MARCH 31, 1997
Eloise Ware, a member of University Presbyterian Church's mission, was serving as an English language consultant in Albania before she and her husband were forced to leave because of violence in the country.
Art Ware plans to return soon to assess the condition of the area and the mission's Quizani School where he was the headmaster before he and his wife were forced to leave because of violence in the country.
Photos courtesy of Art and Eloise Ware.
by Deborah Stone
The terrified faces of the people and their tears amid gunfire and chaos in a country where life is disintegrating continues to haunt them. For Art and Eloise Ware of Woodinville, these are the nightmares that visit them when they close their eyes. Living each day with these visions is made more difficult by the feeling of helplessness that they feel being so far away.
Their story begins with bright hopes and expectations back in November when they left for what was to be a three-year assignment in Albania as members of Seattle's University Presbyterian Church mission. Art, a former principal, teacher, and coach in the Edmonds School District, went to be headmaster of the mission's Quizari school, and his wife Eloise, who had taught at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, went as an English language consultant to the country's Orthodox Church.
Both were interested in new challenges and a way to share their knowledge and experience with others. Eloise had taught English for six weeks in Central Asia the summer before and returned with enthusiasm to go abroad again. Art had recently retired from the Edmonds School District and although he had never been outside the U.S., Eloise's positive experience interested him.
Through Art Beals, pastor of the University Presbyterian Church's global missions, they learned of the opportunity to work in Albania. The process involved a brief trip to Albania for a look-see at the living and working conditions. Eloise was not surprised by what she saw, as she found it very similar to Central Asia. However, Art's first view was negative. "We walked out of the airport, and there was a line of aggressive taxi drivers sitting in their Mercedes waiting for fares," he said. "And this is in one of the poorest countries in the world!"
He contrasted this with the primitive buildings surrounded by barb wire and glass. Meeting the Albanian people and especially the students of the school was the key to the Ware's decision to commit to the assignment. "The people are wonderful; they're good people, very warm. And the students are so eager to learn," commented Art.
In order to understand the type of environment that the Wares were entering, it's important to know something about Albania. It is a mountainous country, the size of Maryland, with a population of three million. The major industry is agriculture. It is an impoverished Balkan country bordering Greece, located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. Albania was for many years closed off from the world, under a tight Communist rule. The doors are open now, and the people have begun to rebuild and learn capitalism.
The Wares went to Albania knowing that the country was somewhat unstable, but once they arrived, they immersed themselves in their work. Both of them found their students filled with hope with a burning desire to learn, and the couple felt a true commitment to help in the rebuilding process.
Rumors that certain pyramid investments were about to collapse did not trouble the Wares initially, and when the first scheme did fall apart in December, there was no reaction from the people. Many Albanians were involved in one or more of these pyramids, having invested the little savings they had in these schemes. In February, after other pyramids began to collapse, it was the people in the south who first began to get vocal in demanding their money back. The initial uprisings were peaceful, and they soon spread, but were ignored by the government.
Later, troops were sent in, but the army and police refused to fight their own people and instead joined the masses. All law and order ceased, and with the munitions unguarded, people seized weapons, and the situation turned violent. The people were angry and confused, and with the loss of their money went the loss of their hope. The uprising became known as "The Days of Rage."
The Wares began to pay close attention to what was happening as they heard reports of the unrest nearing the capitol city of Tirana, where they were living. The tension grew; all schools were closed and an emergency curfew was imposed.
"We continued to teach, with gunfire in the background and went to the various homes to work with small groups of students," said Art. "We wanted to keep things going for as long as we could in whatever way we could."
On March 12, the Wares decided to purchase tickets to go to London on the 15th for a month with the hopes that in that time, the situation would cool off. Shortly after this, the airport and port were closed and the shooting intensified. Buildings were bombed or sprayed with gunfire with everyone huddled inside.
All along, the U.S. Embassy had informed Americans to stay put and obey the curfew. Thursday, March 13, the Wares, taking two bags with them, fled to the Austrian Hotel, three blocks from the Embassy, where many foreign nationals were holed up, as well as the press corps. There, they spent a sleepless night listening to the noise made by an Albanian tank and rebels in ski masks arguing in the streets below. Art witnessed the shooting of a guard at the gates to the hotel, while Eloise hid in the bathroom.
On Friday, with still no word from the U.S. Embassy, the Wares watched while the Brits and Italians were evacuated. Finally, they were told to get to the Embassy, and from there were taken to a compound area out of town to be evacuated. Amid heavy gunfire, armed helicopters took them to the USS Nassau in the Adriatic, and after a brief stay on board the craft, they were taken to southern Italy.
"The Marines and helicopter pilots who helped in the evacuation process were wonderful, so efficient and comforting," Eloise said.
The Wares spent three days in Rome, sleeping, eating, and trying to relax from the harrowing experience, before they embarked on their twenty-four hour trip back home. The couple are happy they are safe, but are very concerned about the Albanians they left behind, knowing that the people are trapped and most likely feel abandoned. The couple had just begun their work, only to have been forced to leave it abruptly.
Hopefully, if the situation calms down, Art will return in a few weeks with Pastor Beals and others to assess the conditions of the school and to let the Albanians know they haven't deserted them. "We have every intention of returning to complete our three year assignment," says Art. "The students need our support and encouragement," adds Eloise.
Both miss the people whom they've grown very close to in the few months they were there. They hope that in September, after Albania's elections, they can continue their work. Meanwhile, the nightmares continue and they know there is no way to escape them.