Excerpt of The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley
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But I did spend the last four weeks, day and night, working to get a certificate in teaching English as a second language. Will I be able to do that? Would that be useful? It is all unknown. As Daddy would say, I'm "borrowing trouble." I'll just have to see what happens.
Friday, August 25, 2000
Tomorrow we leave for D.C. for a few days, then Kosovo. And tonight I feel so sad to be leaving our sweet little house on the cliff over the ocean, my friends and family, our cat, Rodney. We've put our personal stuff in the studio, preparing the house for our tenant. I find myself envying her the next year in our house, the beautiful views, the ocean air.
I've solved my biggest worry by buying Web TV for my parents. With no phone system and no mail in Kosovo, the only way to communicate with them will be through satellite internet. They are old and Daddy's lung cancer, though in remission, could come back at any time. Now that they have access to the web, I know they can reach me if they have to. And they have actually become enthusiastic about the trip.
In our living room sit ten bulging suitcases, our life for the next year. I've packed so many means of diversion: books, CDs, pencils and paints, my harmonica (piano substitute)...Many of the books are about Kosovo, the history of the Balkans area, texts to help us understand better where we are going and what's happening there. But I'm also taking with me Lord Peter Wimsey, Jeeves, Sherlock Holmes, and I wonder, am I bringing with me the bricks and mortar of my own fortifications, the walls to keep fear away, to isolate myself from the place, the people, the chaos? Should I leave it all behind? Should I fearlessly embrace the conditions I've been told to expect, the long silent nights, the turmoil on the streets, the gunfire, with only the contents of my brain (and my character, God help me) to get me through? Should I forego the idea of diversion altogether and throw myself naked into the experience?
Writer Gretel Ehrlich of her sojourn in Greenland: "I close my eyes for the moment but the brightness penetrates my eyelids. Light peels my skin; the hole in the ozone stares at me. There is nothing more to lose or gain. Empty-handed I climb out of my own hole to some other kind of observation post. Exposure implies vision. Isn't that the point of travel? To stumble, drop one's white cane in a blizzard and learn to see."
Yes, well, Gretel, I know you're right. And I wish I could put it so eloquently. But I'm hanging on to my cane for a while yet. Lord Peter may come in handy on those dark, Balkan nights.
Friday, September 1, 2000
We arrived this afternoon around 3. From Ljubljana, Slovenia, the pilot headed west and south, over the Adriatic almost to Brindisi, Italy, then back east to Kosovo. All to avoid Serbian air space. I walk through the curtains of business class into coach, headed for the john, and, with a shock, discover a sea of young, dark-haired men, all staring at me, neither friendly nor unfriendly, just intent...on something. Are they returning refugees? During the fighting and ethnic cleansing of 1998 and 1999, the Kosovo diaspora took refugees to all parts of the globe-now many are being forced out of their host countries, returning to whatever uncertain future their devastated country offers. Or are they simply business travelers in casual clothes?
In our business-class cabin, everyone is Western European or American--some with guns and extra clips at the waist, a good indication that the usual rules won't apply here. And all men, again, save me.
Below us lie rugged mountains whose slopes and valleys are dotted with isolated villages. Their bright red roofs, so the man next to us says, signal the massive reconstruction going on here. Almost half of the Albanian homes in Kosovo were destroyed by the Serbs, he tells us, not as a result of the "collateral damage" of war, but as a result of the calculated plan to drive Kosovo Albanians from their homes and from the country, to create a country for Serbs. All over the country, he says, homes are being rebuilt with international aid.
Reprinted from The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley by permission of The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright (c) 2003, Paula Huntley. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.