Facebook Twitter

E-pals a world and war apart
U.S. teen airs ongoing ordeal of a girl in Kosovo

SHARE E-pals a world and war apart
U.S. teen airs ongoing ordeal of a girl in Kosovo

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Each morning, 16-year-old Finnegan Hamill turns on his Macintosh computer in sunny, peaceful Berkeley, Calif., and downloads his e-mail from a nightmare zone, nearly half a planet away.

For over a month now, Hamill, a reporter for Youth Radio in the San Francisco Bay area, has been conducting an electronic correspondence with a teenage Albanian girl named Adona, who is living a harrowing, precarious life in the war-ravaged province of Kosovo. She is surrounded by a war zone, where rival Serbian and Albanian militias are killing each other and massacring civilians for control of this parcel of the former Yugoslavia.Adona's letters to Hamill, some of which have been read on National Public Radio, have brought the war home to millions of Americans in simple, human terms. They have a quality resembling the diaries of Anne Frank, that of innocence struggling to cope with evil.

Hamill and Adona might be two teenage pen pals, discussing hobbies, music, growing up -- except one of them is living in daily, nightly fear of being raped and murdered.

"I don't even know how many people get killed anymore," Adona wrote in one of her e-mails. "You just see them in the memoriam pages of newspapers. I really don't want to end up raped, with no parts of body like the massacred ones.

"I wish nobody in the world, in the whole universe, would have to go through what we are. You don't know how lucky you are to have a normal life."

Hamill obtained Adona's e-mail address at a church youth group meeting, at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, from a peace worker who had visited Kosovo recently. He went home, turned on his computer and sent her a tentative e-mail.

Adona wrote back. "I was surprised how open she was. The first letter or two we just told each other about ourselves, but after that she began describing the war, and what it was doing to her life, in great detail. She was very outgoing and open. There is kind of a dynamic between us.

"A couple of years ago her life was relatively normal. She got mad when her parents wouldn't let her stay out late at night. Now they have to huddle in their apartment at night and pray they won't get shot.

"It's pretty incredible to imagine what their life is like. Their life is basically paralyzed," Hamill said.

"You don't know," Adona wrote in another letter, "you don't know how I am longing to go to a party, on a trip, or anywhere . . . I love listening to Rolling Stones, Sade, Jewel, Cher . . .

"I must tell you -- it is scary sometimes, when the situation gets really tense. The whole family comes together and we talk about how and where we will be going in case of emergency, where we can find money, what do we do, who do we call for help, where do we keep our passports and other documents.

"We also have bought warm clothes in case we have to flee our homes and go to the mountains or elsewhere.

"One night last week, I think, we were all surrounded by police and armed forces, and if it wasn't for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) observers, God knows how many victims there would be.

"And my flat was surrounded too. I cannot describe you the fear . . . The next day a few meters from my flat, they killed this Albanian journalist, Enver Maloku. Someday before there was a bomb explosion in the center of town where young people usually go out."

The horrific violence in Kosovo contrasts strangely with the cool, luminous letters that show up on Hamill's computer screen, thousands of miles away, relayed instantly by the Internet. Adona is close in time, half a world away in space, easily reachable, yet quite impossible to reach. The peril in which she lives makes Hamill wonder if one day the e-mails will suddenly cease.

"It put my own life in perspective," the reporter said.

Hamill grew up with computers. "My family has had one since 1988," he said. Adona and her sister had to work, to save up enough cash to buy their computer. It still lacks a scanner, so Hamill has no idea what the young woman who is sending him such striking e-mail looks like.

"I'd like to see if I can get her out of there somehow," Hamill said. "She has expressed some interest in coming to the United States and going to school here."