Photo by: Korab Krasniqi
Stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo (9/10)
I Never Wanted to Enter that Place
She had accomplished one of the goals in her life. She could not get an education, but kept dreaming about it. She had married in the city, which had been a goal in itself.
She lived happily until the war broke out.
In an effort to find food, she had gone out on the streets of one of the cities of Kosova. She was kidnapped and held for hours in a cafe by Serbian paramilitaries.
First Person Narration: Thank God I Came Out Alive
I am a joyful person, yet sometimes I am a bit upset, I know. When I get upset, I cannot get beyond it without taking my medication to calm me down. Other times I am calm, but I feel, I always feel that I could not do what I wanted to do. I wanted to become somebody, but now my time is gone. A person needs to do that, you know. So as not to rely on anyone. Not from your husband, or anyone else.
I never wanted to depend on anyone. I always wanted to be my own self. Even as a child. I was a clever child. I was special, and always did special things.
I always enjoyed reading, and enjoyed buying books more than clothes. When I’d receive books, I’d get very happy. Clothes would get old and tear, the book would remain. I used to like learning poems by heart.
I always dreamed of school. Even after I married, I used to dream that I have gone back to school and continued my education. But at that time we would only do the elementary education.
When they said I could not continue to further education, I felt horrible. But I still hoped, always kept a hope, thinking that maybe we’d move to the city and they would let me go to school.
Maybe there are people who quickly lose hope. I never lose hope. I always try to leave an open door so as to be able to do something even later on.
I’d go places with my father. I would always go places with my father. Wherever I went, it was with my father. I knew about men’s interests more than about the women’s ones. I have worked, carried, driven. Just like men do. And everyone would go, “Is that a guy or a girl?” They could not guess. I had so much will, and willfully helped my father. I did most of the men’s jobs that are not the most tiring. Women’s work, you do it all day, and afterwards you look back and see you need to redo everything, as you constantly need to wash and clean. It never ends. And men’s work, you do it, and you know what you’re doing and why.
When I was a fully grown up girl we came to the city. I would mostly stay indoors in the city. We’d go with my cousins and spend nights together. We’d play and dance and sing. We did not think much about life at the time. We only cared about having fun, getting together and enjoying life. And I will never forget that time of my life.
I always think that was a better time, because I was young then. I believe the youngsters still think the way we used to. Everyone knows their own generation, and they like it, and everyone thinks of the young days as being better.
When you look at the facts of life, it was not better then. How could it be? (smiles) There was no electricity in villages, it was terrible in fact. People were living like in prehistoric times.
They didn’t care much about people then. They’d show more love and care to animals. They did not care about children. They would have many children, and not care about the individual fate of each one of them. They would get sick, and could even die, as they would not really take them to the doctor.
They’d say, “She will get better.” They did not care much. Only when they’d see the child is not getting any better and could not even get up, then they would think of taking her to the doctor. Things were perhaps really more organic. And they had enough to eat.
Those who had milk, would make dairy products and produce cheese, and cream and… Because having cheese is good, but some didn’t even have cheese. They would slaughter an animal, and have meet. The dairy they kept for the guests.
We were kids and we’d ask our grandfather, “How was it in your youth?” He would tell us that Albania had included Kosova at that time. But gradually, they took off lands and grails from them as Albania was made to withdraw. Like now when they ask you to pay property tax. The state took everything then. He’d say, “You needed to milk the cows, and give it gradually. Albania had command over the whole territory.” It looks to me like those times are going to return. They have entered gradually. They entered as leaders, as deputies, slowly. And I watch the TV and recall the words of my grandfather and feel those times are going to come back.
When I got engaged it was the time of many protests. At that time they would do such things, send you regards and… We had not met before. It was not a time when you’d meet beforehand.
Yes, you would see a photo, but not meet face to face. And then, a year later, we got married before the war. We had many cars come to take me, and they had the drums and the musical instruments and all. They could not play some prerecorded music, so they would bring some bands to play.
But it was a good time, a time for weddings, a time when you’d not think that your house would be damaged in any way. It is not like people had any good houses. Now you get good furniture and furnish it with expensive stuff and use the best room in your house, and the wedding guests in two hours make it look terrible.
