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Kosovar Diary Wonders What’s Next

May 4, 1999

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ School let out early in Pristina two days before the NATO bombings began. The teachers said goodbye. Some were crying.

``See you all soon,″ Adelina Imeri told her instructors and classmates at the Hassan Pristina high school in Kosovo’s provincial capital.

``Yes, see you soon,″ most replied.

No one dared suggest the life they knew was drawing to a close. They didn’t want to say it because maybe it would come true, Adelina recalled. But superstition couldn’t freeze events. Everyone, including 15-year-old Adelina coming home from school, felt it, breathed it _ this stifling dread among the ethnic Albanians.

She stopped at a kiosk and picked out a green leather notebook for 2 German marks ($1.10). On March 22, she began her diary _ what became a sampling of the fear, hopelessness and hunger suffered by Adelina, her family and her friends when their lives were shattered.

``The fear is increasing,″ she wrote. ``What will happen?″

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Adelina’s journal, written in Albanian in her slightly tilted script, is direct. The observations are sharp and emotions often muted. This is also how she carries herself: simple, unadorned chestnut hair. She may occasionally wear a light shade of lipstick, but that’s rare. Adelina, whose father wouldn’t allow her to be photographed by a journalist, speaks in clipped sentences, never rambling on. She wants to study medicine, perhaps become a pediatrician.

March 23, the day before the NATO attacks began, she wrote: ``They are giving only 2 liters of milk to each customer ... Even the vegetable market is being emptied out. I met (friends) Arjeta and Arlinda at noon. They were going to Skopje to an uncle’s place. I was asked: `Where are you going?′ I’ve got nowhere to go ... The older people are whispering something between them. What are they saying?″

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The opening NATO bombardment shook their entire building, a 15-story apartment tower near the Fountain of Ulpiana, a favorite meeting place for teen-agers. Adelina’s family huddled together in their living room on the seventh floor. At 8:10 p.m. they heard the first blast. A half-hour later the power went out. Adelina counted a dozen explosions, two of them so close the window’s rattled and the building swayed. She eventually fell asleep at dawn.

March 25: ``Tired from previous night ... Dad bought groceries. I’m wondering whether to go to the fountain or not. Few people are on the streets. Some relatives of ours told us that robbing and burning of the houses and shops has started ... Dad is trying to calm us down, telling us NATO will not hit civilians areas ... This seems unreal.″

Adelina heard that one of her friends left for Montenegro. People on her block were packing their cars and heading south toward the Macedonian border. She began spending more time playing with her 8-year-old brother, Arzenin. At least it helped distract her. The news reported the slayings of ethnic Albanian human rights lawyer Bajram Kelmendi and his two sons. Adelina curled up in bed with her clothes on.

March 26: ``I heard one explosion I thought was going to demolish the building ... God, where did they hit this time?″

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They left the apartment the next morning. Adelina’s father, a construction foreman who couldn’t get a job with Serbian contractors, found room for the family in a friend’s home in a neighborhood called Bregu i Diellit, or Sunny Hills. Surprisingly, the phone worked. Adelina tried to call friends. Many had already left Pristina. She watched people trudging toward the train station 5 miles from the center. But they were turned back by police for some reason. They felt safer on the first floor of the home. The basement _ even safer still _ was allotted to a Serb family in a government welfare program.

March 28: ``Psychologically, we are prepared for the worse. The explosions are coming more.″

March 29: ``I ran into two of my friends. They looked very pale and scared. They told me how they spent the terrible nights in the high-rises. I pass the time looking for food ... We are more scared hour by hour ... We can see the glowing explosions. They are like mushrooms of fire. We are scared the police or military will come for us.″

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Yugoslav authorities claim most of the more than half million Kosovo refugees fled NATO bombing raids and not reprisals from Serb police and paramilitary units. Adelina’s family packed up because of both. They heard Serb police were clearing out nearby neighborhoods and moving in their direction. But the bombings, too, had them on edge from stress and lack of sleep. On the last day of March, Adelina, her parents and two brothers joined 17 others walking to the train station. Adelina’s family was too fearful of Serb police to return to their apartment. They took only two changes of clothes each, a sack of bread and apples and about 450 German marks ($250). Adelina left behind everything but her diary.

They managed to find a place in the corridor of a train heading for the Macedonian border. They felt fortunate. Thousands of others were left behind, begging to be let on board. Police waved their guns at the crowd and the train pulled away.

