I was in Kukes in the first days of June, 1999. I had travelled from Abu Dhabi in a transport plane carrying food and medicines from the United Arab Emirates Red Crescet Society, for the Kosovo refugees at the camp supported by the UAE at Kukes, in northern Albania. I was working with The Gulf Today in Sharjah. Three Australian nurses travelled on the plane. We had a stopover at Rhodes Island. On June 7, 1999, the refugees were able to go back home after the NATO bombing of Serbia had had its effect. The pictures show children standing outside the kitchen counter, the UAE army doctor treating a Kosovar child brought in by his mother. The UAE security forces were guarding and organising the refugee camp.
The Kukes town was a little away from the camp. The men of the town would spend time at the restaurant like in any European or Asian cafetaria. It was a small town, but the Kosovo crisis was good business for some of the residents. The local radio station director offered to rent me a furnished house. Many of the international journalists were camping there for months as the crisis dragged in the early months of 1999.
Tirana, the capital of Alabani, was a curious place. There were no cinema houses, perhaps the only European capital with that distinction. The state TV was showing old Indian films of Raj Kapoor. The boys at the hotel wanted to know whether I was familiar with Raj Kapore's films! I stayed at Hotel Lugano, owned by a Christian, and managed by two Muslim boys. Their father was an imam. There was Yona, who was serving breakfast at the hotel, She was the daughter of a cardiologist, and she was fascinated by Freud and Oscar Wilde. She learnt Italism by watching Italian TV shows, and she had also come to know about Kamasutra through the Italian TV. Albania is the borthplace of Mother Teresa,. So, it was a pleasant thing to have come across saree-clad nuns of the Missionaries of Charity set up by Mother Teresa, who has become identified with the dying and destitute in Kolkata.
It was in Tirana that I met a German journalist, Caroline Fetscher, who was working with Der Tagespiegel. We met on an evening in the lobby of Hotel Europa in Tirana. It was a curious meeting. She was the editor of bookreviews with her paper, and I was earlier looking after the books pages of The Indian Express. She had just then read and reviewed Sudhir Kakar's 'Colours of Violence", which was about communal or inter-religious strife in Hyderabad, which is the city in which I was born and where I went to school and started work. Next morning she headed to Kukes, and I returned to Abu Dhabi.
Many of the young people whom I have photographed with friend and colleague Imran's Yashica must have grown up now, and they must be leading useful if not entirely undisturbed, lives back in Kosovo.