Photo by: Korab Krasniqi
Stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo (8/10)
He Did Not Take Me to Germany
Her dream of education was interrupted. Once married she understood that the man she would spend her life with, was an alcoholic. Then he would go to Germany to leave her with five children in extreme poverty.
This woman walked from one village to the other. From one house to another. She has experienced sexual violence and saw her children cry while asking for normality to be restored.
First Person Narration: I kept Thinking of the Barn with the Cow and the Calf
I don’t really recall much from my childhood… My dream was interrupted before it even started.
I have two sisters, graduated, older than me. When I was supposed to go for higher education, the situation got very tense and we would have to go through private houses in an underground school, so I had to interrupt it, though it has always been my dream. To this day, if I get a paper or a book, I like to leaf threw it and see what it is about.
I got married while very young, at 18. I had finished my secondary school. My mother said “Don’t wait my girl. You’re not going to school, so it is better if you get married. Get on with your life.” So I did marry. We met after someone suggested him. We did not get on that well. I did not choose him myself.
The marriage was a real hell for me. First day of marriage, my husband is drunk. He is an alcoholic. I would silently hope he would get better. He would always come home late, drunk, causing problems to me, his parents, his entire family. He could not befriend anyone; he would not have good relations with anyone. Initially I wanted to leave him. I thought I’d better go back to my parents, because I saw that there is no future with him. But my mom would say, “Maybe he will improve once there is a child. He has good parents. He is not a bad person.” So I stayed. Our first child was born. After a year and a month. The first child was a boy. In the early days I saw he was quite happy, it looked like he was closer, but no.
In a household with two old people, unemployed, an unemployed sister-in-law, a brother-in-law who worked as a teacher. But why would he take care of us? He had his own family to care for. Not to mention the baby. He was engaging in those early days, and tried to be of help. But with him unemployed, we had nothing to eat. What was I to feed my baby with? My breast would produce no milk, as I was underfed. The boy would cry all night long. There was no food.
Three months after my son was born I went back home. I said I could not go back. I cannot live there. I had no future. I was simply blocked. I would just cry and cry. My life had changed so quickly and drastically. I was a quiet girl, in a good family, and had to go to a household full of noise, where I felt no love. I stayed at my parent’s for three weeks.
My father came to get me. I was so happy when I saw him. I came out crying. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “Why have you come here,” I asked. He said he had come to pick me up because he was about to go to a trip. My father would work and go on business trips in Belgrade. He said, “While I am away I want you to stay with your mother. She wants to see the boy too.” They both really loved my son. And my mother-in-law, knowing I was sad, offered to wash the boy for me, so I don’t take him unwashed. But I refused. I entered my father’s car and we set off. I spoke to my father on the way home. I said, “I’ve had enough dad. I can’t take it anymore. I have no other choice, there is no hope there. You saw it with your own eyes. My husband goes missing for a whole week. And I have no idea where he is. I don’t know what to feed my son with.” He said, “Well my girl, if there is nothing else you can do, leave him. Just leave him.”
My husband’s family sent me a message saying they would not leave my son to me. I would cry all night long thinking about it. I would feel sorrier for him then myself.
It felt like he was begging me each time he looked at me. I could not turn my back to him. I spent three weeks at my father’s house (cries). Then the oldest brother-in-law came. He is dead now. He was a good man, educated, very soft spoken. I loved him as a parent. I still feel sorry when I think he no longer lives. He said, “I know he has pushed it beyond every possible limit, but don’t abandon your son. We will try. You know I speak to him a lot. I feel so sorry about you but what can we do?” So I went back. The day I went back, he started his same old tune. Again, life was just a bit harder and that was it.
He would become more and more aggressive. He was constantly drunk. I was trying to talk sense into him. I would say, “Look at your boy!” “What is it you don’t like about us?”, he would ask. “Everything.” I was there just as a servant to him. So that people know he is married, so that I fill in that wife position, and that’s it.
