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Kosovo Diary

The complete blog posts from my Kosovo trip from December ’07 – January ’08, re-routed from my old blog.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008 – my last night in prishtina

As election posters start to plaster the walls and lamp posts in the Serb enclave of Gracanica, and Albanian turbo folk music drives me up the wall, and my temporary man-hating experience still boils low in me, and I am force fed by the Krasniqi family (not literally, but because they put all the kifle, flija, mantija, and all those home-made goods in front of you, you don’t have a choice) one last time, the stories I’ve been working on in the last three days have finally come together.
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On Sunday, I spent almost the entire day on busses with Branimir, my Serb translator, going from town to town until we reached Cacak, deep inside of Serbia. There we met with Andrej Milic– the commander of the Serb paramilitary group, Guard of Czar Lazar. (Dear Laura, you will appreciate this one). It was an interesting interview, to say the least, and I should say here that my conversations with Branimir were more enlightening than the interview with Mr. Milic. Branimir is perhaps one of the most decent people I’ve ever come across– sensitive, intelligent, not to mention the tall-dark-and handsome-part, he was patient enough to explain his point of view as to why Kosovo can’t be independent. He also missed the countdown to the Serb new year on Sunday night, and instead of spending it with his girlfriend and friends, was in the middle of a conversation over politics, religion, and life at the strike of 12am– in a car in the middle of Mitrovica– in north Kosovo. And I won’t spill the beans about the interview that day until I really sit down to write about it.
The story I’ve been working on since Monday has been on human trafficking here in Kosovo. I managed to ‘finish’ a story today, without even really starting on this issue– and I feel sad about that. I just wish I had more time now to really work this topic. With the help of a US Army/KFOR contractor volunteering to translate for me, I interviewed a 20-year old girl– I’ll call her Arjana– who was internally trafficked. Her story is a long, complex, and painful one, and it’s not even over yet. I went back to the shelter where she is currently staying for three days in a row, simply to be around her, to reach some sort of comfort level, and for her to reveal more in a way that was not forced. Slowly, she opened up to me and I had a wonderful time with her today, accompanying her to her hairdressing lessons, and then out to a cafe with a few US Army/KFOR members.
I can’t think of more to say as it’s 5am now, I’m half asleep, and I have to catch a flight (and really, not miss it this time)– but what I will say is that the story I’ve started on trafficking is a topic I very much want to continue with, especially because my time with Aki has triggered something in me personally. More photos to come very soon.
     Andrej Milic, commander of the Serbian paramilitary group, Guard of Czar Lazar
When the electricity fails you: a qebaptore in Gjilan
At a women’s shelter. ‘Aki’, on the right, hoists up her roommate’s 9-month old baby.

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Friday, January 11, 2008 – division of people

As my final week wraps up here, I’ve been trying to think of which ways to approach writing the stories that are slowly coming together. Today was quite a reaffirmation that things remain uncertain for many Kosovar Albanians living inside Serbia. I went to the Presevo Valley, to interview Riza Halimi– Presevo’s former mayor and now MP in the Serbian Parliament. 
Presevo is a municipality which is in Serbia and borders Kosovo– the majority of the people living inside the Presevo municipality are ethnic Albanians– essentially, it’s an Albanian enclave in Serbia.  I went from Prishtina through Gjilan in the east of Kosovo, and got through the Kosovo-Serb border check surprisingly hassle-free. The KPS officer took a look at me, then glanced at my passport, then the press pass, and was wide-eyed by the end of it, but didn’t say anything. As the bus pulled through the border check, about eight US Army-KFOR soldiers on patrol stood right outside my window waving at me, after which I silently giggled like a school girl to myself. 
Then, after driving for about 15 minutes through blindingly thick fog and seemingly hitting every one of those treacherous potholes on the hillside roads, the bus descended into Presevo Valley and eventually into the center of the town. Everything about the place is much like any other Albanian town inside Kosovo– qebaptore and mishtore shops lined the streets, and a mosque occasionally appeared. The only things that gave it away were the Serbian license plates and cyrillic on the sign posts. 
I have yet to translate much of the interview I had with Mr. Halimi, but the general feeling I got was that even if Kosovo gets its independence in the next few months, the Albanians in Presevo won’t be a part of the new state. Enjoining Presevo municipality to Kosovo won’t happen, according to the rough translation I had from his assistant, Mentor. Extremist elements, such as Serb paramilitary groups or the Albanian National Army, also didn’t seem to pose a threat to the stability of the area. When I asked Mr. Halimi about how he dealt with being the only Albanian MP in a Serb parliament, he shrugged his shoulders, turned the sides of his lips downwards, and spoke with his eyes averted away from me. Mentor translated that he gets jeered at in session by the radicals whenever he tries to speak. 
It’s a strange thing that independence is just not that easy. More thoughts on that later, as it’s my last Friday night here, and I am obliged to go do the local thing: have coffee, then tea, another coffee, a few pejas, and smoke– passively. 
potholes and fog
bus on the border

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008 – we run on coffee, cigarettes, and peja pilsner. 

