From my story I want people to understand from all that I have been through and that life has no guarantees.
Kosova: I’m Elife, a 45 year old mother of two children. Married to a man that I loved. I was lucky because my parents gave me permission to choose my own husband compared to many of my other friends whose parents found their husbands. My friends were forced to marry even if they didn’t like the man they chose.
In the beginning our marriage was a miracle. I was 25 years old, and my husband 29, we loved each other, at least so I thought. Two years after we were married our first daughter Emma was born and two years later the second daughter, Linda. Life became harder, since neither my husband or me was working and the children had their needs, so my husband proposed to go abroad to work in order to improve our economical life. I agree with that and he went in Germany. Sometimes he sent us money, even though it wasn’t much, I welcomed it because it was the only resource we had to survive.
After one year he came back, and proposed to divorce me but just by documents, because as he said” I’m going marry with an old lady just in papers, just legally but not as a real husband, and after three years I will divorce with her, and take you and children there” I believed him blandly and did it. I signed. Then he called less and less and he didn’t send money. And then one day he called me. It was a very quick call and said ” don’t wait for me, continue your life because I will not come back any more.”
I was shocked, I had two children, one four years old and the other one two years old. I had no house, no place to live and not even support from the state, I felt like I was in an abyss. I was living by charity from everybody, from my friends and relatives. I became very depressed and went to live to my brother house. He had six children and he was economically in very bad times. I was another burden for him.
His wife clearly didn’t like me, and I really understood her situation. I felt bad, guilty. Then one of my relatives gave me a very old house to live in and I was happy because I could breath freely. I started to stabilize my live.
I worked with my hands embroidering and sewing. In this way, I could maintain my family. I always been a happy person who loved life and I wanted topass that on to my two daughters. With my whole spirit I tried to offer them joy in their lives, but we were on the brink of war which truly terrified me. In war, nothing stays the same and you do not know what is going to happen to you.
We lived in a town that was more affected from war than others. But in our neighborhood, the enemy forces didn’t came but still, more and more of the houses grew more empty as people left because they were so afraid of what would happen if they stayed.
Some of them went to the mountains; some who had more money went to Macedonia or Albania. I stayed until April 1999 because I just didn’t know what to do. My children at that time were 6 and 4 years old. I couldn’t go to the mountain and stay because I didn’t have enough food to last us a while and I didn’t go to Albania or Macedonia because I had no money. But money or not, food or not, I left on April 3, when I saw that every single person in our neighborhood was leaving. I joined the column of hundreds of people, some from my neighborhood, and some from other villages.
We walked on a main road toward Macedonia, with the hope that my daughters and me might be able to get on a tractor during our trip. My daughters were so young and there were other children as well but most had help carrying the children. In the column, people grew very tired. We were mainly woman and children though here and there you could see an old man. Some of the column of people had been walking for days from other towns. I held my two daughters by their hands and wore on my back, a bag with some food and some clothes.
Fortunately the weather was good. Sometimes police automobiles drove by and scared me very much but they continued on their way. Their purpose was to remove us from our country and we were walking in that direction. Walking with two tired little girls in dusty shoes.
We walked very slowly for around 5 hours. My four years old daughter was very very tired by this time and begged me to hold her in my arms, but I was too loaded up and could hold her a very short time. It was so hard – small tired children, crying, begging me to hold them, me, a very tired worried mother.
It was 1.pm when the column stopped, remember there are hundreds of us and a message came down through the line of people, frantic whispers that there was a road block of enemy forces before us in a few miles who were stopping and beating everyone. So the people around me decided get off the main road and head into the mountain. I went with them with my tired children in tow. With the back having grown very heavy – who knew that so little could weigh so much.
As we, the smaller group around fifty or seventy five people, moved toward the mountain we suddenly we found our self-surrounded by enemy. They jumped out at us from the side of the road. Some of them were dressed like solders and some were dressed in black with head scarves. I had heard that those men with head scarves were very dangerous. All of us were in a panic and begun screaming and crying. Then there were shots. Everyone grew silent. And we waited for what would happen next.
In Albanian language one said: “Everyone sit down and if you want to stay alive you will do what we will say.”
Automatically, everyone sat including the children. My daughters were sitting on my lap. Emma seemed very scared, because she was older and could understand things while Linda didn’t know what was happening but she did not want to sit still in my lap. She wanted to stand up and I had to keep her sitting by force. She was crying and struggling. Two of the Serbs came near us and started choosing woman.
You, you and you.
I prayed God that they would not choose me. I kept my head down tucked behind children when I heard, “YOU come here!
My heart was beating so fast, so hard, it was trying to fly from my chest and I barely lifted my head to see if this call was for me. When he said, “Yes YOUUU!”
I was entirely frozen.