March 31: ``I couldn’t stop crying ... In every station we passed, thousands of people were waiting to escape the Serbian massacres ... The train stopped in front of a military barracks. We waiting there for at least one hour. The border was just 500 meters (yards) away. We were ordered to come out of the train and walk along the railway tracks. They said there were mines on either side. We were part of a stream of people. My dad estimated there were 10,000 people. We came to a place called Blace.″

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Adelina’s family descended into a pit of misery along a swampy no-man’s land along the border. More than 35,000 ethnic Albanians were stranded there as Macedonian authorities balked at opening up their nation to the refugee tide. Adelina’s family scavenged a bit of nylon sheeting and fashioned a tent. And there they waited.

April 1-3: ``The rain is falling. It seems fitting after what we’ve been through. We are trying to get some sleep leaning against each others’ backs. An aid group has started giving bread to people. It’s amazing to see all the hands reaching for bread.″

On April 4, they were allowed out and scrambled aboard a bus. Friends of Adelina’s father took them in at their three-room apartment in Skopje. That night she wrote: ``All we wanted was hot water to wash and a bed to sleep. I wish to forget Blace if that’s possible.″

April 6: ``It was strange to see shops full of things ... I thought I was dreaming after what I experienced in Pristina. It’s like we’re on a different planet. We see people and teen-agers my age not being afraid of the police or being tortured.″

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The next days were spent basking in common pleasures. Adelina registered for school and took long walks with Arbana, the 12-year-old daughter of their hosts. They ate ice cream. ``Delicious,″ raved Adelina in her diary. Adelina’s father spared some money so she could see a movie.

``Every day, I see more faces from Pristina and I hug them as if they were long lost family,″ she wrote April 10.

April 12: ``First day at school. They were very nice to us. I still could not wait to finish. It was like something grabbed me around the throat and was strangling me. I could not follow the teaching ... I came back home depressed. Everyone understood that. I missed my friends.″

``I’m depressed again,″ she wrote April 15. ``I had some terrible dreams with people dressed in military uniforms with long beards and masks on their faces. They were trying to catch me. What does this dream say?″

April 19: ``I can’t stop thinking of my old friends. I miss them terribly. Where are they?″

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Adelina received a surprise present April 20 from her father: a new dress. It was her first new item of clothing since leaving Kosovo. ``I was extremely happy!″ she wrote.

Five days later, Adelina got another gift. In Skopje, she ran into four former classmates who had just been allowed to leave one of the refugee camps outside the city. They arranged to meet the following day.

April 26: ``We walked and walked. We talked about the days we had in Pristina.″

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Translated text of diary kept by Kosovo refugee Adelina Imeri, 15:

MARCH 22: Today again I was at school. Today I was told that because of the situation the teaching will be interrupted. We will be told by Albanian media when it will start again. The fear is increasing. What will happen? In the family, there has never been more TV watched. After 4 p.m. you could not see any people on the streets of Pristina. Even the police are not to be seen. I went to the fountain with my friends. There are fewer kids than ever. We heard that some friends have already left for the villages.

MARCH 23: Today I didn’t go school. Today I went to buy milk for home. The lines are increasing. They are giving only two liters (two quarts) of milk to each customers. There is less food in the markets. Even the vegetable market is being emptied out. I met Arjeta and Arlinda at noon. They were going to Skopje to an uncle’s place. I was asked: ``Where are you going?″ I’ve got nowhere to go. Television is full of news of the preparations of attacks in Yugoslavia. (U.S. envoy Richard) Holbrooke, who is even known by the children, has gone to Belgrade. In the satellite television programs, they are saying the attacks could be tonight or tomorrow. The older people are whispering something between them. What are they saying?

MARCH 24: Since this morning, news that NATO will attack tonight. In town, it’s a very tense atmosphere. My uncle and his wife came to ask what they should do. What they decided, I don’t know. I went out to play with little Arzenin (brother). We met at the fountain after lunch. Mimoza (a friend) was missing. She went to Montenegro to her uncle’s. Behind the building there are more cars being filled with bags full of clothing. They leave them ready to go at any moment. Television is saying the attacks will start tonight. My parents ask us to eat dinner earlier. Because of the attack the power is cut. At 8:10 p.m. we hear the first explosion. In our building in the seventh floor, the windows were shaking. Half an hour later, there was no power. Mom lighted candles. We did not sleep all night. I counted 12 explosions, two of them very very strong. In the morning, power came back and at 10 a.m. the water was back.

