Kevin Murray on Thu, 20 May 1999 10:04:39 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Unanswered Phone Pt. 4 'Warmth of Strangers'

'the house belongs to god and his guest'
Leke Dukagjini Kanuni (trans. Leonard Fox) New York: Gjonleka Publishing
Company, 1989 (orig. 1933)

Two Melbourne stories of 'icing on a burnt cake':


Australia has made space for at least 2,000 Kosovar refugees. They are
being greeted with an extraordinary display. Political leaders have turned
out to welcome the dazed refugees as they stumble off the plane. The Prime
Minister was photographed hugging a weary unshaven Kosovar. At Melbourne
airport, the Premier of Victoria, which has the largest proportion of
Albanians, went to the length of having the words of welcome 'mire se na
erdhet' written on his hand. But an Albanian beat him to it, busting out
of the plane with 'Good morning everyone'-the three words of English that
he had practiced on the plane journey.

On Monday 17th May, the popular daily newspaper Herald Sun had its first
ever headline in Albanian 'Welcome to Victoria, Mirse erdhet nŰ Victori'.
Inside were headlines: 'Kosovars in from the cold', 'Barriers tumble as
hearts rejoice', 'Tears flow for loved ones'. Under the heading 'Winning
words' were ten Albanian greetings with phonetic pronunciations. (see
http://home/' for image)

Much attention to directed to the country army base where Victorian
Kosovars are housed. Shooting of rifles has been cancelled for the first
few days, and its name has been changed to 'Haven Centre'. There are
kangaroos and emus in the vicinity. Responses to these strange creatures
have been monitored, and newcomers are advised light-heartedly not to feed
the wildlife.

As one of the most isolated nations in the world, the Kosovars offer the
opportunity to reconfigure Australia from a 'backwater' to a 'haven'.  
The unparalleled attention given to their arrival provides a collective
expression of the 'good life' that can now be appreciated here. There is a
powerful undercurrent of relief in offering sanctuary to these battered
people-not only for Kosovars, but also for Australians themselves. For
several years, popularist racism under the leadership of Pauline Hansen
has created an atmosphere of distrust towards strangers. Here finally was
an opportunity to share the enjoyment of life in Australia with those who
might really need it.


Susanna's sister visited her home in Mitroviša. Her Serb neighbour in
Pristina travelled to Mitroviša every day. She told her that her home was
about to be occupied by Serbs. They travelled together in the neighbour's
car. When she arrived at her house, she covered the broken windows with
black plastic, recovered her belongings, and asked Albanian neighbours to
occupy her home in her absence. She made it back to Pristina safely. She
was able to report to that the parents of Susanna's husband were still

Susanna's 15-year-old brother died of stress. He had been living in a
state of shock since the bombing began and had sustained extreme levels of
blood pressure. Susanna's other brother had to organise with the hospital
for a permit to bury him. In the hospital, the brother saw many bodies of
young Albanians lying unburied. He recognised many of them, and knew their
parents were unaware of their current state. They were crawling with
worms. He would not tell Susanna any more-'Don't make me talk more.'

Susanna's mother refuses to show any weakness, and talks of how they will
all be together when it is over.

Susanna has been translating for refugees during the medical checks on
their arrival in Sydney. She says she can't really feel her brother's
death, and 'soon it will hit me. One day I will sit down and write a
book.' Still she manages to maintain daily phone contact with her family
in Pristina-'I can't start the day without having fresh information'.

We joke about the way Australians are learning Albanian, and how her job
as translator might soon be redundant. What was a devastating tragedy is
almost becoming a way of life. Maybe the real grief is waiting for the
tragedy to be over.

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