Please, I have children. These little girls.
Both of my daughters were crying in terror.
Shssssh. He roughly told them to be quiet.
Where is your husband?
He is in Germany.
He laughed ironically.
Fighting with Serbs yes? Come here.
He had stopped laughing and yelled.
Linda would not let go of my hand.
I begged him but he said to my daughters.
Mami is coming to help us. She will come back again.
At least he was not cruel to the children. Many were.
And he forced me to go with him, dragged me really, away from my crying screaming children. Someone near me reached to help the children.
There were many woman chosen and all of us were directed toward different places in the forest. One of the men knocked me down and ripped at my clothes, opened his and start raping me. As I tried to resist, he hit me in the face and filled my bleeding mouth with oak leafs so I couldn’t scream. He was so beastly. As he beat me he called me horrible disgusting name. After he finished raping me, he called the other man over, who was watching and he raped me as well. After, I just lay there on the wet ground, muddy and covered with small sticks and leaves with my upper clothes torn completely away. I tried to cover myself with hands. Then, they told me that I could go back to the other people.
When I returned stumbling toward the group, I saw their faces register horror, disbelief and disgust. I turned away. I felt filthy all the way through my bones and completely humiliated. My daughters were crying and when they saw me they ran to hug me. Everyone was looking at me. An older woman gave me her jacket to cover myself.
After some hours the enemy let us move.
It was already dark when we arrived in a unfamiliar small town. We were so tired, just a small group of twenty people all woman and children. We decided to stay in one of the kindergarten schools. There were beds and blankets there for the children’s naps, so we stayed the night. I cleaned myself as best I could – there was running water — but I would not feel fully clean for a very long time and I was completely numb. I couldn’t even cry.
My mind was beyond control and just wanted to replay the act of mud, rape, oak leafs and the beatings which went on for years – the memory came to life for years, something would happen and it all rushed back — I was there lying in the forest being raped and injured.
In the morning at the kindergarten, one family offered to take me and my children in their old paint faded farm truck. It was blue, I think. I looked away from the whole trip but expressed gratitude as we traveled to Albania to a refugee camp where my daughters and I stayed with thousands of others until the end of the war.
Immediately after the war, I came back home transported from Albania with many others. We were told we were free and safe. My home was not destroyed, but my soul was — I felt dirty, humiliated and very far away from free and safe. I could not speak. The entire neighborhood knew what had happened to me, and it seemed that every one of them was pointing a finger toward me. I did not want to go out. I hid in my house with my children.
Eventually, I changed neighborhoods. I went to live in my sister’s house. During the war she went as a refugee to live in Norway. So, I could use her house. She sent me money as she could so I could survive with Emma and Linda. I lived a very isolated life and I didn’t go out from the house for months.
I didn’t want to see the light of the sun, me, who used to love life now it seemed that my life had ended. Really. Sometimes when I did go out from necessity, food and all I felt the people I saw were talking about me, every one of them was talking about me — every glance toward me was another bullet in a wound that never healed. I had forgotten how to behave as a mother, sister or friend. I forgot how it was to take and give a smile. I had simply forgotten how it was to live. I was dead among the living.
After fourteen years of this numb dead life, things began to change when I was encouraged by someone I knew to call for assistance in a rehabilitation center for women. After that, I started exposure therapy and the light at the end of tunnel began to shine and call me to leave that dark muddy place, to take the oak leafs from my mouth and speak. As I spoke, nothing horrible happened and the memory that lives began to drain of self-loathing and I began to feel safe and supported. I began to reclaim my life. I could once again see grass and blossoms and sky. I could smile and say hello to people without shame as that old world in shades of black faded into color and I became a real mother again. I could be with my children in play and joy. It was the best feeling I ever had. I was a dead person brought back to life where breathe could move in my chest and my eyes could open again to the bright world around me.
Today I work as a house keeper and have a very quiet life with my two daughters. I am so proud of them. Emma is studying education in college. Linda is still in high school. I rent a flat that I can pay for by myself. What a wonderful feeling to be able to depend only on myself. I am so grateful that I’m alive again really try to enjoy every second of my life.
I worked very hard in therapy ( she had prolonged exposure therapy). I didn’t want my past to destroy my present and my future. And even more important, I didn’t want my past to destroy my children’s future. They deserve more.
Today I don’t see myself as a victim, but as a survivor — I survived my trauma. This does not mean that I’ve forgotten what I have experienced, that will never happen. I will never forget but I realized that life must go on. And it has.
Now I walk with pride replacing the shame I felt for so many years and I do not isolate myself. Who should be ashamed and isolated are those men who committed the crime.
Someday, I want to hear that my abusers will pay for what they did, not just to me but all the surviving 20,000 other woman who were raped and tortured in my country.