The interviewer: Okay. Thank you for doing the interview. You can start the story by telling us the oldest memory from the war. Tell us where you were, who you were with, any decisions that your family made, and anything you can remember since you were too young.
Valmira Rashiti: Should I introduce myself?
The interviewer: Okay, no problem.
Valmira Rashiti: Okay. I am Valmira. During the war in Kosovo me and my family didn’t travel abroad, we stayed in Kosovo. I was 2 years old back then. By the time we started moving from one village to another I turned to be 3 years old. It’s interesting how the memories I have from that time are so vivid. They’re so vivid like when I compare those memories to the ones from high school or the more recent ones, the memories from the war seem more vivid. I don’t know if you got my point. I believe that I still recall those memories because they were so emotional for me and my family. We were living in Gllogov in the municipality of Lipjan when the war started. I remember how we refused to go somewhere out of Kosovo although we had the chance to. But, there was hope that the war wouldn’t last for too long and we would get back to our own houses. My family members, I don’t know who exactly, probably my uncles and my father, gathered and discussed that it was better for us to leave the house and move to a more mountainous area in order to avoid contact with the military and stay in flat areas. This was the reason we moved to the village of Verbica, a village now known as Zhegovc in the municipality of Gjilan. We were around 5 or 6 families living there. I don’t know exactly for how many months or how many days we stayed there, but I know that we stayed in a big chamber; we stayed and ate there altogether every day. We were all staying under the pressure of any attack that could’ve happened.
The interviewer: What was the food like during that period?
Valmira Rashiti: What I remember from that time is that we ate a lot of “pogaçe” and “krelane” (traditional food). Maybe because all we had was flour and the women in the house tried to make use of what they had. We were too many children there and I remember that, although I don’t remember that they ever let me feel hungry, but I do know that I always felt anxious about the food. I felt scared that there wasn’t enough food when all children were sat together around “sofra” (low dining table). We had to wait our turn for the food and you had the impression like you had to feel satisfied with all that you had and that you needn’t have many requests – I considered as a big request to ask for another piece of “pogaçe” or “krelane” back then. Even though we all ate like from the same plate or from the same baking pan we would still think that we should only eat our own portion of food because there were too many people and we didn’t have great conditions so we thought we shouldn’t ask for anything more. This is what I remember regarding food; I felt anxious that it was sufficient and that I had to compete with the other children or that I had to eat my food fast. In addition, I remember my great-grandmother. She was so old and her way of thinking at that age was childlike. She asked for food in the worst situations; when we were out in the mountains, when it was 2 a.m., when it was all dark and when we were afraid because there were militaries close to us and we had to keep our silence. I remember my great-grandmother screaming at 2 a.m. asking for food. I remember the shouts towards her because she didn’t understand as she was too old. But, my grandfather and other family members, especially men, were so frustrated towards her. I remember I felt sorry for her and I couldn’t understand how they’d yell at her just because she was asking for some food. I didn’t understand it because that was something normal. This is what I can recall regarding that; “pogaçe” and my great-grandmother are my main memories when talking about food during wartime.
The interviewer: Can you describe the mountains and the setting? Who were you with and were you able to walk when they asked you to?
Valmira Rashiti: No, I was so slow. I know that every adult was assigned to take care of a younger one. We were 5 or 6 families but I can only remember my close family. I remember some of my uncles and their children and my mother with my little sister who was 5-6 months at the time. My mom had to climb the mountains with my sister, I was with my grandmother, she was the one who took care of me while we climbed the mountains, and my grandfather took care of my brother. So, every adult had to take care of someone younger. I remember some chaotic scenes climbing up the mountains with my grandmother. She was overweight and I remember how she took breath and how her breath was getting heavier while climbing, the way she dragged me to reach the top, the times we both fell, the times when I fell and the other times when she fell. Her weight made the climb more difficult and the way she had to pull me and keep me close, but we made it. I don’t know how we decided to stop at a location but perhaps we found it a more isolated one. My memories in the mountains are mainly during the night, during the dark because we were scared of the attacks during the night and we were scared they would come to our chamber. If we would hear a little noise all the families had to immediately mobilize and had to prioritize what to take with them to the top of the mountains and set off. I remember how the tree shadows gave me a fright and that I was looking for physical contact; I needed my father or mother close to me because I felt unsafe in the dark. It is understandable because I was only 3 years old. I needed physical contact because the mountain gave me anxiety.
