The Shooting of Freedom in Kosovo

Uran’s Story:

For twenty years, the Albanian people living in Kosovo were treated like second-class citizens by the Serbian population. In an effort to force Albanians to leave Kosovo, there were tight restrictions on what the Albanian population could and could not do in their  country: their children weren’t allowed to attend formal schools, their sick weren’t allowed to seek medical care from hospitals, activities of their cultural organizations were restricted, and unemployment was high. But instead of fleeing their country, Kosovar Albanians were resilient and learned to adapt. Their determination and refusal to give up their country led to war.

The story of our tragedy began in 1998.  I was eight years old, the youngest of five children in my family.

I heard the news on the radio and television that the invaders’  had intensified persecution against the Kosovar civilian population, against the activities and goals of the Albanian people for freedom and every man who would dare to think about freedom. For one-hundred years, the Serbs had been trying to wipe out  Albanian culture and identity, using force,  killing and torturing. The beatings, harassment, and persecution continued across the country. The enemy knew when the  revolt was planned, and used kidnappings, beatings, shooting, and torture to prevent it. My grandfather was tortured by being held in water that was -20°C. Day by day the rope came and grew tighter.

It started on an ordinary day in the spring, as the neighborhood children were playing in my backyard – games like volleyball, football, sticks and balls, and even mud. Suddenly, we heard a barrage of bullets which were more intense than usual — this time not stopping accompanied by caliber artillery. Our game stopped, and while all the others scattered to their houses, I was completely shocked and stood motionless while following the story, another version that had just begun. Then I heard in the streets, the rattling of cannons and tanks, but also the sweet response of rifles. Were these the shots of Freedom Fighters  signaling the open resistance of my Albanian people in Kosovo?

Soon the roads were cleared and the village was silent. We saw the smoke coming out of houses that had been burned. Sixteen Albanian warriors were murdered by the enemy that day but they succeeded in their mission – protecting the civilians. Although they gave their lives for us, they will always be with us – the living – in our hearts. Tears came and did not stop, our hearts split in two. We heard the moaning of the martyrs who were dying among others who’d been killed. The land smelled like smoke flames and flesh coming from burning villages.

The war had begun. With it, my parents’ worry.

We were 5 children between the ages of 8-15 years of age.   I was the youngest  Not much later, the time of moving out of the house came. It was the worst moment of my life, indescribable feelings of fear, pain and longing. Pain from having to leave and longing that we would not have to.  We left our house, the garden, and everything we had. Spring had stopped for us. Towers collapsed, meadows burned. And every inch of ground roared from the bombing offensive. The occupation had been taken against us just because we were Albanians, just because we spoke the most beautiful language in the World, and just because we dared ask for FREEDOM.

We left by a long mountain road, and everywhere heard gunfire contrasted with weeping erupting through the silence of the night. The mountains resounded with gunfire from the enemy punctuating the determination of the invaders, and with that,  the screams and crying of civilians trying to escape. There was much sadness. And even more chilling was the fact that we did not have even the slightest idea about where we were heading, or what awaited us on the other side of the hill that day. We thought this might be the end for us, as it was for many others.

We snuggled deep in the mountains to avoid the bullets pouring from wherever you looked. The sound never ceased, the thirst for blood was great that day.  Anyone who had fallen along the way was killed. The evening came with a Grace-like  silence reigning everywhere. The babies and young children were wrapped up by their mothers, in an effort to prevent them from seeing the horror of our plight and keeping them warm.. But they were experiencing the horror with us. We were without food, water, and shelter. We, heard only a few babies, softly weeping. We had travelled past the long-beautiful oaks of our motherland, now on our fifth day in a row walking under the open sky. We remained anxious about what awaited us this time. We had not eaten for 3 days.

