In southwest Kosovo there is a village known as Village of War Widows. In 1999 this village was populated with both Albanian and Serbian, but in March 1999 the Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s military forces had descended on this rural village and separated the men from their families.What happened not only decimated the village’s male population but was one of the most violent incidents of the Kosovo War. All the man of this village were and none of the men from the village returned. Over 100 men, including boys as young as 12 – all ethnic Albanians – were rounded up and killed in a raid by Serbian police, just one day after the first NATO air strikes began. Eighty-two women were widowed and many children became fatherless.
The women first were forced to flee to the nearby mountains and then to neighboring Albania. They didn’t know nothing for the fate of their husbands and sons until the war was over.
When they returned they found the entire village in ruins, homes burned down, everything was destroyed. Many of their husbands were found dead bur many still remain missing. Almost 70 per cent of Krusha’s male population is still missing, so the life of women in this village changed radically. Everything that was burned had to be rebuild. Woman had to figure out a way to survive on their own by taking on the role of provider for the family. They took all the farm jobs usually regarded as man’s work – driving tractors, ploughing, crop picking. without their loved ones, they had to become farmers in order to earn a living and support their families.
Many of them began to grow peppers and prepare ajvar (red pepper spread, which can be quite spicy as well). They tried to sold jars of homemade ajvar in Kosovo’s newly liberated capital, Pristina, and in open air markets.
Latter in 2005 woman joined together to make the Ajvar and other Kosovar staple such as Turshi (pickled vegetables) in mass production. They could help each other to rebuild their lives.
Today they runs a pepper cooperative, Kooperativa Krusha, with the help of UNSAID and the World Bank. They fill around 700 jars every day at the pepper factory and prepare up to 8,000 bottles of Ajvar for just one order to Germany or Switzerland, where most of the Albanian diaspora live. People other than Albanians are discovering Ajvar.
Women of murdered male villagers (husbands, brothers, fathers,
sons )overcame many hurdles, particularly Kosovo society’s expectation that widowed women should stay home and not go out alone without a male protector. They broke the taboo to change the mentality. These woman, the Ajvar makers have found their own ways to deal with tragedy.
The war widows are an inspiration to all women They mourn their loss and will always remember the men and boys they can never bring back. But the women have also partly overcome their tragedy by finding the strength to pick up the pieces, support one another, survive and succeed.