Reporters Notebook
Photos by Keith Nordstrom


There are things you see in Kosovo that you just know will stick with you for life. And this isn't necessarily a good thing.

The reality of war, and all the devastation that it brings, is everywhere - on every road, in every yard, in every buildingand on every person's face.

War produces many victims; the dead and wounded are just the start.

Buildings, roads, rivers, trees, fields, businesses, vehicles, churches, mosques, schools, hospitals, animals and even the things you can't touch, like education, religion, culture and lifestyle - all suffer in some way or another.

Life is hard for those who live Kosovo, ethnic Albanian and Serbs alike. There are almost no jobs. Groups of working-age men and women spend their days smoking and talking near piles of rubble and ruin caused by the 1999 Serb bombardments, NATO airstrikes, rebel bombings, or often, a combination of all three.

Shoeless and dirty children dressed in torn t-shirts and ragged pants, play along dusty, pothole-filled roads or stinking, stagnant ditches.

Horses with protruding rib cages and dirty, uncombed coats chew grass near filthy, trash-filled streams.

Mangy timid and trembling dogs, some too skinny and weak to walk straight, search for tidbits of food near burning trash piles. Their eyes avert you when you approach. Their tails are forever between their legs. They trust no one.
Entire blocks of homes sit in ruin.

Graffiti with the tale-tale tag warning all that either the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) or the Yugoslav Army (Serbs) army had stopped by, can be found spraypainted on buildings, burned-out cars and trucks, and even trees.

There are fields marked with white rags indicating where landmines had been laid.

KFOR (Kosovo Protection Force) military units ranging from Americans to Greeks man checkpoints every few miles, their soldiers dressed for battle and demanding papers and identification while shinning powerful flashlight beams in faces and gripping M16s in their hands.

Razor wire, sandbags and large concrete dragon teeth close in entire blocks and every church, protecting the now few Serbs left living here, as well as their houses of worship, from revenge for horrors their government carried out almost two years ago.

There is a curfew every night leaving only the heavily armed KFOR soldiers - some on foot, others inside machine-gun-topped armored vehicles - as the only people on the streets. There are military humvees and trucks everywhere, roaring quickly through towns en route to a checkpoint or outpost.

For the few working locals who do have curfew passes, there is the inconvenience and indignity of being ordered out of their cars, watching as soldiers rifle through their belongings, their trunks, and under their car seats, and then told to hold their arms out straight while they are searched for weapons.

There are burned-out, bombed-out homes, cars, stores and barns on almost every street, reminders of what man is capable of doing when he disagrees with the lifestyle and culture of others.

As you make your way through the towns, a dull, aching pain settles in the pit of your stomach.
It is a hallow feeling, one of great sadness, emptiness.

You become acutely aware of this and realize there's a good chance it may be with you forever.