Photo by: Korab Krasniqi
Stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo (4/10)
She has been separated from the crowd, just like many other women. The Serbian paramilitaries separated the most beautiful women and put them inside abandoned houses. For two and a half months she had been forced to live with a paramilitary. She does not know his name, but says she is still able to draw his face. While she was there, the paramilitary had kept her locked in the room. In other rooms there were other women being held like her. “At the beginning I resisted and then I gave up altogether,” says the victim. She tells how the Serbian paramilitary would even compliment her, while drinking the milk out of her breasts.
First Person Narration: You Albanian Women are Good
I come from a poor family. We were five children to our parents; two boys and three girls. I was the youngest. When I was three years old, my father died, and our mother raised us on her own. She would make handcrafts and sell them. It was very tough for her. I did my elementary school up to the eighth grade. I was a really good student, but mother could not really support us for any more schooling. I did finish and enrolled for the secondary school but could not go due to family circumstances. When I turned 18, they promised me to a man. I didn’t want to marry him, because I was very young and he was about 40.
I got on well with my brothers and my sisters. Me and my youngest brother really liked going to school. He was two years older than me. At the time they would support boys to get schooled, but not girls as much. They also supported him by buying clothes for him, although I was more skillful and smarter. My grades were always As and Bs. I had no notebooks and would always ask my friends to give me some sheets from theirs. The friends were saying, “We’ll give you sheets, just you be a good student and study with us.” I didn’t have a school bag, no books, and that’s why I was always shy because we were poor. And I helped mother for all of her needs. We had some land, a cow, animals, chicken, but we had no money. No clothes and no money, but I never wanted to abandon school. I had nothing to wear to go there. I had no footwear either. I went to school in spite of all that, and I did pass the final exam but could not continue any further.
My mother was a very capable woman. To this day people speak highly of her when they mention her. My brothers were skilled, but they grew up shy, withdrawn, the way we all were. I was really talented, and I believe I could have reached even higher and even be part of the government, who knows. My mother lived for another two years after I got married. She died when I turned 20. I would work alongside my mother, helped her with housework and with her handcrafts. And then people would ask her to marry me off to them. She would receive offers. My mother could not really decide, as many people got interested. They’d say “We should have her, as she is hardworking and a good girl.” Then mom went and found this 40-year-old man who had been married once, but his wife had died. I was not told about it at all. They came one evening, had a talk with my mom. She started to convince me, “It’s better if you marry, he is rich, he will support you.” I was young, and I got convinced. In the end this husband-to-be said, “I will find her a job, and will school her.” Long story short, they engaged me to him. After three months we got married. He was 40, I was 18. I had prepared a lot of handcrafts for my life after marriage. Even to this day, I do all sorts of handcrafts.
The night before marriage we had the girls goodbye party. The girls came together. They would present me with a handkerchief to, like, cry. The next day they would come to congratulate. My husband brought the henna powder. Then my older sister held my arms… You had to put your hands against a rock. They did my fingers with red henna. You were not obliged to cry for parting from your family, but when relatives and friends came, I cried.
On Sunday morning a woman started preparing me for the wedding. There were no hairdressers at the time in the village, so an older woman would come and help you make up, dress up, put on the wedding dress.
After a year my daughter was born. Then I had a son and then another daughter. All three of them came one after another.
I got on very well with my husband. I was pleased that he advised me really well. My husband is a good man. He is a smart man. And he has been, thank God, very smart, noble, capable, skilled, although he was much older. I never had any problems with him.
We got on very well together. And his mother was very good to me. I loved her very much, his sister too. I got on very well with them. Even today, her children call me ‘mom’, because I helped her raise them as I did my own. A very pleasant family, loving and dear. We never had any issues among us. I also always made sure to meet the requests of my husband.
The births were all timely. I gave birth to my daughters at home, while my son I delivered in hospital. My son was delivered in hospital for safety reasons, otherwise I would give birth at home. My daughters I delivered at home, in evenings.