After that, the situation calmed down somehow, but still we continued our journey to the capital (Pristina) hoping that there we would find peace. We were exhausted from walking twenty kilometers each day, and were dejected because we had been exiled. With the help of several friends, we found a temporary residence where we spent the next 6 months. In the moment we thought things are getting better everything just gone worse. At the meantime we were happy for the roof that we found there, but it was winter, a hard cold winter, we didn’t have woods for the fire to get ourselves heat , we didn’t have enough food to feed ourselves. Even as a child I remember everything, on returning back from school  I used to stop to the markets to get papers and carton to get warmed at least before bad time. The next six months gone like this, but everything stopped in a morning when Serbian barbarians came to get us out even from there. They used brutal force on everyone by trying to show us their “force” that they poses by holding their weapons, they emptied the whole capital that day and brought us to the train station, to transport us with freight train to the border of Macedonia. At the border we waited for ten long days in an open sky, without roof, without food without anything at all. For six days rain did not stop and everyone get wet for the next days, it was terrible time and only on the eleven day we could pass away to the next station…

We then spent another 3 months with a wonderful Albanian family in the neighboring state of Macedonia. They all were kind and lovely and they have done everything to help us, to make us feel like home. They provided a home for us, good food to eat and a pure love on welcoming us.  After the military intervention of NATO, the head of this Albanian family went back to his home where he found everything burned to the ground and houses destroyed. But love of country was greater than the booming barbarian army and from that day he continued life during wartime broken now in peace…!

Barbarians had beaten and mistreated our people, emptying every corner of the country, evicting Albanians from Kosovo as part of the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. From their home country of Kosovo to the neighboring state of Macedonia and Albania. But all that sacrifice wasn’t for nothing, all that bloodshed brought us the FREEDOM. Now we could smell freely in peace. It was what we wanted for centuries, what we were fighting for. Just to free our homelands.

Calming and Settling Children in Stress

Janet Courtney, Ph.D. is a leader in developmental play therapy and wants to help stressed mothers who may need some new ideas of ways to calm and settle their children.  She is especially interested in adding to the existing cultural traditions of women living in war, war-like conditions and in the aftermath.  We have posted some of her calming activities for children on our ACTIVITIES  page.

She talks about what motivated her to do this work:

When  I was a child, I wouButterflyld hold back and “stuff” down those hard feelings—sadness, anger, fear, guilt, shame. I would not share them but kept my hurts to myself.  I was not encouraged to talk about my feelings nor did anyone teach me how to safely express them. This led to severe migraines and a lot of emotional shutting down. What I learned as I grew older and eventually went into the field of Social Work is that we train ourselves to hold in those painful feelings mostly through breath control – we hold our breath in order to not feel.  For example, when sad, I felt I had to be “strong” and not allow myself to cry often tightening my chest and clenching my stomach to hold back tears. As I later discovered, this is done mostly through the restricting of my breath.  As I learned how to consciously use my breath to rid my body of the stuck energy (which is all that emotions are anyway—energy), I found myself feeling lighter.

When I had children of my own, I would teach them how to express their angry feelings by punching a pillow and at the same time breathing out a long huff of powerful breath—please know, that to hit a pillow while holding in your breath is not helpful.  So it’s important to watch for that and to encourage youngsters (or adults) punching a pillow to include a strong blowing out of the breath as they punch. Ask your child to make a powerful/empowering sound that ensures the release of a big breath —like the roar of a lion.  Also when I taught these activities to my kids, I would sit with them to hold the space of safety and being totally present with them.  As they grew, they had skills and knowledge to take care of their hard feelings in positive ways.

So I hope that this will help expand what you know and be easy to use — through imagination and breath- work to help your children feel better.  Try these activities yourself, they help adults also.

Warm Hugs, Janet

*****      We suggest you also try the free app: Breathe2relax

If any of you, our reader has simple ways to calm children and yourself, please write us: Andrea@ashlar.org

Grace’s story: Sleeping in Trees

NaivashaNaivasha is a very old town in the Great Rift Valley, which was started during the construction of the railway line in 1800’s. The railway line passed through there on its way to Uganda, near lake Victoria which is the source of river Nile, which serves water in Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt countries in Africa.  This is a town which is famous for wildlife and some of white settler like Lord Dalemere lived here and his grandson has a farm in the area. It houses one of the big prisons in Kenya. It is a warm town near the lake and many whites have bought farms to grow flowers. It is a tourist attraction site since it is so beautiful because of the wild animals walking freely even near the roads. Here we feed many moneys with sweets and fruits from the buses as we go to western parts of the country. Monkeys stop the buses like policemen and we throw food through the bus windows. Zebras and giraffes also cross the roads and the bus wait to move. Many rich people have built cottages and hotels in this area. Wealthy expatriates have also build children homes, homes for the aged, and rescued prostitutes are just about to get a home and skills after the completion of their home.

