O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 22/23 June 1999

Tirana 22/23 June 1999

About today I don't have so much to tell we ran around the city and got the last things organised for the trip tomorrow. Like getting mine-awareness material from UNICEF, 10 times less than we had ordered, since their printer in Tirana wasn't able to deliver in time. Waiting for over an hour in front of the UNICEF warehouse, just to have five minutes with the warehouse leader to tell him that we will come tomorrow morning to pick up the material we got from them (not the posters). Phoning every second hour to UNHCR and NATO to ask if there was any news about the tents we ordered and which were appointed to us four days ago and should have been deliverd three days ago. And to ask where the confirmation is for the truck which brings our materials to the way stations (never came). Getting beds from the GTZ warehouse so that we'll be able to sleep up in the north, it's rocky ground there. Organizing a minibus which can bring us to Shemri tomorrow, together with the Kosova youth council people. Reshuffling the volunteers in Tirana, since projects are changing all the time in numbers. Etc. A day full but not much to report about.

Today, wednesday, we finally went with a group to go working at the first way station. The whole morning was filled with loading the big truck, with the materials in our house, we collected a lot in the last four days. Staying and waiting in front of the UNICEF warehouse, when we finally could start loading it was at least two hours later than what we had agreed on. Although we started at eight o´clock with loading and all, I calculated that we wouldn't leave Tirana before 12 o'clock, and I was right. Even five minutes too optimistic, at 12.05 the big truck went for Durres to pick up some tents from UNHCR (of which it was still unclear whether they where there, the warehouse leader couldn't confirm it at the phone) and we with a minibus full of people to Shemri.

The drive from Tirana to Shemri was the biggest rollercoaster ride I have been on in my life. The driver was young and said that he normally drives from Tirana to Kukes in about four hours, the normal time for a minibus being about eight hours. And when you know that most of the road is not wider than say 5 meters, with on one edge often a huge cliff going down a few hunderd meters, you can imagine how it is if somebody drives 50 or 60 Km per hour on these offroad tracks, since it is more a collection of stones, holes and bumps than a road (every few kilometers, some roadworkers with shovels throw pebbles and sand (from the roadside) into the holes, and that's obviously the only maintanance done in years). It is less than a track, most of the concrete protection (that keeps you from falling over the cliff too easily) is simply gone. He probably had the feeling that he had to be in Shemri before any other car, so his thing was to overtake any car in front of him, no matter what the situation was. Before we reached the mountains this was just "fun", but when we reached the first track into the mountains and he continued doing it, with one hand on the steering wheel, the other hanging outside, to keep his beer cool, the music full on (some popular techno Albanian beat), it really became scary.

I don't know how to describe it differently, all nine of us were more or less praying that he was able to keep all four wheels on the track and we are sure that at some manoeuvres he made he didn't, only thanks to the high speed we were driving with we didn't fall over into the cliff. And we wouldn't have been the first ones if we had fallen down, as was evidenced by the many crosses with flowers on the roadside. The two cowboys in the front, the driver and his friend, were laughing at us, each time when most of us gave a spontanious reaction after another deadly dangerous trick of the driver, giving each other the "five".

Although we were mostly busy to keep our nerves under control, and telling each other that we really wouldn't mind if we had more time to enjoy the landscape, or that we wouldn't object to a 40 kilometer long convoy coming from the other direction (which would make it impossible for our driver to overtake anything anymore), or that we wished the car broke down so we'd have at least a break, in between we still had these moments, especially when we drove behind a small convoy of 4 or 5 tractors and trucks were coming from the other direction, to look around and enjoy the landscape. Since the mountains are beautiful. Here almost nobody lives, the only thing you see is some goats or sheep every 4 or 5 kilometer, indicating that some humans are somewhere in the vicinity, but that is all.

