CAR WRECKS AND GUNFIRE: THE TRIP THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

The Kosovo Adventure

The following story is written by my daughter, Susan Bataineh. It describes her adventures while living in Germany at the time the country of Yugoslavia was at war with 5 different republics striving for independence. Later, one of those republics, Serbia, was to spin-off part of its territory. That new faction was to become the republic of Kosovo. I helped her edit this story and received permission from her to reprint it. It is entitled “The Trip That Changed My Life”.

To Be Young And Naïve

There is a time in a person’s life when something happens that turns your world upside down. When a he or she realizes that what they understand about life is far from reality. I had a trip like this. It changed my perception of the world and with it, taught me the meaning of the words “Going Home.”

Being a precocious child, I have always been pretty naïve when it came to dealing with consequences that affected my life or even the lives of others. I would jump into situations feet first without checking for the dangers that I would potentially encounter. For most of my twenties, I was living as if nothing could hurt me. Of course, when you are young, you always feel invincible. I remember hearing a Bible verse when I was a child, Matthew 7:14 which says: For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  It reminded me that I definitely had the hard part down pat.

Changes that are this fundamental are not always a positive experience. More often than not, these life altering events are driven by fear and I do remember the first time that I was ever afraid! It was not the kind you have when your parents are about to find out you’ve failed a particular class in school. Oh no! This was the kind of fear that was life-threatening and, with two children at home, the meaning of life suddenly became very important.

One of the benefits of being young is ignorance. You walk around blissfully unaware of the realities of life. Car accidents were for others. Murders happen on the other side of town. So-and-so died? That sucks. Reality never impacted my life and so traveling to a country that had just been in a war seemed like an exciting prospect.

The Former Man In My Life

In order to understand the frame of mind I was in, and how this trip changed my life, I must introduce you to my ex-husband. I think I will call him The Former Man.

After serving in the United States military, I continued working administrative jobs as a civilian. I loved raising my children in the German environment and knew that their education would be better than what I could provide for then elsewhere. Though I had not completely assimilated into the German culture, I was able to speak the language well enough to get around.

Now, The Former Man was a political asylum seeker that I met in Germany in 1996. He was from, at that time, the former country collectively known as Yugoslavia. So, when the war between the Serbians and the Kosovars broke out in 1998, his parents became one of the millions of displaced refugees. Because I still found the aspects of war exciting, I was thrilled when I discovered that I could sponsor the family to visit. The time spent with them didn’t last long, however, because the Father’s health issues couldn’t be resolved. He decided that he wanted to die, back home, in Kosovo.

Now, The Former Man was not the nicest of people and upsetting him was never good for my health. Men from the Yugoslavia region tended to see women as weak and needing to be “guided” by their men. Most the time, however, that meant by their hand, and the greater the offense, the worse the discipline. So, when I had been entrusted to drive his Mercedes, while he drove in a van with his parents, I was incredibly nervous. We specifically bought the Mercedes in Germany in order to sell it in Kosovo. The proceeds would be used to provide money for the family in order to rebuild their lives after the war.

The Italian Incident

Gratefully, I made it all the way from Germany to Bari, Italy without.  As I entered the port of that city, I  attempted to park the Mercedes in one of the stalls. Almost immediately, I was slammed into on the right-hand side by another vehicle. My anger caused me to lose my mind. I began to shake as adrenaline rushed through me. Yanking at the driver’s side handle after I bolted out of my car, I readied myself for a confrontation with the other driver.

“What the hell were you doing passing on the right!?” I yelled, as I watched this older, stout Italian man get out of his beat up Fiat automobile.

In the meantime, The Former Man had already parked his van and came running towards the commotion. I then surveyed the damage while the Italian man was yelling something at me. It was a confusing altercation because he didn’t speak any English and I absolutely spoke no Italian.

The NERVE of this man, I thought! He is indicating that it was my fault. I turned my attention to The Former Man and yelled the words “This guy is MENTAL”! I said this aware of the fact that anyone who travels to a foreign country should have the common sense to know that the local law enforcement personnel usually believe statements made by their own citizens.

