Saturday, June 04, 2005

Refugee from war in Kosovo graduates from police academy

Says he'll never forget the injustice he experienced in his native country
Saturday, June 4, 2005
News Staff Reporter
The family was ordered to leave everything behind and get on a train, from which they were dumped into a field with 200,000 other Albanians, some of whom didn't survive a week.

Goci, 24, is now an American citizen and Ann Arbor resident. But he'll never forget the injustice he experienced in his native country.

That's part of the reason Goci was one of 12 police officers who graduated on Friday from the Washtenaw Community College Public Service Training Police Academy.

"I really hate injustice," said Goci, who received awards for most improved physical fitness and highest academic achievement in his class. "And what better job than to work in a place where injustice is not allowed?"

Goci grew up in an educated family in Prishtina, the capitol of Kosovo. His life changed during the late 1990s, when a conflict between ethnic Albanians and Serbians erupted in Kosovo. When the Serbs shut down Albanian schools, Albanians secretly opened their own private schools in homes, he said. There were no tables or chairs or books. Students sat on the floor, taking notes.

For three years, Goci walked 90 minutes to school, and 90 minutes home.

"During the wintertime, it was very, very cold," he said. "It was hard, but I learned if you put a lot of effort into something, you can go through it."

His mother taught in one of the secret schools, for no money, for four years. She lived in constant fear that she would be discovered by Serbian police and beaten, Goci said. Meanwhile, his father continued to earn money as an artist, and family in Switzerland sent them money.

When Goci was just about to graduate, the conflict spread to his city, and the NATO bombing campaign began, with the U.S. bombing Serbia and the Serbian military around Kosovo.

"We were so tired of that life," he said, noting that he had been stopped by police many times. "When the first bomb hit Kosovo, that was a feeling that I can never describe. I was so happy that a change was coming. I felt when I heard the airplanes going over and my building was shaking, I felt an angel was above my building trying to save us."

But on April 1, 1999, police forced the family to the train station, where they were packed on board with others, taken to the border separating Macedonia and Kosovo and left in a field with about 200,000 other Albanians, Goci said. For eight days, they existed mostly on water, and not enough of it.

"It was raining, and I couldn't even sit anywhere," he recalled. "I hadn't slept for three days. I actually saw a lot of people passing out, and a lot of senior citizens dying from lack of water and food. In the night, they'd be freezing, and in the day, it was very sunny."

For eight days, the family searched for Goci's younger sister, who had been separated from the family on the first day, amid the crush of people in the streets.

Finally, Goci and his family were rescued by members of a family from Macedonia who invited them to their house. On that same day, they went to a postal office to call his father's brother in Switzerland, when his sister walked in with the same idea. All that time, she had been safe in a family's home.

"She was hysterical when she saw us, because she didn't know what was going on," Goci said.

Two months later, a cousin in Westland helped the family take advantage of a refugee program the U.S. had started. After staying with the cousin in Westland two months, the family moved to Ann Arbor because of educational opportunities.

Goci got a job as a hardware salesman at Sears.

"I didn't know the names of any of the tools," he said, laughing. "But I was there selling stuff."

One day about four years ago, while attending classes at Washtenaw Community College, he walked through a job fair and was impressed with the friendliness of two officers from the University of Michigan's Department of Public Safety.

He filled out an application and got a job as a parking officer for U-M. Then he got promoted to public safety officer after being trained at an in-house academy. A year later, he was selected to go through WCC's police academy, with the DPS picking up the tuition for the 19-week program.

Now that he's graduated, he'll advance from his job as a public safety officer, which is similar to a security officer, to a state-certified police officer. Although he's qualified to go anywhere, he's happy to stick with DPS, where he's worked for nearly five years.

Goci's diverse background and skills is valuable to U-M, said Bill Bess, director of U-M's Department of Public Safety.

"We're very proud to have him as an officer," said Bess, adding that Goci has demonstrated time after time that he has the qualities necessary for the job.

When he became an American citizen last year, two DPS officials showed up at the ceremony in Troy.

"They were waving at me," he said. Other new citizens asked if the officers were there to arrest him, Goci said. "They couldn't believe they'd drive all the way from Ann Arbor."

Goci, who is single, lives in an apartment in Ann Arbor and enjoys playing the guitar in his free time. After he takes a week off, he'll become one of 57 police officers with the DPS.

His extended family in Europe is far less excited about his new job than he is.

"They're very worried about me," he said with a laugh. "They watch a lot of American movies."

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