Vanessa Herrick's Kosovo Report
Vanessa Herrick
is a Canadian journalist reporting in Kosovo and Montenegro. You can reach her at vanessa_herrick
Posted 06.26.08
Pristina, Kosovo



[EDITOR'S NOTE: Vanessa Herrick is a new contributor to the Log Cabin Chronicles. A Canadian, she's now based in Pristina, Kosovo, which just became independent of Serbia, much to the Serbs' anger. Look for some good stuff from Vanessa coming out of this potential international powder keg. These informal reports will give a glimpse of what life there looks like to hard-working North American reporter who is a Stranger in a Strange Land...]

PRISTINA, KOSOVO | On the night of my one-month Kosovo anniversary, the relationship took a decided turn for the worst. Until last Monday night I had struggled with unreasonable work conditions, lacking sleep and trying to find food I would eat that was not chocolate.

It is sweltering here these days, temperatures above 40 in the day and in the 30's at night. This is the forecast for the next three weeks.

Monday night I went out to a party, full of UN and EU people, ambassadors, and locals. The feedback on my work was overwhelmingly positive. I met people, ate a few olives, and headed out on the town with six friends. I had the best evening I have had since arriving.

Around 2:30 a.m. Pristina time (8:30 p.m. EST), Mili, the girl with whom I am sharing my house, arrived home and found me, sitting on the front steps, crying and covered -- but covered -- in blood.

My memory of what exactly happened is still blurry. I know I made it to my front door, carrying my heels as they were killing my feet, and I heard someone speaking behind me. I had been fiddling with the locks that resisted keys in an annoyingly stubborn manner.

I turned, assuming it was a neighbor, and there was a young guy standing about three feet from me. He grabbed my arms and shoved me, hard. As I fell, he took off running with my bag.

Unfortunately, I was standing on a concrete walkway and I landed on my face. As my arms had been tangled up with his, I was not able to put them out to break my fall.

How many guys there were, what he said to me (he did speak to me in English, that I remember), and whether I was hit are questions I can't answer.

I remember his face though -- and the massive amounts of painkillers I have been given have not erased him.

I wish they would.

The police and ambulance were called and I was taken to hospital, x-rayed, cat-scanned, and drugged.

I then spent some three hours in a police station surrounded by officers; I answered a thousand questions and wrote out a fractured statement of what I remembered.

They were so kind, and so upset that this had happened to me. One spoke broken English but Mili translated for the others. They never flinched at the fact that she does not speak Albanian.

Mili is Serbian. They switched into the language that had been forced upon them by people who had slaughtered their families and we communicated through her.

They were sweet, brought me tea, and on my way out, the chief walked me to a car they brought me home in, and told me how sorry he was that this had happened to me, that he would do his best to catch the guy.

It is never good when a foreign journalist is attacked in a country that is trying to rebuild, and start anew, but this was more than that. Those men were upset in the way all good people are when someone is attacked. They promised to watch the house where I am staying, and have phoned me twice to see that I am all right.

The locks have been changed, and my face is healing. It is badly cut up and bruised, and it burns and throbs so badly I can't sleep, even after I take the pills I have been given, but the doctors are confident I will not scar.

I was out hanging laundry this morning and the 70-year-old man from the house next door came over to see me. He had obviously heard what had happened, and was upset. He spoke quickly in Albanian but I could not understand.

When he realized that, he took my hands in his, shook his head, and lifted his hand to my face. He looked at the ground, shook his head again and hugged me. I was in tears before he let me go.

He is one of so many neighbors, friends, and strangers who are, perhaps, more upset about the attack than I am. They have been generous, gracious, supportive, and warm.

My neighbor came back to see me later, with fresh pears from a tree in his garden. I almost cried again, it was such a lovely gesture.

Terrible things happen, for no reason, everywhere, all the time. What matters is how we deal with the aftermath. No one knows this better than the people of Kosovo, and I am so grateful to them for their grace, their support, and their warmth.

And, yes, their Kit Kat ice cream.

PS - greatest cheer up line from an ex-beau "Face shmace, at least they didn't steal your hair."