June 17, 1999
JIM LEHRER: How one Kosovo refugee family is adjusting to life in America. Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
LEE HOCHBERG: After a day or reading, math, and English, they came out of the school bus like any American kids in June, smiles a mile wide. But they aren't American kids. Ten-year-old Florim Korga, 17- year-old Frank, and 12-year-old Mokadeze are part of the first refugee family from Kosovo to settle in Seattle. While thousands of Kosovans are fleeing refugee camps and streaming back to their country, about 300 of the more than 7,500 refugees who came to the U.S. are expected to settle around Seattle.
WOMAN: Did you have a good day? Good.
LEE HOCHBERG: As part of a church program, this Muslim family of seven moved into the Christian and very American home of Bruce and Karleen Kennedy. Struck by the turn of fortune that took them from a stark Macedonian refugee camp to pastoral Seattle, the family poured out gratitude for its American hosts.
FRANK KORGA, Refugee: We thank you very much for Ms. Kennedy. Yeah, thank you very much. They helped me and my family they helped. Thank you very much.
FLORA KORGA: This is me baby.
LEE HOCHBERG: You?
FLORA KORGA: Yeah.
LEE HOCHBERG: Memories of Kosovo seem to be with the family constantly.
FLORA KORGA: This is my friend in school in Kosovo.
LEE HOCHBERG: Without prompting, 15-year- old Flora Korga brought out the family photo album. For this effervescent youngster, the memories are happy ones.
FLORA KORGA: My friends, and me -- yeah.
LEE HOCHBERG: In the artwork of ten-year- old Florim, there are hints of pain.
FLORIM KORGA: This is my house. This is airplane. Airplane goes to my house. Boom.
LEE HOCHBERG: Not a tank?
FLORIM KORGA: Tank -- airplane.
CHILD: Tank? Tank?
LEE HOCHBERG: What the children say matter-of-factly is open trauma on the face of their mother.
MAGBULE KORGA, Refugee: (speaking through interpreter) I can't even describe it -- what a horror it was.
LEE HOCHBERG: When her husband, Xhavit, was driven from their Kosovan home with a Serbian gun at his back, Magbule Korga and her children were sent walking. She was ripped away from all she's ever known.
MAGBULE KORGA: (speaking through interpreter) There are the memories of my family that was left behind -- my father, mother, other family members. And it's impossible to forget them.
XHAVIT KORGA, Refugee: (speaking through interpreter) Every morning when I got up in my home I went, as is Albanian tradition, to see my father and greet him and ask how he was. And that is one of the things I miss most.
LEE HOCHBERG: Korga, an auto mechanic, thinks often of the work he loved for 26 years in Kosovo.
XHAVIT KORGA: (speaking through interpreter) I hid my tools, working tools, under the ground. I didn't want them to fall in the hands of the enemy. And I feel really sad when I think about that part.
LEE HOCHBERG: Through a friend of their American host family, Korga has found a job as an auto mechanic in Seattle. And he has new tools, a gift of American Tool Company Mactools and the Volkswagen Corporation. And he's thrilled to be earning $10 an hour.
XHAVIT KORGA: (speaking through interpreter) My first desire is to work and be independent and be able to support my family on my own.
LEE HOCHBERG: The teenagers in the family are learning new skills, from bowling -- to being friends with those who could be enemies. 17-year-old Frank has befriended a Bosnian refugee whose father is a Serb. He says in America that doesn't seem to be a problem.
FRANK KORGA: She good friend, yeah.
LEE HOCHBERG: You can get along -- you can be friends here?
FRANK KORGA: Yeah, here, yeah, yeah. Good friends, play together, yeah.
KARLEEN KENNEDY: What's this?
KARLEEN KENNEDY: What's this?
LEE HOCHBERG: Other lessons about America are coming quickly for the family. They've deviated from their Albanian tradition of eating at the table silently, opting instead to practice their English.
CHILD: Please pass bread. (Laughter)
LEE HOCHBERG: Forced out of their homeland, and suddenly blessed with plenty in America, one wonders if these refugees might stay in their new country. Here only three weeks, the children are obviously comfortable.
MUSIC IN BACKGROUND: Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave...
LEE HOCHBERG: On Tuesday night, host Karleen Kennedy took Frank and Flora, high school students both, to see a graduation ceremony, hoping to inspire them to stay.
KARLEEN KENNEDY: I think graduation might give them a sense of the future, something that they can look forward to here.
LEE HOCHBERG: But thankful as they are for America's warm welcome, everyone in the family says they want to go back.
FRANK KORGA: (speaking through interpreter) I'm living like in a dream, and thinking a lot and also writing about Kosovo. My heart and my thoughts are all the time in Kosovo.
XHAVIT KORGA: (speaking through interpreter) Living conditions in America are better here and maybe staying much better, but the core traditional Albanian values are there in Kosovo.
LEE HOCHBERG: Even more than their children, Xhavit and Magbule ache for home someday, but not now.
XHAVIT KORGA: (speaking through interpreter) I have doubts. The conflict is between NATO now and the Russian troops, and this might be even a conflict of a larger scale.
MAGBULE KORGA: Right now we don't think of going back until the situation in Kosovo is better and Kosovo becomes independent.
LEE HOCHBERG: The Korgas know they have landed in a fortunate situation and have time to decide. (Cheers) Other refugees continue to flow into Seattle's airport. Tuesday, this group arrived, on many faces the sorrows and exhaustion of the last months; on some a hope for peace, either here or, in time, back home.