Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Scenario #20: Fireworks

It was, beyond a doubt, the most impressive display of fireworks I've ever seen. Lots of colours, variety, booming, shapes, sprinklers, designs. To be fair, there wasn't quite as generous a serving of those things as there are at your average 4th of July display in Washington, or at an Olympics opening ceremony. But I have never in my life been half as enthralled by fireworks as I was by Kosovo's independence day celebration last night.

What made these fireworks the most impressive I've ever seen was that they were a full-body experience. They were being set off from three different points in the city centre, and I found myself standing right in the middle. I looked one way and I saw Prishtina's premiere five-star hotel setting the backdrop to purple, blue, yellow and white... sparklies, shpritzers, boomers and those fireworks that go zooooooooooooooooooo-splat. You know the ones. Then I turned around and saw the reflection of the fireworks in the windows of the OSCE building - but not the hotel ones. In the windows I was watching the dancing lights of the fireworks display taking off from the centre square, from next to the stage where there had been live concerts all day. This display was comprised mostly of the simple white and yellow types, but it went on for a good hour without tiring. Then I whirled around again and, between two buildings, I could see the rear of the sportscentre, where the most multicoloured display of all was rockin' the town. They were so low that the arena stood higher than many of the fireworks. It was like I was facing them at eye-level: red, yellow, blue, purple, orange, green and white lights blasted off right in front of my face. Everywhere I stood I could see lights, and usually two sets of lights at a time. I wasn't watching fireworks, I was living them!

I had a few brief passing thoughts about health and safety, but decided that this is what fireworks were meant to be, and that we in the West may have lost the point when we started watching them high in the air, kilometres away, on TV.

As I'm getting to know people here in Kosovo, I'm realising that memories of war are incredibly fresh for many people. They've told me about having to evacuate their homes, seeing their neighbours' houses bombed, watching on the day NATO started bombing their city, and trying to avoid the fighting between different military forces in their villages. They can describe the weapons used and they seem to be masters of identifying the uniforms of all the different troops at a glance.

I don't know if larger-than-life fireworks like I experienced last night are the standard in this part of the world, but I couldn't help but wonder at a nation full of people, whose formative years were spent hearing booming sounds that were meant for evil, now choosing to surround themselves by the same sounds in celebration. At one point last summer in Syria, there were fireworks and firecrackers going off for two days straight in commemoration of a Christian holiday. My Iraqi friends told me they were very disturbed whenever they heard the firecrackers go off, because they were mentally transported back to the war they'd fled in Iraq, and I felt sympathy for them. But these people in Kosovo didn't shy away from fireworks, instead it seems they redefined them.

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