Then after a year and a half I got pregnant again. I wanted to go and abort the child. I went to “Nanë Tereza” NGO who provided free of charge services. I went there and a woman asked, “Why are you aborting it? You already have a son. I am trying to get pregnant for years, but cannot. You are young, but later you will regret this.” She convinced me so I went back.
He would not care at all about what was going on. He would come home late, drunk. He would vomit on the carpet in the room. I would have to get up and clean it. He would leave early in the morning; you would wonder why would he have to rush that way. Why can’t he be home? I would spend my days with the children, the housework. And after my second child was born I decided that I would suffer just to raise them, and would not care about what he does. There was no going back. My third child was born, and then my fourth and my fifth. My life became more difficult than ever. He would become more and more aggressive. After my third child was born, we were put in one room. Me and the baby. They were hoping he would find a job and work. They would try to find ways to encourage him to work. His family are really good people. Educated people. But he is like a black sheep. So they tried to encourage him to work.
So they gave us separate rooms. I had no running water in the room, we would have to carry some to wash the baby.
We had no bathroom. We would often go to sleep without having any dinner at all. I would get up, and could not sleep all night. I would wonder what I could make for breakfast. If I would complain, he would say “If you like it here, stay. If you don’t, leave the kids and go.” But who would I leave my kids to? “Leave them, I’ll look after them.” I would say, “Why don’t you look after them right now? How can I leave them to you?” He never wanted to cooperate and team up with me, not once. I have been married for 30 years now, and still have no marriage certificate.
He would say, “I will go to Germany, and get a marriage certificate there. Once I sort myself out there, I come to get you and the children.” And being young, unexperienced, at times I even believed him. Nothing happened.
The children are raised like this, among noise, fights... We never had a quiet sleep. On those days when he’d be late, he would come at four or five a.m. We would know he was drinking. When he’d come, he would wake us up. The children would cry. He would kick us out. The neighbors would wake up and come...
I would hardly find any books for the children. But I have always spoken to them and told them that it was my dream and that I wanted to be there to educate them. And thank God my children did not disappoint me in life. They got schooled, they are good kids, they are soft spoken and people envy them.
On 24 March 1999. We were so happy. We thought it was for the better. NATO started to bomb and will stop the war. But the war got worse. A police check point was close to us. There were shootings there every night. We could not sleep from the shooting. We would go to bed in our clothes, and woke up clothed. We were thinking they would kill us any day. My husband had gone to Germany and said he would take me there if I sorted out my papers. But how was I to sort my papers, we had no marriage certificate, I had not ID card, not even with my maiden name.
In April they came to clear the entire village and get us out of here. We saw others get away, so we came out too. I got on a neighbor’s tractor. We got my mother-in-law too. We did not have much food. Everyone had taken a bit of food. I had packed some for the children. We took what we had. We set off and stopped in a village were some relatives lived.
It was April. They had burnt down a village and massacre the local people. They had killed many people. You could see the some from the distance. We knew where it was coming from. We did not know what exactly was going on. God alone knows what has happened there.
I ask my brother-in-law to take me to my father’s. I said, set me on the right track. Maybe someone will offer if they are going that way. Because people were boarding the train It was full of people. He agreed to come with me. He had found someone with a carriage pulled by horses to take us there.
That man took us to the entrance of the city. He left us there because he was afraid to go any further. And we wanted to go walking thinking nobody would stop us. Then some soldiers stopped us. They were dressed in uniforms. We stopped on their order. They stopped us from a distance, about 200 meters and then started to run towards us. When they came they asked for our ID cards. They stopped us there for a while. The children were afraid. They were crying and screaming. It was very hot. We were thirsty for water. And they said, “Go!” they were swearing at us, saying, “Go to Albania, where you belong. This is Serbia.”
So we walked and our children walked. We were alone in the street. There was no movement then at all. Only the Serbs forces were moving. There was no other movement.
On our way we see a bar in the street full of Serbs. I was afraid they might kill my brother-in-law and rape me and I said we better head off to the mountains because we were walking right into the dragon’s lair.
