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  • Jerome Kocher

49. Children of War

Last night I went out for an evening promenade on Mother Theresa Blvd. Besides being a universal figure in many cities I’ve visited, she’s also Albanian, born to parents in Macedonia.

But I was hungry, so sat down at an outdoor cafe hoping they also had food. Next to me were three young men enjoying dinner so I asked them for a recommendation. They were brothers, all Swedish, on vacation. And surprisingly they told me they had bought an apartment here in Prishtina, so they came several times a year. That seemed unusual so I asked if they could speak the language. “Of course, we can. We’re Albanian.”

Their parents had emigrated to Sweden from Kosovo in 1998 as refugees from the Serbian war against Kosovo. The oldest was born a year later in Sweden. And now the circle is complete as they return as adults and are able to invite their parents to return with them to their homeland. They were children born of war refugees returning to a more peaceful home, although they themselves had no direct experience of the war.

Not so with John, a 39 year old from Kline. After my Swedish dinner mates left, I went to the NewBorn Brew Cafe for dessert. I sat down next to an intense chess match. The winning player was more obvious as he slammed down each chess move with emphatic confidence to intimidate his opponent. Soon it was over, and he just as dramatically got up in victory and left. I was alone with his opponent, John. But he was anything but defeated. We talked. Chess was just a game. He had seen worse. He was also a child of war, but a survivor. At age 13, while walking near a forested area in his home village, he was shot at. And escaped. A second incident brought him face to face with two Serbian soldiers, one of whom pointed a gun point blank at John. I didn’t need to ask what happened next. He was here alive and well, 26 years later.

Working behind the counter was Albuena whom I had met the night before. She also was a child of war, although younger than John. Born on 1987 she also has a painful memory of the war. Her entire village along with 800 homes was totally destroyed. She had been a refugee in Albania. Embedded in her very name is the medieval location of a battle by Skenderbeu against the Ottoman Turks. The intertwined history is unavoidable.

And as a young girl she had to walk two hours to school every day probably because of Serbian policies against Albanians. This has left her with knee problems, so her chair behind the counter makes life more bearable. But you would never know any of this by looking at her smile and enthusiasm. She represents the heart and soul of the Cafe, and of Kosovo . . . just like John and more distantly like the three Swedish brothers.

These children of war were just the ones I talked to. If you could see the invisible threads of past experience between people there would appear an interconnected web of memories. But as painful as they may be, this younger generation was looking forward, while not forgetting the past. And they would probably not agree with the title of this post. Their identity comes not from past hardship, but their faith in self initiative and the future. They are Children of Hope.

And that is the crux. As an individual or as a nation, how do you move forward and create a future while still remembering the past regardless of how difficult it was. It all depends on which way you’re looking

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Another of the wonderful stories describing the heart of a country less far away with each telling.

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