Can I hug you just one more time?

Born in 1998, Marigona was just a baby the day paramilitary forces killed her uncle and took her father in an unknown direction. Everything she knows about him today, she has learned from her mother, her aunts, and her uncle. Already grown up and at the end of her studies, she recalls how she grew up all her life waiting for some news about her father’s fate.

Marigona Preteni

I am Marigona Preteni. I live together with my mother Sheribane, my brother Fatos, his wife Qendresa, and my nephew Ferit. I was born in 1998, in Mitrovica, on the north side of the city. Of course, it was not easy for my mother, especially because in the north more doctors were Serbs.

I grew up in Mitrovica. I don’t remember the war; I only know what my uncle and what my mother told me. They told me stories about my father and what kind of person he was. My memories of him are only from the pictures.

My father named name and I was told that he was very excited to give me this name because Adem Jashari’s family also had a daughter called Marigona. My parents thought of other names as well but my dad insisted to name me Marigona. After I was born, he visited me from the mountain. We lived for a short time in a neighborhood nearby where we live now.

I finished elementary school here. The school is called “Bedri Gjinaj”. As a child, it was very difficult for me to adapt to new friends in elementary school because I was very sensitive. Especially when we would talk about my father.

I don’t remember clearly the beginning of school, I only know that I went there together with my mother and they asked us about our parent’s names, they asked us about our family members, nothing special. In the beginning, I didn’t have many friends, because I was not a very sociable type of person, I stayed alone. I used to get hurt with whatever they would say, even if they wouldn’t mean harm. Then, as I grew up and when our teacher was changed, I started understanding more and I kept more to myself.

My younger uncle often came to the school. Up until the fifth or sixth grade, they thought that he was my father because he took great care of us. My uncle lived with us until three years ago, so he stayed with us for 18-19 years. He took care of us and he made sure we never miss any school classes. When we had parent meetings at school, my uncle would attend those meetings very often. He would come every two weeks and express his interest. My uncle worked as a teacher. Once he worked in village Bistrica, he taught mathematics, and for a year he worked in village Maxher as a teacher. Now he is unemployed. He lives together with his wife and he has a one-year-old daughter.

I finished the gymnasium in Mitrovica, in “Frank Bardhi”. At the gymnasium, I had lots of friends, and most of them understood my situation. Most of the class also knew about my case. I had a good relationship with everybody, but I was closest with two friends. I am still in contact with these two friends. I am a little closer with one of them because he knows more about my life and my family. He came and socialized with my family. Nowadays we don’t see each other often, since both of us are now busy with our own studies and work, but we still have a good relation. With the other friend, I still communicate through social networks. Sometimes I go out with her. Maybe I went out with her three or four times since we finished high school.

I am now in my second year of studying the English language at AAB. I don’t have many friends. I socialize more with my family members. I spend more time with them. I always liked the English language and I learned it better since I am attending the faculty. I think that I will have more advantages by studying English. Both at work and in life. Maybe after my studies, I will find a job at the government. Having a steady job gives you some safety.

My mother was always both our mother and father. She took good care of us during these 21 years. She suffered many difficulties because we didn’t live in our house. We stayed in a house without an owner. We searched a lot, but we couldn’t find any information about it. My mother tried hard, and she went to different associations, as much as she could. Other people helped us a lot, up until my brother grew up. Now he is working hard for us.

My brother, unlike me who would always cry whenever I got upset, he always kept his emotions to himself. He is a calm and wise person. He also finished the gymnasium but he didn’t go to the university, because he wanted to work, to help his mother. For a year now he is in KSF. He lives with me, my mother, my sister-in-law, and my nephew. His wife is a very calm person and we have a great relationship, I think of her as my sister. My nephew is named after my father, and now I have the feeling as if I am growing up together with him. He is very smart, hyperactive, he never sits down.

I don’t remember my older uncle so much, because seven or eight years have passed since he died. He was also a soldier and he was killed on the same day when my father disappeared. My second uncle lives in village Melenica.

My three aunts are still alive. I have very good relations with my aunts. Especially with the one that lives in Podujeva. She and my father had only two years difference in their age, and when I go to visit her, she tells me many things about my father. She talks about him non-stop. I have learned a lot about my father from her because my family, knowing how sensitive I am, didn’t talk so much about him. I am very open with her and every time I go to visit her she tells me something new about my father.

I am very close with my mother’s family, probably because we grew up in the same circle. Our uncles always took care of us, the aunts as well. I have an aunt in Germany, and she, whenever she had the opportunity, helped us a lot.

