O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 1 July 1999

Tirana 1 July 1999

Believe it or not I was today the convoy leader of the best ever protected convoy of toys and toothbrushes which took place in history, as far as I can tell. I ordered 1 small truck from NATO 13 days or so ago and I got a big truck, a jeep to lead the way, and a jeep with six marines to protect us. All from the Dutch army. I had to leave the Sunflower house very early, since the Dutch didn't want to come to Tirana again and we had to meet them somewhere between Durres and Tirana on the end of the highway. I took one of the new volunteers with me, in order to at least have some company on the way north. Thinking that I would drive in the back of an army truck humping and bumping our way north. But standing at the appointment spot there were this truck and two jeeps, one in front and one behind. All people armed with their automatic guns, which they always have to carry on them. Which makes a nice picture when they stop at the roadside to have a piss.

The first thing that became clear is that the neverending queues of buses and tractors have dissapeared in the last few days. There are far less refugees now who are organising their trip home with their own transport or hiring something. I don't know if this means that the big movement has now cooled down or that most have already left. What is sure is that 50% of the refugees have left Albania since the bombing has stopped. But what will happen now is totally unclear. People from abroad asked me on the telephone or by email if I can give some indications of what will happen in the next five days, but I have to stay as unclear as UNHCR. It is simply too unclear to say anything.

I jump in the back of the first jeep, since I was appointed as convoy coordinator. So there we both were, sitting in between the flatjackets laying on the ground, half eaten combat breakfast and lunch packages, emergency sleeping bags, huge radio equipment, walky talkies and a satphone (none of the three really worked here, the radio equipment broke down in the mountains, the walky talky could only be used for communication within the convoy and the satphone simply didn't get any connetion), helmets and ammunition. Somehow I always imagined that army jeeps would look a bit more organised from the inside, but I got the feeling that our van in Pakrac (Croatia) was somehow better organised in the back than this jeep.

The driver was a young guy from Den Haag for whom this was the first experience in a crisis zone. The leader of the group came from the north of my country and looked really like a standard army commander, including the moustache, which always seems to be growing when you reach a certain officer spot in our army. I have hardly met any without. And he had experiences in Croatia and Bosnia before. So we two immediately started to exchange our experiences. What he thought about Albania in comparison to Bosnia. And in some ways our feelings were similar. We both had to admit that we could not have imagined how collapsed this country was after the civil war, how disorganised and chaotic.

This was their last action in Albania, by the weekend the Dutch army will leave for Skopje, change people there, and these guys will have served their three months here. Their trucks and other stuff will be brought to Kosov@ and another part of their transport group will take over. He explained that the Dutch army is now more and more changing into a kind of support organisation in humanitarian actions. They have basically been transporting food and things here and in the first month also refugees from Kukes to Mejde. Especially about the last part he was feeling very sorry, since they have only these ten-ton trucks and riding in the back of such trucks is not really pleasant. So they were a bit angry at UNHCR that with all its money and organisation it wasn't able to organise buses for the people, but let them do it. He told about how even when they were driving as carefully as they could the refugees still had a hard time. He had been especially afraid when once they had to transport a 100 years old lady. But she survived, he said.

The problems we had with loading at UNICEF were familiar to him too. He said it is even worse at the warehouse of WFP. The people of WFP have subcontracted an Albanian transport company and those guys liked to do everything themselves and in general weren't very happy that the Dutch and other NATO troops did the transport for free, they preferred to see their own drivers transporting (brings in some money). Also it was not difficult to find flour in this warehouse, but when it came to canned foods, the Dutch mostly had to wait a day or more before they found it. So the waiting at UNICEF, five hours, had been short and they didn't blame us for it, they were used to it, they said. Transporting dolls, tedybears and toys was something new for him, but they really liked the idea to do something which makes the children happy in some other way than just providing them with food.

We talked a lot about the chaos of the different organisations we both have experienced working with in Balkans. His experiences in Bosnia were of course seen from the side of military transport and those soldiers mostly hadn't got much into contact with the country and the locals. They mainly dealt with the logistics of UNHCR and other big organisations. But still he thought the time in Bosnia was easier for them, although they always had to wait at road blocks untill somebody from UNHCR came to get them through, usually leaving a part of the load behind. That wasn't their job, the talks I mean, they were only trucking.