Naivasha town was badly hit by the war in 2008. Very many people died andmany displaced. Many women lost their lives and children burnt as they lost way when their parent died and ran away. This town is coming up again slowly, but many people ended in prison as many were regarded as inciters during the post violence clashes. Many women were jailed due to child negligence. They had no jobs and they decided to run away leaving their children behind. This led them to being sorted by the government and got jailed for many years as their children got adopted by their poor families.

The election took place in December 2007 during Christmas time, and I had just been issued a letter to stop working, since that Bank I worked for was not making profits and had to reduce staff. I got very stressed being a first born, the only employed person in the family of ten who was the bread winner. My child had just completed primary school and was due to join form high school, the following year. I had no words to tell him that he may not be able to continue with schooling since I had lost my job. I had no words to tell my mother and family that I will not be able to support them and buy their medicines. I could not afford insurance either. In Africa the first born child must take care of the family when parents die. My father had died and in our culture, I was to take over all the responsibilities. I left my province and went to live in the rift valley province with my aunt to settle my mind, think my way forward after the job cut and  the same time help them in the farms.

Reaching the Rift valley province I was unlucky. Leaflets were dropped all over, requesting my tribe to leave the area since the land belong to Kalenjin tribe. I thought it was just politics, and would settle, because we are used to being beaten in elections every five years and displacements must take place during this time. It is normal to be beaten in this area.

I thought I will just ran away and stay in a Catholic church awaiting the end of trimiddle_2bal crashes which will soon
subside and then leave for home in Central province where my mother and other siblings stay. My Aunt thought I should in the forest at night and come home during the day as this is what the trend was for many years during elections.  This was not the case this time. When I slept in the forest, I slept in trees like the other people who were running from the killers. We slept in trees because the animals were as dangerous as the criminals)

In around evening when the sun was going down, The African Horns were blown. This is how we communicate. It was a sign something bad was going to happen and already people are in danger. Soon fires were lit and smoke filled the area, in Africa the horns communicates danger and people were screaming but not the 5 screams for the birth of a baby boy or 4 screams for a baby girl being born but continuous screams that an enemy has already arrived was attacking our people. It was war.

I rushed inside into my Aunts’ African thatched hut and opened our Radios in our vernacular. I tried to open other languages but could not understand what they were announcing. I heard we were in danger and should move to police stations and nearby churches and possibly Catholic Church which is not a tribal church. In an hour’s time Rift valley was dark. No power connections. It was very quiet.

The small shops were closed and looted. I had no air time on my phone and could not call my mother in central Kenya. People were being killed all over with poisoned arrows. If a poisoned arrow touches a human being they would just fall and die instantly. My Aunt and I with many others moved to the Catholic church and police stations. The place was overcrowded within minutes. We stayed in the police station till morning without water and food. Neither the Red Cross nor the UN planes had reached us yet. The Kenya army had taken sides. We even feared to tell them who we were which one was our tribe in fear of being killed. I could not go to the forest. Many criminals and hostile tribes were there during the day and killing people at night.

During the day I could accompany my aunt and everyone to look for the missing people. We could identify those fallen dead with arrows on their bodies. Many women were raped and left for dead.  There were very many. With the help of the police we could bring them to the station for checkup.

Pregnant women were cut open  and laying dead with babies dead in the stomachs. The Hostile tribes found us the fourth day.  I had gone home and they almost killed me and my aunt,  threatening to burn our hut. We pleaded with them.  One man said he knows my cousin who lives in America and as a pastor in the area he assisted his relative to study here in Kenya. He managed to intervene and we narrowly escaped death. My aunt and I went back to the church until the government gave a directive that we were to be escorted by the army and taken to other provinces where there was no war.

I was among the people to be put in the Eldoret Bus Services which was contracted by the government to move us from the Rift valley with the help of army escort. I left my Aunt and thought of taking risk to be in the first group since I thought my mother and my son are spending sleepless nights. They would be very worried about me. I left the town with a bottle of water given by the government through the church. I was hungry due to scramble for food which I did not manage to get. I had no shoes and with dirty clothes I left for Nairobi with only my national Identity Card. On the road I could see criminals waiting for the buses, but once they saw the army they ran back to the forest. We could fight fires on the highway to stop the bus moving but the escort could come out and tribes ran away.

