Tuesday, June 22, 1999

Kosovar refugees experience city

Family enjoying taste of freedom

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ethnic Albanian refugee Driton Destani, 19, steps off the bus with a smile on Sycamore and Ninth streets.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        All of the media attention makes Driton Destani feel a little like a rock star. The 19-year-old Kosovar refugee, who came to Cincinnati about two weeks ago, smiled self-consciously as news reporters and cameramen tagged along on his first American city bus ride.

        In one of the first steps toward independence in America, Driton Destani, his cousin, Besim Destani, 24, and his cousin's wife, Fahriye, 26, were learning how to ride Cincinnati's Metro bus system on Monday.

        Since they arrived, the Kosovar refugees have taken in a Reds game, played soccer, gone swimming and begun to familiarize themselves with the geography and customs of the Tristate. On Monday, the trio took the bus from their hosts' home in Kennedy Heights to their first English class at International Family Services downtown.

        “The buses in Kosovo are dusty and crowded, so, so many people,” Mrs. Destani said during the bus ride, speaking through an interpreter.

        By comparison, the Metro bus was clean and roomy, she said.

        But freedom is the most striking comparison between Cincinnati and Kosovo, Mrs. Destani said.

        “It's a large city and beautiful. We like the food and the freedom,” she said. “You are in peace and you are able to go to school and work.”

        Normal life — having the freedom to go to work and school without fear of violence — has been sporadically disrupted for the Destanis since 1994, when the Serbians start ed squeezing the autonomy from the Yugoslavian province.

        The Destanis are from Gnlijane, about 30 miles southeast of Pristina. Though the Destanis have escaped many hardships by coming to America, they have not left their worries behind.

        Mrs. Destani learned Thursday that her parents and siblings are safe, but there has been no information about Besim and Driton's relatives.

        In two, two-minute phone calls with her family, who now are refugees in Australia, Mrs. Destani has learned only that they are healthy.

        Mrs. Destani peruses newspaper articles on Kosovo and watches the news, but she doesn't understand the language and none of the three is fluent in English.

        Mimi Gingold and Alphonse A. Gerhardstein, the Destanis' hosts, do not speak Serbo-Croatian. Communication, with no full-time translator at the house, is done mostly through hand signals.

        Albana Canollari, 18, an Albanian exchange student staying in North College Hill, translated for the Destanis during the bus ride.

        The Destanis remain skeptical of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and are planning to start a life here. They have applied for work visas and hope to find jobs soon. They have started apartment hunting, hoping to move from the Gingold-Gerhardstein household in July.

        Driton Destani wants to apply for citizenship, an option available to the Kosovar refugees, but Besim Destani and his wife are waiting to make those decisions until they learn more of their families' fate.

        “I would like to stay here, but not unless my family is OK,” Mrs. Destani. “I would have to know if they need our help.”


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