was December, 2001, the electricity was gone again! A cold
breeze chilled my bones. I looked outside the window and saw
the first winter snow falling in Kosovo. It was one of the
most astonishing sights I had ever seen. Although, outside
temperature was below freezing, I put on some light warm clothes
that I had brought from Bangladesh and went out. The snow
was as soft as cotton balls. Slowly the whole world turned
white. In an instant the neighborhood I knew, became very
unfamiliar to me. Trees had shed their leaves long ago and
now it seemed as if they had worn a white gown to hide their
bareness. The rooftops of houses seemed as if they were painted
ready to ski down to a center meeting!
night Mir and Mafiz, my two Bangladeshi colleagues sat down
with me with worried looks on their faces, to discuss how
to go for the center meetings the next morning. We were quite
nervous how our project will work in area, now blanketed with
upto three feet of snow. We apprehended that the road system
of war devastated Kosovo would be disrupted very soon.
the morning, Astrit and Margim,my
local colleagues, came earlier than other days. All dressed
up in overcoats, boots and gloves, they started to clean the
office entrance and our rusty jeep, with a big brush, cleaning
the solid ice with a shovel. Astrit also brought some ash
and placed it beside the tyres. Margim found some warm water
to pour on the engine to start the vehicle. Finally, the jeep
was ready and we started our hazardous journey to the center
meetings, on icy mountain road.
we arrived at village Zabeli, we found our members all clad
in warm winter clothes. They looked so different (compared
to our Bangladeshi borrowers who wear usually light clothes
and cotton saris even during winter) wearing heavy winter
clothes. There was still another unforeseen problem at the
center meeting. In summer, it was easier to organize center
meetings as well as mini meetings or projection gatherings
in the open space, in front of members’ houses or in
the shade of their apple orchard or vinyard. But during winter
things were much more difficult. During the war, Kosovars
lost their main heating system and it was difficult to buy
wood in advance for heating one’s home. As our members
did not have many rooms, some of the centers suggested that
center meetings be shifted to the mosque or some other places.
In addition, we observed that in winter, it was inconvenient
to sit on the icy floor. Still we openly discussed and shared
their problems. Finally, members decided that they would on
their own buy plastic stools and they can share fuel wood
that they can individually bring for heating during the center
meetings. This will help ease the burden of the member who
had graciously agreed to host centre meeting at her home.
members had to face a terrible time in their first winter,
after the war of 1999. They were displaced from their homes
and they were unable in many cases to bear the cost of wood
for heating facilities. They did not even have enough money
to preserve food in advance. Before arriving in Kosovo, we
never had the experience of the people who needed to preserve
food for the household to survive the bitter winter. During
winter, prices of all essential goods went up for dearth of
supplies and Kosovo people must rely for such essentials on
neighboring countries like Macedonia, Turkey and Bulgaria.
winter, the sun would not be seen for days. It seemed as if
the country was covered with a blanket of misty darkness.
We had short days and very long nights. There was a very subtle
difference between day and night. Even during day, our colleagues
in the office had to use candles and charger lights.
we found it so difficult to reach our members as we needed
to cross mountains and often had to travel on narrow roads
which were all snow bound. KFOR (Force for Kosovo) tried to
clean the main roads, but we had to use the country roads
to reach villages which were located high in the mountains.
The snow on the ground became like a clear crystal glass and
the roads were very slippery. Heavy fog covered the countryside.
I remember being stuck in the dense fog while going to one
of our centers in Bardimad along with Mr. Niccolo D’
Aqino, a senior journalist from a very reputed magazine, Io
Donna, in Milan. Mr. Niccolo came to Kosovo to write our story.
We started out for the center meeting at 8:00 am and the sky
was clear at that time. However, weather began to change for
the worse. When we arrived in Fush Kosova, one and a half
hours drive from Peje, it became completely dark. Even things
within half a meter range were almost invisible. Mr. Nicollo
suggested that he get down and walk beside the jeep and show
our driver the way. However, our driver did not agree, saying
that it would be more risky for the journalist. Mr. Niccolo
might not see other vehicles coming or other vehicles might
not see him in the dark, and an accident might take place.
Frightened and praying all the way, finally we reached our
destination safely, because of a merciful God and a very expert
became quite worried in the first winter of our stay in Kosovo,
as we saw many NGOs were closing down their activities and
leaving the country. Many expatriates working in Kosovo, went
on leave, but we had to stay put. In fact we became even closer
to our customers, the center members who appreciated that
we stood by them during a difficult time.
of the severe cold, our local colleagues were always punctual.
They proved to be as hard working as ever. Our members remained
steadfast and were regular in attending center meetings, even
paying their instalments in time.
was the first project Director of Grameen Trust’s Kosovo