rugs from Turkey. I continued to walk from there, up a winding road to the outskirts of the city. There I found schools, soccer fields, and the gutted (or bombed) houses I have come to recognize as a typical site in Prishtina.
The decisions of our leaders, in cases of international intervention like Kosova, have much more weight than I think we realize as we watch the news and discuss politics. Clinton had a difficult time, as I recall, convincing the American people that our intervention was necessary in Kosova. I, myself, am always hesitant to send American troops into a volatile area. As a pacifist, I expect my leaders to use force only as a last result. In the case of Kosova, Clinton saw a NATO air strike as an alternative to sending in ground forces. It worked, and the expulsion of the Ethnic Albanians from Kosova by Milosevic was halted. For this, the Kosovars are eternally gratefully to America. The cost for Americans was minimal – for Kosovars, the war and our intervention cost homes, schools, hospitals, and cultural sites. When we hear about our interventions abroad (please, not including Iraq), I think we assume that we are only making things better. We do not understand the full hell of a war outside of our front doors. We cannot comprehend how it would feel to be forced from your home only to come back and find it destroyed. It’s a very intimate thing, to walk around this area of the city with my camera taking pictures of lives that used to be. Flyers depicting missing people still litter the walls of the city and it’s parliament – a constant reminder to those who are rebuilding their lives of those who cannot.
I got lost; in the pictures, my thoughts, and the winding streets that seem to lead to nowhere. I wandered; looking around hopefully for something I would recognize, without success. The sun slowly disappeared behind the mountain, leaving me and the men washing their cars alone in the dark. After about 3 hours, it was now close to 11, I finally found my way home via taxi. Though tired, I was glad to have had time to really reflect on the pain of the past and the hope for the future of Kosova.
Today, after Igo, Nicole and I ate and they left for their own vacation – I went off to walk the trail around the lake. As the paved, public, trail ended I saw a smaller dirt trail up a hill into the woods. The poem, The Road not Taken, by Robert Frost popped into my head. Forced to memorize it in 6th grade, the imagery and words have always stuck with me,
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could…
Then took the other, just as fair;
And having perhaps a better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear…”
I turned up the grassy path. After a 10 minute climb I was greeted with the most beautiful view of the lake from the cliff where I stood. Small stone steps left from the Byzantium era curled down the side of the cliff to a stone beach. Water lapped at my toes, lovers kissed behind me and the children playing giggled. It was just lovely.
The lesson from Frost has never been lost in me, but seems particularly poignant when I think of how I got to Kosova. Treading the road far from where, as a child, I dreamed to be at 25 has brought me so much joy, so much humility, and more perspective than I thought possible. The real lesson from Frost is that we cannot take both roads. We cannot see what will come; but, importantly, we must examine all paths before committing to a choice. If we all left the comfortable thoughts of international intervention to help “those people”, and let our minds truly reflect on the ramifications of action or inaction; then perhaps, as one world, we truly could claim to be stewards of humanity. “…and I – I took the road less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”
Posted By Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)
Posted Oct 3rd, 2006