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By Martha Rial, Post-Gazette Staff Photographer

When the first images of the refugees fleeing Kosovo moved across the wire, I tried to imagine the uncertainty, the cold, the terror. I wanted to understand the complex history that could create the deep hatred that drove them from their homes. I hoped to learn more about the personal stories behind the sea of disoriented faces flooding Macedonia and Albania.

I finally got my opportunity.19990523mrTentT.jpg (7967 bytes)

During a two-week trip to northern Macedonia in May 1999, I met mothers desperate for information about their sons and daughters and elderly men so overwhelmed they could barely talk.

I met families who wanted to share their few scraps of food with me. I will never forget Sherife Maloku, the matriarch of the Maloku clan, tucking me in after she and her family opened up their tent to me for a night. In her rapid Albanian she told me not to be afraid and to call for her if I needed anything.

In another place and another time, it could have been a normal motherly gesture. It was just one of the startling ways that I saw refugees carve out a semblance of normalcy in their extraordinary circumstances. I tried to capture that spirit in the pictures that follow.

19990523mrDepartT.jpg (8235 bytes)An Enduring Spirit: Part one

An Enduring Spirit: Part two

An Enduring Spirit: Part three

Click photos for larger version and caption

rialpreferredmug.jpg (10870 bytes)Martha Rial, 37, has been a staff photographer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since 1994. Before joining the Post-Gazette, she was a staff photographer at the Fort Pierce Tribune in Fort Pierce, Fla., and the Journal Newspapers in Alexandria, Va.

Rial is a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Ohio University's School of Visual Communication.

Her awards include the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography for her African journal, Trek of Tears, which documented the plight of refugees from Rwanda and Burundi. Her work has also been recognized by the National Headliners and Scripps Howard Foundation.

She is a resident of Squirrel Hill.

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