Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scenario #24: a nice boy

We were in a Serb village... an enclave... a ghetto if you must. The residents of this village are all Serbian but living in Kosovo - which means that, while they once lived rather cushy protected lives, during the past decade they have lived as a minority in fear. They still get some support from the Serbian government, including education and some health care. They could get some support from the Kosovo government, but they don't want to accept the existence of the Kosovo government, so they just steer clear of that.

They speak Serbian, but not the language currently spoken by 95% of Kosovars, which is Albanian. Sure many Kosovars speak Serbian, but nowadays, the national languages of Kosovo seem to English and Albanian. Serbian comes in as a distant third. The morality of this fact can be debated, but it's the way it is.

So I was, part of a hodgepodge mixture of people - Serb Kosovar, Albanian Kosovar, Bosnian and me - that was here because we wanted to get to know this community known for hating, fearing and avoiding the society that surrounds them.

Not speaking a word of Serbian, I took my place in the back of the room and observed the community members. Sitting around the table were 12 people, all friends of a friend of a friend of ours, gathered to share their thoughts. There were men, women, young and old. They looked rather miserable - like what one might expect of people in any ghetto. But they looked like they were friends with each other, supportive of each other, and willing to talk to us.

There were only 10 chairs in the room, though. My friends and I all stood, but two of the community members were going to need to stand as well.

When the 11th person entered the room, one boy quickly stood up. He was probably the youngest person in the room - 15 years old or so, dressed neatly in a bright yellow t-shirt and jeans. He had the darkest skin of any of the community members and he continually frowned as he searched his mind for just the right thing to do.

And he showed respect to the older man, a late arrival, by giving up his seat and, in fact, checking a few minutes later to make sure all the older men were comfortable. He checked in on the women as well, though they were rather cute girls around his age, so he might have been checking in on them for other reasons.

The boy held a notebook, and kept it open throughout the discussion. I'm not sure he ever actually took notes, but he kept his pen out at the ready. We were here to hear about his perspective, so why would he take notes? Nonetheless, he diligently held it in his hands as he leaned against a side wall.

I caught a closer look at the notebook. It was imprinted with a watermark on each page. I could barely make out the watermark: the Kosovo flag.

Why was this nice, thoughtful, conscientious, neatly dressed, respectful young man, from a community bitterly opposed to all things politically "Kosovo"... taking notes in a Kosovo notebook, in front of his neighbours and friends? Is he really that kind and tolerant... hmmm, or was there something else going on?

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