I was never greedy. I have always liked to do good and I have taught my children to do that too. Because none of us can see God. None of us. We can put on the headscarves, cover our hair and respect God that way. We respect God best by being good, honest, sincere people. If you just put on a headscarf, but don’t put your heart to it, God cannot do anything for you. God knows who is good deep in their souls, not those who only respect by putting on a headscarf. Instead of moving forwards, we’re going backwards.
When I married, I was so pleased that I am marrying in the city and not to someone who lived in a village. I never wanted to go to a village. To tell you the truth, when they’d come and say to my father, “So and so is asking to marry your daughter,” I would always say, “If they live in a village, I am not interested!” I was decided. I’d rather not marry at all then marry in a village. I’d say to my father “Tell them ‘no.’”
When I married people were protesting against the system. My husband was a jealous guy and he was quite old-fashioned. Yet we got along well, with him and my in-laws. Before the war broke out, we lived with my in-laws. His parents, brothers. The in-laws lived even after the war. We lived with my in-laws for a long time, until we had our own children. And when the children grow up, they start fighting. If it weren’t for the children, people would never split their properties. My husband worked but my in-laws didn’t. His brothers worked too.
Then the war broke out. We remember when they kicked us out of the house. We got out, on the street. Then neighbors and relatives joined. The crowd became quite big. With neighbors all there. We all moved together and went to a nearby place. Some of the KLA fighters came and were moving around us. We would just look at them, we feared Serbs would kill us if we went with them.
As we moved and others were joining the crowd, we saw uniformed men coming towards us. We thought it was the KLA, but they were Serbs; masked and all. We thought of going back home to take some more food and clothes, but they ordered, “You go back, and we kill you. Keep moving downwards” “Where shall we go?” “Go to Macedonia, or Albania, just get out of here. You have no more business here. We went to the mountains. We thought we would return shortly. They would be watching us from slopes with snipers.
We slept one night in the mountains, but the next day, how were we to continue sleeping there? The children were small. I said, “Even if they kill me, I’ll go back home.” It was impossible to continue sleeping in the mountains. It was cold, my son was just a toddler. They were shooting us with snipers. They could see us from a slope. The bullets were coming very close. I feared they would kill my son. They saw us run away from there. So we started to run away from there, some on tractors, others on foot. We stopped in one place. They had been stationed somewhere and shooting us from a distance. They were stationed also just before entering the city. We were tired from walking and running away. We only had the food we had managed to get with us when we left our houses. The next day, they would make people get off the tractors, killed some, they beat up others. They shot some men, some they slaughtered. Some women they… terrible. And our men were so young. I felt so sorry about those men when they lined them up and killed them. And they killed so many. They shot them all with their automatic rifles. They would fall in the stream, all of the victims fell on that stream. They killed 150 people there. Then they had some others get inside a house, and beat them up there. My husband was among those people in that house, and he said later to me “I was lucky not to be killed. Inside the house, they would beat us all up. They had some metal bars, and hit us with them. We would shake and tremble.” They would ask us to give them money. They made us get off the tractor. “Come on. Give us your money. You seem to love your father Clinton and mother Albright. Come on now.” And we’d understand these parts although they spoke Serbian. We said, “No, no. We don’t love them. We’re not involved.” “Oh yes, you love them. Come on now!” So they took them and made them enter that house. And they beat them up there. Some of them came out with wounds caused from knives. They would hardly walk. Some of them had died inside. If you were to come out of the row of people, you’d be shot dead. Then you had to join the remaining people and move in a row, because some of them they had shot dead by the stream. 150 people, that’s a lot. When I saw the first dead person, I started to shake. My entire body was shaking. But I did not dare show it or say anything. I feared for my own life.
And they were shooting from above the road, as we were lower. A group of us was a bit behind, they were shooting to make us speed up and join the row. Some of us were moving with tractors, so we rushed and with our tractor got in-between some other tractors moving in a row. To us women they would say, “You have money, give it.” They wanted to see where you are hiding your money. They wanted to undress us, “She has her money here.” They used knives to tear off our clothes. They didn’t care.
We returned home. But after we did, there was nothing to eat. There was nothing and I had to go out and buy something for my children. But there were no shops working, So I would go to my father’s to get things there. I’d get groceries from them. They had some ham they had prepared a while ago. They had enough to eat and drink. But they too left their house, and it was left empty. And I would go there just to pick up things to eat. And as I was going there, to my father’s, there was a café, with policemen assembling in it. And they would see you from inside. There was no avoiding that place.
