Translator Credits Rock 'n Roll
Photos by Keith Nordstrom


CAMP BONDSTELL, Kosovo - Uran Berisha says he owes it all to English-language movies and music.

"The Beatles, Cliff Richard, The Shadows, he had it all," the 26-year-old ethnic Albanian says of his father and his father's vast record collection. "He had such a great collection of gramophone discs and lots of American movies."
It was through these that Berisha learned the language skills that landed him a job to help him provide for his war-traumatized family.

Berisha is an Albanian-language translator for U.S. troops stationed here at Bondsteel. He's held the position, which pays him about $900 a month, for the past seven months. Before that, he was struggling to keep food on the table for his mother, father, and three siblings.

Berisha once had aspirations of becoming a medical doctor. He worked at a hospital in Prestina, the provincial capital, and attended medical school. All that ended, however, when Serb troops rolled into town in 1998 and began their systematic rounding up, torture and killing of ethnic Albanians. His family was driven from their home in Kacanik near the border with Macedonia. They escaped to Macedonia, but it wasn't easy.

"My family walked for 24 hours through the mountains after they were kicked out of their homes by the Serbs," he says after translating for a reporter. "Every 50 meters or so, there would be a Serb cop who would pull a man out of the line and beat him to death or shoot him. They didn't care if they did it in front of the man's wife, mother, father they'd chop some up with knives right there in front of everyone."

Berisha and his family fled to Macedonia. He, however, quickly returned and became a soldier in the KLA - Kosovo Liberation Army.

"The KLA wasn't really a big army like everyone says. It was made up of ordinary people like me," he says. "I never saw a gun in my life before the Serbs pushed in and I joined the KLA."

Berisha's medical experience landed him a job as a medic, treating wounded soldiers in the field for three and a half months.

His military career ended, however, when NATO successfully bombed the Serbs back across the border into Serbia.
"I wasn't a soldier. I discharged myself," he says. "I told them, that was it. I wasn't going to fight anymore."

He returned to hospital work and was earning $110 a month when he learned about the possibility of translating for Americans at Camp Bondsteel. He says he was a little undecided at first until a relative told him he was crazy not to try the job. The fact that his father died 10 months ago also played a role in his getting a job that would pay enough to support his family.

"I like it very much now," he says. "It's a big difference. I am to help my mother, brothers and sister."