I usually do seasonal work during the summer, if I can find any. These last two years I worked, and with the salary I received, I paid for my university. Two years ago I worked at the ETC market as a sales agent, but that didn’t last long, maybe a month and a half. Last summer I worked as a cashier at an Aquapark which has opened by the lake. This year I also worked at the cashier, selling tickets. At the moment I am not working anywhere, so usually I work only during the season.

My father was born in village Melenica. He dealt with cattle and agriculture. During the war, we stayed in the mountains as well and I was told that he came to visit us from time to time. Whenever it was possible for him.

Until recently I thought that he was still alive and I waited for him. Now I don’t know what to think. Sometimes I think that he is still alive, I still have hope. But if not, my greatest wish would be to find his bones and that would be enough for me.

As far as I know, my uncle was killed by paramilitary forces in the Tavnik neighborhood of Mitrovica, and my father was also abducted there. I don’t know more than that, I don’t have any specific information. I know only what my mother told me. Usually, my mother tells me more about the life they had and how happy they were with each other. They were like friends. I also know that, as they used to do it before the war, they got married with msit (wedding arranger). So, they didn’t know each other up until the moment they got married.

I know that when I was in the fifth grade, I understood the fact that he is not among the living. I often read about missing persons and I listen to the news. I always hope that he will be found somewhere, either alive or dead.

I get sad very often for no reason. I find peace when I write. There are letters that I wrote which I have lost. I had many letters. Now I have just a few. I usually post them for anniversaries. During anniversaries, the whole family gathers and we first go to the memorial plaque where my uncle was killed, then we go to the cemetery in village Shipol, to the uncle’s grave. After performing the cemetery ceremonies, we go to the village. We gather and socialize with all the aunts and my uncle.

I had an article I wrote last year when President Hashim Thaçi declared my father Hero of Kosovo:

“Hero of our hearts, even though I was six months old and I could not say the prayer, God bless you. Today I extend my hands and heart to God, so that wherever you are, peace may be with you. I hug your photos and all the love accumulated all these years is hidden in my eyes. I don’t consider myself to be alone, because you are the hero of my life. I thank God for the memories which exist, I am thankful for my mother which keeps fresh the memory of you. Today, you were declared a hero of Kosovo, and before that, in my cradle, where my mother shook me, you were always my hero”. This is just a short piece I made. I have many other writings, which I can’t find at the moment.

It’s very difficult not knowing anything about your own father. When we go to visit my uncle’s grave, I wish I knew at least where is my father’s grave, where are his bones.

I used to dream about him, but now I haven’t dreamt of him for a long time. The last time I dreamt of him was after I put on the hijab this year. He appeared in front of me exactly how I see him in the photo. I saw him, I was in the room myself, he came and he hugged me so much that it seemed to me as if he was hugging me for real. He told me, “I’m back, Marigona.” He said, “You grew up.” He said, “When I left, you were little.” He said, “I am so proud of you, I’m proud of what kind of a girl you became. Even if I was around, I couldn’t have educated you better” and I said, “Dad, can I hug you just one more time?”

But I couldn’t do it. I don’t remember anything else. I just know that it seemed so real to me.

Usually, in my dreams I see both my father and my uncle together. And when I wake up, I spend the entire day thinking, and then for another two or three days I think that everything will be fine, I think that one day we will find out about his fate. But no, every day continues the same.

I put on a hijab a year ago. I believe that everyone has the freedom to do whatever they want. And I feel free like this. I feel like myself, and I am happy to fulfill my obligation towards God.

I like to read a lot, usually novels. But the last book I read is not a novel. It’s about Aisha, Radi Allahu Anhu. She tells stories about her life. It is very important for women to read that book.

I also like painting. It’s not that I am good at it, I just relax when I paint. I paint whatever I feel like, I have no preferences. I also like to walk in the morning.

I always think that if I had a dad, I would feel safer. It’s not that I am not safe, but I would have stronger support. And Fatos always dreamt of becoming like him. Maybe now he managed to realize that dream. It would have been much easier for Fatos, for our mother, for all of us, if we had our father here beside us. If he would be here, first I would hug him a lot and then I would tell him about my life and the shortcomings I had while he was not here. I would tell him everything.

In the end, I don’t have anything specific to say but I can just say that the state didn’t support us much as a family of a martyr that we are. Almost nothing. So, our message to them is that they should do as much as possible for the families of the missing, and they should try harder to find out about the fate of the missing persons.

The story is extracted from the book “Hijacked Childhoods: Accounts of children’s wartime experiences’ and is published in series as part of the framework of coordinated activities of CSO’s in Kosovo, organized to mark the International Day of Enforced Disappearances – 30 August 2023. The book is published in partnership between forumZFD Kosovo program and the Missing Persons Resource Center, and is supported by funds received from the German Federal Ministry on Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Embassy of Switzerland in Kosovo. Prishtina, 2022.