There is a huge mountainous area there. It is full of oak trees. We walked through that mountain and came across a good Serbian man. He welcomed us. He got my daughter and I held my boy, and he said to me to ask the children not to be afraid. And I forgot to mention something I will not forget for as long as I shall live. On our way we passed by a school, and the children were so happy, they asked us to go inside. They were hoping to find other children there.
I felt so emotional. They were missing school, going to school and meeting other children. I never forget that. Each time I pass by that school, my eyes wet from tears.
And that Serbian man helped us a lot. He was a positive character. He spoke softly and made me lose my fear for a while. And he saw us through the village, carrying my daughter in his arms. In the village, the Serbs were chanting war songs. Even their children were wearing army vests. They behaved like mad. A man approached and attacked my brother-in-law. The children started to scream. The man who was accompanying us, said to him, “Back off. These people are with me.” And we entered their village. We saw an old Serbian woman. We asked us to give us some water.
So we went to my parent’s village. I saw my mother, my brother. I was happy they were alive. They had food. We gave some to the children and ate the rest. We all ate and drank enough. A cousin of ours came and asked us to go and sleep over at his place because his house was more towards the center of the village.
But at that point I no longer cared what they would do. When I saw my parents and my brother, I thought the whole world was mine.
We went at our cousin’s that night and slept there until Sunday. It was April 18th on Sunday. A Serbian commander came to the village. He said to our cousin that we could sleep in our own houses and that nobody would touch us.
And my father goes, “Let’s go back home and do as they say.” We were so happy; I can’t describe it. I thought I would have more sleep in my father’s house, because we were so many in there as guests. I felt intimidated, and thought I was bothering them with five children. We slept there for the last time… we always slept fully clothed, with our jackets and trousers. And it was March and April. It would get either too cold, and started to rain, or it would be too hot. Just before dawn we heard the shooting. The children were all asleep but I heard them because I could not sleep all night form fear. My mother entered the room and said, “Pick up your children for they are setting fire to the houses.”
The entire village population assembled in the village center.
They came and started to separate the men.
They would just point their finger. They killed a cousin that day. He was holding his son. He got up once, but then sat down with his boy. The Serb yelled at him, “Did I not ask you to get up?” He stood up again and looked at his children. And when they asked my brother to move… dear God. And my father, him they had taken before he managed to get there. We did not see our father. At least I didn’t. When they took our brother he would not stop looking at us. Dear God. I would look at my mother, and then my brother, terrified. He would look at us and then look at his children. I felt like he wanted to tell me something with his looks. I looked at my mother, felt terrible to see her like that. She did not shed a single tear. She stood there like frozen, looking on. They said, “You move!” “Where are you taking our men?” I asked. They said, “We will soon let them go. Be in your way!” They swore at us. The houses were burning, and noises of things burning and smashing were being heard. So we set off to go. As we were walking, someone said, “They have released the men!” And I felt so happy, so happy. I saw some of the men return, but those who were 40 or younger were kept. I could not see my father. And an hour later or so, they sent us back to the village. They said “You will have to return!” I was on a tractor with some neighbors when we returned. People were crying as they had learned what had happened. They took them to a yard in the village, and they had killed four of our men there. I saw my father. It was the first time I saw my father cry. I asked him if he knew where my brother was. “My girl, they killed your brother,” he told me. “What on Earth are you saying dad? Is it true?” “Yes, my girl.” My children would not stop crying. I was trying to calm them down. “No, they haven’t killed your uncle. He is alive.” “Stay close to your mother, and don’t go astray,” I said. I was afraid I might lose them. If your children got lost, you would not find them anymore. They ordered us to go away, and I told my children to stay close to me. They have always been polite and understanding. They have always listened to me. When I washed them, they never cried.
I started to move towards the yard where they said the corpses were. A cousin of mine came and asked where I was going. I said I wanted to see the corpse of my brother. He told me he had wrapped those bodies in sheets with his own hands, and that my brother was not among them.
I went back to my children and then the Serbs returned. They were totally mad. What a nightmare. Dear God. And they surrounded us all.
