Im here again at my home away from home, HIB PETROL, yup a petrol station on the main road E66 that goes from Skopje Macedonia to Pristina, Kosovo which I’ve dubbed “route 66”. Its new name has caught on amongst the men in Preoce who drive.. (I have yet to meet a Romani woman who drives). I don’t think anyone has a cultural reference to “route 66, I don’t think I really do either, except that song about it… “get your kicks on route 66”.
Its very “Balkan style” to build a petrol station along a highway somewhere, with gas, a mini market and a café with outdoor seating. HIB PETROL is actually a café and a pizzeria. It’s the non-stop place to go if you have a car and live in the surrounding area. It’s a Kosovar Albanian petrol station, which is right on the border of the surrounding Roma/Serb enclave. Ive come to see it as an outpost for the Albanian majority, and I think they built it here for a reason. This Roma/Serb enclave is where I am currently teaching English. I bring my students here sometimes for English class field trips. None of them would dare come here alone. Some of my students are scared of “Albanians”, but ive noticed that since we’ve been taking field trips into the Albanian community that they are starting to get curious and im happy for that… so far so good on the “reconciliation tip”….its a small thing I know, and my privilege allows me to come here … the healing here is going to take a long long time….
I’m here today to use the internet, drink Italian espresso and be amongst the Albanian majority for a while. Im probably the only one who walks here, it’s a 15 min. walk from Preoce through the wheat fields that are everywhere in Kosovo. The place is mostly full of Albanian men. Many of these men are unemployed and come to spend a euro on a couple coffees and sit with friends. There are also groups of Swedish, or Finnish KFOR soldiers (the NATO police force that has been here since the war in 1999), sweaty highway workers with big leathery arms who are always repairing the roads and seemingly will never run out of work, some family’s on their way towards Skopje or Pristina, mafia types who drive up in the fanciest cars and sit the whole time talking on cell phones, while their girlfriends sit and smoke cigarette after cigarette while saying nothing. (I know its a sterotype..sorry..). Im actually quite intimidated by these mafia types, they are so surly and serious with their sunglasses, tight black t shirts, cigarettes and 3 cell phones. Its common to have 3 cell phones in Kosovo if your in bizness as they’re are different networks, Serb, Albanian, and Kosovar and calling outside your network is very expensive…. so its also common to see men with a cell phone on each ear.
Kosovo is seemingly growing.. well, Albanian Kosovo is growing, while Serb and Roma Kosovo is shrinking as people emigrate to other countries, fleeing ethnic violence or the violence of economic necessity. There is a countrywide unemployment rate of 40%, while in the Roma community, the unemployment rate is closer to 90%. Its strange that with such a high unemployment rate even amongst the Albanian community that everywhere you look there is construction going on…giant hyper markets, car dealerships, outlets for cosmetics, construction supplies, petrol stations, and hotels. Nobody I talk to knows who is going to patronize these businesses. Of course, when you talk about money and “business” in Kosovo, the mysterious and all powerful “Albanian mafia” is always mentioned… they are like an evil OZ. Nobody I know knows an Albanian in the mafia, yet everyone repeats crazy statistics about their criminal involvement in everything from sex trafficking, extortion, auto theft, smuggling, drugs, politics…and even chicken stealing!
And speaking of mafia….on my last visit to HIB petrol, 2 armored Carabinieri vehicles rolled up in the parking lot next to the café. The Carabinieri are loathed by me for their fascist history and for the very real fascists in the ranks.They are the national gendarmerie of Italy, formed in the 30’s under Mussolini and entrusted with eliminating any opposition. They are the force that to this day is responsible for eliminating any opposition in italy…and they have badly beaten quite a few of my friends in protests… and beaten some others to death. One of those killed by the Carabinieri was Carlo Giuliani at the 2001 g8 summit protests…he was 27 years old. They are one of many police forces in Kosovo working with KFOR and whenever I would see them on the streets of Kosovo it is my duty to give them the “vaffanculo!”….