And that is where it happened to me… that assault from them. If I am not mistaken, they were about 10 people inside. Or maybe that’s how it seemed to me, but it looked like there were at least 10. There they were, they spoke to me in Serbian, I didn’t understand them. I did not want to enter their café. They pushed me in. They pulled out a knife, they made a cut on my leg. I still have a scar. And they started to beat me up. I fainted. They had then undressed me. They were drunk and armed with automatic guns. Thank God a long time has passed since then, otherwise I would not be able to speak about it.
Ever since then I have problems with my anus. Ever since that day. Because I had fainted I have no idea how long I was kept there. But I went at my father’ just before it got dark. I went back home in the morning. I also got some clothes. They were not there the next morning.
I only recall the beginning of my assault. I fainted and don’t know what they did to me. When I got up I noticed my anus was bleeding. I picked up my clothes, and tried to fix myself up. I went to my father’s house after I had managed to pull some strength. The house was abandoned. I went there, I cleaned myself up, and fixed myself. I was more relaxed to go there. I wanted not to be noticed, so that nobody could tell that I was raped, as I had managed to survive. I thank God for not dying, for the sake of my children. When I went back home, they asked me about the delay. I said that I did not dare move. When I returned I told my father-in-law. He said, “the important thing is that you are still alive.”
I told him what happened and where. He said that it was important that I was still alive. He said people have suffered worse things. That these are to be expected during the war. It is a good thing that they had not kidnaped me, taken me some place so that nobody knows of my whereabouts. Or kill me altogether. “Think of yourself as being reborn,” my father-in-law said. He gave me the will to move on. He was a very pleasant man. He supported me a lot.
I feared a lot from then on. He would know how to make some home remedies and helped me a lot. He was like a doctor, knew so much. I felt more comfortable from his remedies. He made me look at things more positively.
To other people I’d say that I had been running away from the Serbs, their police, and that I had fallen several times and bruised myself. Thank God it did not turn any worse than that.
Then after the war I would have constant nightmares. I would wake up terrified. My husband would ask, “What is it? You won’t let me sleep at night with your screams. “I dream that the Serbs are chasing me and I am running away,” I’d say. I could not tell him. He was not one of those who could take it. My father-in-law was a different character altogether. He was peaceful and good. He used to explain things well, and he was an attentive listener. But his son was not like him at all. I loved my father-in-law as if he were my own father. He knew how to advise me.
I have problems with my sleep. It was worse immediately after the war. I would suddenly wake up. Still do at times. Sometimes, if I hear some distressing news, all of the terrors of the war come back. It hurts when I hear bad news.
The same goes with seeing scenes on films. I don’t like watching movies. People ask have you seen this or that movie, but I don’t watch movies. I try to find light things, humorous things.
The relation with my husband? I don’t know. He is more rigid after the war. Sometimes he gets on my nerves. He makes me feel bad. I cannot open up to him. He is not very approachable.
I have my son. He is very helpful when he sees me upset. He has spent a lot of time with his grandfather, and I worried if he had told him anything. But he didn’t. He didn’t tell a soul. But my son tries to calm me down. He tries to make me feel good, not let me think about any negative things. He likes to take me out, things like that... Anything to make me not think about the events of the war. He doesn’t like to upset me.
My son asks, “Had you been a writer, would you write?” And I say, “Song lyrics? Of those with three words in them? I would write about five hundred of those.” You know, you describe it, try it in several ways then merge the parts you like. And things may occur to you anywhere. You may be travelling and things occur to you. You can describe the things you see and think of. Let the thing that bothers you get out of you. Because there is no describing it. You can put things you want out of your mind. But there is no describing it.
When my father-in-law died I felt very sad. I still cannot speak about it, and if people ever mention him, I start missing him.
While the in-laws were alive we were OK. After they died it became worse. It is harder now than it used to be. While they were alive, they were helping their children. Now there’s no help from anyone. The sons are grown up and jobless.
My sons are all grown up, but they are not working or anything. They have finished their schools but aren’t working.
I’d plead that they deal with the youth more. I know a lot of young girls who don’t dare do anything because of their parents’ restrictions, so they do not enroll for higher education at all. And they do not dare come forward and say why they aren’t. They don’t dare speak.
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.