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!