An Albanian Tale
by Roland Sidler
Expressive arts, such as theatre, are a
highly effective form of communicating key messages to the
young and old alike.
Crossing the Land of Eagles is not
an easy undertaking. The landmines planted in the region of
Albania bordering Kosovo and Macedonia are an ever-present
danger both to travellers and to the local population. Roland
Sidler of the ICRC accompanied an unusual troupe of actors
on their journey through these parts. Here is his account.
Ido not know if you are like me, but each time I travel I
like to establish reference points. It makes me feel more
secure. Albania is no exception. More precisely, the region
I am going to is in the north-east of the country which, from
1945 until the fall of the communist regime of Enver Hodja
ten years ago, remained completely cut off from the outside
world. I feel instantly at home. Here, the countryside resembles
that of the French Haute-Savoie where I live between missions,
and the Franches-Montagnes of my native Jura. The ICRC Landcruiser
traverses wild gorges carved by raging torrents. The rocky
walls, still bearing the last vestiges of snow, throw misshapen
shadows onto the verdant pastures. The small, cobalt-blue
mountain lakes reflect the majesty of the age-old trees and
towering evergreens. I heave a big sigh: the terrors of civilization
are behind me. I have no desire to return. Ahead in the distance,
we spot the corrugated iron roofs and grey tiles of Novocey,
an isolated hamlet situated a half-hour's drive from the regional
capital of Kukes. There my journey ends. I park the car on
a verge between two piles of manure. It would be hard to do
otherwise. There is one in front of every ramshackle house.
The chickens and birds live off them, as they do back home.
Spillover from Kosovo
I am here to film a video documentary about a travelling
theatre. The troupe, made up of professional actors from the
capital, Tirana, moves from village to village in the area
along the border with Kosovo and Macedonia, performing a play
inspired by La Fontaine's fables. The aim of the play is to
warn the rural population - especially children - of the dangers
of the anti-personnel landmines and unexploded ordnance scattered
throughout the 120-km-long zone separating Albania from its
two neighbours. Although not directly involved in the conflict
in Kosovo nor in the Macedonian crisis, Albania has nonetheless
suffered the consequences. In order to cut the Kosovo Liberation
Army (KLA) combatants off at the rear, the Yugoslav army rendered
the terrain impassable by planting thousands of mines. NATO
planes, too, polluted the border area by dropping fragmentation
In these villages, there is hardly a family that cannot claim
at least one landmine victim. At best, the victim would have
lost an eye or a hand, but mostly they end up having a leg
amputated. The distance from hospitals and the lack of adequate
health facilities do not help. Nor is livestock spared. Dependent
mainly on agriculture, the local population has been obliged
to restrict the area under cultivation in order to minimize
the risk of further incidents. But how do you protect children?
You can always try to explain to them the risks of handling
unusual objects they may stumble upon in the area, but you
cannot stop them running through the fields or taking a new
short cut between school and home.
Albanian kids are no different from other children. Adventure
beckons and young people aspire to explore their environment
and new horizons. Although in Kosovo the demining process
is almost completed, similar action has only just begun in
Albania and will come to a halt as soon as the first snow
A bear approaches from afar....This game intends to heighten
mine awareness among the civilian population.
The moral of the story
With the support of the ICRC and Albanian Red Cross, the
travelling theatre aims to meet the challenge of prevention.
On a rudimentary stage set up in the school yard, the actors
are dressed up as familiar animals. The fox is trying to convince
the bear to take a new route to reach the bank of a river
where fish abound. Beforehand, he has removed all the signs
indicating the presence of landmines. He has his eye on the
bear's den and garden and would happily see his rival "accidentally"
disappear. But the rabbit and the silkworm get wise to the
fox's evil machinations. With the help of the children in
the audience, who throw themselves eagerly into the spirit
of the show, they try to guide the bear through the minefield
to safety. Their mission accomplished, the three "good"
animals then try to trap the fox, who believes he has got
rid of the bear and is about to take possession of the den,
considering it now to be his property. Surrounded, the fox
has to admit defeat. Caught as he is in the act, he expects
to receive no pity from the bear's friends. Called to witness
by the rabbit, who is blessed with good and noble sentiments,
the children agree to pardon the fox. But they insist that
he promise never again to remove the danger signs for the
landmines. The play is over. The actors remove their masks.
The children mingle with them amid the adults' applause. The
stage props are quickly dismantled and loaded onto a four-wheel-drive
vehicle. The next performance will be in three hours, in another
village in the region.
A moment of respite
Hardly have I packed away my cameras, tripod, microphones,
mini-disc recorder and notepad, than I am grabbed by some
of the village elders. There is no question of me sneaking
away like this. They have their sense of hospitality to uphold.
I am prac-tically frogmarched to the half-open doorway of
the hamlet's grandest farmhouse and led indoors. I find myself
in a tiny room, barely lit by the daylight seeping through
the cracks. A few villagers are installed on old stools. They
indicate through sign language that I must join them in a
drink to our new friendship.
A few friendly thumps on the shoulder later, I manage to
tear myself away from this warm and convivial atmosphere,
and from the people who in the company of visitors forget
their daily cares. For now, I have to catch up with the theatre
troupe, already on its way to its next performance.
Roland Sidler is ICRC's audio-visual press officer based in
Top | Contact
Us | Credits | Current issue | Webmaster
© 2001 | Copyright