Bjeshka Guri (interviewer)
Nol Sahatciu (interviewee)
Acronyms: BG=Bjeshka Guri, NS= Nol Sahatciu
BG: Would you tell us something about yourself?
NS: I am Noli, I am 31 years old, I work mainly in marketing, but now I have started to deal a bit with film, directing, and here and there with acting.
BG: Do you remember how the war started, so your first memories of the beginning of that period?
NS: To be honest, I was 10 years old when it started and I do not remember it much because in general my parents spared me or protected me a lot, so it is not that I remember it as a very sad period, for example, when we went to the border, for which I can go into a little more detail, we waited a lot all day with my mother and aunts, but there were also aunts’ daughters and sons and for us it was somewhat fun, we played, we did things together, there were other kids too, but then, when we talked to my parents, they said that my mother knew about it before because they told her when the bombings would happen, because she worked for World Vision, an organization that helps refugees, and she has been mistakenly told twice, that is, they told her twice and we left for Albania, I, my mother and sister, we left, the bombings did not happen, we returned, we left again, they did not happen and we returned again, and once the third time they called her, she said “is it true or not” and this time it was true because the next day the bombings happened. And then we left with my mother and aunts, my father and my aunts’ husbands stayed, and my grandmother, and so on the bus that we went to the border with, it was so crowded.
BG: How was the moment of family separation, did you have a feeling like why were you leaving?
NS: No, no, as little as possible, almost no information was given to us to protect us, not even on those early days we went to Albania, which was somewhat “we are going to visit my grandfather” because he has been in Tirana and has lived there since 80s, and nothing, they kept that fear that stress on what was going on very closed up, so yes, maybe, for me actually it was very hard the thing that I had to non-stop change schools, so when we went, when we left Kosovo, first we went to Debar for 2 days, then, in Tirana to my grandfather, I also went to school there for 2-3 months and it was not very easy and that I didn’t speak the language the way they spoke it, plus, the kids know to be a bit hasty-bad and that way they have not accepted me very easily, mainly because of the language, but ok. Then we went to Canada because my father worked for the Canadian embassy in Tirana for two or three months, and we went to Canada and there again we had to create new friends. I was little so I did not know English very well, and we stayed there for a year and a half, then we went back again. I went back to elementary school here, I stayed for 1 year, then again we went to Canada and there from the beginning it was high school, and it was a kind of teenage period, very transitional, and I was like a more closed type so it’s not that I was able to make friends very fast, it took me a while, and while I was making some friends, I had to go back to Kosovo, to high school, then to “Mehmet Akif”, plus my aunt’s daughter was a higher class, i.e. she was grade 10, and I wanted to be with her, so I passed a class, and then all those elementary school friends I had, that also went to ” Mehmet Akif” school, were one class lower so I was not in the same class with them, so, it never happened to me to be with the same group of friends and this was a bit tiring for me and at one point I said to my mother, when I was still at “Mehmet Akif” around the end, “why you didn’t leave me in Canada”, I just don’t know anyone here and plus the others I was with, were 1 year older and when you are at that stage in life, it plays quite a role. But, anyway, so interesting is probably the story of how when we were at the border, my mother who worked for World Vision, we were on a list and the aunts, we were on this list that we can cross the border like that, but, throughout the day they did not let us cross, they made a lot of problems for us and my mother was standing there in the so-called “no man’s land” in the neutral zone, we were here on the other side with the convoy of vehicles, my aunts, many people.
BG: Do you remember what atmosphere prevailed at the border?