They ordered us to leave. “None of you here. This is Serbia!” and they would swear at us... So we set off, they take us to the market place. When we started to get on tractor they asked “Are there any men among you?” I said, “No” because I could speak some Serbian. “No, I only saw women.” They took all of the valuable possessions we had. A neighbor woman’s ear was bleeding. They had torn the earring off her.
Once we got there they asked us to return to our village. So we came back. It was burning in flames. Fire everywhere. They had assembled all the carriages and set them on fire. I separated from the rest of my family. My father left me with a Roma family, who were neighbors. They welcomed me and treated me with respect. I will never forget that. I have also instructed my children to make sure that family is duly rewarded.
A cousin came and asked me and the lady of the household if we could milk the cows and take the milk to the men in the mountain who had hid there and had nothing to eat.
I did not sleep all night. I started thinking about the cow and the calf, I knew it was the barn of our cousins. Even we would go and get milk from them at times. I was always attacked by that barn somehow. The entire night the calf and the cow were making loud noises. The calf had remained inside and the cow outside the barn. Or maybe it was the other way round. Maybe the calf was tied inside and the cow was released to eat grass outside. The whole night it seemed like I was opening the door of that barn and I let them be together so that they can calm down. That’s what I was dreaming about. In the morning, the household lady gave me some of her garments to wear. I thought if I put on the scarf like her, the Serbs would not know I was Albanian, so I set off for the barn. The lady made some bread and said she would come with me.
“Let us milk the cows and bake the bread so we can send some fresh bread and milk to our men. At least let them eat something.” So we set off for the barn. I had not milked cows before. I didn’t know how.
“I will milk the cows and you go pick some eggs among the chicken,” she said. I left the eggs, and crossed the street to make sure I unite the cow with the calf, as I was fixed to do that, as the cow would not stop. So I crossed the street. When I opened the door, there were two guys inside. They started to move towards me quickly. “My God, my God, what is going on?” They grabbed me, I had no idea who they were, I was stunned, couldn’t move. They grabbed me and took me inside. One of them was wearing a uniform. They were both frightening and very scary. They were very dirty. One of them smelled horribly. I had not come across such a filthy man before. He smelled of alcohol and sweat. He was dark and a bit on the fat side. Filthy. The other one I heard speaking Russian, and I am pretty sure he was Russian. He was blond, light skinned, quite big and had lost most of his hair. They put me inside the barn and then ordered me in Serbian “Take off your clothes!” I understand Serbian, I had learned it. I begged them as much as I could in Serbian and Albanian. I begged and begged. “Come on. Take it all off!” Dear God. It is turning 17, now 18 years ever since. I will never forget that in my life. I so often recall that day. Whatever I see, it makes me think of that filthy man.
One of them started to rape me and asked the other one to join in. And the other one then started to rape me from behind, you know? I was disgusted, I vomited and pushed them. They hit me and beat me up. I don’t recall the rest. I had fainted. I don’t know what happened. When I awoke, I saw those two men again. Luckily someone called them. They were using some walkie-talkies. Someone was talking to them and telling them something, I heard the voice go “quickly, quickly” to them. One of them says, “Get up!”, to me. He hits me on my side, the left one here, and it aches to this very day. It is the weakest point in my body now. He hit me hard because he was wearing boots and they were hard. I said. “Are you letting me go?” He said, “No, no, no. Who is letting you go? You are coming with us!” Oh my God, oh my God, when he said “You will come with us”, I thought “oh my God, You alone know why I chose to come here in the first place.” I had come to make the cow and calf reunite. Oh dear God, please don’t separate me from my children.
I thought, as I am not really alive anymore, let them at least kill me while I run away. That’s much better then dying slowly. So I dressed up because they ordered me to. I put my scarf on my head and all.
I said, “I need to go. I have five children to take care of.” They said “Oh you can have more children with us. Didn’t you see? As many children as you want.” And then I decided, there is a narrow passage, you might see it yourself, and I sometimes think, maybe God himself made sure that it be curved like that, it has this turn, and it is narrow. The barn is right there and then there are some pillars. So I took a deep breath, and I thought to myself, maybe they will kill me, but at least I will not be their slave again and experience what I did. He yelled “stop” but I ran away, and once turned back to see if they were chasing me. The Russian guy was pushing the arm away from the other guy’s hand. He would call this other guy Ziko. I remember that name.
