Searching for Aphrodite's sister

At Fisnik and Aphrodite Idrizi's apartment, the phone rings about every eight minutes, always with news or questions about family. Nearly every Albanian in Skopje has a cousin, a brother, a friend from Kosovo. These days they stay in constant touch by phone and on the Internet: Someone has maybe seen a sister or mother on the Albanian border. Has anyone heard from a son?

Aphrodite left Kosovo seven years ago to marry Fisnik, a local Skopje boy. But she has two sisters and a mother who are still living in a prosperous village south of Pristina, the provincial capital of Kosovo. They did not want to leave, and now it is a question whether it is safe to do so.

For a week, as other refugees streamed out of Kosovo into freedom in Macedonia, Aphrodite has been asking one question over and over again in her mind and with her husband: Why did their relatives not get out when they could?

"All day we are asking this," says Fisnik. "My wife is jumping out of her skin. For months we called my brother-in-law and said, 'Why don't you at least send the kids. Why don't you leave?' They always gave some reason like, 'We'll be OK.' Or, 'They have taken our passports and we need them back first.' "

Fisnik works as an economic analyst in an office downtown. But neither he nor Aphrodite can think about any of the things - food, the world, sports, money, job - that used to constitute their normal life before the campaign of ethnic cleansing next door. Like most Albanians here, they may be physically living outside Kosovo. But their minds and imaginations are mainly inside Kosovo. They lapse into silence frequently, trying to put together the puzzle of how their families and friends are doing.

What Aphrodite does know is that her Kosovar family had a phone working in the house until two weeks ago. Then she got a five-minute call from her sister saying the Serbs had cut all the neighborhood's phone lines but one. Only brief calls were allowed, after a long wait in line. The family was still intact, her sister said, but the entire street, out of fear, had moved into one house. For the last two days Aphrodite hasn't heard anything. She has called the number for the phone on the street several times. But no one has been answering.

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