With only 150 Km to Nairobi, at Naivasha, near the lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley, my bus was stopped by heavily armed people .They had guns, arrows and machetes (African swords). They were in Kenya Army Uniforms. I knew I would die then. They shot at the escort and overpowered them and their vehicle and a tire was popped.  We were all taken from the bus and lined up. We were told to remove our Identity card and put it on our mouths.

God was on my side. The tribal criminals were from my tribe and taking revenge because of the tribe’s men being killed in the rift Valley. All the Kikuyu tribe went back to the bus holding their cards. All the Kikuyu young people were put in a lorry to become fighters in the town. They were given arrows immediately. Those with no cards were greeted in the Kikuyu language. Many who did not respond were known to be other tribes. They were told to be left. The driver was instructed to move. The bus left going very quickly but before we could reach few meters we could see and hear gun shots as these people were all killed.

Naivasha town was mostly hit in 2007 post violence crashes. We continued without Army escort. Many people were dumped in Limuru, near St. Paul’s university at a place called KIRATHIMO(blessing). Here the Red Cross was waiting for the hungry and injured, giving tents and blankets to women and children as they arrived.

My bus reached Nairobi and found the Red Cross still waiting for us. I got water and painkillers. I borrowed a phone and called my mother. I was given fare and left for my room where I live. Reaching home I fell sick due to cold and stress. We were never counseled about our trauma even after the war. Churches had already started collecting clothes to take near St. Paul’s and I managed to get some clothes during the church service. Back in the Rift valley my aunt stayed in church and the Red Cross and UN were able to help them.

During this war all the families lived together. Men, women, children and everybody else regardless their age group. Many women were raped. Many girls left school and become mothers at a very tender age. Children suffered colds and diseases due to dirty water. Many people later tested H.I.V. and A.I.Ds positive since they mixed with other tribes and without protection they became sick. Very many unwanted pregnancies were reported. Men ran away and left children and women. They got an opportunity to leave their responsibilities and went to stay in other provinces with other women. This also spread H.I.V to other provinces.

During this time maize which was the subsistence crop was burnt down. Animals killed and stolen. People were being fed by the UN with maize, flour and cooking oil. They brought mosquito nets and blankets for children.

As negotiations were taking place in Nairobi, women and children were suffering in camps. My own child who was to join high school was late because i could not get results on time. I also feared to go to Naivasha where he studied to collect results later due to what I went through. Many investors run away. I could not get a job any more. The economy corrupted. My child went to school later through the help of a friend. In one year and nine month I met Prof. Esther where women were giving their stories. She asked me to put the child in boarding school and go back to university. I graduated last year October with a Bachelor of Divinity and have just completed a post graduate diploma in Church law and marriage cases in catholic university.

God has been with me, and this is where am.

We like to note for our readers the amazing resiliency so many of our interviewees have.  Grace has applied for a doctoral program in Anthropology.  She struggles with poverty as most single women  do and lives in a tin house.   We were Skyping and there was a terrible noise like war, like thunder, like a million cymbals and I couldn’t hear a word of what Grace was saying. There was a pause and she told me she lives in a tin house (sheet metal to us in the US)  and this is what happens with wind and storms. She has occasional electricity but often studies by candle light.

Right now she is trying to find the money to buy reading glasses and still she perseveres.  And oh, she walks everywhere and when she can hires a motorbike rider to take her places.  She walks 35 kilometers to visit her mother.  She says this is what makes Kenyans such good athletes — they walk and run everywhere.

Wartime Pregnancy

Sanije is now a 38 years old woman, the mother of two children.  She was only 23 year when her husband was killed and left her with the child one year old and two months pregnant.  As with many of our posts, the story is in her own words except where it interferes with being understood…

For me holidays never had any sense. My father died when I was seven year old. We were seven children, and were raised just by my mother, it was very hard. We lived in very poor economical conditions, we didn’t have enough bred to eat and nothing to celebrate any holiday. When I got married in the age 21, I thought that just at that time I start living. I loved my husband, we lived in extended family of 15 people but in a better economical conditions that I was used to live, so I was very happy.  But my happiness didn’t last much, just two years latter my husband was killed by enemy forces and quelled any joy in my life. Therefore I never enjoyed any holiday, because especially in holiday there is a need for people you love, and when they are absent there is no pleasure to celebrate anything!

