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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Kosovo-Albanian Flag KOSOVO


November 21. PRISHTINE "Day Trip to Prekaz"  This should have been the day that we left for Greece but our interest in the memorial at Prekaz and overall increasing interest in Kosovo compelled us to stay an extra day.  We had left a buffer day at the end to allow for any surprises en route to Athens.  We couldn't miss our flight.  But, we felt confident enough that we could get through Skopje, Thessaloniki and down to Athens in two days time that we decided to stay.  Lesley was already committed to seeing Prekaz and then was going to head north to Novi Pazar in Serbia and on to Budapest.

Prekaz wouldn't require a full day to see so we didn't rush out to catch a bus until after searching out a proper breakfast, the fast food at the bus station was getting old.  We suspected that we would find something around the UNHQ and started walking across town.  The little hand written map that the Professor had photocopied for us showed a memorial site not far from the hotel and since we were on foot in daylight we tried to find it.  The map was vague and it took some winding around before we finally found the set of graves lined up in an open field.  A larger but older and apparently unrelated monument stood close by but was damaged by wear and tear and graffiti.  The weather was misty and it was hard to make out the graves until we were quite close.  There were a good 25 or 30 people buried there with the dirt piled high up over the graves, each covered in flowers with a simple headstone that gave the persons name and years of their life.  Some were as recent as December 2003.  A large Albanian flag flew at one end of the grave site and small flags were next to many of the headstones.  Since Kosovo wasn't officially an independent country they didn't  have their own flag but identified with the Albanian flag.  In the misty ethereal light this mass grave was moving.

In a solemn state we left the graves and continued on our way to the UNHQ area.  The mist gradually lifted and the sun started to come out and lift our spirits.  We asked for directions to a restaurant that supposedly offered good breakfasts from a man in a UN uniform but when Rob asked him how good it was he didn't rave.  There were a number of cafes and restaurants in the area and when we spotted two men in the window of one place having breakfast, one with an American flag on his shoulder and the other with a Canadian flag, we decided it must be a good breakfast place.  It was buffet style set up with alls of breakfast treats - Danishes, scrambled eggs, bacon, orange juice and coffee.  It wasn't cheap either but we were too excited to let the cost deter us.   

Two UN soldiers sat down at the next table, one with a British flag on his should and the other with an Austria flag.  It was a small place so we eventually started chatting with them and one of their first questions was what kind of work were we doing in Kosovo. When we replied tourism we got a shocked look from the British man.  We explained that we were just traveling in Kosovo and he looked relieved.  He had thought that we were trying to bring tour groups through Kosovo which seemed totally mad to him, and he would have been right.  But being tourists was still amusing and he couldn't resist elbowing the Austrian fellow to get his reaction.   Surely to two men that were in Kosovo as part of a coalition force to keep peace it would seem an odd place for a vacation.  We tried to explain that we were in the region and became curious about the current state of things in Kosovo.  We didn't have Club Med expectations.  When we told them that we were planning to visit Prekaz they suggested that we get the latest advice from the UNHQ on that area.  There had been one international peace keeper killed in Metrovica, further north, in just the last month.  

Aside from the grief we were given by the British solider for being rich American millionaires with a New Zealand sheep farmer we enjoyed chatting with the two men.  We took the opportunity to ask them what the story was with the Swedish military that we saw whirling around Prishtine in jeeps with their flags flying. They told us that the city was their peacekeeping jurisdiction and we should all feel more safe that we saw their flags flying by frequently.  It was a way that they marked their territory and reminded any restless elements who was keeping peace in Prishtine.   It occurred to me what a challenge it must be orchestrating all of these different nationalities in this peace keeping effort.  Even the Russians were in the mix, not as part of the UN force but as a separately negotiated effort.  It was odd to look at the blue camouflage uniforms pass the restaurant and remember how much we had feared the military and police while we were in Russia and now they working in cooperation with the UN to keep peace in Kosovo.

When we left the restaurant we took their advice and headed down the street to the gate of the UNHQ.  The guards directed inside a small portable next to the gate where we asked for the last news on Prekaz.  They told us there had been no trouble in Prekaz but that we should avoid Metrovica.  That was well drilled in our heads at that point.  I am not sure how those two Australians managed to end up right in the one place that everyone tells you not to go.  Even the Professor had given us a warning.  He said that the Serb people up there were not bad people but they were angry since the bombings and it could be dangerous.  We heeded their advice and said we wouldn't go to Metrovica.

From the UNHQ we walked to the bus station.  The guidebook recommended a 50 euro taxi ride to Prekaz but we already knew there was some way to go by bus and so far the bus travel in Kosovo had served us well.  It turned out at that Prekaz was just outside Skandari and only one bus a day went directly to Skandari.  The man in the information booth at the bus station recognized us as this point and told Rob that we should take a different bus to a transfer point where there were many buses to Skandari.  We followed his advice and only had a 30 minute ride before we reached the chaotic street corner bus station in a small town and our bus came to a stop.  None of the large buses had signs for Skandari but as we approached the minibus area we heard one man bellowing the name of our destination.  We confirmed with him again before hopping inside.  The minibus filled up quickly and we were off.  

A young Albanian man squeezed up next to us began to chat us up during the ride.  His name was Elvis and he ran a youth group in Skandari.  He had a few different groups in the area that he visited regularly, one that was supposed to include a couple of Serb children but was problematic at the moment.  His enthusiasm for his work was fantastic.  He invited us to come see his kids and we were happy to accept.  It only took us about 20-30 minutes to reach Skandari where we got off with Elvis in the middle of town.  It was a rougher looking place than the other cities we had visited but also much smaller and still more established than the chaotic bus hub we had just come from.  His youth group was in a dilapidated modern building off of the main street.  We took off our shoes to enter the dance room where his kids were practicing.  They greeted us with shy smiles, shaking our hands and getting us chairs to sit on.  He had them go through some of their repertoire which included a traditional dance that circled the room in a lively train, an all-girls modern dance to Brittany Spears, and a couples dance.  They all did an exceptional job.  We stayed until Elvis started to teach them some new dances and decided we shouldn't distract him longer from the purpose of his trip.  It had been a unexpected experience but so rewarding.  Experiences like that weren't had in tour groups or on taking taxis everywhere.  More than any site you can see in a country it is the interaction with the people that is almost always more rewarding.