I have a lot more to say than I’m actually writing and perhaps while I’m in my last week here in Kosovo, the crunch time will come and some case of verbal diarrhea might be irresistible to me and all that I’ve been keeping inside will be told. But for now, just before I think the electricty is about to cut on me, and the water stops at 12am:

http://balkaninsight.com/en/main/galleries/7244/

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Sunday, January 6, 2008 – Orthodox Christmas

It is probably the appropriate time for me to leave very soon before I become over-fed and less sober than I really should be. I spent some time in Gracanica again tonight for the Orthodox celebration of Christmas– the church grounds were filled with families, individuals inside the church praying, plenty of rakia-drinking men, and a significant number of KFOR soldiers keeping watch. Christmas for the Serbs involves a lot of tradition, a lot of food, and a whole lot of drinking– something I had the pleasure of experiencing after being invited by a friend, Ivan, into his home to meet his very welcoming family.

outside the church

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Saturday, January 5, 2008 – of politicians and the press

Kosovo’s new assembly held its first session yesterday.

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Thursday, January 3, 2008 – trying out other things

While I wait for the necessary contacts to come through on a few of my stories, I decided it might be of some use to fill in the time… and will be shooting assignments for the Gazeta Express until it’s time for me to leave. The Express publishes some of the better photos, out of all the dailies around Kosovo, and after meeting the editor and a few of the photographers there today, I think I’ll be quite happy doing this for the time being while the other stories continue to progress on the side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swedish KFOR guarding the Orthodox Church in the Serb enclave of Gracanica, 2.1.08

The sun finally came out today, 3.1.08

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Monday, December 31, 2007 – gezuar 08

I’ve decided that trying to work over the next three days would be completely futile as pretty much the whole of Kosovo is getting itself into a drunken stupor. I have also landed myself into an Albanian food coma, and am having a rather hard time actually breathing (thanks to the Krasniqi family), and then sometimes I can’t feel my nose, toes, and fingers because it’s so cold, sometimes can’t see anything because of the electricty cuts– people are also lighting fireworks randomly and it so happens you go deaf briefly while walking on Nena Tereza boulevard when one explodes right next to your foot, then the Krasniqi kids are lighting their own fireworks on the balcony bang bang bang bang one after the other– their parents are dancing to full volume Albanian folk music in the living room and are fast getting drunk as the countdown draws nearer… by far it’s probably the craziest holiday season I’ve ever spent abroad, and it hasn’t even reached 12am yet!

Supermarket hunger, 29.12

Butrint attempts to pull Joni away from his fixation on the toy section

Little Joni and the new year’s shopping

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Today is one of celebration, but also of remembrance. The families of the missing held a candlelight vigil outside the Parliament building at 4pm today. As the years go on, the number of people who gather on this day have dwindled as many lose hope of ever finding closure for their loved and lost ones.

From a series of ‘The Missing’: 

Press Conference for the families of the missing, Prishtina, 31.12

Families of the missing outside Parliament, 31.12

Ferdane Qerkezi lost six men in her life– her husband Halim, and five sons, Artan, Armend, Ardan, Edmond, and Vegim.

Minavera lost her son, Gazmend.

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Friday, December 28, 2007 – hitting a little low.

Things are getting increasingly frustrating, as I’ve been here for almost 5 days but have made little head way on the stories I want to focus on. Added to that is the weather, a little too brutally cold for my liking, and the power cuts– the power cuts are apparently worse this winter, and it hits harder because it’s even colder than it was last year so the heating tends to be a problem. The past two days have been spent trying to make contact after contact (in the back rooms of some places, in smokey dank restaurants for others), but as far as establishing some sort of concrete story, I can’t say it’s too positive, especially on the trafficking side of things. And then yesterday for the first time, I failed to restrain myself from mouthing off at a complete stranger who crossed the line when he made kissy kissy noises at me. This whole thing is definitely proving itself to be hard– but such is life and let’s see what happens after this weekend. I have met some interesting people though, Isa Bala being one of them– a man of immeasurable generosity, even after having lost so much just a few days after the end of the war in Kosovo.

the sixth power cut of the day. 10 year-old Dabnis and the candle, the Sadiku household in Peje, 27.12

Isa the butcher, Peje, 28.12.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007 – Working things out

So an interview today proved to be somewhat productive, and hopefully something will come of it but I’ll only be able to tell in January. Tomorrow it’ll be off to the north to meet with a few people– I’m going to keep myself in check and not say too much about anything until things actually happen!! Anyway, well I just wanted to leave a few pictures up… these were from yesterday walking around Prishtina with Dea, the daughter of the family with whom I’m staying, and then with the local journalists here drinking the local poison, noxious raki.

Christmas in PrishtinaSanta actually works for DHL around here

SatellitesSatellites, Dardania

Spatar and Krenar with precious raki

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007 – ‘ladies and gentlemen, the aircraft is being de-iced’

5 days, cancelled, then delayed flights, a hotel room, and lots of bad weather later, I finally reached Prishtina after a two day trek through London and Zagreb and Skopje from New York– at least I got to relax and be silly for a few days in NY!! (the wonderful upside of missing a flight on Wednesday night). So far, all is well, and tomorrow I’ll be onto a few things… so we’ll see how those go. I’ll also be out in the west of Kosovo later in the day, in a town called Peje, to meet with the contacts I have who’ll put me in touch with ‘safehouses’ where I’ll hopefully be able to get started on at least one story. Fingers crossed that this will go alright… and just to leave you with the bleak image in Zagreb where I had to stay over night, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!!

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