4 sketches from Kosova

Adnan walks up the dusty road to the refugee camp, his heart slamming against his chest. As he nears he sees a woman in her thirties with matted hair, wearing faded jeans and a pink wool sweater. The woman is holding his Aisha.

He stops in his tracks, for a second disbelieving the sight. His baby, his daughter, who he had prayed for, searched for, cried for these past four weeks since her disappearance while they fled from Kosova, was here. In this crowded, dirty refugee camp in Macedonia.

He tastes the bitterness in his mouth. His hands clench in frustration. His jaw tightens.

Adnan takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, then opens them again. No, this is not a dream. The woman and Aisha are still there. Except this time, his view is blocked by a Macedonian police officer guarding the camp.

He hates them. He clenches his fist. A myriad of swear words rush through his head.

He can only see Aisha for a few minutes. He came to give the woman the money to take care of her, and then return to Albania, to the rest of his family. He is not allowed to take her home with him.

He checks his jeans pocket for the wrinkled green envelope with the bills in it. The money is whatever is left of his last paycheck, before they fled. He angrily squeezes the envelope.

He breathes deep and steps forward.

Adnan quickly explains his purpose to the guard standing right in front of Aisha and the woman. The guard's hard, cold gray eyes scrutinize him from head to toe, humiliating him for his tired appearance, the gauntness of his face, the wrinkled gray jacket, green shirt and jeans he is wearing. You are a pathetic refugee, the guard's eyes said, and I am in control. You are at my mercy.

Adnan's urge to punch the guard's lights out was irresistible.

The guard finally steps aside and lets Adnan in.

“Three minutes,” he tells him.

Adnan runs toward his baby, his arms aching to hold her.Her blue eyes meet his brown ones and she recognizes him instantly.

Baba! Baba! Baba! she screams in excitement.

He grabs Aisha, forgetting about the woman in the pink sweater and plants loud kisses all over her face and squeezes her tight. Her body is frail and he can feel her ribs on his fingers as he holds her above him to scrutinize her appearance. The rosy, pink cheeks are gone, the thick brown hair has thinned, and the chubbiness has disappeared. But her eyes.They still dance and shine. He smiles momentarily.

He turns to the woman in the pink sweater, regaining his composure. He quickly pulls out the wrinkled green envelope and hands it to her. She takes it solemnly, nodding. She knows what it's for.

Turning back to Aisha, Adnan notices the Macedonian guard pointing to his watch.

Adnan grabs her the last time, squeezing her tight, and walks towards the guard.

He tries to reason with the guard. He remains unmoved.

The guard starts to take away Aisha. She screams. Adnan takes one last look at his daughter and walks away quickly, hot tears of frustration slipping down his face, while she screams in sadness and pain behind him.

***************

Sharife's heart pounds and stomach clenches as the wagon comes to a halt.

She squeezes her three-year-old brother Emir tight, partly out of fear, and partly to shield him from the bitter cold, and peers ahead of her. Sure enough, they have been stopped by the Serbs. She glances fearfully at the other women, who look away, as terrified as she.

Her stomach growls loudly and hunger grips her stomach, pulling at it, angrily reminding her she hasn't eaten in a day. She swallows with difficulty, her throat parched from a lack of water.

Oh Allah, please, I'm only 13, please, please, please, don't let these Serbs touch me. Please, please, please let my mother be okay, wherever she is. Please, please, please don't let these animals have killed her or raped her. Please, please, please don't let them touch any of my sisters with me. She squeezes her eyes shut and buries her face in Emir's soft, brown hair. He is still in shock. He hardly blinks and is oblivious to anyone and anything. Two Serbian paramilitaries had slit their father's throat in front of them, in Emir's room.

She silently repeats her prayer over and over again.

The voices of the Serbs get closer. There are three of them, checking each wagon.

Her heart almost stops when she sees one of them. It is Milan, her neighbor. He and her father used to play cards together every Saturday night. She buries her head deeper into Emir's hair.

