(This is a story I wrote about my first night in Kosovo during the war there. I was in a town named Gjakova, which is just a beautiful place that got reamed and destroyed during that conflict.)
“Why is my glass empty?” I asked the table.
Giorgio picked up one of the many wine bottles and held it out in front of him as he stood.
“This,” he said in English, “is shit wine.”
Giorgio filled my glass and then his own. Still standing he began dancing salsa steps with himself, not spilling a drop of his wine. After telling someone to turn up the music, Giorgio held out his chubby hand to one of the women at the table. She took it and they danced off together between tables of amused diners.
Giorgio was old, he was funny, and I was pleased I would be sharing a house with him. After dinner I drove with Giorgio to our house.
“I have decided to learn American slang”, Giorgio declared in Italian, “I will use a word you teach me each day twenty seven times, today I have provided my own word and that word is ‘shit’.”
“Shit,” he continued, “is a wonderful word that is fun to use.”
I laughed and tried to follow the turns Giorgio was making so I would know how to get to our house.
“Our house is shit, it is a shit house.” he said in English and smiled, pleased with himself.
We were pleasantly drunk and despite my efforts I had no idea where we were when Giorgio stopped the car. We walked through darkness to a large house. Inside Giorgio lit a gas lantern and we removed our jackets. I followed him down a hall that ended in a kitchen. His arm was swinging and the light from the lantern threw shadows weird on the walls. He plopped into a chair, lit a small propane burner, and started coffee.
“Welcome to our house.” He laughed.
I could see my breath.
Giorgio looked at me.
“The house is shit.” he said as if in apology.
We drank coffee and then some brandy while discussing the fast approaching winter.
Giorgio knew of at least two projects we would be working together on. The first project would be acquiring and distributing fifteen thousand wood burning stoves. These stoves were the only heating method that people could use this winter, it was unlikely that electricity would be restored before the snows came. The next project, Giorgio told me, would be providing wood for all those stoves.
“Why provide wood?” I asked, “This whole area is a forest.”
“Twelve people have already stepped on land mines while gathering wood, three of them were children.”
Giorgio and I talked for awhile and the ashtray between us became full.
“We go to bed now, no?” Giorgio said, “I will show you to your room, it is shit.”
I followed Giorgio, who again had the lantern, up some stairs. Giorgio opened a door and handed me a candle.
“Buona notte, Americano.”
“Good night dude.”
I went inside the bedroom, it was nice with big windows, a large bed, and four quilts folded neatly on the floor.
“Pat!” Giorgio shouted from another room.
“Do you know how the local army is clearing land mines?”
“Cows,” Giorgio laughed, “They put cows out to graze until BOOM, another land mine is cleared. Stay away from cows Americano. Cows are shit.”
“Good night Giorgio.”