Interviewer: Rita Berisha
Interviewee: Elmaze Gashi
R.B.: Thank you for coming and for sharing your story with us. Can you tell me about the beginning of the war? Where were you? Who were you with?
E: I was at home, with my children. My brother was there too, with his wife and his son. Their neighbourhood had escaped; they came down because the police station was very close. We spent every night of the bombings in distress because evictions started, from one neighbour to the other. The neighbourhood where my family lived came to our neighbourhood. The police would come, we would go out with our children, we would turn back again, believing that they wouldn’t go to every house. They went to some houses and left. I remembered once I went to the street, and I said “Oh my God, where is my son?” He was in his cradle. Then my brother-in-law told me, “It’s okay, Durim is with me.” He was holding him. We went back again. One thing I struggled with was convincing Fjolla, who was almost 5 years old then, to sleep with her shoes on because we didn’t know when they would come and evict us from home. At least, I said to myself, she’ll be dressed because it was April, March actually. The weather was cold. When they finally came and made us leave our home for the fourth time…
R.B.: They evicted you?
E: Yes. As soon as we went out in the street, they separated my brother and my husband from the crowd and took them to a house. They tortured my brother, but not my husband. They stole everything they had, all the money they had in their pockets, and let them go. Then we joined the line of people walking in the street. We left our cars at home. When we joined the line of people, we met some relatives who were on their car, so they took us in their car. The journey lasted for a week until we arrived at the border in Elez Han. Some people went to houses and looked for flour to bake bread, some looked for harvest in the fields. I had some cookies for my son in the car. I forgot his bottle. He would ask to eat as soon as he would open his eyes. One night we stayed in the cement factory in Elez Han, because they didn’t allow us to get in with our cars. They didn’t allow us to pass the border and go to Bllace. I met my brothers-in-law in Bllace. Their children were older, so they crossed the border. Then we stayed in their tents. We spent a night there.
R.B.: You mean in Stankovec.
E: No, in Bllace, at the border. We slept in the factory there for a week because they didn’t let us cross the border in our cars. We had to abide by it, because it was a matter of life or death. We had nothing to eat. Then we crossed the border to Bllace. The cement factory was in Bllace. And we went to the side where the refugees were in Bllace, staying in the tents. We slept there one night. Then we left and waited for four hours at the border. That was a horrible experience because they divided my son-in-law from us and got him in another bus, out of fear that they would divide us because the Macedonian police also tortured people because everyone ran to get in the bus where their family was. What the Macedonians did there was horrible. Luckily, I wasn’t divided from my family. We got in the bus but we didn’t know where they were taking us. Then we went to Stankovec. We stayed in Stankovec for a whole month, hoping that NATO would save us on their anniversary and we would return. My husband said, “We’re going back. We will definitely go back to Kosovo.” My family went to Germany, one of my brothers-in-law went to France, one sister-in-law to Norway. I remained in Stankovec, although my child was the youngest. Then, the weather started getting warmer. The sun was scorching. Then, we were listed to go to Canada. We didn’t refuse it, we went to Canada. They welcomed us incredibly warmly. We went to Halifas, and the Mayor welcomed every one of us at the airport. They provided strollers for children, wheelchairs for the elderly, shoes and clothes because we left our houses abruptly, people didn’t even have time to put on shoes! We also did all the medical tests. We had showers, and they offered clothes from underwear to jackets, everything. Then they took us to the camp. We stayed there for 3 or 4 weeks, I don’t remember exactly.
R.B.: What was the camp like?
E: It was a military camp, but it was new. We were the first one using it. The only thing I didn’t like was that there were three families in a room. Otherwise, we had a kitchen where we could eat. There were also activity rooms. You get a permit and go to the city. You could go on your own or they would take you. We also had regular check-ups. The only bad thing was that there were too many people in a room. My son was little, and there were some who liked to stay late, listen to music and talk. They wouldn’t turn the light off and my son need to sleep. Then we applied to be transferred to Winnipeg. The transfer was sponsored. We found a furnished apartment there; it had all the essential furniture, but you could also get a big check for everything else you needed, like curtains and carpets. However, we asked to return to Kosovo. We didn’t stay there. Food was also covered for a month until we could learn where the grocery stores and markets are. We had all the essentials covered.