The tactic works.Milan doesn't notice her. The Serbs glare at all of the women in the wagon. Their hard, cold eyes wander freely. They say nothing.

After a few moments of silence they move on to the next wagon.

Like a deflated balloon, she lets out an initial sigh of relief.

After a few minutes, the wagon continues, away from Kosova. She keeps her gaze fixed on her land until it becomes merely a dot, blinking only occasionally between tears.

************

Ahmet's blue eyes stare fixed outside the window.

His lined, wrinkled face is still. His white conical felt cap does not move an inch as he watches the minaret of the mosque slowly go up in flames.

At first, the flames lick the bottom of the minaret. Then, all of a sudden, with a burst, a large orange flame explodes, engulfing all but the top of the minaret.

He watches, still and silent. He does not even twitch, despite hearing the shouts of the Serbian terrorists on the street below him, banging on doors and threatening some, beating others, uttering the same thing: Kosovo is no longer yours. This has always been ours, and we are taking back what is ours from you animals.

Ahmet watches the orange flames snake up closer to the top, where he stood only two weeks ago, giving the Adhan. The burning smell stings his nostrils.

The events of his life in the mosque flash before his eyes: his marriage, his children's Aqiqat, Eid prayers, Friday prayers, Tarawih in Ramadan, the way the sun gently shone through the circular window at Fajr.

A tear begins to form in his right eye. Both of his eyes fill up. A hot tear spills down the right side of his face, climbing over every wrinkle. A second one drops from his left eye, spilling down in a smoother fashion. A strong hand squeezes his shoulder.

“Baba, it's time to go,” says his son gently.

******************

Raza is exhausted. Sleep on the train ride to Macedonia was on and off. She squeezes her son Selim while he sleeps and watches her husband Azmet count money from their savings, which he had taken out in preparation for when they would be kicked out.

Her tears flow freely and she makes no move to wipe them away. She thinks back to how the Serbs had forced alcohol down Selim and Azmet's throats. The leader of the three who broke into her house was their neighbor, Slobodan. She remembers how he and Azmet would often sit together and have coffee, joking about how he was named after the butcher of Belgrade. Slobodan would drink his whiskey after coffee, always offering some to Azmet, but respecting his polite no.

But this day, there was no respect. Slobodan's cold blue eyes bore into them, as he and the two Serb paramilitaries trashed their house, beating Azmet viciously then threatening to rape her.

For one hour, they destroyed everything in the house, took all of the jewelry she was wearing and that which was in her drawer, and spray painted graffiti in Serbian all over the house.

Finally, they dragged the three of them to their truck and drove them to the trains, throwing them viciously into one of the cars.

The first half hour of the ride, all three of them wept. That was all they could do. Azmet then regained his composure and started mentally working out Plan B.

The train stops. They have reached the border heading towards Macedonia. Raza breathes a sigh of relief. They are safe.

Ten minutes pass. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. Thirty. Azmet's eyebrows furrow. Raza's heart pounds against her chest. What's going on? There is shouting and yelling. Azmet gets up, but as soon as he does, the train starts. Raza breathes a sigh of relief.

But the train doesn't move forward. It heads back, back to Kosova, back to where Slobodan her neighbor and Slobodan the butcher and his men wait. One of the Kosovars sitting in front, Mehmet comes to the middle of the train. His face is ashen as he explains that they are going back to Kosova. There is no more room for refugees in Macedonia.

Raza buries her face into her winter coat, smothering her cries of pain and terror.

****************

The names in the above stories may be different. The circumstances may be different. But the reality is the same. Our Muslim brothers and sisters continue to suffer in Kosova. They are not just hungry. They are dying. They are being raped. They are suffering.

We must not be deluded into believing NATO's bombing and Serb casualties indicate a lessening of hostilities.The horrifying situation in Kosova continues.

 

"PrizrenCollection2 2010 100 2858" by James Michael DuPont - I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license:. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PrizrenCollection2_2010_100_2858.JPG#mediaviewer/File:PrizrenCollection2_2010_100_2858.JPG

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