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!


weißer mann…..

my presentation in berlin went really well!!! I presented with my friends alex and sandro. The evening lasted 4 and half hours after all the questions… I was blown away by peoples interest and their genuine inquisitiveness…. It’s a very different scene here with ideas and conversation, and time for both… longer attention span? I dunno? There were about 45 people in attendance, which is a giant crowd in berlin for a presentation, as there are lots of presentations/ parties/ meetings almost every night of the week all over the city. I didn’t expect so many people to show up! Thanks to Abolishing Borders from Below for all their work in making these events happen… super!

Alex presented an overview of roma life in the different countries she has traveled to, with a short slide presentation. It was great and made me realize how what i experienced was such a very small, specific slice of Roma culture. One thing that Tito brought to the former Yugoslavia was a home for many people. The Roma in Kosovo live in communities (in houses) and this is definitely not true in all other parts of Europe. Alex’s presentation showed the diversity of roma life and the class divisions that also exist within the culture. Stereotyping of roma people is common, and by showing the diversity of roma life it was a good way to break those sterotypes.

Sandro presented on the current situation in italy… (in Rome and in Napoli). A story of violence, eviction of entire communities and deportation with the support of the Italian state. Its really fucking horrible… incredible racist… and it seems that very little of the Italian public is organizing to stop it….

after a break for cigarettes and club mate (the drink that single handedly keeps the berlin @movement alive and functioning) we had a long question and answer period.  Some of the toughest questions for me were about working for an international ngo, and cultural imperialism. One person kept trying to make the point, or ask the question about me being a white boy (weißer mann) in a community that is not mine and how did that change the community or the integrity of roma culture…. Great questions which I have thought about a lot.         berlin-presentation

I realized, that for me, there is a way in which my own analysis of many things went out the window when I was in Kosovo…. That being there in the midst of the daily trauma, discrimination and poverty…  I just tried to focus on the kids I was teaching and give them as much love as possible. Things were at such a survival level much of the time that all my questions of how I was changing “roma culture” by being there, or by teaching English faded to the background. Oh gawd!  does this make me a bleeding heart liberal?

My students were obviously happy that I was there and the love was mutual. The education center itself really took off in my time there and became a  wonderful place for the kids. Its not that my questions weren’t there, they just didn’t seem as pressing when in the midst of everything. I not saying this is right or wrong… just that it was…

One of voice of roma’s first projects, 7 years ago, was intensive English classes for about 50 students. Many of these folks now have jobs in ngo’s, as translators for the very large international community in Kosovo or with kfor and the united nations.. I know some of these folks and there are supporting large families with their incomes. Learning the english language has changed their lives for the better.. they told me so again and again. Unemployment in the roma community in kosovo is around 90%, speaking english is one of the few opportunities that folks have for employment.

I realized my own “cultural imperalism” one day towards the end of my stay in Kosovo. I wanted to do an evaluation with the students in both of my classes. Not just an evaluation but to give them the opportunity to speak about the things that they wanted from their education center. I definitely had a motive of trying to empower the students and to give them the feeling of ownership in the education center… noble goals maybe? We spent a lot of class time on these questions. I took notes on everything the students said. I had the feeling, half way into the first evaluation, that the kids in my classes had never been asked questions like this before. That maybe I was way outside a cultural context for them. I got a lot of blank looks, a lot of kids just repeating what their classmates had already said.  The adults really control the kids worlds and its not normal for them to step outside of that and speak for they want…   I started to feel that I was imposing something on them that I thought was a good thing for them…. was it?  is this appropriate? I am still asking myself.


So here it is … the last day of class. I have planned a big graduation party with the students from both of my classes. I asked them what they wanted to have for their party and the consensus is pizza, cookies, juice and music. (4 words that we have learned in class) …….and I have been busy getting everything ready.

Wendy arrived to Skopje Macedonia, and I traveled across the border to pick her up. I really love skopje, a crazy mixture of east, west and communism from a different era… a fascinating place. We stayed in the old town (the muslim side of the city) and were awakened each morning by the call to prayer from one of the many mosques… its eerie sound infiltrated my dreams. (eerie because its 5 am and everything sounds scary to me at that hour and also because there are so many mosques that the sounds of the calls blend together into a very dis-tonal whole).

The graduation party was amazing!, with some of the parents coming to class as I had invited them. We sang a song that all the kids love, totally crazy!…… we ate, we danced a giant circle dance around the desks.. with all the kids vying for the hands of wendy and i…. very sweet…



We also had a diploma ceremony with very offical and beautiful diplomas made by wendy… saying “bravo! And congratulations on graduating from the very beginner english class”… with the official stamp of voice of roma..



I will be so sad to leave tomorrow….


The trauma here runs deep… even with the language barrier I see it and feel it everywhere. My own personal history with trauma and supporting loved ones who are processing trauma is also deep, and as my relationships grow Im starting to see under the surface. All my trauma buttons are being pushed (so to speak). I see, oh so clearly, how it gets passed on from generation to generation.

One story that I will share …three of my students had their fathers brutally murdered just after the war in 2000. They were killed for a job they did,moving the belongings of a serb who paid them to do so. Allegedly killed by some albanians who didn’t like the fact that they were helping some serbs move. … their bodies were found much later and identified by KFOR. (the police force of kosovo). These are three of my students who are trying so hard to learn English and I see them struggle with so many things….. so many obstacles…

One of the boys “k” is a tough kid, a really tough kid. He is all about “50 cent” and keeping his tuff guy cred, yet has an incredible sweet side. the roma kids have to be tough, especially in their regular schools, where i am told there are some bigger, tougher serbian kids… We have bonded alot and he helps me in the class, cleaning up afterwards. We always walk home together. he really wants me as a friend…
At our graduation party, he waited for an opportunity to give me a gift he made for me. its a drawing of some flowers with the words “to marko best teacher, I love you and I will miss you,love k”… I was blown away to the point of tears.. and it was one of those many moments in my time here where I realized how much we mean to one another… how we have grown..
……I love and miss you too k….