Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gjakove Kolonija

Today was a very intense and busy day. First we visited the OSCE in Gračanica, a Serb enclave 20 minutes from Prishtina. Every time we drive anywhere, I feel as if I am on the edge of death. The custom for passing a car here is to wait until there is a solid white line and an approaching car in the other lane. You next swerve into the other lane and accelerate at fullforce towards the approaching car until you change back at the very last second. In Gračanica, we visited the monastery, which is under constant armed guard, and surrounded by barbed wire. We also saw a refugee settlement there built from Russian shipping containers. The conditions were terrible, but little did I know what was coming next....

We drove for two hours to Gjakovë, possibly one of the most bombed areas of Kosovo during the war. We drove past countless roadside gravestones: here it seems like the war was just yesterday, and the only thing that reminded me that it was about 10 years ago were the trees growing out of the rubble of many bombed-out buildings that we passed by. We turned down a dirt road into the Ashkali\Egyptian\Roma settlement of Gjakovë, by far one of the poorest in Kosovo, if not in all the Balkans. There we visited the Bethany Christian Services which is doing good work in attempting to promote education in the community.

What is particularly disturbing about the settlement is that it is built quite literally in the very middle of a toxic pile of constantly burning rubbish. Although the trash fumes have killed 7 people in the community since the war, it is also really the only means of survival for the community, whose children sift through it to find scrap metal to sell or sometimes even food to eat. The only water sources are wells located perhaps 10 feet between improvised outhouses and the trash-pile. The children of the community were quite open with us, but there was a sense with the adult residents that we were just another group of foreigners to roll in and out without offering a solution to their problems. Supposedly the government will give the community houses to replace the current make-shift shanties, but I am very skeptical and think it won't happen has they promise. Even if it does, it won't solve the water supply issues.

1 comment:

  1. I think the refugee community in the toxic waste dump is the one we learned about from Sani R. and Carol S. at Herdeljezi this year. It sounds like absolutely inhuman conditions.

    BTW, among the many racist and abhorrent comments under the link you posted is the following: "Speak Albanian so that the whole world can understand you." Shades of your earlier post ...


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