The “Carabinieri”, the local militaristic law enforcement (Italian Police), had been patrolling the surrounding area nearby. As I was confronting “Italianoman”, they drove up to find out what all the fuss was about. Their dark uniforms and white military style hats made them appear somewhat intimidating at first, but in that stellar moment of reckoning, I decided that type of authoritative presence didn’t scare me. At least that is what I thought!

So, I continued to rant and carry on.

“This guy was trying to pass me on the right! I swear, I had my blinker on and everything!”

It was a crazy ploy at best because now I was starting to scream at the officers themselves. Undeterred, the younger officer walked around and evaluated the damage to my car first, then followed that up with a visual inspection of the Fiat. When done, the two officers talked for a few moments amongst themselves and then wrote a ticket. As expected, I was the one that was cited which, in turn, intensified my anger even more! Not only had the accident happened in a parking lot, but I was also petrified that The Former Man was going to blame me for the mishap. Notwithstanding, I now felt that I had to defend myself before the situation got out of hand. So, in support of my position, I blurted out some caustic epithets. 

“I swear, I had my blinker on! Why am I being given a citation for doing the correct maneuver while he is passing me on the right? I didn’t do anything wrong!” 

After hearing this, I found The Former Man to be in a relatively calm disposition, but I am sure it was because his parents were looking on. My reply was sort of mellowed and somewhat nonplussed after that.

“Listen, I am sure that it won’t cost much to fix, and then you can get good money for it”.

When I spewed out this rationalization bent tidbit The Former Man looked towards the van and then started doing calculations in his mind before issuing an edict.

“I guess we can get it fixed.”

Upon hearing that, all I could think of was ‘Crisis Averted’!

What! No Passport?

I am sure that some people would say that I am telling a lie with my expounding of the next tale, but the happenstance event was not only a real life adventure, it was a revelatory one at that. For the setting, I must say that it came to pass not long after the car incident.

After the dust settled in the parking lot, the car and the van were then driven to a transport ship loading dock. It wasn’t until the cars started lining up for the expressed purpose of providing necessary documents and passports to another set of Carabinieri officers that I realized something was amiss. The documents were required to board the boat and The Former Man had no current passport!

The war had broken up the countries contained within the borders of said former Yugoslavia and his Serbian papers were no longer valid. He had been transformed into a Kosovar by decree and the country didn’t technically exist as of yet. His parents were in good shape because they traveled on a visa, but he was screwed! The only reason he was allowed to travel this far was because he had a U.S. Military identification tag and the Status of Forces Agreement stamp!

“You are going to have to take Mom, Dad and both of the cars to Albania” stated the “The Former Man”!

“I have to what?” I asked him with my mouth agape.

“You have to get them on the boat, and my brother will meet you on the other side of the border.” he said.

“How in the hell do you expect me to do that? Maybe they will let you help me take the cars on.”

I said this hoping for the best, but trouble was brewing. As the cars pulled closer and closer to the checkpoint, I started to get anxious. There was no way that I could do this alone and, by the time it was our turn, I felt like a cornered animal. Beset by a panicky mindset, I readied myself for a fight. After handing the Carabinieri all the documents we had, they turned and asked “The Former Man” for his. At that point, I lost it.

“G… Damn it! You let him on this boat!” I screamed. “How in the hell do you expect me to put two cars with two old people on a boat? I can’t do this. Do you understand what I am saying to you? Let him on NOW!”

I was screaming like a mad woman with tears streaming down my face. The two Carabinieri looked at each other and then looked at me. I thought I was going to jail for sure but when the older one turned to the younger and said, “It’s okay”. When I heard that, the pure euphoria I felt afterwards left me feeling like I was walking on air.

The Boat Trip

Once on board, I was able to survey the ship. The only one I had even been on before was the one that went to Catalina Island off the coast of California, and this boat was much larger than that. To me, it seemed a bit iffy with the grey and white paint peeling off. The engines, already running beneath my feet, sounded somewhat whiny and badly in need of repair.

We made our way to the rooms through a cramped corridor and opened the door to the most extravagant room I had ever seen (Insert sarcasm here). I had never seen anything so small, perhaps, other than a small walk-in closet. The bunks were single-wide at best stacked on top of one another, and the lavatory was directly four feet across from the beds. What made things worse is that we paid a premium price for it. Even though I wondered what the others on board would do, I was too exhausted to care. So, I took a much-needed shower, alone, as there was barely room for one. Then I got dressed.