NS: Yes, I think more or less it was not good but then, you would notice that there was a kind of stress, a kind of energy stagnation, I don’t know how to say it, so, people were a bit in panic, they were not telling us anything because they were protecting us, they were creating sort of a wrapper around us, kids, that everything is okay and that we were just going to change a place. But, as to why I do not know exactly, I did not know at that time and the reason that I was with my aunt’s sons whom I love very much, made me feel I was safe and that nothing is going to happen to us. Although there were around those Serbian special forces, who were also disguised and wearing masks and their appearance was a bit of an indicator that something was wrong, but, in general, I was with my aunts because my mother was staying there at the ” neutral zone” because they from the World Vision were telling her not to cross to this side from this zone” because then you cannot go back, so that’s why she was staying there, and we were at this other side. By the end of the day, those Serbian forces told us that this was the last bus to go back to Pristina and by force they removed all those who were beyond the Kosovo border., besides me and my sister because my mother had our passports, so we remained alone like that for a while, ad when my mother saw us after a while, she left that “ neutral zone” and she was coming with us, so she gave up that waiting more or less, and it was like “okay, we have to go back now”, and while we were crossing the border, she gets a phone call from one of her colleagues who tells her that they are allowing you now to cross, and then my mother just yelled at the top of her lungs, to my aunts,” get back, get back” and all these people who were there thought this applies to them as well, so they started to move back, and then my mother had to tell them “ no, no it does not apply to you but to them”. And, however, it resulted in the end that we could have crossed the border actually in the morning, but an officer who was there, he didn’t let us on purpose, he had hidden the list at the bottom drawer and had said that he knew nothing about a list, in the end when the officer was changed and another one came to his place, the ones from the World Vision had called again, they’ve been calling all day actually, and the other officer, he found the list and told them that yes they can cross the border. Then afterwards we went to Dibra, we stayed there for about 2 days, although it was a bit stressful for us because my father, my grandfather, grandmother, my big aunt and her husband and children, they were all in Kosovo, in Pristina, and they were staying in the basement of the house during that more dangerous time and it was really horrible for them because the windows were closed at all times, they used only candles, they didn’t dear to speak much and were listening to the radio with a very low voice. They had also prepared some bags, the ones you wear on your belt because my grandad knew how to sew and they had put there their passports, some money perhaps, and they had planned it if the police would come in, because they were constantly waiting for the police to come in, and if the police would come in they were planning to escape from the windows, first the kids and then the others, but, luckily it didn’t come to that, and later on, at some stage, they had realized that it was safe now to travel and then they left from there, they took with them also the neighbors, the ones who had no car, so they were like 8-9 people in one car so they left like that to the border. Upon arriving there, they were told to leave the cars and they were lucky at that point because the husband of one of my aunts was a doctor, so a patient of his was at the customs so they let us pass. My mom told me that when they arrived in Diber later on, my dad, my granddad and the rest, my dad looked like a skeleton, he had lost a lot of weight because for a whole month they stayed like that and then, I don’t know if my dad would like me to tell you this, but he had cried for like 2-3 days, it was very hard for him to come to his senses, it was the adrenaline ho had kept him all the time, and then, when they came to Diber, they were safe there finally and that’s when he let it go. So, however, maybe my story is not very traumatic, it is mostly what my parents heard and what they later told us, and I know that my parents were not at their best mood during the time we were in Albania, and also in Canada in the beginning.
BG: And in Canada where did you stay?
NS: In Vancouver, we were there in the beginning, a family of one of my mom’s colleague who worked for the World Vision took us and sheltered us. They took us to their home and they were the best people ever, we lived there for 6-7 months.
BG: Do you remember seeing refugees from Kosovo in Canada, others, did you have any contact with them?
NS: Yes, when we went to our first apartment after we left from there, there were like 4 other apartment buildings there and there were many Albanians there. We have socialized with them and I have heard from one of them his very tragic story, his entire family was torched during the war, and he had tried to rescue his sister, to get her out, and he failed, he was then shot at and had to escape, and, perhaps this story was my very first encounter on what war was like, and that at that time I had heard very little about the war. It was simply ok for us, now we were in Canada, I didn’t know what was happening, simply, because my parents were treating us as kids, not very seriously, they didn’t give us many information’s in order not to scare us or traumatize us, so, it was like that in general how I came to realize how it was and how lucky were my family and I.
BG: Did you receive news from Kosovo, do you remember that at that age?
NS: Yes, as far as I remember there in Dibra when we were, we had watched TV nonstop, and I don’t want to use many words in English, but it was almost as a religious thing, it was that time when the news were on, and, yes, when we heard that it was the end meaning we were free it was a huge joy, but, I don’t know if I was there and I got this news from my father. I don’t know what else to tell you more or less.
BG: When did you return to Kosovo? Has the period you stayed in Canada lasted too long?
NS: I mean we stayed in Canada for a year and a half, then we returned.
BG: Do you remember more or less what memories you have from that time of return?
NS: I do not know, it was somehow more or less normal to go back to school, to be with the friends I had and in general …
BG: So, was the war mentioned? And what happened?
NS: No. It is interesting but no, very little it was mentioned, it was something they didn’t want to mention much and like they had created a wall to protect me and my sister from all those negative information’s, they kept an eye nonstop on me and my sister, so, I don’t really know. It was just that friend of mine in Canada who gave me my first information’s on the war, a reality what the war was like because up to then I had no idea, i.e., ok, people died, he saw his sister being burned in front of his eyes, I was not able to really process all these for a while, but also, he was upset often and we fought sometimes and that is normal because he was traumatized.
BG: If you have anything else to add?
NS: I don’t know, no.
BG: Thank you.
NS: You too.