MARCH 25: Tired from previous night. I rested until 11 a.m. Dad bought groceries. Sirens in the town at 1 a.m. Air attacks are coming back! A car with sirens drove around the city. I’m thinking whether to go to the fountain or not. Few people on the streets. Some relatives of ours told us that robbing and burning of the houses and shops has started. We even hear rumors of bombs being thrown into homes. Television does not stop: news after news. When night comes, the fear increases even more. My dad is trying to calm us down, telling us that NATO will not hit civilians areas. Again, I’m hearing explosions. After 10 minutes, the power is out. Then we stayed awake. I don’t remember falling asleep. This seems unreal.

MARCH 26: In the streets, there are fewer people to see. The ones you see are running to get things done and then they rush home. The telephone is cut. During the day, police patrols are increasing. Again, we hear news about the looting of Albanian homes. We hear news that they found the corpses of Bajram Kelmendi (a human rights activist) and his two sons. This has even been confirmed by the Serbian police. At night, again more NATO bombs. The power was cut and I slept with my clothes on. I heard one explosion I thought was going to demolish the building. It was so strong that every one of us woke up and jumped to our feet. The building was shaking for a while. God, where did they hit this time?

MARCH 27: Dad decided to go a former neighbor’s house who lives on the first floor. We took the clothes that we needed and left. On the way to the Sunny Hills, we saw seven to eight people. They were rushing past. Where were they going? When we arrived at our former neighbor’s place, they were extremely happy. Two of the little kids were the happiest. At Adem’s, surprisingly the phone worked. I called Luljeta and Valtanen. When I went to buy something, I saw lots of people with their bags in their hands heading toward the bus station. The same people I saw coming back an hour later. The police did not let them leave Pristina. The explosions were strong again. But, thankfully, on the first floor we felt them less.

MARCH 28: Life has taken the same rhythm again. There are lines for milk. Psychologically, we are prepared for the worse. More explosions are coming.

MARCH 29: I ran into two of my friends. They looked very pale and scared. They told me how they spent the terrible nights in the high-rises. In town, we heard news that the Serbs have started to remove the Albanians. They talk about lots of killings. I pass the time looking for food and waiting for news. We are more scared hour by hour. But the most terrible thing is the news of the killings. Albanian television told us about it. In Pristina, we hear that professor Fehmi Agani was killed. Nights as usual: bombs and fear. We can see the glowing explosions. They are like mushrooms of fire. It’s coming ever closer. We are scared the police or military will come for us.

MARCH 30: People have started to be thrown out of their homes. We hear trains have left for the Macedonian border. With my own eyes, I have seen lines of cars with Pristina plates heading toward Macedonia. There is talk the suburbs of Vranjavac and one part of Dragodane have been told to leave. Everyone feels nervous. When will it be our turn to leave?

MARCH 31: Last night, my parents decided to go to Macedonia. Today the trains are leaving from Pristina to the border. With the few clothes we had with us, we started walking to the train station in Pristina. Even though I was born in Pristina, I didn’t know where it is. We were lucky and we made it safely on a train. We found room in the corridors. After waiting a few hours, the train left. Thousands of Albanians were left behind. They also are leaving. When we arrived at the next train station in Kosova Polja, the train stopped for more than an hour. We saw police and military armed to the teeth. They behaved insanely. In front of the waiting area in the train station, we saw lots of people trying to get aboard to go to Macedonia. When we left the station, I couldn’t stop crying. I was thinking I will never see my friends again. Uncles and aunts have been deported to Albania. You could see tears in the people around me. In every station we passed, thousands of people were waiting to escape the Serbian massacres. We arrived at the border town after two hours. The train stopped in front of a military barracks. We waited there for at least one hour. The border was just 500 meters (yards) away. We were ordered to come out of the train and walk along the railway tracks. We were told to stay on the tracks. They said there were mines on either side. We were part of a stream of people. My dad estimated there were 10,000 people. We came to a place called Blace.

APRIL 1-3: When I arrived in Blace, I saw a lot of faces I knew. I saw some school friends and some friends of my father. We started making a tent with nylon sheeting. The old people were sitting on the bags they carried with them. We devoured the food we had with us. It’s unbelievable how cold it is here. Skopje is known to be a warm city. It is so close. But it is so far. Dad has some friends there. But we cannot tell them we are here. The rain is falling. It seems fitting after what we’ve been through. We are trying to get some sleep leaning on each others’ backs. An aid group has started giving bread to people. It’s amazing to see all the hands reaching for bread.

APRIL 4: We managed to leave Blace with the buses that took us toward Tetova. When we arrived at the bus station, we called my dad’s friend, Abdullah, to come and pick us up. Two hours later, we arrived in Skopje. We were welcomed as part of the family. All we wanted was hot water to wash and a bed to sleep. I wish to forget Blace if that’s possible.

