Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween in a corner of Kosovo

I was lucky enough to receive an e-mail from my friend John M., a soldier serving now in Kososvo. John led an effort at the Universal Monster Army to have members there donate items for local children.

At the UMA, John had started the effort in August, first describing the area he served in. It sounded like something we monster-movie-lovers would be intrigued to see! (The following is culled from different comments by John.)

"Well kids, it's been fun out here. Lots of adventures....the ruins of Novo Brdo castle...looks like Castle Frankenstein. I also drive past a lot of huts that look like a blind shepherd lives in them. Very picturesque... At night you can hear the wolves howl.

"I have a cultural exchange program going on in various isolated villages and have set three goals for myself before I leave. First, I am teaching 'Dueling Banjos' to at least one musician in each area. They have these balalaika type instruments up here and I figure it will unnerve whoever comes to relieve me. Second, I want to teach the kids to recite the classic prose 'Even he who is pure of heart...etc. etc.' Finally, when the wolves DO howl, I'd like to teach them to say 'Ah, the children of the night. What music they make.'

"I was especially amused by one of the Polish officers I work with. He popped his head in the other night and said "Goot Eeevening..." My roommate said 'Who the hell was that, Count Chocula?' I about fell over laughing.

"Just to let you guys know what I'm doing, I am tasked with sensing what the local population is feeling about the social, political and financial climate. I go out with my team six days a week to meet with people and see what's up. Then I come back to base and submit a daily report about anything significant. I deal with poverty stricken farmers out in the country, beggars on the streets, wealthy business owners and Euro jetsetter, every social strata you can imagine. No overt danger as yet, although the roads get a little scary at times. Remember Harker's trip in the carriage to Castle Dracula? Been on THAT road. In an SUV with bad tires..."

Then, when Halloween loomed, he shared this:

"I learned Halloween is celebrated over here even though Kosovo is a mainly Muslim country. Seems they admire Americans so much they adopted the secular version of Halloween."

So members generously sent stuff for Halloween. John sent a message to several people about it.
Here, with his permission, is the e-mail I received from him and the accompanying photos:

"Hey Kids!

Just wanted to give you a glimpse of Halloween in my little corner of Kosovo.

"It was INSANE!
"We had well over 1000 people, the vast majority of them unaccompanied children, show up in front of the municipal theater and along the street. Imagine a large street event, like Mardi Gras or the Central West End Halloween Party in St. Louis, but with children instead of drunken adults. There were many creative costumes reflecting the culture and perceptions of American horror. Some were downright surreal and scary. Very effective use of makeup and scrap material. Attached are some photos.

"Anyway, the children started showing up around 5PM and milled about like some Tiny Town riot scene. Kids were throwing firecrackers, roving in packs like wild animals and howling and screaming for no apparent reason. I was thinking it was part Lord of the Flies and part Peter Pan Wildboys with a bit of Logan's Run thrown in. I had eight soldiers with me, and we had a hard time keeping ahold of our equipment, let alone maintain an authoritative presence. I finally hammered out a situation where we paraded the children in costume across the steps of the theater to applause. Then we split up into three groups and made our separate ways back to the trucks.

"The children kept hounding us for 'fotografia' and candy. I took a lot of pictures out of self-defense. We finally connected with our 'sponsored' children and teachers in a secluded area to hand out the treat bags we had assembled. Thanks to the generosity of fellow UMA members, folks from home and some of the troops over here, we were able to hand out 180 nicely done treat bags, along with some loose items for the deserving individuals we met along the way. Raymond's squishy heads did double duty as treats and therapy balls for the Handikos children (handicapped organization we sponsored and brought to the event). They LOVED them and it was amazing to see the looks in the kids' eyes. Candy, rubber bats, skull rings; this is what Halloween memories are made of...

"Anyway, thanks to all who sent stuff. The Halloween event went over well in spite of the anarchy. I swear I was stressed more last night than any other time during my mission so far. I had Iraq combat vets ready to break. Had to send two home early. Seriously. We laugh now, but it was pretty intense. LOL!

"Fangs A Lot!"

Thank you, John. I salute you!

Update: I received more pictures from John, showing some of the staff who packed the treats for the kids, some of the goodies given out, and a few pics showing the decor of the event. About the decor, John writes, "Here's pics of the chow hall entrance as decorated by some of the local Albanian Kosovars. The faces are sculpted dough for the most part, and some of the cats and rats are sculpted aluminum foil."

Here they are for you to get a post-Halloween kick out of!

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