I used to work all day, I even helped my husband mix the cement. When he would come home at 10 p.m. I would cook dinner. There were many people in the household. We would make four large pans because the sisters-in-law would come and the family would be bigger. When I’d have pains, I would hold on to the furniture. I would try to hold on to something. I’d remain like that until it went away. Then I would continue to make the pastry.
I was making dinner that night, a pumpkin pie, I remember to this day. I had turned on the fire of the wood oven to make it ready for the bake. I found it hardest to cut the wood, because I would cut the wood for the oven. I would use the axe. My husband would say, “You don’t know how to use the saw.” I’d say, “I’ve never used it”, and I learned then how to cut wood using a wedge. I would make a wedge with an axe, then I would hit the wedge and the wood would cut.
So I put the four pans to bake, and we had dinner. My mother-in-law came and said, “You ate so much, you ate half of that pan, you will not give birth tonight.” “Oh well,” I said, as I didn’t want to oppose her. I was very quiet and obedient, and I am like that to this day. When the sister-in-law went to her room to sleep, my mother-in-law went to watch TV on the other room, which is at the end of the yard. My pains started, but I still cleaned up. I was quite hardworking. I prepared the raiser to cut the baby’s cord when it gets delivered, and some red thread. The thread had to be red. I also put a blanket on the side next to me. I put a plastic bag under the blanket for safety, I set on both knees, I pressed my stomach with both my hands and it came out. I was totally on my own. Nobody else was there, even after 20 minutes had passed. So I came closer to the door, I opened it up, I was still on my knees over the baby. I called and called but nobody came. It was 11 p.m. My husband’s niece was in the living room with my mother-in-law and then came and saw I had given birth. My mother-in-law could not believe, as she had said I would not give birth that night. My husband came, they tended to me, I then wrapped my baby and held her by my side and fell asleep. Before though, my mother-in-law asked, “What do we do now?” I knew what I was to do. I tied her cord with a red thread and then I cut it. And I took my sweater and put it on, I put on my underwear, and I stood up. I took my baby and washed it. I had a wood stove, I put a pot of water to heat on the stove and then had warm water to wash the baby with. I washed the baby, put her to sleep. Then went to the kitchen to fetch some milk. I washed my hands carefully. I boiled the milk, and drank a glass of it. I tried to breastfeed my baby but she would not suck any milk. I waited until the morning to try again. I worried that she might die, I didn’t sleep well that night. I had cut the cord slightly long. I cut it again, and cleaned it up. My mother used to be very skilled and a good housewife. I learned things from her. I woke up in the morning, washed my eyes and hands, made some breakfast, I made the dough ready for the bread. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law were asleep in other rooms. They do not get up until 9 or 10 a.m. I gave birth to two children at home, but they took me to hospital for one birth. They took me in the evening due to my breast. I had a lot of milk.
I have been always very careful with the children. I would never let them wake up before me. I prepared everything, their clothes, their food. Even if they found thrown clothes somewhere, I would make sure I washed them, fix what needed to be fixed on them. Other children would even envy them for those clothes. I would fix that garment and they would wear it. I even remember, a neighbor of my oldest daughter went and asked her to loan her a sweater and wore it. She had tried on that sweater once, so she came back for it.
My daughter would go and look after the cow when it was outside. She once saw the neighbor throw away old clothes. She recognized her sweater. It had been torn, a mouse had probably eaten some of it and made a hole. My daughter picked it up and brought it to me. I put it down on washing powder and washed it so many times, I made it brand new. I also made sure I closed the hole. On Monday my girl could wear it to school.
The neighbor girl then came to her and asked if she could borrow the sweater again. And my daughter has always been very withdrawn and... She goes to my daughter “I want to go to a wedding; will you lend me that sweater?”
