October 03, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - The long trek to peace 

A Whistler student is part of an international effort to establish a Balkans Peace Park

Page 4 of 9

The United Nations Mission in Kosovo is the organization’s largest and most expensive mission. UN workers from India, Pakistan, Sweden, Senegal, Nigeria, Canada, Cambodia, the Philippines and everywhere in between work together in Kosovo. As one might imagine this results in some interesting cultural interactions. One evening we were invited to a UN farewell party being held for the Peja regional director, an Iraqi-Canadian who was leaving to go to work with the expanded UN mission in Iraq. Before the barbecue we had coffee at a restaurant that our Ugandan friend later told us was on the UN "blacklist" (a list of establishments that UN workers are not allowed to patronize because of their known association with the mafia). At the barbecue we talked to our African and European friends as we ate kebabs and watched the Albanian guests doing their traditional circle dance. We decided to leave later on in the evening just as the KFOR troops were getting rowdy on the dance floor; we were a little uneasy at the prospect of intoxicated Italians dancing around with massive guns strapped to their backs.

The most popular music among the youth is American hip-hop – remixed with Albanian or oriental tunes. When we asked a friend about the bizarre sounding remixes he told us that they took American music and "made it better."

Evening entertainment for young people revolves around "going walking." In Peja, one of the main streets was closed to traffic from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. so that people could walk up and down the middle of the cafe-lined street. The patrons in the cafes were mostly men staring at everyone strutting up and down the street in front of them.

The other student I was with, Ellen, is from Boston and couldn’t understand for the life of her how people could walk so slowly down the street with no destination. If we sat at a cafe long enough we would see the same people walk by us four or five times. We were amazed that with such a young population (half of the population of Kosovo is under 21), and with so little in the way of entertainment, the youth generally kept out of trouble. Hardly anyone our age drinks, and drugs are almost unheard of. Young people seem to be content to hang out with friends and family.

Family is by far the most important aspect of life in Albanian culture. Friends of ours who were 25 and 30 still lived with their parents and would let them know if they planned on staying out late. The entire family usually lives together; grandparents and grandchildren under the same roof.

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