The Pizza Place on the Corner

“Stop”, I shout, “stoooop !”. Alf steps on the breaks of our Landcruiser. The boxes in the trunk shift forward violently. “Pull over, Alf, pull over!” “What, what is it?”, he shouts, as he maneuvers the car in between the people walking on the side of the road. “Coke. I saw bottles of Coke! There, in the window of the shop!”.
I jump out of the car and run to the shop. Indeed six bottles of Cokes stand in the shop. I step in, and the young boy behind the counter smiles and says ‘Hallo’ in German. I tell him I want the Coke bottles, all of them. I walk back to the car with my find. Coke at last!

It has been ten days since we arrived in Kosovo, and for 10 days, we have been eating what we could find. The only thing available was minced lamb, in all forms and shapes. Hamburgers, cevapcici sausages, small meatballs, large meatballs. Minced meat and bread. No vegetables, no fruits. Bread and minced meat. To drink, we could only find sparkling water and vodka. I don’t drink either.
Last night, out of sheer desperation, Alf, Richard and I dug into the survival kits we received at the warehouse. We found a camping cooker and bags of dried food in it. We pulled out the curry-rice combination, and cooked it in sparkling water. The pack had ‘Best used before 10-1989’ on it. That was ten years ago. But we did not mind. It took hours before the rice was cooked through. Richard, a Ugandan, is very picky with his food. He refused to eat it. Alf and I savoured it. At last something other than minced meat and bread. Even after hours of cooking, the rice was still pretty hard, but the spices gave it some flavour.
During the night, I thought ‘if I lit a match now, the room will ignite’. I had never farted that much in my whole life. I was rolled up in my sleeping bag, in an underground room, full of mould and dead insects, cold from the humidity. But still I had to pull away the sleeping bag, as I could not take my own smell anymore. These were not the occasional farts, but long blasts of gas. My stomach did not take the rice lightly. I could not stop laughing at myself, I giggled like an idiot, in between the farts.. Man, this was not normal anymore…

But now we had Coke.. At last, something with taste. The Real Thing. I am the happiest person on earth. Nothing can go wrong anymore.

We continue driving towards Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. It is the first time we would go to Pristina, after installing the office in Prizren for over a week. We are joining the rest of the team who had entered Kosovo out of Macedonia. Alf, Richard and I entered from Albania. There had been a healthy competition between the two teams, trying to complete the first office installation as soon as possible. We won –of course-.. Kind of. As we drove into town the first day, we saw a house with a WFP flag. No-one was there, so we took it for the WFP office. It was just days after Nato entered Kosovo, and there was chaos everywhere. We did not wait for the WFP field coordinator to come back from town, and started installing the computers, generator and the radios. We were the first ones to send an Email to all our colleagues: ‘We are online! Team Albania is online! We win!’. It did not matter that in the evening, the WFP coordinator came back with a puzzled smile on his face ‘Ah.. Here you are, guys. I have been looking for you the whole afternoon. But eh.. this installation is all nice, but eh.. this is not our office. Our office is on the other side of town..’ We never told the other team.. We won, we were the first on the air!! No matter we installed it in the wrong house. The next day, we took everything down, and moved it to the ‘real’ office. We never told anyone. Shht, let it remain a secret!

When we told the other team over the radio we would join them in Pristina, Mats had told me they had pizza there. The first restaurant in Pristina to open up after the crisis, and they made pizza! Now I have Coke, and in the evening, we would have pizza… This is a good day!
After driving for an hour over a road filled with potholes from the bombing, with Nato checkpoints every few miles, we can finally see Pristina laying in the valley.. It is getting dark, but splashes of light come from the valley. At first I thought it was fireworks, but soon we realize these are tracer bullets. We can hear the machine gun fire coming from town. From afar, we can see cars racing around, and masses of agitated people shouting and shooting in the air. Dozens of Nato helicopters hover low above the buildings with strong searchlights pointing down. Flares leave traces in the sky before floating down slowly, lighting up parts of town as if it were daylight. ‘No it is safe, they are just celebrating the end of the war’, Mats says over the radio, ‘Come on over, we’re waiting for you at the pizza place, on the corner of the main road, just past the second traffic light’.
We maneuver ever so carefully in between the shouting and cheering crowd. Many of them with AK47s in their hands, firing at will. I am a bit wary. What goes up, must come down also.. It is not the first time people get killed from stray bullets which were fired in the air. They bang on the side of the car. Not because they are angry at us. Just because the banging creates noise I guess. The Kosovars have, after all, been kept quiet for many years.
We join the team at the pizza place. ‘Pizzeria Napoli’, the painting says on the makeshift corrugated sheets, which surround an outside area filled with plastic tables and chairs. Everyone is there.. The whole WFP Pristina office. We are happy to see each other. It has been three weeks or so since we parted in Rome, not knowing how this emergency operation would work. Everyone was anxious to get going, and tonight we will celebrate a successful deployment with Pizza and Coke.. Life can be good. No matter that next to the thin corrugated sheets, crowds run by, shouting as if they were insane. From where we are sitting, we cannot see them. The corrugated sheets shelter our pizza-fest from the sight of the outside world’s craziness. We hear continuous blasts of AK47s, one meter from where we are sitting, at the other side of the fence. The gunmen are shooting and yelling as if they lost their mind. The helicopters hovering low overhead don’t matter. The flares don’t matter. The deafening sound of all the explosions don’t matter. The pizza has arrived and all we can think of is how simple life can be. Pizza, Coke and friends. A happy scene, lit by candles and tracer flares. For just a while, the outside world is outside. Outside the corrugated rusted fence. We are not part of it anymore.

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