Real lives: 'It's chaos out here' - Life and Style - The Independent

Real lives: 'It's chaos out here'

Aid worker DALONI CARLISLE is on the front line with the Kosovan refugees. From Twickenham to Tirana, this is her diary for April

1 April 1999

I arrive back in London feeling completely exhausted. I've been through such a lot over the past few weeks, but leaving Pristina must have been one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. Six days after the Nato bombing started we were the last foreigners to leave the city. We'd been told to get out for our own safety but we were leaving behind Kosovan colleagues who had no idea what was going to happen to them. I'd worked there since February. These were my friends. Watching them watching us go will stay with me for a long time. The emotion I felt on the way home wasn't sadness - more like grief.

9 April 1999

I've had a haircut and spent the past three days in bed with my boyfriend Abdul, watching TV. When I got back home to Twickenham he said, "Do you want to talk about it?" I said, "No. Do you want to listen?" He said, "No." "Let's go down the pub."

It's hard to relate to one another when you're leading such different lives. While I'm working for the Red Cross, he's a musician. I don't think he approves of what I do because he cares for me and worries about what's happening. But on the other hand he understands that this is what I want to do with my life.

The only way I can cope is to do normal things: go to the pub, play pool, watch telly. It's great to see my sister Julia. She has two wonderful daughters: Rose, 12, and Georgia, 7. When they greet me on the doorstep for the first time they're going on about some netball match. Back to humdrum normality - it feels good.

10 April 1999

The Red Cross is expecting me to go back to the Balkans but I'm not sure if it's the right thing to do. I need a few days out of the field to think about it. This kind of work takes such a toll on your private life, on your ability to get on with people and to lead a normal life. I worry that after 10 years in the field I'll come home one day to find that I've no partner, no friends, no family, no life to come back to. I don't want it to happen.

1

My mind keeps going back to two women we helped back in Kosovo: an old lady who'd had a stroke and a pregnant woman. We managed to get them through both KLA and Serbian lines and to hospital. Their feeling of fear was almost tangible. Yet it was amazing to watch their faces when they realised that at last they were safe. I know now that there's no question of me not going back.

15 April 1999

I'm on my way to Tirana, the capital of Albania, via Macedonia. Today I saw Bleirhim, one of the radio operators we had to leave behind in Pristina. I was worried he'd be angry about us leaving. But he gave me a smile and I smiled back. Tonight, five or six of us gathered round and held hands. It dawned on me that there was no need to be frightened, no need for explanations or recriminations.

I find people very much in shock. I try not to ask too many questions. We all know what everyone has gone through.

I borrow a satellite phone and ring Abdul - "I'm safe, I'm here," I tell him.

16 April 1999

It's complete chaos in Tirana. Three weeks ago there were three aid workers, a handful of local volunteers and 20,000 refugees. Now there are 40 volunteers and 300,000 refugees. In the office there aren't enough chairs, let alone computers to go round.

Albania's population has increased by 10 per cent in three weeks. There isn't enough food for the locals, let alone the refugees. I'm lucky to get a bed. There's a sheet and a blanket, but not much else. I don't even have a towel.

17 April 1999

Each night I listen to the World Service. There's a big debate at home about what's happening in the war but for us there's no time to argue. As an aid worker for the Red Cross I have to be impartial. Last year I worked in Belgrade. The people there are suffering too. I remember when I first heard that Nato had started bombing. There was a real sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I really hadn't seen it coming.

We keep asking ourselves whether we should have been better prepared. Should we have had more people here? Should we have foreseen what was going to happen?

18 April 1999

Sixteen-hour days are becoming the norm. In the evenings we go out for a drink and moan about the day. It's good to be with people you can trust. I need to sound off to someone. It's my only way of coping. The temptation is to drink too much but we're trying to be sensible. We're eating regularly and making an effort to get enough sleep. Some things get better. I've got a towel now. But I'm running out of clean knickers.

19 April 1999

Every day more people arrive in Tirana. A lot of them go to a surreal place called Magic City Camp. It's on the site of a funfair. Thousands of refugees sleep in the old swimming pool, yet the bumper cars are still going round.

Today I heard about a colleague from Kosovo whom I'd last seen in Pristina. He arrived in Tirana with his family, not really knowing what to do next. A local came up and offered water and chocolate. When they got talking, the local man invited him and his family to stay in his house. It's amazing. About 200,000 refugees have been taken into people's houses. "We have very little. You have nothing," they say.

I hope I never get inured to any of this. It's this strength of the human spirit that gives me hope.

20 April 1999

On Sunday we broadcast in the camps in Tirana the names of four children who had been separated from their parents in the panic to flee Kosovo, but we heard nothing. Then we read their names out on the radio. Today there was wonderful news. Amazingly, the parents had heard the messages and travelled 150km from their camp. We're planning to issue 30,000 wind- up radios in the hope that more families can be reunited.

As the days go by I wonder about what's going to happen in the future. How long will the rest of the world be interested in what's going on here? These people are human beings; they're not just news stories. They are going to need help for years and years to come. What worries me is the fact that, psychologically, they're looking to go back home as soon as they can. They're not prepared for the idea that they might not get back for a very long time. Still - today, at least, was a good day.

Donations to the International Red Cross: 0870 6060900.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

    £85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

    Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

    KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

    £85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

    Secondary Supply Teacher Lowestoft

    £110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently look...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week