…anyway they rolled up to have some coffee and like a bad action movie, one of them gets out with full body armor and machine gun to check the café and then signals to the rest of them that’s its ok for coffee break. They get out in formation and occupy the two tables next to me.. they never take off their sunglasses, they order and drink their coffees and in reverse bad action movie get in their armored vehicles and drive away….
bella ciao chumbawamba listen!
There are a lot of borders to cross in Kosovo, and each day i spend living and working in the Roma mahala i am learning about them, espescially when traveling into the Albanian community with Roma friends. It’s not just the Serbian border to the north and east, where Serbia doesnt have immigration or customs because that would mean recognizing Kosovo as an independent country…but the borders of ethnicity, race, gender, poverty…the borders that the trauma of war has left behind….
….. today, the heat, the constant smell of burning trash and burning fields, being trapped in an enclave protected by police, the hyper-patriarchy, the trauma that war and poverty have created… are wieghing on me. its one of those days where Kosovo feels like a prison of sorts. I don’t mean to cry you a river of crocodile tears… and I don’t want to sound culturally inappropriate….i know im the one with the privilege of leaving (to another country or just to another neighborhood), of skin color, of passport and nationality…….im just tired..perhaps a coffee is all i need..
…… and don’t get me wrong, im actually doing great, the classes are wonderful! I really love and care about the kids… we have a lot of fun and were learning together. Im learning a lot about humility and patience. Im learning about the kids, their lives… what works in class, what doesn’t…how to be a good teacher…
Yesterday I had a day off and I was at the education center by myself, cleaning up and making room on the walls for new lessons and more art that the younger students and I make together. The classroom is pretty small, and there is only one small white board for writing and explaining lessons. I use big sheets of white paper for new lessons and I tape them to the walls of the classroom… sometimes it looks like the room is made of paper…paper and drawings of cats, dogs, houses, flowers, robots….things I make and a lot of stuff that the students make.
Anyway, while cleaning up the center I heard 2 girls outside smoking a cigarette just in front of the door. They come here to smoke because its one of the few places outdoors in Preoce where no one can see you, as the road dead ends at the school. Its also the place where some of the teenagers come to make out…so im told. (somehow ive become the holder of quite a number of teenage secrets in the mahala).
These two girls are students in the beginner English class. I heard them talking about the lesson we did together last Friday.. “it’s a red house, it’s a blue star, it’s a pink flower” etc. I invited them in and we talked as best we could in English and Romanese. These two girls are best friends, bad asses, trouble makers, smoking at 13 years old.. total pottie mouths… we have a lot of fun in class together.
One of the girl’s father was murdered in 2001 “after” the war. He was one of 4 Roma men looking for work in Pristina, when he was kidnapped and killed by some members of the KLA. She now lives with her mom and extended family and is currently my neighbor.
It was nice to see them outside of the context of the classroom, and to see that we were friends, as well as having our teacher and student relationship. They acted totally different towards me, as if they let their tough girl guard down because there weren’t other students around. Anyway, I feel like this one encounter has changed our relationship in class for the better…and they are actually doing their homework now. And just as wonderful…. they invited me to their homes for coffee!
Everyday most of my time is spent with kids, from classtime to just being in the street making up games to play… I actually have to hide to get any time alone. And sometime hiding means going into an Albanian community…
…I can walk down the road anytime to “another world”, to the Albanian petrol station and have a coffee or a pizza… it’s a 15-minute walk and most of the Roma folks I know have never even been there.
..somebody is always burning garbage and toxic whiffs of it ride the slight breeze this morning. Its already 33 C. Its 730 am, I’m sweating and I’m hoping for rain. … I read that its pouring in Croatia!… please come this way storm clouds…PLEASE !
Every year there are two memorial football tournaments in Preoce. The first is a 10 day long Serb memorial tournament and the second is the 1 day Roma memorial tournament.
In the first, Serb teams from all over the area came to compete at the asphalt football pitch in the center of the village. In 2002 two Serbian men were killed when they drove over an IUD planted by the UCK (KLA) Kosovo liberation army (U.S backed Albanian Army).This was three years after the war had officially ended. This football match is in their honor.