So I started to run as fast as I could. I ran and ran, maybe for an hour or so. It felt like a century.
I met the neighbor man and we went with his wife to milk the cows. “Did you pick up the eggs? What kept you?” His farm was huge, barns and livestock and houses all in one yard. “No, I don’t know where to find any eggs.” I know that the buckets with milk were in front of them I had run like crazy. Not walked. I had run. I felt so filthy. I wanted to clean myself. To get that thing out of my body. It felt like there was so much filth inside my body. When I went to my children, I did not feel like hugging them. I’d say to them, “Don’t hug me. I’m dirty. I’ve milked the cows.” I did not dare embrace my children with all that filth on me. With the smell and the… of that filthy man on me. They had no idea. I took a bath. After I did, I hugged my children. It felt like the world was mine.
And we were listening to the news. The Roma family was not listening to the news, but they would listen to them for my sake. And as I was listening to the news, I learned that my brother was alive.” Oh God, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. And we all screamed from joy, “Our uncle is alive!”
From that day on I was restless. I thought I better go to the mountain and meet my parents. The neighbors had taken care of me long enough.
I will never forget that family. I went once to visit them after the war. Once I met them in the market, my daughter was working so I went to the market for some groceries, and met the woman of the household and I bought some things for her. And we had coffee together, but I was afraid they might tell me “Why are you staying with the Roma?” you know, immediately after the war. My God, what a god family they were, how well behaved their children were. I envy that woman, how nice and kind their children were. Excellent. So from that moment on, I picked up my clothes, and went and found my family in the mountain and spend the days with them.
And the war ended, it was June 10.
My husband had been told that we were dead. Me and the children and my father and the whole family. They had confused my father’s name with that of another man in our village. And true, the other man and his family were all dead. All killed. My husband had lost his mind. But I was crying on the phone and telling him that all of the children were alive.
So life went on. At the end of 1999, my husband returned from Germany. I would say to him, “Take us with you,” as he had made some money there. I was begging him to take us all to Germany. And when he came here, the children were happy. He had brought them clothes from Germany, food. He brought some money too. I would wake up at night and observe him. He looked so much better. And I felt like the world was mine, I felt like my life was finally taking a turn for the better. My children managed to get out of the war alive, my family too, in spite of the poverty and all. But I felt a sort of joy in my house at last. We had a good couple of months. He would not go to drink till late, but then his friends started to come and pick him up.
He started to go back to his old habits, and spent the money he had made.
Then I started to work myself. I worked for a good year and a half. But every April I start feeling weak. I remember the rape. I felt so weak for not being able to talk about it, raise my voice and speak. At times I’d think that I will speak up, let my husband think what he wants of it. But then I’d think of my children, and how that might destroy their lives, how their friends would look differently at them. And maybe even my children would be shocked by the news. So I would close that door. I felt like I was powerless, and could not do anything for myself. Why not tell what has happened? Why try to hide away?
Now when I look at my children and see how well behaved they are, how clever they are, how nice…. I am reaching the peak of what I want to do, but no. Not yet. I have built this house and I know I am in debts for I have taken a loan. But when I think of it, I know it is my own work and that of my children.
But memories haunt me. It accumulated and felt like a volcano inside me that cannot erupt. I would write it down in a diary, like I write poetry, but I feared my husband or children would see it.
In my dream those two men appeared in masks and were saying to me, “You don’t know us.” And what bothers me most is that they say, “We’ve done nothing to you compared to what we did to your friend.” I don’t know who that friend is. I don’t have a raped friend, and I know I haven’t told anyone.
Maybe I will not live much longer, but other women were younger and had to go through all that. I would like to see that they get some sort of a support. If I could do something, I would do it for my friends, women who have suffered what I have. If I had some power and could do something, I would do something for those women.
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.