Driving in a military convoy through this country is really a new experience for me, everyplace you are passing kids run out to the roadside and start waving and making victory signs, shouting "NATO, NATO, UCK, KOSOVA". It's totally different in Macedonia the Dutch soldiers told me, there the kids throw stones at you and give you the finger. By the way as soon as you stop with an army car at least ten kids surround the truck and the jeeps asking for "sjoklate" and "sjewing jum", I wonder which foreign army has learned them to react that way. If you compare that with the original mentality of Albania, where people used to be too proud to ask for anything, you notice how run down this country has become in the last ten years. The older people are basically doing the same thing, but they call it offering their services, asking for work.

When we came to Rreshen, we were lucky that just at that moment a CARE car with our volunteers in the back pulled over, so we only had to follow them. The way station is lying almost on the other side of Rreshen, about three km off the main road. I am wondering which bright thinker has planned this. Not one of the people will stop at this station, unless they are in really immediate need and then it will take them a long time to find it, since there are no road signs or anything. Here I met also Dan and Sally who were supposed to be at the Danish Refugee Camp way station 32 km back, but that camp is closed. No water, no food, no people, no nothing, Dan told me yesterday on the phone. We unload and plan that the CARE manager, who is a good one, will drive our people every day to the road where the people are passing by, with enough water, toys and things to give out, so they can be at least a of a little help for the refugees passing by.

After 15 minutes unloading and talking with the volunteers who stay here, we drive on north, Dan and Sally come with us, they sit in the back of the big lorry. Not really pleasant, but Sally said that if refugees can do it, than I can do it. From here we go into the mountain area. And for the first time I can enjoy the beauty of the landscape fully. This land is so full of beauty, something you are not aware of when you are just in the Tirana and Durres region. Soon we start to overtake more and more tractors, but still it is a lot less than a week ago.

When we arrive in Gojan the way station management comes to our little convoy very pleased to see us. He gets a bit disappointed when he finds out that we are only bringing the supplies of Balkan Sunflowers (although by now they are happy that we are there, all the stations are heavily understaffed, there is a lot of local staff, but they are mostly just hanging around, since they are not so much part of the crisis, they are there since something happens). The station manager thought that finally the NATO (AFOR) protection had arrived which was supposed to be in place last sunday, but never showed up. So every night the people from here put their things in containers and drive to Puke for the night.

This station is really active, it literally brings all the returnees in for a stop, giving them water, medical attention, one of the volunteers works together with the doctor here since there is a lot of work, more than one docter can handle. Apart from the lacking AFOR protection this is what a way station should be. Giving their full attention to the people who pass by. And it is needed. The moment Dan and Sally jumped off the truck, still a bit shaky from the ride in the back of the lorry, they see another lorry pulling off into the way station full of people they know from the refugee camp they were in. So a big kissing and hugging starts. This is wonderful to see.

We unload in one of the containers, the doctor of the Mother Therasa group is so happy to see so many toys and such things coming in that she almost cries. And it is a funny sight seeing the Dutch soldiers with their M16's unloading a truck with toys. I was dumb not to take my camera out of the jeep with me. But still, for those who don't know, we have a new digital camera from Olympus and there are now pictures to the story, you can find them in the picture database of the website. In case you wonder how all of this looks in reality.

After that the Dutch soldiers heated up some of the combat meals and we started the whole journey down. Now I had a better overview of how many people are actually driving back to Kosov@ and that was still a lot more than I thought. We saw a lot of trucks and buses, with people making the victory sign to our small convoy. And the road sellers who are now selling Albanian flags (and a German flag, with the text "Germany United" (translated) on it) are having the time of their lives. It really is a good item and a lot of streetsellers all along this refugee trail have added a few to what they are selling normally.

It is still light when I return back to Tirana, the last ten km, after the junction where we picked up the convoy this morning, I travel by minibus. Back in the sunflowerhouse there is a long list of telephone calls waiting for me. But after being on the road the whole day I think that I'll take the evening off and talk a bit with the volunteers here in Tirana. In the coming days most of them will go up north to the way stations and it is good when they get a fresh update.

wam :-)

ps One of our volunteers more or less lost his laptop here, it wasn't insured, so we are really hoping to find a solution for him, since he helped us a lot.

wam :-)