gypsies, roma, kosovo

Swamps and Tapestries

Kadri (in the middle) with his friends Nenad and Medo

We are beyond the outskirts, beyond endless rows of public housing, beyond the highway. The paved road ends in front of the gates of a factory, with the highest chimney I ever saw. 

And there, where the world comes to an end, begins the Misheveçka. The high embankments of the  Sava to the right, a wild and damp green growing over heaps of waste, to the left barbed wire marking off a railway line, and below us, holes in the mud as large as lakes.  

We go on and on, and finally come up against a form of Russian roulette: we have to turn suddenly to the left while going up a steep slope without any view, cross the unguarded tracks hoping no train comes by, then down the other side.  

 We go on through thorns and brush to two houses in the middle of a swamp. Sunset is still about two hours away. 

The first house is that of Kadri, the second - as we later found out - is that of one of his six male brothers. 

Children come running out. A girl about six, the very image of Reska as a child, stares at us. And a unique expression appears on her face, something no actor could ever manage to repeat: the very peak of joy and pain together. "It's Reska!" Yet this child has never seen her aunt, all she knows is that this impossible dream of liberation exists. Throughout the evening, the child clings to her aunt's neck. 

We enter the house. Against all the rules, I keep my shoes on. A guest's right, certainly, but I also do it so that they take me for a fool. 

The living room. At the end, a kitchen and a large tapestry depicting the pilgrimage to Mecca. As in every Muslim house, a stack of mattresses for the guests. On the walls, pictures of Kadri's father against an arid background of mountains and cactus; of Kadri's grandfather, dressed up as an Ottoman gentleman, with a fez and a waistcoat; of one of the children, dressed in white and covered with gold like a little spouse.   

Kadri is sitting on the sofa. He has light skin, and could seem an Italian were it not for his name tattooed on his arm. Thirty years old, wavy hair, enormous arms and hands, a gross belly which he is proud of, an almost physical sign of possession and power. Does he weigh four times as much as Reska, or more? It is hard to guess his secret,  especially because of the language barrier. He moves stiffly, and his face is anything but expressive. At a certain point I feel I understand something about him, as he proudly shows his portable phone. I try to look at him simply as a very big, spoilt child. There is nothing transcendental about his evilness, just the certainty that everybody exists only to satisfy his whims or die.  


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