We still had to make our visit to Prekaz so it was just as well that we moved on from Elvis and his delightful kids.  The day was starting to get away from us at this point.  He told us how to get to the memorial and we passed the bus station along with way, which would be helpful for later.  Just beyond the bus station there was a modern built mosque with an almost space craft like appearance.  It was white concrete or plaster with green Plexiglas windows.  The minaret was almost entirely green Pleixiglas and we could see the spiral staircase the led to the top to make the prayer cry.  A couple of teenage boys were emerging from the mosque and when the saw us one put his arms up and yelled "Osama Bin Laden" in a cheering sort of way.  It was at that moment that I became aware that Skandari didn't seem to be monitored by any peacekeeping troops.  It gave me a sudden sense of vulnerability.  I tried to shake off and chalk it up to impudent youths but the feeling lingered still.  Prekaz stood somewhere just over a hill at the edge of Skandari.  The paved road gave way to a freshly excavated dirt road that soon split into a Y.  We veered left and were redirect by some local military men coming out of a small encampment where the road ended.  

It wasn't much further up the other road before the shelled remains of a house came into view.  This was the memorial at Prekaz where the Jeshari clan was slaughtered by the Serbian forces.  One account I read said that Adam Jeshari armed his family and stood up against the Serbian forces in a suicide mission to give the Kosovo independence movement martyrs in their cause.  The first person to die was his wife and the last was his thirteen year old son wielding a machine gun.  The cemetery where they were buried was on the other side of the road.  If it was a suicide mission it is difficult to know how to assess what happened.  Could the Serbian forces have taken these people without killing them all?  Would the Jeshari clan have continued their fire if the Serbian forces didn't try to take their home?  I have no idea and there was nobody at the site to shed any more light on what happened.  All I knew for sure was that a whole clan of people died in that house at the hands of the Serbian forces and the other genocidal acts perpetrated by the Serbian forces did not encourage you to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Our guidebook talked about 9000 visitors a day coming to Prekaz but, oddly enough, we were the only people there.  It was an unsettling experience but at the same time very bizarre.  The house had been covered with a metal canopy to protect the ruins and a walkway allowed us to circumambulate the building, a chilling sight to behold with some personal effects of the deceased still amongst the rubble.  A marble monument in front paid tribute to each member of the extended Jeshari clan by name.  But, on either side of this tragic structure there were new houses being built!  They were large modern homes that almost dwarfed the remains of the Jeshari home.  It looked like a war zone inside a housing development.  They were most likely homes that were being rebuilt since the war but aside from the Jeshari ruins everything else was was either newly rebuilt or the land was totally barren.  None of us knew what to make of it.

We didn't see more than a couple of cars go past while we were visiting the memorial and it started to feel isolated and  was getting dark.   We slowly started back towards Skandari and as we came up over the hill that looked into the town we met a man riding a tractor in the opposite direction.   He looked at us and, with a smile on his face, put his hand on his heart.  It was gesture of sincerity but we didn't know exactly what it meant.  The only thing we could think was that he knew where we were coming from and was giving us a show of appreciation for having visited the memorial.  Or, like everyone else, he assumed we were part of the extensive military/AID staff in Kosovo and was extending us a kind of thank you.  Or, maybe it was just his welcoming way of greeting three strangers on an empty road.  In any case it was friendly and heart warming gesture and made me feel more at ease.

At the bus station we easily found a minibus returning to the same chaotic hub.  From there we paid a little more to take a minibus that was leaving right away versus waiting for the larger scheduled bus.  When we reached Prishtine we got off the bus near the large roundabout at the end of town and took a different route to the center, along Nena Teresa Avenue.  We were determined to deviate from our habit of Spaghetteria Tony's and went in search of something else for dinner.  Lesley lit up when we passed an Irish pub so we stopped for a drink but it wasn't a real proper Irish pub - no Guinness!  Continuing down Mother Teresa Avenue we looked for some places to eat near the UNHQ.  It was hard to find much more than Italian food and burgers, catering to all of the foreign workers in Kosovo.  We finally settled on John's Kukri Bar where we had burgers and a chicken sandwich.  The bar was full of all kinds of expats and local people by the time we left.  After such a long day we just weren't up for the uphill hike back to the hotel and there had been some intermittent blackouts that evening, not too unusual, so we gave in to a cab ride.  The Velania taxi company had been recommended by our Professor as honest, probably no coincidence that it shared the same name as his hotel, so we searched out one and were back in no time. 

There was still some time to kill before we all wanted to go to bed so we got the idea of watching one of our bootleg DVDs on the laptop but when we got it out we opened it to find a crack clear across the screen.  It was the first time we had opened it since we had arrived in Kosovo so we couldn't be sure but it seemed likely that when the rouge maid had rifled through Lesley's bag had also looked for a way into ours.  We had taken that laptop across continents over more than eight months and Rob always carried it with him while we were in transit.  It was well packed and only dropping it our some heavy weight could have caused such a crack.  If the maid had tried to get into our bags she would have tossed Rob's large backpack over his daypack so she could get to the zippers and had probably crushed the laptop in the process.  We were devastated.  It was so close to our being at home.  It was such bad luck.  Neither of us slept well that night. 

SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24