Now, feeling a bit more refreshed, I decided to wander the ship and people-watch. To me, this is the most fun because you can learn more about a person from how they behave than the words they say. I saw families huddled together laying on the floor, looking as if they hadn’t showered in a while and my heart went out to them. They reminded me of the people at the homeless shelter my family would volunteer at when I was a child. What made me even sadder was that the homeless back home had the opportunity for better. Though life was written in the lines of their faces, their feelings of excitement were evident as this trip was the first time they were able to go home since the war ended. Then, suddenly, feeling tired, I went back to the room and went to sleep.

After being unconscious for a while, I was awakened by the retching sound coming from the bathroom.

“Are you ok in there?” I asked a bit worried. 

“No, I will be fine,” said The Former Man breathlessly. “It’s just that the boat keeps moving up and down, and I’m feeling a bit woozy.”

“You do know that is what boats do, right” I asked jokingly. He then answered me with another batch of miserable retching sounds. Feeling a bit smug, a sense of glee washed over me as I scoffed at his dilemma.

Suddenly there was a change in the sound of the boat engines.

“Does that mean we are almost there?” I asked with a feeling of excitement.

Anticipating a positive outcome, I ran out on the deck of the ship to watch the docking procedure and my enthusiasm was replaced with a sense of revulsion as the most putrid smell hit me head on and turned my stomach. The odor reminded me of rotting garbage, diesel fuel and revolting piles of pus.

“What the hell is that?” I asked The Former Man as if I thought he would really know.

He just shrugged shoulders as I looked into the water and saw the rainbow swirls of leaked oil and the trash which pulsed in and out with the waves against the harbor. Looking down on the shore, I observed a tan, thin, mutt of a dog walking in a labored gait, as if life, itself, was a burden. I looked at him intently and saw a cantaloupe sized tumor hanging off the left-hand side of its face.

“Oh, look at that.” I said. After seeing that sickening sight, I don’t think that I have ever wanted anything to die before then, but I had pity on that animal and my remorse left me entertaining that thought almost to the point that I wished I could have carried it out. Then the The Former Man said nothing as he grabbed my hand and told me we had to go because we were almost there.

Off The Boat! Now What?

Before long, we gathered our things and headed down to the belly of the ship. All those that brought cars parked them down there. Though I had hoped that getting through the border would be a quick process, as soon as the front end of the Mercedes came off the ship, I knew I had entered into an area I knew nothing about. It was a frightening experience.

Because The Former Man was not a nice person, I assumed that all the men from that region held the same similar beliefs when it comes to their relationship with a woman. So, when I found out that the individual driving the vehicle had to get a border crossing document, I started to get anxious once again. The Former Man was an incredibly jealous husband so, being around so many men who might invite the possibility of me being scrutinized with every move I made, my mind started to reel.

How was I supposed to act? What happens if I do something wrong? It was then that I started to feel my personal sense of security begin to slip. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and it was frightening. When I walked up to the flat-brown kissing booth-style building they used to distribute border documents, the tension grew as the gaggle of men that were gathered around the building started staring at me.

Now, if you have never been out of a Westernized country, you will not understand what I mean by a ‘gaggle.’ Lines are a common occurrence in Westernized countries. They did not, however, exist here. Imagine a group of people, all trying to get the attention of the one behind the counter all at once. It was loud and completely disorganized. It reminded me of a bad day on the stock-market where everyone is bombarding the broker to sell and I was the lone woman. Thankfully, as soon as the “Police” saw me, they called me to the front.

Understandably, I felt incredibly uncomfortable as men parted like the Red Sea just so I could get through; I kept apologizing profusely the entire time. Though I am not sure what I was expecting to happen, I know it could never be a good thing, so as soon as the Police handed me my documents, I walked briskly back to the safety of the car.

As we were getting ready to leave the port in Albania, I asked The Former Man how he planned on getting through the checkpoint without a passport.

“Leave it to me” he said, and with that statement he went back to the van so that he could line the vehicle up to leave. Once The Former Man got to the Border police, he rolled down his window, handed the officer twenty Euros. When I saw the officer waved him through, my mind started to spin.

