Tirana 24 June 1999
At around two in the night our truck finally arrived, we were almost
freezed to dead, it is really freezing up there in the mountains after we
had so many days of hot sun in Tirana, even with the last days of huge
rainshowers, the temperature never dropped under 22 or so degress celsius.
Here up in the mountains it must have been around 10 or so. And we were all
dressed as we are in Tirana, t-shirt, maybe a sweat-shirt but that is it,
who expected a fall-down in temperature here.
In the truck were among all the other things blankets. For food and warm
drinks we visited a few times the emergency car from the Salvation Army,
where they served warm tin can beans and some warm tea. But somewhere the
cold get's into your bones. Seeing our truck make us cry from joy, they
made it. Ęven bigger the news that they brought us actually besides all the
stuff we loaded in Tirana in the morning also almost 50 small tents and 3
bigger ones. The 50 tents we can give away to refugees who pass by. The
truck, by the way hardly made it into the way station, too much tractors
blocked the central road, the people just pull of their tractors as far as
they could go. And even by foot it was hard to find your way through this
maze of tractors (with trailers) and small cars. When you look at them it
is amazing how some of them even made it to here, as far as you recognize
in the dark.
We want to offer our friends on the truck some hot tea and food, but the
Salvation Army had decided that they stopped for the night, so their
food-car was closed (it looks a lot like this food-cars in front of
american highschool and building complexes, it came also from the states).
In the light of some torches we found the blankets, we loaded them this
morning as the first items, so we had to do some re-shuffling.
I spend the night between two german army blankets, who have been in
storage for years and where smelling like it as well, on a stony ground,
but although it was still cold and hard I slept well, but very short,
around 4 the tractors started to pull out again and went on their way to
their homeland. A pitty that we didn't had our truck totally unloaded yet
and that we weren't able to give them something with them on the way. Also
the salvation army car was still closed when they left, that one opened
Allthough the noise of the leaving tractors must have been enourmous most
of the group still slept through it, only Sayid, John (our translator) and
Sayid wake up and started to unload the truck together with the driver and
some refugees who had to stay behind since their tractors need new tires,
which were of course not there, since the Italian army never had seen Yugoslav
tractors before. On the road the long line of (mini) buses and private cars
was already ongoing. Actually they hadn't stopped all night. There must
have been almost 15.000 people or more been passing in the time that I have
spend up there. And the traffic on the road was even more intense than
yesterday I got the feeling.
After unloading and reloading for the other two way stations we were going
to deliver materials today we left with the truck just at the moment
that the others woke up, the driver, Sayid (who will leave tomorrow,
although he rather would like to stay) and me. The other 9 stayed and will
build the playing ground and distrubute the 25 large boxes of toys (the
first really big ones from Ananda Marga and the rest from Unicef) we had left
behind. I must say driving a truck is much less nerving on this road than
driving in that minibus yesterday. OK it is not going that fast, but it is
much better for your nerves, I think I got at least 100 or more grey hairs
yesterday, by the time I leave this country I will be totally grey.
As said the road was much more occupied than yesterday, a long line of empty
trucks and buses and so on their way back from Kosov@, to pick up new
refugees and bring them back, and the same long trail of the same vehicles
as yesterday going in the other direction. In between large numbers of aid
transports, military cars (Italian, American, British, Dutch, Belgium and
Check republic). At the junction to Tirana and Shkodra, we took the road to
Shkodra and after 500 meters it became already clear to me that hardly anybody
takes this road. There is still asfalt on it and you only see somebody
every 3 or 5 kilometers, mostly aid workers cars and one lost tractor,
probably from some of the camps near Shkodra. For the rest there was
nothing on this road, maybe every 6 km a couple of goats, or some donkeys.
But surely no big refugees trail. Refugees who are returning spontanious
are not using the golden raod with other words.
When we finally after almost 3 hours drive came to Puke, it was clear that
this way station wasn't really up and running yet, there were people their
from Care and Concern International, but hardly any refugees had passed by
so far. They are awaiting the big amounts after the first of July, when
NATO will start their official returning programm. I am a bit sceptial, I
don't think many refugees are left over by that time. But who knows, maybe
it is still becoming a big thing.
The stop and unloading in Puke was done quickly, thanks to the many helpers
of CARE. And we went further on the mountain road, two hours later, we had
the most beautifull view on the lakes near Shkodra, as long as their is no
factory in the way and no other human construction (falling apart) this
country is so beautifull. A pity that it is unsave to travel otherwise it
would have been a great country to hike. From Shkodra we went back on the
coastal road (which is not laying at the coast, but about 25 Km
land-in-wards) back to Tirana, some 107 Km from here. The next drop-off
point should be the Danish red cross refugee camp in Lezhe. 3 long and
bumpy hours later we finally found the place. This way station lays at
least 1 Km away from the road, and I am sure that not much refugees will
come here. In fact this camp was build for about 10000 people, got about
3000 or so people and is now back on 700 people.
Immediatly after arriving the people told me that what I already knew, the
security is not so good in this camp, although there is wire around the
camp, it is hard to secure it. The red cross people were not so happy that
we wanted to spread UNICEF mine-awareness materials here, since they have
their own red cross materials. Still we were allowed to drop off our
materials and they will check it out with CARE International later. The
people from North West medicines (or something like that) already warned me
for this place, but what the hack we are all pulling on the same string I
suppose, so it will work out, I am sure.
>From the stories it is clear that most people know about the free returning
later of NATO, but they don't want to stay to be the last. As long as the
camps were full the amount of people secured the situation, now almost all
the tents are empty and people feel unsecure. And they like to travel in
big groups through the countries. The stories of people being robbed are
large in numbers, so together they make a better change to come safely to
Kosov@. That Kosov@ is not safe, because of the mines and the snipers is
not really a story they like to hear.
>From Lezhe Refugee camp it is almost 2 Km and then you are back on the main
refugee trail. From here it is not more than 40 Km back to Tirana, but
still about a 2 hours drive. I think that nobody who has never seen this
country can imagine how bad and full the roads really are. All in all we
arrived early in the evening back in Tirana. The last 15 Km our driver
smelled Tirana and started to drive like the normal style around here,
overtaking other trucks and even minibuses. Every where in the land we saw
(half) empty refugee camps.
Back in Tirana a message from BJ was waiting for me, he just came back from
visiting Rubik and Burel, both camps are empty, we just planned that the
new group of arriving volunteers would work there. From Burel the people
all almost 2500 left within 3 days. Some took their doors, hot boilers and
so with them. But the refugees were not even all gone and people from the
city came and started to take out everything what IRC has been installing
in the last 2 months. This is by the way happening all over the country. BJ
complained at the police and within half an hour they found back 32 hot
water boilers and almost 60 doors, but that was just top of the iceberg.
Later in the evening I met up with some people from the Check refugee
organisation, they runned 3 camps in the north, all empty now. We had
contact with them two days ago about cooperation, they had too many
volunteers and asked us if we need any. On that moment we were still in
need of volunteers, but now the situation is changed. It is incredible,
when I write these lines another group of at least 2000 refugees have left
Albania and the same is now started in Macedonia.
Tomorrow and the days afterwards I have to make the decission when and where we
will move in Kosov@, since from out initial plan to work with refugees here
there is not much left over. Within 2 weeks all of them are back in Kosov@,
but not back in their homes. We will see, let's be happy that all these
people are moving back to their home country.