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Yugoslavia: A Family Mourns For Their 14-Year-Old Son

  • Alexandra Poolos



RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos has been in Kosovo for more than two weeks, interviewing officials and members of the province's new international police force, visiting villages and hospitals. Here is Poolos's portrait of an ethnic Albanian Kosovo village today, taken from her reporter's notebook.

Peqan, Kosovo, 10 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- When we arrived in Peqan, it was already late in the day. Fog had obscured most of this tiny village tucked away in the southeastern hills of Kosovo. Our destination was the two-story house of the Famdaj family, where three cows roamed in the yard among chickens and dogs. One tree was hung with freshly washed clothes, another with a solitary rose-colored cloth -- a sign that the Famdaj family is expecting visitors to offer condolences.

Qazim Famdaj came out of his house to greet us. Last week his youngest son, Arben, a 14-year-old student of Arabic, died along with his best friend when a grenade that they found in the yard accidentally exploded. We are sorry for your loss, we told the old man as he invited us in.

As we drank coffee and ate homemade onion pita [flat bread] with Famdaj's wife and two of his remaining four children, Famdaj said he did not cry when Arben and his friend were buried side by side in the village graveyard. He said: "God gave to us, and now he has taken away."

We asked him what Arben was like, and he told us with a smile that he was a quiet boy, an excellent student. He motioned to a small colored map of Kosovo, the only decoration hanging from the bare white walls of the room. "My son drew this map a few days before he died," Famdaj said. "He said it was to celebrate our freedom."

Despite the loss of their youngest boy, members of the Famdaj family consider themselves lucky. Motioning at the plain room, Famdaj said that, unlike others in his village, his family will live under a roof this winter.

But the grenade that killed Arben was not the only thing left by Serbian paramilitary forces during NATO's air campaign last spring. Of Peqan's 300 houses, 280 were burned beyond repair. Thirty people were killed and countless others injured.

The apathy of these postwar times hung heavy in the Famdaj family house. There is no work for the adults, and the children have no school to attend. Famdaj asked me if I thought there are a people living who are more cruel than the Serbs. I answered that question with one of my own: Did he believe reconciliation is possible between the Albanians and the Serbs of Kosovo?

Famdaj's blue eyes grew large as he shouted his answer at me. "Not during my lifetime and not during the years of my children," he said. "Our problems are all from the Serbs and they remain everywhere around us."

But then he softened a bit and said that justice is more important in a country than the land itself. "If justice can find a life in Kosovo," he said, "perhaps there will be a chance for us to forget the past."

Famdaj's daughter Qamille interrupted our conversation, pouring warm water from a pitcher so I could clean my dirty hands. She hurried about the room from one person to another, pouring water and clearing plates. After she finished her work, she knelt across from me and asked in clear, direct English how old I was. I told her 25 and her face lit up. "I am 20," she said proudly.

If Kosovo has a face, it is Qamille's. I do not know what color her hair is because it was covered with a thick white kerchief. But her eyes were bright blue coals that alternately sparked with mischief and clouded with concern.

I asked Qamille what her plans for the future are, but she only shrugged. Once she had studied art and English. But she said that now, after the war, she has found that her mind "cannot hold thoughts anymore."

Qamille was recently released from a hospital in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, where for three months she received psychiatric treatment for war trauma. She said that although she cannot remember much about the war during the day, visions of men in military uniforms plague her dreams. She told me that even if there were money for her to continue with her studies and her painting, she doesn't have much interest in such things anymore. "There is too much death close to me," she said.

Later, Qamille led me through the pitch-black night to my car, which would take me back to Pristina. I tripped over a branch and Qamille grabbed me tightly around my waist. She whispered not to be afraid of falling. Then she thanked me for asking about her brother.

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