Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Bottle of Lotion & A Renewed Friendship

Arville and Adem Together Again after Ten Years

When Daniel and Earlene Vestal and their then-future son-in-law – Jordan – came to visit with us in 1999, we were in the midst of the Kosovo War coming to a close, and Albanians were preparing to leave the refugee camps. Since we had already begun regular visits to the large refugee camp Cegrane, near Gostivar, we invited the Vestals and Jordan to go with us to get a close-up look at the situation. On that day, we met one particular family and spent most of the day with them – listening to their stories of tragedy, uncertainty and yet irrepressible hope.

Cegrane Camp 1999

The Gashi Family: (left to right) Xhylferije, Shkendije, Adem and Blerim

Adem, Jordan, Blerim talking with Daniel

Arville, Blerim and Jordan inside the tent

Jordan, Daniel, Shkendije, and Earlene inside the Gashi Temporary Home

Visiting One Last Time Before Leaving
We were in the states at the CBF General Assembly a few weeks later when most of the families left the camps in Macedonia for home (at least what was left of home). The Gashi family was among those who journeyed back to Kosovo. When we made another visit to the camp we tried to locate them, but no one seemed to know where they had gone.
When we returned to Macedonia, we began working in the south of Kosovo -- rebuilding homes, supplying tractors, food and clothing, plus medicines and vitamins for several villages.

This is what Prishtina looked like at that time

Daniel had left a business card with Adem (the father of the family) and the family wrote to him. They used the address of their former home, but since it had been destroyed during the war, they were not actually living there. The last time we were in the states and saw Daniel, he gave us their apartment address (they had moved there after returning and not being able to occupy their former property).

So we were able to talk to them several times on the phone since our meeting with Daniel in January. They wanted us to come to Kosovo and visit with them, but with the school, our other ministries, and harsh weather this winter in Macedonia and Kosovo, too, we were not able to accept the invitation until last week.
Here We Come !!!

We arrive in Prishtina (looks a bit different now, doesn't it?)

Now, ten years later, we made the trip to Kosovo with our friends, Agim and Habibe who worked with us in the camps and in Kosovo, as well. From Prishtina, we thumped along on a new autoroute still under construction. Forty kilometers took us almost 2 hours to travel. We arrived in the village town of Drenas and the apartment of the Gashi family.

We were welcomed with open arms (literally) by Adem and his son. Blerim, who helped us find a parking place and took us up to their apartment. We were treated as if we were family who had been away for these many years. We arrived around noon and visited until about 6pm. What a gratifying experience – all the memories surrounding a one-time meeting a decade ago.
You can tell by the pictures who is Center-Stage in this family now. Eni will be two years old on September 14.

Eni with his grandmother

--and with his father (Blerim)

Blerim and Agim visiting -- first time they had met, but you would have thought that they had been friends forever.

Eni with his Aunt Shkendije (who is expecting a child, too, in a few months).

Blerim's wife, Sadete, and Shkendije Looking at the Photos we brought them from Cegrane Camp

And the proud grandfather, Adem, with Eni

The daughter of the family, Skendije had come to visit with us, too. During the conversations (sometimes everyone was talking, laughing, crying, at the same time), Skendije took a bottle of skin cream from her bag, and she told all of us that it was the one that Shelia had given to her in the camp. She had only used a little of it because she said, “It was a gift from you (speaking to Shelia) and represented all that you had done for us while we were in the camp.” Well, you can imagine that Shelia cried – but so did Habibe, Skendije and her mother & father. Who knew what an enduring gift that would turn out to be for a teenage girl in a refugee camp? We never really know what impact we might have on someone else’s life, do we?
The Women and Eni Telling Us "Bye" One Last Time - from their 3rd floor apartment.


We made a short visit to the former home site and farm of the Gashi family. Adem and Blerim work every possible chance they have – slowly rebuilding their lives. The financial resources for the family’s living expenses and the rebuilding of their home come from Blerim’s salary. He is a recent graduate of the newly formed Kosovo National Police Academy and is employed as a police officer in another town near Prishtina.
Here are pictures of the farm and what they have done on the house to be able to move back home:

Then we made a stop at the market so that Habibe could buy a new lid for her traditional pot.

We had planned to return in mid-afternoon to Macedonia so that we would arrive back before dark, but we could not pull ourselves away. After visiting until almost 6pm, we made the trip to the family farm and afterwards, Blerim escorted us to a “Memorial Cemetery” in a nearby village where an entire family of 63 members – father, mother, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and children of less than 7 years old – had been murdered in 1998. This marked the beginning of the massive expulsion and attempted annihilation enacted by the Milosevic regime. We are still trying to assess the impact of that somber experience.

The Sign indicates that this village was where the horrors of the Kosovo War began in late 1998.

We are amazed that with all that they have endured, the amount of loss they have experienced, and their financial situation at the moment, the Gashi family retains a sense of joy and gratitude for life which was confirmed by the smiles and laughter we observed that day. We were privileged to have the opportunity for reunion.
Here are scenes of traveling back to Macedonia:

What the next stage of follow-up will be, we do not know, but we are relatively sure that this one visit will not be our last, the next one will be an overnight so that we can visit longer, and neither visit will be the end of the story – but a new beginning to a deeper relationship. We also plan to share this story with Daniel, Earlene and Jordan – along with pictures of these few hours together.

Arville & Shelia