Did he just pay off the police” I thought? I knew that he had come from this region, but I never envisioned that bribery would come so natural to him. It made me wonder what kind of man I really married.

Once outside the port gates, we met up with his brother. They exchanged their hugs and kisses and then his brother got in the van and my nemesis said he wanted to drive the Mercedes. I happily obliged. It was now easier for me to breathe because the responsibility for the car was no longer mine. I started looking around at the older model cars and the dirty-dusty streets. It seemed as if everything had a coating of dirt and soot on it. As we drove on, he issued a pronouncement.

“We have to get to the rendezvous point in twenty minutes.” he said.

“Why?” I replied

“Because it is too dangerous to drive these roads alone, especially at night. People have been robbed of their cars or have fallen off the cliff and died. For those reasons, the Police have to escort us,” he explained dispassionately.

“Please tell me you are kidding,” I said with a tone of disbelief in the sound of my voice.

Based on what knowledge I had gathered in the thirty minutes I had been there, I knew, unfortunately, that he wasn’t lying. We had only been driving for about five minutes when we were flagged by the Police to pull over. There was only one of them and he stood out from the rest of the people around us. Not that he wasn’t dirty or dusty looking, but that he was fat. Not large, not rotund, just outright fat. As he walked, slowly towards us, I was petrified and thought that we were going to be robbed.

“Relax.” said The Former Man. “They just want you to pay them.”

“For what? Did we do something wrong?” I asked with my voice sounding a bit higher than anticipated.

“No, they just stop cars randomly,” he said. “They expect coffee money, so I will give him a couple of Euro and it will be fine.”

The Goat Road From Hell

By the third stoppage, the fear of these so-called Police had all but subsided. We finally arrived at a three-sided concrete building and sat down at a plastic table to wait. I noticed they were covered with red and white checkered tablecloths. Each one contained exactly one salt shaker and one ashtray. Slowly, people started to sit at the empty tables. All this seemed to be an integral part of our caravan from Albania to Kosovo.

“How long are we going to wait?” I asked.

“They’ll come and get us,” he stated matter-of-factly. “This is where we all have to meet up. Once everyone gets out of port, they show up here, then the police come and escort us to the border”.

Once the Police escort actually showed up, the gravity of The Former Man’s words hit me like a ton of bricks. “Because it is too dangerous to drive these roads alone and especially at night. People have been robbed of their cars or have fallen off the cliff and died so the Police have to escort us.”  Holy S…t! This is real, I thought, as we all got in our cars, sixteen in all, and then set off.

“How many kilometers is it?” I asked.

“About one-hundred seventy-five.” he replied.

“Cool! We should be there in a couple of hours!”

I was excited that this part of the trip was almost over.

“Well,” he said, “it’s still going to take us about another eight to ten hours.”

“To go one-hundred and seventy-five kilometers?”

I said this disbelieving the time he said it would take. We had left the city and the streets seemed smoother the more we drove on, so I leaned the seat back a bit further and tried to take in everything that passed us by. At one point, I saw an old man going in the opposite direction on the side of the road. He passed us pulling a horse-drawn wagon filled with hay. It was like something you would see from the Little House on the Prairie TV series. I noticed that he had what looked like a half of a huge egg fastened to the top of his head.

“What is that?” I asked.

“That is what a hat looks like here.”

I giggled a bit to myself. To me, they looked absolutely ridiculous. People walked the side of the highway and I wondered where they were going. There were no houses around, just large expanses of land full of long dried strands of grass. Yet, these locals seemed to have a destination in mind. It seemed ridiculous to think that a woman carrying a basket on her head would do that for very long. I was afraid I was going to break my neck snapping it back and forth to see everything.

The road didn’t stay nice for long though. Not fifteen minutes later we were turning onto a dirt road and after traveling about three kilometers, I started to understand why it was going to take so long. The road was well-traveled and well-worn as well with pot holes and such.

As we crawled along, the holes seemed to get deeper and wider and the terrain much more precarious. At one point, I looked over the side of the cliff and saw a burnt-out car. I wondered to myself if it was an accident or thieves had got hold of it. An anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach only grew as the day waned.