R.B.: Were you able to work?
E: We did get a work permit, but we asked to return. We didn’t even wait to get the autumn check in September. We wanted to come back.
R.B.: Did they bring you back then?
E: They did. Although, when we went to the immigration office, my husband could speak English, and two days later the immigration officers came to our apartment with a translator, because I didn’t speak English, to ask me whether my husband was forcing me to return, or whether I agreed to it as well.
R.B.: So you came back.
E: We came back.
R.B.: What was the situation like when you returned?
E: When we came back… I don’t know… the house was damaged, everything had been stolen. I had to go in with my shoes on until we cleaned it because refugees had stayed there, and the police as well. My house was in a terrible condition. Fortunately, among all these misfortunes, my husband was offered a job at the airport. So that was the only good thing, that he managed to find a job.
R.B.: He was employed.
R.B.: What was your children’s condition during this period, both during the journey and after that?
E: They were really bad. When we returned in September, Fjolla was 5 years old. She was four and a half when we left. They could sense that something is not okay, because they could see we weren’t happy. When they took my brother and husband to a house, Fjolla was going crazy because she saw me screaming. Then, sleeping in a car, having nothing to eat, not knowing where we were going, why aren’t we going home, they felt all of this. Although when we went to Canada, they were given toys, clothes, and these things attract children, but she was shy, she was tired and she knew her parents weren’t okay so she wasn’t impressed by any of that. Children can feel everything, even though they might not be able to articulate what they need. They remember.
R.B.: They remember.
R.B.: Can you tell me more about your journey to Canada? How did you get the permission to go to Canada?
E: Well, to be honest…
R.B.: How did you apply?
E: We didn’t even apply. My husband had two sisters living in Australia. One of his sisters’ son came to Macedonia to see where their family is and insist to take us to Australia, because we remained there for a long time, for a whole month. People told them where they wanted to go, they waited in line to register for the country they wanted to go to, somewhere where they had family, and they were sent there. My husband didn’t want to go abroad, believing that we would return to Kosovo. Then, they started making lists to remove the population from there and send it to other countries.
R.B.: From Stankovec. And they enlisted us without asking us, we didn’t even think about it. When my husband’s nephew came, we were expecting to go to Australia. But we were listed for Canada and we didn’t refuse, because of our children. The weather was getting warmer, there were no basic conditions to stay there, and we had already stayed for a month. We didn’t even have a bathroom. Stankovec was a horrible experience.
R.B.: Did you have enough food in Stankovec?
E: There was dried food. We all had a little money. Later they brought some small shops where we could buy, but in the beginning all we had to eat was dry food. My God! You couldn’t even clean your kid’s bottle to give them milk. The conditions were a disaster. The toilets were just improvised with plastic bands.
R.B.: With plastic bands!
E: You had to wait in line, the toilet was in the middle of a field.
R.B.: How did you clean your children?
E: I didn’t clean them at all first. Then, when the weather got warmer, we would heat the water in the sun, in a plastic tank, and that’s how we would clean our children in the open. They gave us large plastic bowls, and we would use them for showers. We would heat the water bottle and wash the body inside in the plastic bowls, whereas the hair outside the tent. And the tents were all close to each-other. And it was very cold! We had to sleep with our jackets on. We left our house on March 31, and stayed for a month in Stankovec. So we spent the entire month of April in Stankovec. Days were warm, nights were cold. Let alone when it rained for three or four days, and the struggle to take your child to the toilet through that mud… Horrible!
R.B.: How long did you stay in Canada?
E: We went to Canada around May 1 or 2, because we spent April in Stankovec. And we returned from Canada on September 11. So we spent May, June, July and August there. And they really asked us to stay. They told me I could bring my family there as well, my husband too. But we hoped the situation would get better so we returned.
R.B.: And you decided to return.
R.B.: Okay, thank you very much.
E: Thank you.