family portrait from DOBRUNË
before i get into these interviews i should give a little background into why i did them.
THE UNIVERSITY OF VLORA
at the UNIVERSITY OF VLORA i was tasked with teaching students translation studies. now this is funny because due to my working in a university setting, my albanian language skills were a bit stunted relative to other volunteers, essentially because i spoke english all day. in fact, people knew i was a "professor" so pretty consistently people practiced with me at the market, on the street, at the gym, you get the idea. i made a choice early on that my facilitating their english-speaking skills trumped my need to master albanian. many are the PEACE CORPS volunteers that spend all their time on the language and not on their job in order to win a pissing contest within the PEACE CORPS community. as i made clear in PART 1 of this series, i wasn't concerned with the other volunteers and their opinions unless it would benefit my adopted community.
ok, so i am tasked with teaching translation but my albanian language skills are whatever. my thought to improve their writing was, ingeniously yet obviously, to make them write. unfortunately the educational system there was focused on a book and multiple-choice tests for certification. the book wasn't helping them, they'd master it through rote memorization and they still couldn't write or speak well. worse, the test made no sense and was arbitrary. this further minimized the effectiveness of the entire educational structure. these students were being trained to become written and spoken translators for foreign businesses and governments. that was the job everyone wanted.
my thought was to have students translate interviews they did with their elders and then translate them. these translations would be put on a website that i created (now long-since defunct) that would showcase the audio file and written translation that could be easily sent via text/e-mail to potential employers.
it was a good idea and it also afforded me the ability to have students record conversations with their grandparents. this was the genius part of the whole thing. PEACE CORPS at one point told us not to talk to albanians about life during communism, the KOSOVO CONFLICT, or anything political. this is exactly what my students asked their parents about and it gave me tons of insight and information that pepople don't ask or learn about. it was great.
usually there was a lead of someone i could interview. i would go there with a representative of that community who would explain who i was and that i was with PEACE CORPS and the UNIVERSITY OF VLORA and that i was collecting answers as part of an archive for future generations to learn from. i would show them the questions. after the interview, which i recorded on my iPhone, most often they'd be excited by the experience and tell me that other people in the community were better suited for my queries. this would result in moving up the ladder of participants.
DOBRUNË was the perfect example of this process since we interviewed several adult men who duruing the conflict 15 years before had run guns across the border into KOSOVO to assist the KLA (KOSOVO LIBERATION ARMY) in fighting off the genocide being perpeturated by SERBIA and SLOBODAN MILOŠEVIĆ. in that manner we worked our way up to the grandmother, who talked about how she only recently met her sister in KOSOVO after 30+ years due to strict travel rules during the communist reign of ENVER HOXHA. the support i got from this and other families is something i still hold dear.
family portrait in GODIN
the next day i went into the nearby border town of GODIN in KOSOVO, which was hit particularly hard by the SERBIAN ARMY during the conflict. MILOŠEVIĆ saw an opportunity during his election in 1997 to use an anniversary of a failed uprising by SERBIA against the OTTOMAN TURKS to mount an ethnic cleansing campaign against MUSLIMS in the region, including BOSNIA and KOSOVO. what was interesting about my initial meetings was that people referred to a family in DOBRUNË that brought them weapons at great personal cost. it was the very family i had interviewed the day before. that was intense.
i should state that the MUSLIMS in KOSOVO are predominantly ETHNIC-ALBANIAN, but ALBANIA is not a religion dominated by any religion. in fact, albanians have a saying that equates to "the only religion in ALBANIA is ALBANIAISM." in the north there is a slight majority towards ISLAM and in the south a slight majority of GREEK ORTHODOX.
the SERBIAN MILITARY's campaign against their own people included that of the people of GODIN, where soldiers had all males over the age of 5 lined up against a wall and shot in the head. its just brutal and unforgivable. people in the UNITED STATES like to throw around the word "terror" quite a bit. THIS IS TERRORISM. i spoke to several families here that had that traumatic experience. they showed me the wall in the center of town. it still gives me a chills.
there was one father i spoke with who enjoyed speaking about his son, long since passed. when we were introduced to him he was about to rest but instead brought us in and fed us. to me THAT HOSPITALITY is uniquely albanian. him and others participated i was told because they were happy that someone cared about their experience. that someone wanted to document it. that someone believed them. i took a photo of this father and his son in front of a portrait of his fallen son. it was a family portrait i sent back framed and have been told its still hanging on the wall.
to me this experience of doing interviews was the highlight of my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer and i look back at it as one of the privileges of my life. the next and final part of this series will be on the paper i co-wrote and its presentation at a prestigious conference, but this moment speaking with the people of ALBANIA/KOSOVO border about their experiences during this fraught time is something i still carry with and appreciate the opportunity to listen and learn from.
the village of GODIN