June 29, 1999
The Albanian Chronicle: The Kosovars
Hi everybody! Sorry it has taken so long for the 4th edition to come into
existence. I've decided to make it a bit easier on myself though by writing
shorter and more frequent versions. These theme versions take too much
thought to put together. So, instead I will simply describe the stuff of my
days. Next time. This time, I do want to describe the Kosovars I've met.
I have met so many wonderful people that I know I won't do them justice by
trying to talk about them all, but I will go until I can go no longer.
Astrit ‑ A driver for ICMC, Astrit is an attorney in Kosova. He is married
and has a six year old daughter, both of whom were together with him here in
Tirana. We spend a lot of time in the 4wd vehicles together slowly rumbling
over the dusty potholed roads from North to South. As an intellectual, he
was jailed in Kosova by the Yugoslav police. I asked him what he
experienced in prison there. He looked at me, as he was driving, and simply
said "Everything." He went into no further details. There are times when I
can see the pain on his face as he recalls some of the memories while he
drives. He smiles easily and laughs heartily at simple or unusual oddities
we pass on the roads.
One day, he drove Alma, a social worker, and I to Kamza, a suburb of sorts
of Tirana. Many of the people living here have migrated from the Northen
part of Albania, looking for work. Many of them have illegally built homes
on land which they do not own without permits of any kind. The government
has threatened to bulldoze them down, but many feel they are empty threats.
Some of these families have rented their homes to the Kosovars. Alma, with
ICMC funding, has rented a small run down building, with nothing but a
billiards table in it, to serve as a community center for people to gather
and talk, and play pool and board games we provided. (Chess is a very
popular local past time. I often see men and boys playing either chess or
backgammon in parks and in front of shops as we drive along.) We bought
some tables and chairs and some cups and such to provide refreshments.
On the day we arrived, a couple young Kosovar boys were playing pool. They
finished their game and Astrit challenged me to a game. He won. Then the
landlord of the building (an Albanian) challenged me. I won... which was
probably not a smart political move... but I can get somewhat competitive
and throw politics out the window. Then we played doubles and I teamed with
the landlord, and we won, gaining back all of the 'chips' I had lost by
beating him. Anyways, after this political social work session was
finished, we were all good buddies. By this time, there was a good number
of others watching... women and kids and young men. Only the older men had
played. This is definitely a man's world here, (among the Kosovars) where
men are looked to for leadership and receive special attention from the
women and tell the women what to do. The Albanian women, on the other
hand are not to be pushed around. Many are self proclaimed feminists. At
least most of the ones I've met who are from the city here. The village
folk I'm sure are more similar to their Kosovar 'cousins'. And perhaps the
Kosovars I've met are mostly from villages... So take all of this
generalizing with a grain of salt please. I haven't done any representative
random samplings yet!
So then I remembered that one of the men here is a professional musician and
asked him if he would play something for us. He of course, was waiting for
a reason to pull out his guitar‑type instrument. Three strings, a narrow,
long neck, and a smaller, rounded body describes its features. (sorry I
don't know the technical terms for these.) He played and sang a couple
songs first... Very heartfelt. Then he asked his two children to join him.
They seemed a bit shy at first but after the first couple minutes, they were
unaware of anything else around them. They both had strong, young voices,
very similar in pitch or tone as a prepubescent boy and a early adolescent
girl. I heard the word Kosova a couple times and knew these must be folk
songs about their country. Tears dripped off the end of my nose as I
imagined the destruction they must have seen of their country and home they
sing of so passionately, and yet cannot return to, at the moment.
An aside: "At the moment", I am reminded as I write these words, is the
most frequently used phrase by the Albanians. They have seen so many
changes in their country in the past 10 years that it seems they take
nothing as permanent, and mentally prepare themselves for changes at any
It was time to leave, so we started saying our thank you's and goodbyes,
(falenmenderit and mirapafshim) when we were invited to lunch. I explained
that we had an appointment so they asked if we could come back after that.
I felt compelled to accept the invitation after consultation with Astrit
about what it would mean to turn down the invitation. And I was of course
excited about the chance to experience a deeper level of Kosovar life.
We arrived back at Kamza an hour later than we promised because of
difficulties finding Sr. Roberta at an Italian Caritas collective center in
Kavaje. So apologies were the first order. It was already 4:00 PM. Food
and drink were non‑stop, course after course. I was amazed at the amount of
food that these women produced from such a small kitchen in a very small
house. We sat around a low table on low couches. The landlord guy pulled
out a two liter plastic bottled half filled with Rakia, an very strong clear
alcoholic drink made from grapes and distilled. He made it himself and was
very proud of it so of course I had to try it. Frequent cheers while
drinking is a traditional way of showing respect to your host... Gazuar!!...
is the word for cheers. The food included an onion, tomato, cucumber salad
with some soft white cheese with a yogurt type taste. This was followed
with beef brains which I ate hesitatingly at first, but found it to taste
good while the texture took some getting used to. A soup followed,
followed by a tomato spaghetti pasta dish, followed by a rice and chicken
dish. It was a feast...fit for a king, as I told the cooks. They were very
concerned whether I liked the food or not, being the only non‑Albanian
present. Of course the amount I ate, for those who know my eating capacity,
made the hosts very happy and myself very full.
The singing began as the food came to an end. We were hosted by the
musician's family, so again the guitar was produced and songs were sung for
the next 2 hours straight. Solos, groups, duets, laughing, teasing,
gazuaring, on and on. Neighbors came to join in the festivities. The
refugee leader, an old, weathered man with a lively spark in his eye,
exuding a calm and steady wisdom, came and sat next to me. He spoke maybe
two words of English, and with my two words of Albanian, we communicated
with smiles, laughter and me saying over and over again, "Mir, shume mir!",
which means "Good, very good!"
The musician's daughter sang a couple solos with guitar accompaniment. She
sang with such feeling that everyone had tears in their eyes. Her father's
admiration of her talent was obvious in his expression, as he played for
her. The songs again were about the freedom of Kosova and the struggles
they have endured. Astrit, usually a loud and vocal participant, was
silenced, and bowed his head as tears streamed from his eyes. Everyone
stopped, surprised to see such a strong man cry so openly, and attempted to
comfort him. They managed to find the right words to tease a smile and a
chuckle out of him, but only for the moment. His somber mood remained. On
the way home, I prompted him for some words about what he experienced, and
after thinking for a while, he said that very rarely he has experiences
where strong memories come together perfectly with present events to create
an emotional experience which cannot be contained. This is what happened
tonight, he said.
Another man, whom I had met earlier around the pool table, seemed to have a
healing experience that evening. Upon first meeting him, I could see the
pain in his face. He quietly stayed in the background of the activities.
When he came to the house that evening in the middle of the dinner, I
noticed everyone look at each other as he came into the room. They seemed
uncertain how to welcome him to the group, but only for a fleeting moment.
A younger man offered him his seat next to the head of the household, which
he slowly took, and at first he refused to drink or eat, but slowly
complied. He continued to be quietly observing the conversations. As the
singing started, his face began to lighten somewhat. He sang along softly
at first, then participated more fully, with encouragment from the musician.
As time progressed, his participation became more full and less self
centered, to the point where by the end of the evening, he was blasting out
solos, not without a bit of hesitation, but in spite of his pain. His
connection with the others seemed more secure and their acceptance of him
assured...trauma counseling and recovery in its finest and most natural
form. For the moment....