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Our unfulfilled expectations are a major source of unhappiness in life. So, after a lot of 401(k) funds tanked last week, folks are feeling poor.
Walking a mile in another guy’s shoes generates an appreciation for our own circumstances. America is blessed and everyone knows that.
Here is a true story about people in Kosovo. They have experienced a dramatic reversal of their fortune after we stood up for them.
The Widow of Markova Village
During October 2001, I had been a United Nations International Police Officer for two weeks. I asked our Kosovo Police Service (KPS) sergeant to introduce me to the poorest person in Kosovo that he knew of.
He brightened at the opportunity, knowing that Americans have a universal reputation for being kind and generous.
That next afternoon, he and I were accompanied by a language assistant (LA) and two other KPS officers on our shift to the remote village of Markova about 5 miles north of Pristina.
Speaking through our LA as we rode along, the sergeant explained that we were on our way to his cousin’s little house out in the countryside. She was a widow with four kids. Her husband was electrocuted in a construction accident four years previous. She was absolutely destitute.
We drove off the main highway and traveled slowly on a rutted dirt path leading into the hills. The humble houses along the way showed bullet holes that were the result of the 1999 Yugoslav National Army invasion. Residents peered out of their homes and waved. I suspect they somehow knew we were coming.
I was driving a white Toyota Four Runner with the letters “U.N.” on the sides. My uniform’s left shoulder bore the American flag patch and was conspicuous.
As we passed pedestrians, they saw the patch and acknowledged me with their customary short bow, right hand across their chests. We saved them from annihilation, and they love America because along with NATO we stood up for them in their hour of need.
As we rolled down the hill toward the widow’s front yard, she with her sons ages 18 and 8 years old, and daughters 14 and 11 years old, stood in a line across the front of the house.
The widow was a large woman about 40 years old. When she attempted a smile, her decayed crooked teeth showed blood on them. Her hand was callused and strong. She turned her eyes away from mine.
The kids were timid and very polite. Their clothes were on the verge of becoming rags. However, they were clean and healthy.
The red brick “house” was constructed of the usual hollow blocks common in the Balkans. The roof was corrugated sheet steel with bullet holes in it. There was no running water from the well and an outhouse stood nearby. Electricity was intermittent. Candles provided lighting.
Inside, there was a kitchen living room, unfinished bathroom and a bedroom. The house had about 700 square feet and was tidy and well kept.
As I sat on the lone ragged sofa bed, I looked though a hole in the ceiling and saw daylight. There was an old wood burning stove and no refrigerator. She did have a washing machine in the kitchen sink area. That was a break! The clothes drying line was outside in good weather and inside for the winter.
During the next 10 minutes, we discovered that there was no food in the house. She had no money. Subsistence of about $50 a month came from the government.
The yard was neat and picked clean of any sticks. Obviously, they were scouring the surrounding land for anything that they could burn for warmth. The fierce Balkans winter was coming and there was no firewood.
As we were preparing to leave, and with what was to become a monthly ritual, I took her hand in mine, pressed the equivalent $200 into hers and closed her fingers around it. She tried to give it back…a humble gesture to be sure.
I returned the following Saturday with a car loaded with groceries. This became a regular visit on the first Saturday of each month during the four years that I was assigned to the mission. It was always with a LA or KPS officer, never alone.
We were blessed to do it and said so.
Other International Police Officers joined us in the support of the Widow of Markova Village. An American associate was able to gain the support of a Swedish Non-Government Organization (NGO) to install a new roof and a bathroom.
We piped water into the house and installed a water heater. Their first refrigerator looked great. Some decent furniture arrived. Ragged clothes were replaced with warm new garments.
In what was a remarkable personal achievement, her teeth were replaced with nice dentures. What a transformation!
Today, the Widow of Markova Village has become more independent. Her eldest son has become employed in an economy having an unemployment rate of 40 percent.
Anyone earning 300 Euro a month is thought to be doing well. Kosovo is now a democratic republic.
The 1999 Markova Village Slaughter
Just north of the village, I noticed a large graveyard along the roadway. It was under construction as a memorial.
These sites are common in Kosovo, a result of the 1999 ethnic cleansing that was conducted when the Yugoslav National Army of Slobodan Milosovic swept into little Kosovo from Yugoslavia. An estimated 300,000 fled into surrounding countries to avoid capture and death.
They returned to find their homes and farms devastated by the war. Fresh graves were everywhere.
About 10 miles of mountain driving northward reaches the Yugoslavian border. As the army swept toward Pristina, Kosovar, Albanians fled for their lives ahead of the soldiers. Those who were not fast enough were gathered up along the way and imprisoned in a compound near Markova.
On the day of infamy, a man with what is describe as a chain saw, cut approximately 130 to 150 of the men, women and children into pieces, alive, one at a time in front of each other. The body parts were thrown into a mass grave.
Ethnic cleansing is Satan’s playground.
The unidentified homicidal maniac is said to have died a violent death two weeks later. What is passed around comes around.
I spoke personally with several individuals who hid in the hills during the incident. The terror was still registered in their eyes as they related the story.
One day, I asked the widow about it. She began to cry and lapsed into silent grief. My LA signaled for me to change the subject. I was well advised!
I have had my share of exhumation of the dead. It is awful.
The corpses were relocated at the memorial commemorating the mass killing. A current KPS officer tells me that some of the victims have been placed into graves at their village of birth to finally rest in peace.
The Seven Deadly Sins
They are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Certainly, some of them are quite evident in the unfortunate circumstances surrounding our current economic woes.
The FBI has been assigned the task of finding the evidence proving violations of law. You can be confident that justice will be done.
In whatever our future holds, we must seek to practice chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility. These are the virtues that empower America, not the almighty dollar.
John Heidtke has been employed with municipal, county, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies since 1963.