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....