After we left Rubik and turned into the mountains, the landscape changed, up to Rubik the landscape is dominated by small industrial towns with broken down factories, but then you are really in the middle of nowhere. As I said only some goats, sheep or a small kid on the roadside, or a house deep down in the valley indicated that people are still living here. Although it must be a very rough country to survive in. Nevertheless civilization is not far away, at this moment it is probably the most used road in the country. Maybe almost the same amount of cars, buses and trucks are fighting themselves a way through the mountains as between Tirana and Durres. There is hardly another way to describe it, driving on this road is a fight of the driver with the road and the ones on it.

Hundreds of tractors we have seen, some with the red eagle (Albanian) flag on it and the wagons behind it full of matrasses, beds, cooking gear, bags and happy looking people. Lots of open trucks also full of people, humping and bumping their way back to Kosov@, buses full of people, trucks with broken tractors on it, with people inside. Minibuses full of matrasses and people, small cars with matrasses and bags meters high on top of it.

Now it is about 6 o'clock in the evening, the Shemri station is beautifully situated, from here you can look out over the valley and you can see the ongoing parade of tractors coming down the hill going into Shemri valley and coming up here. It takes about half an hour or more until you see the tractors which were going down having worked their way up again. It is like a train of small cars, (mini)buses, (aid)trucks, lorries, tractors, which is coming by, an ongoing convoy. People are returning faster to Kosov@ than they have run out of it two months ago. It is a fantastic sight.

At this moment three international volunteers and five Kosovars are on the road, distributing mine-awareness pamphlets and explaining the people that they can stop here and get some food. About 50 tractors and cars have arrived in the last hour. The management is happy, for the first time the tractors are stopping and staying for food and supplies. Ten or so are even already unpacking for the night. That is almost the same number as they had had in the three days before. Up to now the aidworkers were only watching how they passed by. The people don't want to stop, they want to go home, even when it is dangerous to drive through the night. Although with this amount of people on the road they don't have to be afraid of bandits, they should surely be afraid of the road itself. By daylight it is already a dangerous road, but by night it is even more dangerous, especially when you have already been driving 20 hours or more. Nevertheless the convoy of tractors continues.

Suddenly a loud thundering noise comes down the road, which the tractors, busses and trucks are taking upwards towards Kukes (32 mountainous km from here), at least 12 old russian tanks come down, the tank batallion of the Albanian army passes by (the road doesn't mind, it can't be any more broken anyway). They've been at the border with Kosov@ the last month, for them too, the war is over. After the tanks the trailers are coming which normally transport them, obviously the roads are too steep for the trailers to drive here with the tanks on them.

The last hours before real darkness, we spend up at the road, giving the people information leaflets about mines, wishing them a good trip and a safe return into Kosov@. The Kosovars in the group are full of fire, it's their people who are returning. It is really something special, even when you know that they are going back to an unknown future, they are going back to their homeland and that is the beauty of it. Refugees returning home - even when their last drive is not going to be easy and hasn't been easy so far, they are not running away from their houses, they are returning.

And darkness here means real darkness, only one or two lights deep down in the valley, and the lights of the cars, tractors and minibusses, down the hill on the other side of the valley and on the road passing the way station, about 400 meters from our tent. We are sitting and waiting until our truck comes, most of our sleeping bags and blankets are in there and it is cold here in the mountains at night, although the sight of the trail of people returning gives you a warm feeling.

Every once in a while a part of the chain of lights pulls over into the way station, on top of the station there are now about 100 or more tractors standing, as a big knot, not parked in lines or so, but what does it matter. They pull over for the night and for some hot food, at least those tractor people are safe this night. We have already heard of different deadly accidents which took place during the last few nights and even one which took place this night, only 10 km away from here. The people from the way station, including the Italian NATO soldiers, can't go there, because of security reasons, but they are trying to get another Italian NATO car there. If it will work is unclear, the communication, even with satellite phones, is bad here up in the mountains. Let's hope for the surviving refugees in that tractor that it works tonight....

wam :-)