We lost one of the caravan cars to a broken axle when some dummy decided to go faster than the “safe” thirty kilometers per hour and misjudged the depth of the crevice in front of him. The caravan stopped for a few minutes to assess the situation, then decided we had to continue on since the police were not going to be on those roads past dark.

Though I didn’t think my nails could dig into the seat much more, the road actually got narrower as we went further and I think I nervously cut into fabric. The cars were not able to go any faster than at a snail’s pace and one car that passed came so close that the mirrors of each vehicle missed contact by only a few millimeters, and that was after they were folded in. It was either that or wind up scraping the right side of our car or push them into the canyon below. I was dumbfounded that the government didn’t care enough about its people to put up guard rails.

“What kind of road is this? It isn’t fit for goats!” I thought to myself. The road had gotten so narrow that the police had to stop traffic coming in the opposite direction just to let us pass. When we crossed the final wooden bridge and hit a paved road, I could literally feel all the tension in my muscles from the stress.

I do not have the words to convey how close to death I felt the entire one-hundred and fifty kilometers on this ‘Goat Road from Hell’. I can only equate my disposition to that of someone on the verge of taking an Intercontinental flight who has a phobia about flying in an airplane. Like that teeth clenching, muscle-tightening panic that can only come from absolute fear. I had now come to understand what happens when a corrupt government doesn’t care for its people.

Bad Feelings And Sounds Of Gunfire Nearby

The border between Albania and Kosovo was a guard shack with a single wooden barricade. We lined up and The Former Man got out to find out how long it was going to take. Walking back to the car he leaned in the window and said,

“Get comfortable, we are going to be here a while.”

“Why?” I asked dejectedly. I was too tired to be annoyed.

“Because they don’t open the border until twelve and there have been skirmishes.” It was at that very moment when the gunfire rang out. My tension was like a coiled snake sprung awake and I shot up in the seat. I was awake now.

I jumped out of the car not knowing where to go.

“Don’t worry. This happens all the time” he said but I could hear the tension in his voice.

“Not to me!” I exclaimed, absolutely frightened to the core. The only knowledge I had of shooting was at the rifle range for military qualifying. I had never heard the shooting used towards someone else. This just got dangerous!

“They just get bored and like to take pot-shots from the Kosovar border over there.”

“They just get bored and like to take pot-shots from the Kosovar border over there.” He threw his thumb back the way he came. I looked in the distance and saw lights, I walked back to the car, got in, closed the door, and contemplated what my children would do if I died.

The border opened and soon we were on our way. Though rattled, I was happy to be back on the road and away from “fun with guns”. The roads were newly paved with asphalt which I was thankful for given the road we had just spent all day surviving.

After an hour of driving we pulled off onto a dirt road and came upon a house surrounded by a six-foot wall that had massive metal gates. The Former Man’s brother honked the horn, and within seconds, the metal doors gave a clang and swung open. We had finally arrived.

No Bathroom, Are You Kidding Me?

“Where’s the bathroom?” I asked. I had been holding it almost all day and I was about to burst.

“Over there.” The Former Man pointed to a small block building and said, “I’ll get you some water.” He proceeded to walk to the well, drew up the bucket, and handed it to me.

“What do I do with this?” I asked.

“There isn’t any toilet paper so you will have to wash with water.” He tried to be gentle when relaying this information but the look of utter disgust on my face told him everything.

I had never been in an outhouse before and going in when I could barely see was even worse. Switching on the flashlight that The Former Man handed me, I noticed that it was nothing but concrete walls, a ceiling and a hole going out the back of the structure. “I didn’t know flies were active this time of the morning.” It made me gag on the stench but nature had its own plans so I pulled down my pants and did my business.

In the light of day, I was able to take in more of the surroundings. I surveyed the house first. There were black burn marks on the side of the normally white building as the flames that burned the place escaped through the front door. Other than that, though, it seemed in pretty good shape. There were a few random bullet holes that had chipped the concrete and I wondered why someone would shoot a house that was empty. Outside the walls were fields of grass peppered with red-roofed white concrete houses. It reminded me of the Mid-West with all of its openness but there was a very distinct smell that I didn’t identify until later as burning grass and it caused stomach acid to accumulate in my stomach. I found out later that they didn’t have lawnmowers and the burning was to keep the grass cut. Burning trash, however, that was a new one for me.

