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War is far from over for refugees

For me, the war in Kosovo collided with Utah reality this week when I walked into a second floor apartment just off Highland Drive and found myself surrounded by a dozen Kosovar refugees.

A bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken was all that stood between us."Here," I said, "American food. Have you tried it?"

They had no more idea what I was saying than I had what they were saying.

But just then one of the women came into the front room from the kitchen carrying a tray full of glasses filled with orange juice for their guests.

Eight thousand miles from home, but they didn't forget to pack their manners.

This is the war coming into our living rooms. Literally.

A young girl from Bosnia who is attending junior high here in Utah and knows English came in to the apartment and interpreted, but it was slow-going.

Some things are hard to translate, such as "Kentucky Fried Chicken." Other things are hard to put into words, period, such as an ordeal that has already spanned three months, two continents and one serious lifestyle upheaval.

Prodded by Serbian troops seen and unseen, these people have made their way from their home in the Balkan Mountains, across the border into one of the refugee camps in Montenegro or Albania, across the ocean to Ft. Dix, N.J., and finally all the way across America to the Rocky Mountains.

Something told me, this wasn't like home.

A Texaco station across the street, a car wash down the street, across from "Nielsen's Frozen Custard" and a motorcycle dealership.

Who knew what they'd had to do just to get to this place? What things they'd seen? What troubles they'd endured?

You wouldn't know it by looking at them.

The oldest woman in the room, a pleasant-looking grandmother in any language, enthusiastically thrust a two-year-old toward us, motioning that he would like to play with the kids we'd brought.

A boy wearing a soccer shirt who looked to be about 12 wanted to high-five.

The two men in the group looked at the chicken, motioned a thank you and gestured at the couch.

The older women straightened the cushions. The younger kids stood and stared.

They acted like they had all day. Probably they did.

The men have not found work yet, said the junior high girl, but they have skills. They are woodworkers. Carpenters. My guess is they'd work anywhere, and the sooner the better.

No one knows how long they'll be here.

I told them the news on the radio that very afternoon said the war might be all but over, that Milosevic had reportedly agreed to terms.

The junior high girl from Bosnia delivered the message to the group, but it was met with no visible response other than unimpassioned stares. No one jumped up and cheered. No one raised a toast.

Maybe, like Bill Clinton, they don't trust Milosevic's word.

Maybe they'll believe it when they see it.

Maybe, with more than 800,000 Kosovars already displaced by the ethnic cleansing, sitting in apartments in who knows where, just like they are, eating strange food out of buckets with Star Wars advertisements on them, surrounded by people speaking an unfamiliar language, so far removed from the mountains of their birth they couldn't walk back if they wanted to, they just don't care any more.

Maybe, no matter what the diplomats say and do, for them the war is a long way from being over.

Or maybe they just wanted to try that chicken.

Send e-mail to benson@desnews.com, fax 801-237-2527. Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.