APRIL 6: I woke up early. I didn’t know where I was at first. Then I realized where I was. They told me I went to sleep without eating. I can’t even remember. In the afternoon, we went into Skopje. It was strange to see shops full of things. The market of Bit Pazarit was full of vegetables and fruit and everything else. I thought I was dreaming from what I had experienced in Pristina. It’s like we’re on a different planet. We see people and teen-agers my age not being afraid of the police or being tortured. At night, I went to town and stayed longer than I am allowed to in Pristina (10 p.m.).

APRIL 7: I registered at the Illyria school. The director of the school told my dad that they will have special classes for the Kosovars. We went to town with dad to buy a few basic things. When we got back, dinner was made by Sadije (Abdullah’s wife). How nice they are treating us! They look after us as if we were immediate family, trying to fulfill our every need. Even little Arbana, who is very young, made me feel like I was at home. Dad met some people in Skopje who told them about big crimes in Lipjane. The stories were terrible. In the evening for the first time in a long time, I went to the cinema.

APRIL 8: The day went past quickly. Arbana and I walked all around Skopje.

APRIL 9: In the morning, I went to school. I was told I was in class 812. We’ve been told to come back Monday. Today, I went to the markets of Qair. We bought a few little things. We spent the day again wandering around the city.

APRIL 10: Today I found out some of my neighbors have left Kosovo. That’s great news! We found out they are in Stankovec (a refugee camp outside Skopje). There are Imer and Iliri, who is my age and a classmate. Every day, I see more faces from Pristina and I hug them as if they were long lost family.

APRIL 11: We went to Tetovo with mom and dad. I felt like I was back in Pristina. Every time you turn your head you see familiar faces. We stopped to talk to lots of people. Everyone is telling us what they went through. We went to a camp. We were told we could find my mother’s relatives there. But we didn’t find them. Tired, but happy we met all these Pristina people; we returned to Skopje.

APRIL 12: First day at school. We had five subjects today. They were very nice to us. I still could not wait to finish. It was like something grabbed me around the throat and was strangling me. I could not follow the teaching. I kept looking around expecting to find my old school friends from Pristina. I came back home depressed. Everyone understood that. I was missing my friends. I had nothing left but the trust that things will get better.

APRIL 13: Today I went to school again and it felt better. Some of my new school friends are trying to be helpful, giving us books and notebooks. I went out with Arbana and walked for two hours.

APRIL 14: The same thing again: school, home, homework, walking with Arbana.

APRIL 15: We had lots of subjects at school. I returned home tired. I’m depressed again. I had some terrible dreams with people dressed in military uniforms and with long beards and masks on their faces. They were trying to catch me. What does this dream say? How do I know? At midday, we had visitors. They were friends of dad from Skopje. While they were talking, I did my homework. Arbana told me the theater is having a play of novels by (Albanian playwright Anton Zako) Qajupi. I want to go and see that when I get a chance.

APRIL 16: After the third subject at school, they let us go home. I decided to reread my diary today and check whether I forgot to put in anything important. Tonight I spent watching TV. There was a great movie.

APRIL 17: I woke up late and we went to town with Arbana. We were walking without any plans or destination. We had ice cream again. It was delicious! At night we went to the cinema.

APRIL 18: We used this day for resting. After lunch, we went to the cafeteria where dad bought us a coffee. In the afternoon, we went to Kumanovo where we met with some former colleagues of my dad. One man, Ismet, was worried. He had no word about his brothers, who lived in the villages around Pristina. We arrived back very late in Skopje.

APRIL 19: Today, like any other day: school, home and walking. I can’t stop thinking of my old friends. I miss them terribly. Where are they? All these people I saw in Skopje, Tetovo and Kumanovo _ I have not seen a single old friend yet.

APRIL 20: A market day in Skopje. We went with mom and bought fruits and vegetables. Dad bought me a beautiful dress. I was extremely happy!

APRIL 21: Nothing new.

APRIL 25: Four friends of mine are out of the Stenkovec camp. Liria, Liridona, Valmira and Valbona. We just met my accident while we were with mom and dad registering at the police station. They had been in the camp more than 20 days. I was surprised they did not complain. They had beautiful tans as if they had a beach holiday. We arranged to meet tomorrow.

APRIL 26: Straight after school, I met my friends at Bit Pazarit. I was so happy to meet them. We walked and walked. We talked about the days we had in Pristina. Tomorrow they are coming to register in my school. I hope we will be in the same classes.

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