My Wake Up Call

I saw first-hand, in my blanketed idealism, that Kosovars were considered as nothing more than roaches by the United Nations observers. This was made abundantly clear when driving throughout the area.

Though the streets were lined with cars moving at exactly 2.5 kilometers per hour, those in United Nations vehicles would drive their Toyota trucks on the side of the road just so they didn’t have to wait in traffic. What was even worse was how they looked down their noses at the Kosovars as they passed. Seeing this, I thought to myself, “How is it that they can come here and feel important when they have wars in their own country?” To me, their behavior seemed utterly disrespectful.

Signs of the war, not six months past, were everywhere. Driving around I could see bombed out apartment buildings, with dust and rubble still on the ground. To the right, off the main road, I noticed a metallic building that had the roof caved in from when a bomb had hit it. The building had white lettering but, based on its twisted structure, there was no deciphering what it read. It was then that I learned the physical destructiveness of war.

While in the city, The Former Man and I would sit at the outside café and drink coffee. I would watch the people walking hurriedly, as if they actually had somewhere to be, but for the life of me, and the condition of the city, I couldn’t understand where. It was then that I understood that even through the ruins, life goes on.

I noticed that the clothing of these predominantly dark-haired people were mismatched but vibrant in color. I thought to myself, “Who dresses like that?” and was instantly overcome with a feeling of remorse. These people had no other option and yet I was deriding them on their choice of clothing. How arrogant of me!

I was equally shocked at the coffee-house itself; it served beer. This was a predominantly Muslim country, and yet, they still drank alcohol. I found this incredibly peculiar because it was my first visit to a Muslim country and it completely contradicted what I had heard. The people seemed friendly enough. I assumed it was because I was American and the U.S. Military had liberated them. They would often stop to stare, their mouths agape, or whisper to whomever they were walking with as I spoke English. Their adoration and reverence was obvious. I felt almost like a celebrity, and though I felt special because of what We had done for them, I also felt humbled because I didn’t do it.

A Grave For All The Dead

The final lesson I had to learn was yet to come, and when it did, it almost took my breath away. Driving on the road between Pristina and Camp Bondsteel, I saw bulldozers actively cutting into the ground. The deep rich brown soil rising up with each bucketful contrasted starkly with the subdued gold colored sun-baked earth above. There were a hundred people or so standing around and an older woman arranging something that looked like a four-foot diameter shield with flowers attached. Upon further investigation, I noticed pictures of men and women along with those of children lining the embankment. This told me that they were digging up a mass grave for all those souls killed during the war.

Even though I had heard various stories about this morbid fact about life and death, nothing compares to the horror and revulsion of it all until you see it for yourself. My heart ached for these people because I knew that they had placed themselves at the edge of a large hole where their loved ones were made to stand, then shot like rabid dogs before being covered over with dirt as if they were nothing more than trash. Tears filled my eyes as the sadness of it all overwhelmed me while I thought of all the lives that were needlessly snuffed out leaving the family members that remained to fend for themselves and carry on.

The heart inside me hardened towards those men that believed they were somehow better than those put into these graves. My eyes burned with passionate feelings of hatred towards the ugly side of man. It was almost overpowering. The true comprehension at what people can do to others shifted my entire concept of reality. It was at that moment that the rose-colored glasses came off and I began to see life for what it really was. A far cry from what I had originally believed and much darker than I could ever imagine. Without further adieu, all I could think of after seeing this devastation was that I’d had enough of it and wanted to go home.

Airport Adventures

Though The Former Man was finally home, so to speak, he had to come to grips with the fact that establishing a new country took time. Because of his pending situation, he said he would not be able to leave with me because there was no means of establishing passports for intercontinental travel. When he told me that, the fear I had felt at the port in Albania came back to haunt me, but it was more prevalent this time because I was now left to do everything alone.

With his brother offering to drive me, we headed to the closest feasible airport which happened to be in Macedonia. After driving for about thirty minutes, we came to the border and the waiting line to get through was stopped dead again.  Concerned by the delay, I glanced at the clock on the dash which 15:45 hours (3:45 pm). Then I reached in the briefcase between my feet and pulled out my ticket which stated that the boarding time was 17:00 hours (5:00 pm).