My girl has worn that sweater for four years and she went to school and even finished school with that torn old sweater. You couldn’t see it was torn as I had really fixed it well, I had patched it, made it look like it had a flower there. I took it off a jacket to put it on that sweater.
With my husband we raised three children together. It was hard, as we were poor, but we faced all of the challenges together. But the situation started to get worse in general just before the war. It was a really difficult time. We would just sit and listen to what is going on, what is being said. Before, when the Serbs where in Kosova, it was very difficult. We have lived close to them and suffered a hell from them. They would poison our students as they were in the classrooms. Then they started to go on the young boys, for a word they wrote on the black board they would take them, beat them up. We did not dare walk the streets, everything was limited. It got worse and worse during the 1990s, until it broke out.
They mistreated my husband on the day of Eid. They came before him as he was going to the mosque. They said to him, “If you want to go to the mosque, each must pay 10 DM.” And they were several friends going on a tractor together, and they had to come off it, collect the money between them, so they collected about 200 DM. Our men went to the mosque to pray for the Eid and came back. On their way back they were stopped and robbed again.
The day the war broke out, you could hear the firearms and see the flames. They were shooting in my home village and we were all afraid. We would go to each other; we’d see what was going on. When it turned dark, they started to loot the houses, set them on fire, kill the livestock and people. You would hear people saying that so and so was killed, and we then thought it was best to leave house and run away. The entire village people assembled and we decided to go towards the mountains collectively.
Two attacks we witnessed. Twice did we leave our homes, and twice did we return. First time it was during the winter. When we left for the second time, it was spring 1999. We went through such hell. We ran away to our village but the police came and picked us up. We were about 1500 women or even more. We were only women, children and the elderly.
They selected all of the good healthy women, all of the young girls, and took them to another village. They took them and to this day we don’t know where some of them are. Some ran away, some have died, some have been lost…
We were in the crowd. They would take you, grab your arm and put you inside the house. One by one like that. They were around the houses with their police cars. I was among the women. I have been locked in a room for 22 days. 22 days inside a room. They separated me from my family and then I saw hell with my eyes. I was locked in a room without any windows. If I were to see those men again I would recognize them. But I don’t know their names. They were careful and never used them in our presence. The man would come in the evening and stay inside with me until morning. He would leave in the morning and return in the evening. That went on for 22 days.
They had red ribbons tied on their shoulders, and wore black hats. They were dressed in black. They were armed, carried a short automatic rifle. To this day I remember the face. I can draw the man. It was always the same man. He would come in the evenings and leave in the morning. It was terrible. It would have been easier to die. Death does not compare to it. You could see death around you, but you could not die. And you couldn’t kill yourself. I tried but I couldn’t. I was totally naked, and he hit me and kicked me. My entire body was covered in bruises. Two years it took me to recover from the injuries and the bites. In the beginning I resisted a lot, then I was too weak to even try. He would give me injections; they would bring me food to eat. Him, the Serb himself brought it for me. In the evenings he would bring a man and he would give me the injection. They would not talk to me. They spoke to each other. In Serbian, but I understood it all.
It was a house. A guest room in a house. There were other women in other rooms. Many. You could hear them scream from the other rooms. There were older women, young girls. It was terrible. We were isolated in the middle of the forest. Nobody heard or saw us apart from God. We had surrendered totally until the day came for them to release us. But they never told us anything. They left us there and the tanks just moved away. We knew nothing. It just went completely silent. No more noises, vehicles or anything. I managed to open a window and jumped down from it. And then I ran away, walked and walked, until I was so tired that I had to lay down on the field to rest. Two guys approached. I know them, and I am very thankful to them. They asked, “What’s wrong? Are you wounded?” I said, “Yes, I am wounded, I am sick.” “Who brought you here?” they asked. I asked if they could give me some water. They went and found water somewhere in a nearby village. Then they told me about what was going on and how people are moving. They said the tanks moved away and they could approach. They found a carriage and a horse and they put me on that carriage that the horse was pulling. They took me home. There they helped me wash and dress up, and they gave me some food. Two women were there and asked me who I was and who my family was. Then one of the man notified my husband and he came with a tractor and picked me up.
