Early Wednesday morning, August 18, 1999

 

Preparing to Return

 

 

Hi everyone!I actually started to write this one on July 25, but got no

further than "Hi everyone!"Even though the title for this one is

"Preparing to Return", it seems that I still have many things to do before I

leave.I have only 6 working days left before I leave for a 17 day trip to

Italy.I'll take a ferry accross the Adriatic to Bari, Italy and then take

a train to Milan where I'll meet my girlfriend Kim.From there, we will

visit the Dolomites, then Venice, Florence, the Umbria region, Perugia,

Rome, Pisa and other points on the West coast as we make our way back to

Milan.I'll then return by train and ferry to Albania on the 12th of

September where I will play tourist and frantically photograph everything I

didn't get a chance to photograph during my work days.I'll return to

Minnesota, after an overnight in Zurich, on September 16th, at which point,

the rest of my adventure will begin.

 

Wrapping‑up Work

 

As usual, I feel like I'm going in many different directions at once with

many different project on the burner.I am working closely with two local

staff who have taken on leadership roles.Miranda will supervise all social

work staff and Ladi will coordinate the opening of two community centers in

Durres.Both are very strong women who are respected by the others.One of

the community centers in Durres will serve internally displaced Albanians

who have moved here mostly from the Northern regions of Albania, where the

economic situation is desperate and the blood feud problem rages.Blood

feud or blood revenge is the taking of another's life because they took the

life of someone in your family.It is a centuries‑old code of law governing

everything from murder to family relationships and church attendance.It is

the law in Northern Albania, where law enforcement officials are laughed at

because of their inability to do anything about this problem, and their

general incompetence due to lack of training and resources.The police in

this area wear masks when they intervene in situations where they may need

to kill someone, so they are not identified and marked for blood revenge by

the family of the person they kill.Once a person has killed someone, all

the males in their family are at risk of being killed, regardless of age.

So entire families will isolate themselves within their homes to stay safe.

They suffer from lack of income, social life, and the children are kept home

from school.This could go on for years.Some of these families move out

of Albania altogether, illegally, but most cannot afford to do this, so they

either stay enclosed in their homes or move to another region of Albania,

where often they are followed and targeted just the same.It is a matter of


honor to revenge the killing.

 

A couple of Albanian agencies are working on this problem.One is called

the All Nations Reconciliation Association run by a volunteer named Emin.

They gain the trust of the enclosed families through long‑term association

and reputation, and attempt to bring the two feuding families together to

reach an alternative honorable solution for both sides.They have almost no

financial support and all of their mission members are volunteers doing very

dangerous work.Emin carries a gun with him at all times.He took us to

meet two enclosed families in Shkoder, the largest city in the Northern

region.Even though one family was rich and the other very poor, both male

heads of household had the same dreadfully worried expression on their

faces.The rich family relies on armed guards to protect them.The poor

family relies onthe honor of the code to protect them which says that they

cannot be killed unless they leave their home.I administered a mental

health screen to one of these men, and he answered yes to practically all of

the questions.Another agency working on this problem is the Peace and

Justice Center in Shkoder.They are well funded by a couple of

international Catholic agencies.They provide financial support for local

infrastructure development, home‑schooling for enclosed children and

document studies of this problem in selected areas called communes.We have

proposed to help by offering social work and mediation training to the

mission members of the Reconciliation agency and to help fund analysis of

data which they have collected.We also have offered our social workers to

assess the needs of the enclosed families and provide comprehensive

home‑based social services.

 

If you want to learn more about blood revenge, I highly recommend Broken

April by Ismail Kadare, a classic Albanian novel by a world renowned

Albanian author.He gets inside the head of a man who has killed someone

and must abide by the code.It is available through Amazon.com if you can't

find it elsewhere.

 

The community center in Durres will work with these folks as well, providing

a wide range of social services in an area of Durres called the Kaneta or

"swamp" because the land used to be a swamp.The houses built here are all

illegal and are usually built by the familiy members.I visited one

yesterday that was basically a shack built with scraps of plywood, in a

country where all other houses are built with cement blocks and bricks and

then stuccoed.There is no running water or sewage system and in the winter

months, the swamp returns and attemptsto take back its land as the

so‑called dirt roads through this area turn to mud.Even on dry, hard

ground, our high‑clearance 4‑wheel drive vehicle had a hard time maneuvering

around the hills and valleys in the road and had to turn back.

 


ICMC also plans to open another community center in another part of Durres

to serve Kosovars who are staying for the Winter months.We will also

target the Roma people, who are the bottom rung of society here, and are

often street people seen most often begging with small children or sending

their children out alone to beg.They are very well trained to be as cute

and pathetic‑looking as possible.Many of them have the same expression and

body posture when holding out their hands for money.The children will walk

along side me, holding and kissing my hand until they get what they want.

The best response we have come up with is to stop with them at the nearest

fruit stand and buy them some food.Because we have heard that the money

they receive is returned to an adult who may or may not use it for their

benefit.And they target the places where people spend money for

non‑essential items like at the ice cream stands.Itís hard to refuse them.

I usually buy them an ice cream so that at least they are getting some

calcium in their diet.Local staff has told me that infants are wrapped

tightly in cloth and fed water with a sedative in it that keeps them quiet

all day while the parent begs, often using the infant as the reason they

need money.Some of the infants looked so stiff and still that I wondered

if they were still alive.

 

I also need to do staff performance reviews with all 13 social workers,

interview, hire and train 6 more social workers.I hope I can get it all

done!I'm really going to miss the social workers I supervise.They are a

great group of people who are very committed to the work they are doing.My

relationship with them has been excellent.We have learned so much from

each other.On the lighter side,I have taught them is to say"Your

welcome".At our afternoon check‑in meeting, each person tells about what

they accomplished during the day and asks questions and gets feedback.At

the end of each persons' report, I always thank each one by saying "Thank

you, Eriola." And Eriola will say, "Your welcome, David."It has become one

of those things that makes us all chuckle when we say it.†† I have even

heard them say it to one another now.They have told me that Americans are

so polite with one another, something that is not so present in Albanian

society.

 

I have run out of time for now.Last weekend I visited Kosova, so my next

entry will be a description of that experience, so stay tuned.... And stay

well, every one of you!