Although the games were fun to watch with the Roma kids and family’s from the mahala ( Roma neighborhood), there was a very real apartied in effect. Even though Roma and Serbs live together in the KFOR (NATO police force) protected enclaves of Kosovo, there were no Roma players on any of the teams, which everyone of my students made sure to tell me. The bleachers were full of Serbs cheering for their favorite teams, while all the Roma families sat or stood on the grass outside the fence of the football field. The separation was unofficial and yet complete. Very late in the games one night, I saw some of the Roma teenagers start to move warily from outside the fence into the corners of the bleachers, seemingly testing the waters to see what they could get away with.
On the last evening, during the finals of the tournament, when emotions were high, (as high as the level of intoxication), I stood near the corner of the bleachers (outside the fence) with some Roma boys from the neighborhood. A small army of Serb teenagers walked by repeatedly trying to stare us down and laughing, claiming their turf.. …. Although I looked them in the eye each time they passed, none of the Roma boys dared. After 15 minutes of this intimidation, I asked my teenage friends if they wanted to leave. All agreed we should go, so we walked back home together. On the way back home, Elvis *, my friend as well as one of my students, told me that this same kind of thing also happens at school. ….that fights break out, that Roma kids get laughed at. Its not that there isn’t genuine friendship between some Serb kids and Roma kids, there is, it’s the pervasive prejudice that the Roma face everyday that was so apparent that night.
*yup that’s right Elvis is a common Romani name in Kosovo, as Elvis Presley is said to have Romani blood, I don’t know if he ever identified with his Romani ancestry.
One week later was the Roma memorial football tournament, a one-day event, commemorating the brutal killing of two Roma men from Preoce. In 2001, there were 4 Romani men from Preoce who were in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, looking for work. They were threatened and told to leave the city by some Albanian men. Some Albanians see the Roma as Serb collaborators during the war, although there is no evidence to back this up. It’s unclear to me if these Albanian men were members of the UCK (KLA Kosovo liberation army). Two of the Romani men were kidnapped and brutally murdered and two of the men escaped and now live abroad. The murdered men’s bodies weren’t identified until 2 years later by KFOR.
The tournament lasted about 8 hrs with the town of Lapiselo (with the red “FLY EMIRATES” jerseys) being the victors. Everyone got to play, (all males that is) from the little kids to the adults. It was great to see some of my friends playing, they are such good players…amazing! Unlike the Serb tournament, where lots of Roma family’s came out to watch, there were only a handful of Serbs at the Roma tournament. When I asked my dear friend Hisen why this was, his response “we’re just dirty gypsies to them”… and again its not universally true, as Hisen would say later, but just where were all the Serbs at the Roma tournament?
When the tournament was over, there was a celebration for the victors at Hisen and Sadeta’s house. Everyone came back from the match with bloody knees (asphalt football pitch) and stories of the best goals and biggest mistakes.
Sorry I haven’t sent out this update sooner! I made it to Kosovo and im in the warm graces of good friends. Everyone here is so very happy that I came back… they didn’t expect it.
My days are really busy, im teaching 3 classes! A 3 hour intensive English class for young adults ages 15 to 23. Many of these students were in class with me the last time I was here. I’m also teaching two evening classes, one for young kids, ages 6 to 9 and one class of beginner English to students ages 10 to 19. All of the classes are going great and the two evening classes keep growing in size…. so much so that we had to stop the really little ones from coming to class. An army of 4 and 5 year olds show up on the road to the school everyday at 6pm shouting my name or singing songs we learned together. They really want to come to class. It was difficult to tell them that there was no room for them, as the class already has 15 students and the classroom is really small.