Through my story, I want people to understand what consequences War may bring and perhaps it will help them to learn to appreciate life more:

In my town war started earlier than in other places, from 1998 we were isolated, we couldn’t move freely in
the town. I was married just one year before and in February 1998 my daughter Besarta was born home with the help of my mother and sisters in law.

We were afraid to go in Hospital because at that time there were just Serbs working there and we didn’t feel safe. There were stories that they tortured mothers and murdered the babies. Fortunately everything went good and the baby born safe and sound.

Four months later my husband decided to join the Kosovo Liberation Army. Men and boys up to 12 or 13 years of age weren’t safe at home, if found they were murdered. So, they stayed most of the time in mountains, so it was better for them to have a gun to fight or to protect themselves. I   agreed with his decision, even though I felt very insecure at home just with my mother in law and my sister in law and children, no weapons because all the man from our house joined KLA (Kosova Liberation Army). Time to time they secretly came home during the night. My husband every time he came was very sad when he went back  because he couldn’t see his daughter growing up, she already became one years old.

It was April first when enemy forces came into our house — that day they collected many woman in neighborhood and many of them were raped. Fortunately I wasn’t selected, but one of my sister in law yes. They burned our house and forced us to march toward Albania. We heard many stories how the enemy maltreated woman on the way to Albania, so we decided to go to one village because my husband was fighting near there with his four brothers and other of our solders.

We were positioned in one big house and there were more than sixty people, but at last we had food because our solders brought us some of their food. My husband came to see us in that house and tried to encourage us that the War soon will be finished and that we had to be patient.

One week later, April 29, 1999, there was a fighting between enemy forces and KLA solders. That day many KLA soldiers were killed, among them my husband as well. When my brother in law gave us bad news, it seemed like my eyes died. My life died. Now, not only I had lost my husband, but that meant that was losing my daughter  as well because, according to old traditions, when her husband dies and a  woman  has no son, the daughter has to live in husband’s house. I didn’t want to lose my daughter, I’ve grown up without a father and I didn’t want my daughter growing up orphan, without a father and mother. Now I had no fear for nothing. War didn’t scare me any more – what was scaring me was my future, if I had any?!

But luck was not abandoning me – a month later I realize that I was pregnant. I cannot describe how happy I felt. From that minute that I knew that I was pregnant I pray God every minute for it to be a boy, because just in this way I could raise my children.

The war ended in June, we came back to our house, the house was burned and we improvised tents to live in until we constructed new house. It was July, now I was six months pregnant. I refused to go to the doctor and to know about the gender. I was afraid the doctor would say that it was a girl, so I decided to know about it when child will come in life.

As I expected the elders of village were gathered to decide for my fate. According to them if I had a boy, then I have the right to decide if I want to stay with my children in my husband house with my mother in law and other four brothers in law all married. They had an obligation to care for me and the children until the children grow, but  I didn’t have right to be married again. Ever. If I will have another girl, then three months after the birth I should abandon my children and go to my mother house.

No! They were all that I had, my hope my future, my breath.

I cannot describe with words, how happy I was when I brought in life my son Fati (not his real name), I gave him the name of my husband. In this way it was a rebirth for my husband and for me as well. Now nothing could separate me from my children.

Now, fifteen years later, I can say that I have two wonderful children, they are good pupils and very supportive to me. Fati is very talented in football and already has offers to go outside the country to develop his talent, but we still didn’t decide what to do.

I still live in an extended family with my mother in law and other 23 family members of my husband. I can say that they treat me very well and I have been well supported from them. Two year ago I joined to work voluntarily in one NGO for the protection of woman, and  this is a great experience for me because I always wanted to be helpful for others.

I never knew how strong I was until life tested me.  I realized that it is hope that keeps you alive. Hope was my weapon to fight deep sadness.

Today what makes me strong is the love of my children and the work I do helping other women.

I dream one day to have my own house and that my children are successful in life. Their success is my joy and I live my life through their dreams coming true.