Fusche Kosove

by tkos on August 17, 2012

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How do you prepare yourself for visiting a community living in extreme poverty? Like you, I’ve seen all the commercials on TV for Oxfam and the like, with all the dying children and the sad music playing in the background. But those 30 second random allotments, between the mindless, mediocre at best, canned laughter filled programs didn’t really prepare me for Fusche Kosove. Perhaps I should have done more research.

Central Prishtina is a hub of buzz. With the majority of a generation missing from the conflict, some 13 years ago, Prishtina has hit back with the funkiest of cafes, bars and restaurants to rival any of Europe’s best weekend getaways. Students from the university overrun the city giving it a heart beat, a soul and an inspiring character. What’s more, the activity and buzz of the city give Kosovo something that it really needs. Hope. Hope that the worst is all behind them and that the future is bright. And if all you did was visit central Prishtina, you’d be hard pressed to think anything different.

Some six or seven kilometres away is an area called Fusche-Kosove. It is an area for the Roma-Ashkali-Egyptian community. Otherwise known as gypsies to the rest of the world. It is an area that is barricaded by a 10 foot concrete wall on all sides to separate it from the rest of the city. It is Prishtina’s problem child. It is Prishtina’s dirty secret. It is Prishtina’s shame.

Home in Fusche Kosove

Through connections with The Ideas Partnership, a local NGO headed by Elizabeth Gowing, we arrive to Fusche-Kosove by taxi. Elizabeth, a British national, has lived in Kosovo for years and has done some amazing work through The Ideas Partnership for the Roma community in Fusche-Kosove. Point is, she knows everybody and everybody knows her.

In Fusche-Kosove, there are no roads, just dusty tracks. There are no plants, grass or trees, just rubbish. There are no schools, no playgrounds, no doctors.  It’s like Prishtina has swept the city floor, swept all the dirt and rubbish into the corner, put a wall around it, put the Roma community there and given it a name. Fusche-Kosove.

As soon as we got out of the car, children bombarded Elizabeth like a teenagers to a rock star. They were absolutely thrilled to see her, opening the car door for her, fighting over who would carry her bags and wresting others out the way to hug her. Elizabeth was being mobbed as we stood in the background, unnoticed. Elizabeth has taught herself Albanian in an effort to understand and communicate with the children. She explained to them who we were and asked one of the older children to show us around the community and allow us to take some photos. The boy was nine years old and clearly took pride in being our tour guide.

I didn’t know what to expect coming to a place like this. I’ve never been to a real life shanty town. It cannot be the sort of place that you could come to without knowing somebody, surely it would not be safe to walk around here with an expensive camera in such a poor area. But after five minutes with these children, I felt that they were not showing us around because they were asked to, they were showing us around because they were proud. Proud of the oversized hand me down clothes they wore, proud of the tiny bungalow homes they lived in, proud of the fact they knew everybody in the community. Proud of who they are.

New friends

I gave my camera to one of the children because he wanted to take some photos. I gave the digital video camera to another child because he had asked. I didn’t see either camera for at least an hour after that as every child wanted to use it. I didn’t even realise that these children had probably never seen a video camera before, let alone have an idea of its value. This is a moment that either of us would never forget, for very different reasons.

I have to say that I was knocked. I was overwhelmed by the depth of the poverty. The conditions that these people live in are absolutely unbelievable. Kimmi seemed to be a little more adjusted than I was, as I pondered how these people can live in conditions like this. Malnourished,  uneducated, disease ridden, yet have the most beautiful innocent smiles.

They are the happiest children that I have ever seen. So excited, so playful, so respectful. How can a community that has no education system, no real social order or discipline have such wonderful happy children? I was absolutely amazed and it was this fact that touched me the most.

That being born into poverty has absolutely no correlation with poor character.



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