An Italian organization came next morning to check on me. They said I was too ill to remain there and that I had to be taken to a proper medical facility. I had lost so much weight, I was all skin and bones. My husband had found the children and brought them home. My son was injured on his leg from a bomb shell. They had thought that I was killed. After I arrived the children came. I was so weak that I couldn’t even lift an arm. That organization helped me and took me to hospital, and I stayed there for four or five days. I received transfusions every single day there. I was in the Peja hospital. The hospitalization helped a lot. I started to gain strength. I could even get up and sit down, all on my own. They had put some medicine all over my body, because I had been covered in bruises. They would rub it on my arms and back and legs. Then I had an operation in my private parts due to the bad infection. Half of it is now removed. That’s what made me experience all the trauma. I would never dare go out in the dark. I would not be able to bake bread. My children took care of me once I came back home. They made food for me. I could hardly do anything for about four years. Then I started to gradually gain strength. I tried to hang myself twice. Once I drank the Domestos bleach, but my children came nearby so I didn’t have much. I couldn’t when I saw them. I just wanted to die. I just didn’t want to be alive any more. They rushed me to hospital. I spent a month and a bit more there. I have problems with my stomach to this very day.
Back in the house where I was held, there were other women. But we could not talk to each other. We were locked separately in different rooms. They would lock us and take the key. “You stay there,” he would say. The same person every day.
Each one of them had his own slave woman. They would choose the one they liked, and then locked them in the rooms. There were quite a few of them. They would bring some food in the morning, they brought goulash, bread. I had troubles sleeping. I was too afraid to sleep. I could not sleep at all. I have problems with my sleep to this day. I would put some salt and then I would drink a glass of water trying to sleep. But I couldn’t sleep. All that violence. He would come in the evening and assault me until morning. May God save you from experiencing what we have. He’d rape me forcefully until I was so tired that I couldn’t get up on my feet. I can’t even describe it. It would last maybe 20 to 30 minutes. And then again, and again and again. It would happen up two, three or four times before morning... In the morning he would go out, I have no idea where they went, then he would be back.
He was about 30 years old. He would always say good things. He would say, “You Albanian women are nice, you are sweet. Your breast milk is sweet.” I was still breastfeeding my son. He would suck my milk. We have gone through terrible hell. I don’t know how some people can sit comfortably in their posts, and not bother at all about our sufferings. How can they sit comfortably? How can they sit for just one day without thinking about providing some assistance for us? I might be suffering for a loaf of bread for example. And who can he sit in his office and get a 200-euro salary a month without caring about the horror I have been through?
After the war, life was very hard. I knocked on so many doors for help. I never found any help apart from here at KRCT. I begged everyone, every association, I asked for help everywhere, I told them all the truth. I even have witnesses, my husband is my witness, my friends who will tell you about this are my witnesses. Maybe I cannot really explain things the best way. I have a friend who will tell things in a clearer way and explain what we went through.
I told my husband later. My husband saw me when they took me. He was in the mountains, looking at us from there. He said, “You have my support. I could not do anything to help you. I even saw when they took you and I did nothing to help you. I need to support you in every way possible.” And he does.
I started to talk. I spoke to my friends, then spoke to the association. Before I started to speak I was much worse. I remained silent for about four years. I did not even tell my husband. He knew about it, but I simply could not tell him. I was reluctant, and did not speak to anyone. Everyone would say “She is sick!”’ And that bothered me, as I was not sick. That was really difficult to stomach. But what was I to do? Things had happened without me choosing them.
This story is part of "I want to be heard: Memory book with stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo", powered by forumZFD and Integra in collaboration with KRCT - The Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims, and supported by German Federal Ministry for Cooperation and Economic Development, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and UN Women.