'I had no experience of living with such a strong army presence'

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'I had no experience of living with such a strong army presence'


Frank remembers working for Trocaire in Kosovo.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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Frank Gaynor

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Work and Employment


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

Kosovo, Europe

Temporal Coverage


Life Story Item Type Metadata


In August 1999 I got an unexpected phone call from Mary Healy in Trocaire. She was looking for someone to help clear - up a backlog of work, and Majda had suggested that she contact me. At the end of a two - hour meeting with Mary, in Trocaire's office in Booterstown, I had agreed to go to Kosovo, where I would work with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), as Director of their education programme. I first travelled to Kosovo in September 1999 and spent part of three days getting there. I flew to Belgrade, where I stayed overnight before flying on to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. After a night in Skopje I travelled by road in a CRS vehicle to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. It was late September and there were already signs of the approaching winter. Approaching the border with Kosovo we joined a 2km long line of trucks waiting to be checked through the border control point into Kosovo. With CRS claiming some special status our driver proceeded to pass the line of trucks on the narrow road. We soon met other aid vehicles also claiming special status. Empty trucks leaving Kosovo added to the traffic chaos. Along the way our driver pointed to an empty field on our right where two large refugee camps, Stankovic 1 and Stankovic 2, had been located, and where CRS had played an important role. Close to the border on our left was a small low - lying wet field where 10 000 people had spent a miserable week as they fled from Kosovo and were refused entry into Macedonia. The coat of grey dust all around us, on rooftops, trees, hedges, gardens and roads, was the result of pollution from a large cement factory nearby. On either side of the road from the border to Pristina I saw many houses that had been destroyed by fire. CRS had one office in Pristina and another in Prizren. I have vivid memories of my first few days in Prizren. I shared an apartment with another Irishman, Michael, who was a key member of the CRS emergency team. Michael seemed to be under huge pressure. His task was to coordinate the transport of 100 tonnes of relief supplies from Skopje to Prizren each day. When he arrived at the apartment after work he did not speak a word until he had downed two or three cans of beer, and then he spoke very little. It was cold and dull outside, and cold and dark inside. We had some water but no electricity. For heat and hot water we relied on a small oil burner. There was no food in the apartment. When I went walking around Prizren looking for breakfast I found a kind of buttermilk to drink and what looked like sausage rolls to eat. Inside the rolls instead of sausages there was something like cottage cheese. It was a long way from my favourite Irish breakfast, but it kept the hunger at bay. Back at the CRS office I was introduced to a two - way radio and given the code name 'Five Golf'. While most staff members seemed to get a thrill out of using the military code language to communicate by radio I never enjoyed it, and resented the fact that I was expected to keep my radio switched on 24 hours a day. When the sun did come out and brighten up the city (There were no towns in Kosovo: urban areas were all called cities; clusters of houses in rural areas were called villages) I realised that Prizren has much natural beauty. In addition to having a number of stone paved streets and interesting old buildings it is surrounded by steep hills and mountains, and has a river flowing through the main street. Every night after dark I could see a small number of houses ablaze on the nearby hills. These were Serb houses that were being destroyed by KLA extremists. The German troops, who were responsible for maintaining law and order in the Prizren area, had two big army tanks permanently positioned on the two small bridges over the river. Army vehicles moved slowly around the city. There were a number of checkpoints manned by soldiers with small tanks parked nearby. I had no experience of living with such a strong army presence. There was a curfew every night. One night during curfew hours I lost my way as I walked across the city to the apartment where I was staying. The efficient Germans soon picked me up and dropped me back at my starting point. I thanked them and set off again across the city. This time I made it safely back to the apartment. After a few days in Prizren I went to Pristina to meet with Kate, the CRS boss in Kosovo. I first spoke with Kate on the phone from Trocaire's office in Dublin. When I told her that I was going to work with CRS in Kosovo she said 'Frank, I love you'. On the basis of that instant affection I anticipated a warm welcome in Pristina. When I reached the large dimly lit CRS office Kate seemed reluctant to meet with me. I first chatted with other staff members who directed me towards Kate's office. When I found Kate I could barely see her. The lighting was poor and she was wrapped up in many layers of black clothes. When I asked about the education programme that I had come to direct she said 'Money is no problem; you will be limited only by your imagination'. Other staff members told me that the programme was mainly concerned with getting parents involved in the work of repairing primary schools that had been damaged during the war. As I considered my situation I could see nothing attractive about Kosovo apart from the challenge of working in a very unfamiliar environment, and working on an education programme that had little to do with either teaching or learning. I decided to stay. Soon restaurants and shops started to open for business, and electricity and water services improved. I think it was Time magazine that remarked that more rebuilding was done in Kosovo in six months than had been done in Sarajevo in six years. The Albanians worked hard at getting life back to normal. Sometimes the NGOs just got in the way My time was divided between Pristina and Prizren and I ended up having an apartment in both places. In Prizren I lived on the ground floor of a high - rise block of apartments. Above me was a family who had spent a couple of months in a refugee camp in Kukes, Albania. A week after their return to Kosovo a 20 - year old son was killed by a landmine. In Pristina I occupied the top half of a house and the owners lived on the ground floor. The late President Rugova lived across the street. It was a good residential area and pleasant in summer. The only internet cafミᄅ was 2km away in a house the other side of town. It was available to the general public from 6pm, and charged six Euro per hour. During the winter of 1999 there were many nights when, aided by a torch, I walked on ice and snow down the slope to the centre of Pristina, across a small river, and up the hill on the far side to try and get on line and communicate with the CRS office in Skopje. On my way I passed friendly British soldiers with ridiculous red tipped plumes in their helmets. There were a number of embassies located on this hill. Once I came on a security cordon around the US embassy. When I enquired about the reason for the cordon I was told that there was a rumour that Osama Bin Laden was heading towards Kosovo - that was the first time I heard this name mentioned.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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