Excerpt of The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley
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Wednesday, August 23, 2000 (two months earlier)
In three days we leave for Kosovo, and I am scared. Last night I awoke in the middle of the night and sat bolt upright, panicked. "What in God's name are we doing?"
I've had three months to get used to the idea. Ever since I came home from work the first of June to hear Ed say he'd been offered the chance to help build a modern legal system there. "Anywhere but Kosovo!" I protested. In Kosovo, where Slobodan Milosevic's bloody last-ditch effort to hang on to Serbian power in Yugoslavia ended only last year, the wounds are still fresh. Kosovo seemed, quite simply, too hard, too sad. But it is Kosovo that offers the greatest challenge for him, and now, for both of us, it is the plight, the courage of the Kosovars that touches our hearts.
So, despite my months of protest, we are going to Kosovo. I keep telling myself that it won't be the first time I have followed my heart into something new and scary. I met Ed twenty-one years ago on a blind date in Little Rock, Arkansas. Two months later I left my job, my friends and family, and everything I owned to go live with Ed in a funky little town in northern California, as different from Little Rock as any place in America could be. I took a chance and was happy I did. So maybe now...
Although Kosovo is Ed's idea, his work that will take us there, I know I must find my own way. I know something of what I hope to gain from the experience: a greater tolerance for ambiguity, a greater respect for differences, some clearer understanding of my own capacity for change, maybe. Am I willing to risk turning my own notions of myself and the world upside down? For this, I suspect, is what I'm getting myself into.
I already think of myself as tolerant, open-minded, respectful. But, from what I've read, life in Kosovo may challenge this smug belief. I may find myself wondering where to draw the line: Should endless generational blood feuds be respected? (The ancient Albanian code of conduct, the Kanun of Lek Dukagjin, which I am reading tonight, specifies that blood can only be wiped out with blood.) Should abuse of women be tolerated because it is part of their culture? (In the Kanun, women are "sacks, made to endure," as if their only purpose is to bear men's children-male children, preferably.) These traditions are dying out, I imagine. But what will I make of the vestiges that remain?
And can I stick it out for a year? How hard will life in Kosovo be? Will there be enough food? Will we be able to find decent housing? Can we stay healthy? We spoke recently with a psychologist who took a team of his fellows into Kosovo last winter. Seven of the ten got viral pneumonia, several became extremely depressed, and only one is willing to return.
How dangerous will it be? Only today I read a news report about a Bulgarian U.N. worker in the capital, Prishtina, who, being stopped on the street by an Albanian who asked the time in Serbian, politely answered in the same language. Believing he had identified one of the hated Serbs, the Albanian shot the young Bulgarian to death. The U.N. worker's only mistake was giving the time in the language of the enemy. Political correctness, Balkan style.
Ed has taken unpaid leave from the law school to work pro bono in the Balkans and I've resigned from my marketing job of twelve years. We will have no income for a year, but we've decided to make the commitment. The only worry that really remains tonight is whether I can do anything useful for the Kosovars. I don't want to be a voyeur in a country that has suffered so much. Ed will be helping to create a modern legal system with the American Bar Association's Central and Eastern European Law Initiative (ABA-CEELI). But I have no legal training, no medical or counseling skills. And there is certainly no need in Kosovo at this stage for my marketing experience.
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.