The interviewer: Do you remember if you were cold in the mountains?
Valmira Rashiti: Not much. I remember I was scared and that we had the tendency to be as quiet as possible because I felt obliged to listen and if I would hear anything, a move or a sound, I could run and tell the adults who were near me. My family tells me I was like “in denial” the whole time. Among the sequences I remember during the climb is me singing the song “A vritet pafajesia” by Leonora Jakupi with some flowers in my hands and picking flowers. I would tell my father “dad, this is all a lie, the war is all a lie, right?” – and my dad would tell me “yes, don’t worry it’s all a lie, they just want to scare children so they won’t cause troubles. But, you don’t have to be scared this is not for you, it’s a lie, don’t worry”. So then yeah, I believed that as true and moved on to picking flowers. I climbed the mountains as if nothing was happening. I know that I was in denial but I still felt anxious somehow. I asked my father questions trying to calm myself down because if your father tells you that it’s a lie then that’s how it should be. That calmed me down although deep down I felt unsafe.
The interviewer: Earlier you mentioned your uncle’s wife, right? Newly-wed? Why is she stuck in your memory?
Valmira Rashiti: It’s interesting when I try to recall my memories from the war, just like I said earlier, they’re all emotional. I was young but the way people around me experienced the war, the situations, and the separation affected me. They asked my uncle’s wife, who was newlywed, to separate from her husband, my uncle, and leave the village we were living to go to the mountains without him because he had to serve the country as a soldier. She refused to do so and her frustration mixed with sadness and anxiety were all shown on her face. I remember she didn’t want to come with us. She didn’t come with us, she stayed with him. This is what I remember about her, the way she didn’t want to separate from her husband.
The interviewer: Do you remember the time you returned home after the war?
Valmira Rashiti: Yes. Among my vivid memories is the part when the war ended and we returned to Gllogovc, in the village we used to live. I remember a weird feeling when we got in our yard and saw the grass all grown. My grandfather always took care of the grass it never got like that. The grass was big and the cow was tied. I remember the cow was physically weak and I felt sorry for the cow and that nobody was there to feed her during the time we weren’t there. It all gave me a bad feeling, a melancholy. I know that we all started checking the yard and see what had changed and what is still as it was. But, nothing was the same. There were too many holes in the ground, most probably the Serbians tried to find the things we had hidden. My father had buried our documents, a computer and other things that fortunately were not found by the Serbians. I remember that we all sat together around “sofer” (a low dining table) and ate our meal feeling relieved out in the sun. I remember we had to eat our food inside while feeling scared and hurrying. So we ate our meal outside and it was interesting how the helicopter would make you feel panicked waiting for another attack; but it was calm on that day. My brother used to lie on the ground whenever he heard something during the war in order not to be noticed. I remember when we returned to the village, right where we ate our meal, a helicopter passed by. And my brother immediately stood out of the table and lied down. He still had the propensity to lie down as he was scared and tried to go unnoticed because he thought they were the Serbians. In fact, it was NATO. This is what I clearly remember when we got back home. It was so confusing to me. I wasn’t sure if I should feel safe or if the danger is still close; if I should hurry up to eat my food; if we were staying there or if we had to go back to the mountains; I felt unsafe. But, at the same time, the weather was warm and we were at home. Mixed feelings.
The interviewer: Was the house damaged?
Valmira Rashiti: The windows were broken and when we went inside the house it was filthy. I know that the women immediately started cleaning the house and throwing away all the broken things. The tables were overthrown and all the furniture; it was chaotic. Just like in the yard, it was the same inside the house as well, nothing was in its place. The walls were damaged. They all took action and started cleaning the house and mowing the lawn and fixing what the Serbian military had ruined. It felt like they tried to leave marks everywhere. My grandfather tried to remove those marks like trying to tell them that it was over; the fighting was over, the discomfort was over and that we had to try to get back to normal from the first day we got back home. I remember the determination and the way they tried to clean it all in order to go back inside relieved in our house.
The interviewer: Thank you very much.
Valmira Rashiti: Thank you.