…so….what with teaching, preparing lessons, getting the materials together for the lessons, (which takes a lot of time as nothing is near by), helping students with homework… my days can be 12 hours long!…
With the younger students we play games, sing songs, do art projects and are filling the walls of the center with beautiful drawings. With the beginner English class we do role plays of everyday things, and for some reason they really like tests… as everybody wants to be “the best”. Many of these students cannot write in any language. In the intensive English class, we do everything, reading, writing, listening and speaking. I’m trying to raise some extra money to go on field trips with this class. There is a swimming pool nearby, a mountain not so far away for picnics… and I would really like to take them out into the Albanian community. There is a town on the Albanian border called Prizren, its really beautiful there and a much more tolerant place than some of the other Albanian towns in Kosovo. There is still a lot of fear amongst my students with going into an Albanian community, but they said if I go with them and we speak English the whole time… “we should try”.
…ok that’s all for now although there is so much more to tell! ….The patriarchy here is still killing me with its violence and stupidity and I am still resisting in small ways by doing “women’s work” with my host moms everyday……
…… more about that, Serbian nationalism and the year 1389, how to deal with gay jokes in class, why I don’t believe in god, talking about sex with 16 year old boys, why all Albanians aren’t “bad people”, cultural appropriateness, potholes the size of swimming pools and the art of driving in Kosovo and why the world cup would be more fun for me if there were no flags or corporate advertising….
..all that with more photos in updates to come.
I miss you all! xo
three upcoming benefits for the voice of roma education center in kosovo!
Come out for a beautiful slide show, short film and discussion about the Roma of Kosovo. Presenting and joining the discussion will be me, Marko, educator and activist. I teach at the (Roma led) Voice of Roma education center in Kosovo.
I will share stories of some of the current politics of the region, some of the affects of the war and current relations of Roma people with their Serbian and Albanian neighbors. How religion is playing a role in this region (many Kosovo Rom are Muslim). I will also talk about the work of V.O R, the current emigration of thousands of Roma family’s, Roma traditions (both perceived and real), women’s rights and of course, the amazing kids I taught!..
All of this I try to share through stories as people told them to me or from my own experiences working in the community. I do not come to the presentation as an expert on Roma culture or to speak for the Romani people of Kosovo. I am not Rom and feel that I was very privileged to be welcomed into this community with such warmth. I come to this work very much interested in education, solidarity and mutual aid.
These are benefits for the Voice of Roma Education Center in Kosovo.. donations in the millions accepted!..all donations will go directly to the education center.
Hope to see you there!
thursday, january 28th, 7pm
938 Valencia Street at 20th
San Francisco (Dolores Street Community Services)
Wheelchair accessible and close to Bart!
$5 donation requested no one turned away for lack of funds.
Co-sponsored by the Center for Political Education and Voice of Roma
Also speaking at the this event will be Sani Rifati co- founder of Voice of Roma! He will talk about the present work of Voice of Roma (cultural, educational and economic development) and break down the negative stereotypes of Romani people in the media. He will also talk about the continued displacement of thousands of Roma families.
tuesday february 2nd 7 pm ….yup that’s groundhogs day!
1721-1/2 63rd St., Berkeley
(5 blocks S. of Ashby BART)
donations accepted no one turned away
Yummy snacks this is not an accessible house
wednesday february 24th 7pm
3030B 16th Street
San Francisco (right across from the 16 street bart station)
donations accepted no one turned away
yummy snacks this is not an accessible house
It is the mission of Voice of Roma to promote and present Romani cultural arts and traditions in a way that counters both romanticized and negative “Gypsy” stereotypes, and in so doing, to contribute to the preservation of Romani identity and culture. VOR also works to heighten awareness of human rights issues faced by Roma in today’s world, and to support efforts by Roma to (re)build and maintain their communities, improve their lives, and to strengthen the Romani voice both nationally and internationally. Our mission is accomplished through organizing and implementing cultural arts, educational, economic development, and charitable projects for and about Roma.
….so dear readers we have come to the end of the beautiful balkan/europe adventures…………..
Mongol Shuudan (russia) LISTEN!
…..and we had two choices for traveling back home……
……….across the atlantic on this aeroplane made of tiny lights…..
… or overland thru siberia on these magical sheep…. thats me on the right and wendy on the left…..
volim te xo marko
Quelqu’un M’a Dit (carla bruni france) LISTEN!