Well where do I start? I do not have as much time as I would hope to get this off so I will try and be complete. I must warn you that it will be a lengthy one so save it for later if you have to.
My trip over was fairly smooth except for in Vienna. The plane was full and waiting for one last passenger whose bags were already on the plane. When he / she did not show, they had to have each one of us disembark the plane and identify our luggage. This added an extra hour to the delay. YES! The next day Rand, Liriejta and I took a drive into the country to try and locate the Berisha family. This is the family whose last name I thought was “Fala”. Oh well, wrong name, right family. They were still at the same location as last summer. The children are well; mom said that she has not had to take one to the doctor in over a year. Not bad for seven children. They looked well, thin, but happy.
They are attending a new school that was built in the village and all are getting good grades. They recognized Rand right off, yes they said, we remember you as they made a motion like throwing a Frisbee. Then they picked up 3 rocks to show him that they still could juggle. As Rand mentioned later to me it helped him realize that all that the Balkan Sunflowers do with children here is not in Vain. They know how to smile, laugh, hug, juggle, and be children. They have new digs (house) that was built by ADRA an NGO in charge of reconstruction. I will tell you now that all 3 families I visited yesterday are families that we have helped in the last 2 trips, all living in new homes instead of tents. The goats that I bought for the Berisha family last summer died over the winter. The lone sheep that we gave them was used for a number of meals. I do not know how the rest of the livestock purchased last summer have fared but I will tell you that one of the goats bought in December 99 now has multiplied to 4, with 2 more on the way. I forgot to write down the families name but I can tell you the father was a member of the U.C.K. during the war. He now suffers from severe back pain and is mobile but not able to do much around the home. Still they are well and doing as best they can under the circumstances. The 3rd family is the Selemi family. The father died in the war leaving mom a widow, pregnant, with four young children. The family is well, you can see it on their faces, instead of frowns and stress they are smiling and warm.
I do not want to get into lengthy descriptions but I will mention that the Mother Theresa Society (MTS) has not been able to do food distribution because of a lack of donations/funding. I am not sure why but they were the major link between a good number of families and the bigger NGO’s ( WFP,UNHCR,) who used their infrastructure to locate and deliver to families in need. In other words they will not be receiving as much food as they need in the future. It’s too bad actually. MTS has been here the longest and had a number of local volunteers. It was a recommendation from MTS that brought me to the Berisha family as well as the others.
Yesterday was a very productive day not only because I was able to visit with the Berisha’s and the Selimis. But because it completed a circle in a way. It was great to be able to check in on the families from the Dec.99 trip and see that they were well and had new homes. As we drove to visit these places I was also able to observe that not only is their a lot of new homes being built but also that most of the houses that had no roof in 99 are repaired and back in use. Instead of the tents dotting the landscape like last summer there are only a few and most of them are used for storage. Remember that I have not traveled extensively this trip. But we did cover a lot of ground yesterday. I saw a sign put up by the E.U stating that they have rebuilt/repaired 1200 homes. Sounds impressive until you realize that there are another 60 – 70 thousand homes that have not been rebuilt. Sorry for the cynicism, and my spelling! It appears to me that there are a number more homes that families have pitched in and redone themselves. This is good. I have traveled here before in the winter and summer, now spring. Everything is green the trees are blooming; instead of children selling cigarettes along the roadside they have bunches of spring flowers instead. Winter wheat is up. New ground is being tilled. There was not a lot of snow this past winter, so they will not fill the reservoirs from the snow melt, but they have been getting a lot of rain the past 2 months. Not enough to offset the snow melt but it has helped the crops that have been planted this spring. Only time will tell if they will have enough to get through the hot summer months.
Today I traveled with Milanka from UNHCR to Lipjan where there is a Serb enclave under the protection of the Finnish KFOR. The 1st stop was to a family whose brother kicked them out into the cold, I don’t bother to ask why. That’s not important. What is important is the conditions that they live under now. UNHCR was able to get them a tent and a small box container that they have converted into sleeping/cooking quarters. 8 member family living in a box the size of a large bathroom/or bedroom. Milanka and I determined that it would be best if we did not give them all the money in one shot. Instead I left the funds with her and she will do some shopping for fruit, sugar, salt, juice, etc and drop it off each week or so. The reason why is that both mom and dad are heavy drinkers/smokers and would spend the money unwisely. I would be drinking if had to live like they were. The second family we helped today is a rather unusual case for us/me. It involved a Serb family that has a fifteen year old daughter who has throat cancer. She is but a whisper of the picture of her on top of the TV. in the picture she is an attractive young girl with long blond hair and blue eyes. On the couch she is a thin, pale girl with coarse hair who can only speak in a painful whisper. She is in need of a trip to Belgrade for treatment. Some of the expenses will be covered by the Serbian government/hospital but there are a few expenses that they needed to come up with on their own. Approximately 300 DM. I gave them 500 DM. which should help cover the costs of the trip. They will be traveling by bus this Thursday, probably with KFOR escort to the border. These enclaves are not free to travel as they would like, if they were to leave the village on their own they probably would not return alive. This is why she/they can not try and find treatment elsewhere… I would like to tell more, yes there is more but I have 15 minutes before I have to catch up with an old friend for dinner. Tomorrow is my last full day here and will make a few trips to the bank to make deposits for F.K. and X.D sister school projects. That should give me the afternoon to tie up a few loose ends. All is well, thank you for the opportunity to come back, hope that all is well where ever you are. Mir Jonathan
Jonathan I Hoffman Box 394 Northfield, Vermont 05663