Translated by J.Dickson & L. Di Domenico
It’s difficult to know what and how to write about my experiences in Albania, among Albanian Kosovars who were and are in need of everything: support both material and spiritual.
I would like to try to explain to you what type of country we are talking about by telling you about some things that happened to me as I boarded the ferry from Bari to Durres on the night between May 1 and 2, 1999.
The ferry "Adriatica" is run by a private Italian company and I am here with 3 young ladies: one from Rome, another from Palermo and the third from Cosenza. As well as we civilians, of whom some are journalists seeking some tragic news story to report to the rest of the world… what I found strangest was the difference in ‘spirit’, atmosphere that there was among the different types of passengers. We were there with a belief in peace and humanitarian aid, many journalists were there eager to bring back an exceptional scoop and many many very young Kosovars that were coming from all over Europe who had just enrolled with the KLA to fight for their country. All these new soldiers were very young, amongst whom there were also some girls with camouflage outfits ready to sew KLA patches on the uniforms for identification.
We arrive in Durres and the soldiers disembarked marching and shouting the KLA anthem, the journalists are ready with their camcorders and we are just standing there in surprise and shock. Dust. Dust is all around the harbour area, roads have tarmac and with many potholes, open manholes, armoured personnel carriers, army trucks filled with armed soldiers… It is amazingly different to see such scenes here, with our very own eyes, rather than on TV.
The road that leads to Tirana is in very bad shape, every 20-30 metres there are bunkers from where soldiers check what is going on all around. Tirana is only 35-40 km away but it takes over an hour and a half to get to "Campo Don Bosko" in Tirana.
We are given a bed and a bed-side table, this will be the place where we’ll be staying for the next month.
We immediately look round the refugee camp set up within the centre and we get a feel for the situation in the camp immediately. The Italian "Protezione Civile" has set up about 130 tents for the 1000 Kosovars who are staying there. Everything is pretty well organised but I still can’t quite grasp the huge organisation behind all this and all the people who work for this; I am still very out of place.
What really strikes me is how simple and welcoming these people are since they keep asking us to enter their tents to offer us some fruit or coffee…incredible, isn’t it? They have nothing and the little they have they want to give to us, in a very simple and genuine manner. Many women, lots of children, these two groups represent 60% of the people at the camp, old men and teenagers follow.
A couple of days are needed to understand what to do and to get integrated and then you are a part of them.
Because of my experience and knowledge of IT the person responsible for the group suggests that my support should be to install a couple of PCs that will be used for the management of the warehouse and for the school that is being set up.
Another responsibility of mine was to go around 2 areas of Tirana, more precisely Laprake and Breglumasi to find Kosovar families that are staying with Albanian families in order to register them and to give them both food and sanitary products To walk into these rooms where up 20 people were sleeping, with their faces hungry for everything… these people who lost all they ever had, some managed to run away with some money and photographs… photographs capture the moments that you wish never went by.
Every afternoon I was busy in playgroups with Albanian and Kosovar children from Breglumasi, one of the most infamous areas in Tirana. 400 children, each one extremely difficult and always throwing stones… this is how they show you that they care about you, for many days I had bruises on my legs. Afternoons were very special and always full of surprises, the children were so violent and ill-mannered, they would climb on scaffolding, on the gate, fight with each other, then cry… obviously someone would get hurt every day so we often visited the infirmary for stiches, broken teeth, etc….
Some children would play together in small rooms of the centre, then would call me and sing me a song from an Italian cartoon…
We make them draw in groups while others play outside. Drawing is the most and truthful expression that children can give. It’s quite easy to understand their despair and intimate sorrow and pain, with colours they can really express a lot.
As the days went by the relationships with all the people I get to know become deeper, as soon as they see me they say "Mirmingesse" which means ‘Good morning’, every afternoon in Breglumasi I get to know new people and new stories, often children’s stories. Sometimes, I must admit that it was my selfishness that wanted to know the sad episodes they had to live through.
In the camp one builds stronger relationships with some of the kids. Alban, 18 years old has a high diploma and speaks very good English, in his free time he used to be a DJ. Sokol, 17 years old, is a student and Nesser, 22, is an English teacher. They have lost everything and are really eager to work for themselves and for others. We manage to make them work in our warehouse to help us prepare food packages that will be distributed to external Kosovar families.
Days go by really fast and the things to do increase constantly. I manage to go to the camp at Kukes on the border between Albania and Kosovo thanks to helicopters that the Italian airforce and army gave us to use.
I get to see with my own eyes the first camp where all Kosovars entering Albania must stop to be allocated to other camps. There are about 7000 people, mainly women and children, the whole camp has been organised by the Italian "Missione Arcobaleno", with a hospital run by the Italian Red Cross.
Some days ago I took children and their parents to Rinas ( Tirana) as they were going to Italy to undergo emergency operations or needed specific treatment that they cannot get in Albania. Some of them are separated again from their families but luckily this is only temporary and they know it.
In the camp there are also 9 or 10 pregnant women and one of them, proving one more time that life goes on, gave birth to a beautiful little girl, still without a name. The woman is waiting for her husband to arrive and she has no idea where he is as they have been separated during the evacuation.
The day when I must return to Italy is getting closer and closer and it’s difficult to think that I have to leave everything and everyone, I wish I could stay… but for now I can’t and maybe it wouldn’t even be right. I am sure this month will be forever and a very special month for me.
I would have liked to tell you a lot more but words just can’t describe what I saw, what I felt: difficult moments along with almost serene ones in which we volunteers tried to create to reduce tension. Feelings, emotions and life experiences that I just cannot describe… they would just lose their true value.
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