“We are not going to make it.” I said out loud.

He looked at me without understanding a word I said and smiled.

“Seriously! We are not going to make it!” I yelled as I began raising my voice.

When he smiled again, I pointed my finger up towards the sky and said, “Wait.”

I then got out of the car, walked around to the driver’s side, and saw about one-hundred cars waiting in line. What was worse was that not one of them was moving forward.

“Go around.” I said to him as I climbed back into the passenger seat and slammed the door.

When he he looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face, I motioned with my hand in such a way as to indicate that I wanted him to go around the stagnant line up of cars. This time he understood and slowly pulled the car to the left out of the line and drove closer to the border. People from the other cars watched as we were passed them and he nodded back as if to say: “It’s okay. She said so.”

By this time, it was 16:00 (4:00 pm)and I was really starting to panic. The Former Mans brother walked up to the border police, handed them our documents and the officer took them into the main building. When he did that, I felt encouraged and had some hope that we might get there in time.

We sat in the car as time dragged on without any response from the police. It seems they were too busy talking inside and drinking their coffee. At that point, I don’t know if it was the stress of the trip or the realization that I might never be able to leave this place that set me off. Without thinking, I did something incredibly stupid that could have gotten me killed. Opening the passenger door, I got out and walked into the building with a purposeful mindset. I tore out military ID from my wallet, put it in my right hand, then slammed it down hard with my palm hitting the glass counter forcefully and spewed out my caustic directive.

“Get. My f…king paperwork done. NOW!”

To my amazement, their eyes widened with astonishment and they moved about as if they had just been shocked by a cattle prod. Within two minutes of that frightening display of emotion, I had my papers and walked triumphantly back to the car.

We pulled away with everyone staring at me as if I was some sort of an alien. In retrospect, it sounds like one of the craziest things to do in a country that just had survived a war, but that thought never even crossed my mind. Even worse, I realize that I had treated them no differently than United Nations personnel. More importantly, and quite separate from their existing problems, I realized that, given the right set of circumstances, I too could become as bad as the Serbs and the U.N. peacekeepers. I carried the arrogance of an American and finally understood all of what that meant.

Arriving at, what looked like an airport fit for crop dusters, I noticed thousands of people milling around. They were all gathered in the main lobby and many of them spilled out onto the parking lot. The Former Man’s brother went to the reservations counter and exchanged my ticket for a red card. I stared at it dumbfounded, and then looked around at the masses which seemed to be moving the same as one large entity.

Before long, an airport worker yelled something over the crowd and all the yellow cards shot up in the air. When I saw this, I put two and two together and realized that I would have to get closer to the front or there would be no way to get to the gate while trying to push through this throng. Feeling claustrophobic, I started to sense more than a bit violated. We were all, as they say in the military, “butt to nuts.” I then put my briefcase, which held all my documents, across my chest to try to form a barrier between me and the stranger in front of me.

After a few minutes, the man in the front yelled something else and The Former Man’s brother grabbed the card from my hand and raised it while pushing and shoving me forward the entire way. After, what seemed like forever, I was pushed through the gates and when I went to wave goodbye, he had disappeared into the crowd.

Final Thoughts

Being alone didn’t bring as much anxiety as I had initially projected. In fact, I felt a bit free. I was able, for the first time in a week, to breathe a sigh of relief; and when I landed in Germany, I grabbed my bags, walked out of the terminal, and halfway fell into a cab.

The older man behind the wheel asked me, “Where are you going?”

Leaning back and closing my eyes, I said the most precious word I could think of. “Home.”

 

 

I am requesting that my readers click on the links provided and download a sample read of each book and give a review on Amazon. You will have free access to the first four chapters of each book. My hope is that you will like the story lines enough to obtain either an eBook version or a paperback copy that you can put on your bookshelf as a masterpiece when you are done. FATE STALKS A HERO I: RESURGENCE, FATE STALKS A HERO II:THE FIJI FULCRUM, and THE SAGA OF HERACLES PENOIT. I will be giving excerpts on these works in upcoming blogs to familiarize you the reader with exciting details about the contents of each one. Thank you!

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