The Adventures of Little Herman in Kosovo

Story subtitle: First impressions are often right…

Pristina, Kosovo. March 2000.
For months, we have been looking for a qualified electrician, to maintain our generators in this ‘land of no electricity’. We finally found an excellent resume via the
UN Volunteers Programme: an Indian fella, called Herman….
First impression: “Kinda funny name for an Indian. Hmmm..”

Second impression: He did not show up for his first day at work. Last week, we received an email from the UN office in New Delhi stating “We have a person called Herman here, who was to report for duty in your office. We regret to inform you, he was denied access to the Swissair flight out of Delhi. He will try again tomorrow”. Hmmm..

Today he finally arrived. He is a skinny guy, our Herman. He speaks in nervous chunks of English, with a heavy accent. I mean REAL heavy. I thought for a minute I misunderstood him when he mumbled this was his first time ever outside of India. The resume we received from UNV, stated that “Mr. Herman ” had worked for the UN in Rwanda in 1994 and 1995… Hmmm

So I get Rosemary involved. She is our head of logistics, who worked for years in Rwanda. Rosemary asks Herman where he was stationed in Rwanda. Herman simply states “Oh, I never worked in Rwanda. This is my first time out of India.”. Hmm.. I had not misunderstood him, then. He looks at the resume we thought was his and sighs: “Oh, yeah. But that is my brother”, and gives the paper back to me, with an air of “Ok, now, let’s move on”… A brother with the same name, hey? Hmmm…

For security reasons, everyone in the office has a handheld radio, a walkie-talkie, so all can stay in contact with each other at any time. I hand Herman a handheld, asking if he has used one of those before.
He looks at it front to back: “Of course!” and holds it to his ear like a mobile phone and starts shouting: ”Allo, allo, can anyone hear me? Allo, this is Herman..”.
He hands it back to me with a grin: “Does not work, you should check this one, Sahib”..
I send him off to the radio room so they can explain him the difference between a mobile phone and a walkie-talkie…

The same evening.
As usual, everyone is still in the office, working late. As most security incidents happen this time of the day, we all keep our handsets on our desk, volume up. I hear Herman talk on the radio.. Apparently, he is in some kind of trouble. The driver dropped him in front of his guesthouse and Herman is complaining to the radio room his key does not fit. I hear the radio room advise him to ring the door bell. After that the radio remains silent. Guess that worked…
Still, after half an hour, I get a hunch maybe I’d better check he is OK. I call him via the radio. He confirms, in his funny English:
“No, not to worry, Sahib. I got into the apartment.”
“How?”, I ask.
“Oh, I just kicked in the door… “
I think I misunderstood him, and just let go of my worries… He is in his apartment. Safe for the night.

It only takes a couple of minutes before we get another radio call from Herman. He is shouting in his walkie-talkie. We hear all kinds of commotion in the background of his transmission.
- Herman: “Allo, allo, help, help..
- Radio-operator: “Who is this? Identify yourself?”
- Herman: “This is Herman. Help, help, allo, allo!”
- Radio-operator: “Herman, your callsign is PW361- I repeat Papa Whiskey Three Six One. Use your proper callsign! What is your message?”
- Herman: “Yes I understand. You are Papa Whiskey. But I need help” (we hear shouting and cursing in Albanese in the background).
All of a sudden, it gets real quiet in the office. By now, everyone is attentively following the conversation on their own handheld radio. With a wide grin on their face.
- Radio-operator: “Okay, PW361, what is the problem?”
- Herman: “My neighbour is chasing me. He is very mad at me, Sahib.”
- Radio-operator: “Why is he mad at you, PW361?”
- Herman: “I kicked in his door! I kicked in the door of my neighbour’s house!”
- “…”

Our Own Bollywood Star.
And that was just the first day of Little Herman’s Adventures in Kosovo. It went on, day by day, by day... He became the mascot of our office. Every time he ‘appeared’ on the radio, everyone stopped whatever they were doing, just to hear what kind of trouble PW361 got into now.

As time went by, he kinda developed his own radio code. In the morning, we would hear him call "Good Year! Good Year!" on the radio. That was 'his code' for "I need a pickup from my apartment to the office". He lived next to a Goodyear tire shop, you see. And normally the radioroom - in their typical dry humour - would then answer: "PW361, we wish you a Good Year too".

In the evening, it was "Dardania, Dardania", meaning "I need a lift back home". The area he lived in was called "Dardania".

I did not know what to do with him. He certainly was a danger to himself touching our big generators. So I passed him onto Mick who tried to use him for some administrative work. Mick passed Herman over to Rosemary. Who passed him onto Frank. And Frank, our beloved Kiwi, got stuck with him. Once we heard Frank ask Herman over the radio: "Where are you? What is your location?". And Herman answered "I am on channel 3"... Frank still hates us for it. I am sure even up to today he still has nightmares about 'PW361'.

Three months later.
Herman went for his first R&R to neighbouring Macedonia. For a weekend. The next Monday morning, he did not show up for work. We called him on his mobile phone and found out he did not go to Macedonia. During the weekend, he flew to London and got married. Out of the blue, it seems. He never came back to work.

There is something to be said about ‘Trusting your first impressions’..

Top and bottom picture credits: Joe Kelley
(Joe's excellent blog about his stay in Kosovo, you can find here)

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LightFactory Photography 23 March, 2007 08:04  

Hi, Herman!

You went to Kosovo for an UN-Mission??
I was also there for a half of a year. I came back 2005 in october.
Hopefully you had fun so far!

So long

Peter 23 March, 2007 08:28  

Peter here. ;-)
Yes I was, Daniel. In 1999 and 2000! Was an interesting time!


Unknown 28 March, 2007 08:06  

I have had the distinct priviledge to hear Herman on the radio belonging to a UNV friend while eating in the Chicken restaurant.

Peter 28 March, 2007 08:12  

Dr Dan:

hahahaha.. i am sure he made a lasting impression on you too! He was fun though... Our daily entertainment: "And here comes.... Herman:...." "Allo? Allo?" hahhaa.

Thanks for your reaction..! :-)


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