INTERVIEW WITH: FATIME QERKINI
Reshat, the youngest boy of the Qerkini family from Mitrovica, is involved in the country’s defense and begins to often miss from home during the time that the Serbian authorities intensify their terror in 1998 in the Drenica region, sometimes turning up for a short time and mostly late into night, in order to get new clothes. Reshat’s activities and locations remain mysterious to his mother, Fatime, remembers the determination of her son in response to his absences from home: “I will be where all the rest are. And where the other’s die, I will die too? I cannot just sit here while the youth is being killed.”
Fatime Qerkini: Narration in first person
I come from the village of Rudnik. My name is Fatime, they call me Nime. My brides, children and grandchildren they all call me Nime. As a girl, I had a very good life. I grew up amongst fifty people. It was a large family, but well educated. Well, it was what it was, times were such, it was a great pleasure, my grand dad had eight sons and eight daughters. Life was fine then. When I was two years old, in order to preserve the in-law relationship, we had entered did not spoil friendship, my husband Bajram’s aunt was married to an uncle of mine, and when the aunt passed away, they gave me to him. I was two years old when the families agreed to this marriage, and when I became 17-they married me off to him.
I went to school but I did not finish the whole 8 years. We had a good life with Bajram. When we got married, we had a nice wedding. I even had a girls evening. Before he married me, Bajram lived in Obri with a large family, and his father came here to Mitrovica. I lived in Rudnik too, but mostly here in Mitrovica. I lived well here too. The people I lived with were two parents in law¸ brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law. I got along well with them very well too, I was the oldest one.
Bajram worked in the battery factory. We were lucky, he got a flat and we went to live there. For thirty-six years we lived in the northern part of Mitrovica. Our flat was near the police station and the place where the ID’s were given, that is where we used to live. We lived well there too. We also had very good relations with the neighbors, we never had a disagreement between us. I raised four children in that flat, my daughter Zahide, then my sons Musa, Isa and the youngest son Reshat.
My daughter Zahidja, is married in Dibër. She has no children. Musa had completed school and worked for some time in Zveçan. But when they started expelling people from work altogether, they went there and took them out while beating them up. I remember when he came home that day and said, “Wow, they took us out of work.” Musa is now in Holland. He has two daughters. He is doing well. Isa was in Holland too. He had a son and a daughter there too.
Reshat was here during the war. But he could get no rest. He used to get in and out of the house a lot. After a while, I said, “Reshat, something is not good. Where do you go when you leave the house? “He said,” Just hanging out with friends.” I told him, “There are no friends during war.” He said: “No, I really found a few friends.” I said, “But you already have two friends, I do not remember you having more.” He said: “No mum, I found a few more.”
I was wheedling, but he wasn’t telling. He was going out during the whole day long. I don’t know where he went. I said: “Reshat, you cannot stay with friends during the whole day”. We had a garden close to Iber. Since Bajram retired, we loved to go there sometimes, and we used to go there often. I say: “Reshat, your father wants to know: “Where does this boy go?” I have to answer him”. He never told me, but finally my husband told me: “wheedle him little bit and maybe he will tell you where he is going”.
I said: “Sit down here and tell me where you are going and what are you doing?” he said: listen what I am saying: “whose sons are the ones are getting killed, I am there”. I said: “Reshat don’t, my son”. He replied to me: “they all belong to their mothers”. I asked him “Where have you been last night? He said: “In Prekaz, with some friends we tried to go to Lubavec but they appeared in front of us, we couldn’t go”. He said: “where everybody is, I will be there also”. I replied: “Reshat, my son, I am afraid for you. Look how police have surrounded us”. Police surrounded all the north part. However, he was going there. One day he left, he went to village Bare. He said: “They ambushed us in Bare, but we somehow escaped”.
When the war was in Reçak, we were watching TV and he started crying. Three of us were crying, Bajram and me. He stood up and went to the kitchen and said: “Look how all of them are killed, and me sitting here”. He could not stay calm. He was going everywhere. He was in Albania for three days. There they have taken some weapons to take to who, or what did they do, I don’t know. He met Nexhmedin Spahiu. He is my cousin.
Bajram left to go for Friday’s prayers. When he left out, he saw full of police in front of our gate. They have taken Bajram and took to the station. It was here close. I didn’t know, even he did not know. They have interviewed Bajram. It didn’t take long, and bell rang. There were a lot of Serbs in front of the door. They said that they came to take Reshat. I said: “He is not at home”. One of them said: “He joined the KLA”. At this time, I reacted, I was not afraid at all: “We are Albanian. All from Dudikersh joined the KLA”. They went down the stairs.
Reshat didn’t take long, he came and said “Nime, where is the old man?” I said: “they came and took him, and they are looking for you”. Then, as soon as he understood that they have taken his father, Reshat went to the station. They have asked Bajram about KLA, about war and started to beat him. He went to protect his father. They let Bajram free and started to question Reshat. “Are you KLA?” because they might have seen him.
When Bajrami came back home, he told what they have asked him: “Are you KLA? Do you work for KLA?” he had bruises on his legs, I could not see elsewhere because Bajram did not tell. But he had on his legs, from knees and down.
They have kept Bajram for long time until Reshat went there. Then they kept Reshat. Reshat was beaten by them, also. You could kill Reshat but he would not tell anything. But they did not imprison him. The kept him in the station but the day when they released him, he came here but he never ever stayed at home anymore.
Before, even though he was not telling, he asked me for some winter clothes. It was summer and he said to me “I have back pain, find me a jacket”. I found the jacket. He left out and he did not come back until nine in the evening. As soon as he came, he said, “I am going because my friends are waiting”. I replied “You just came back, son”, he said: “I am going and coming back immediately”.
One night he has taken a pen and a paper. He came very late. I used to leave the door unlocked. On the paper, he wrote “I will follow the road of Father Sadik.” Father Sadik was Bajram’s grandfather; he is disappeared since 1945, after World War II.
I woke up. He did not lay on the bad at all. I made the breakfast. I went to his room to invite him for breakfast. When I entered the room, I saw the letter on his pillow. He was not there. I took the letter and showed to Bajram. He said “if they come to search and find this letter, poor us”. They used to come and search. I took it, I was afraid for Bajram and not for me, I put it in the stove and burned it.
Reshat did not come that night, even not in the next day, he came on the third day. I was sitting at the corner of the window when I saw him coming. When he came, I said to him “Where are you Reshat, son?” he always used to reply to me “wherever others are, I will be there. When all are killed, I will be also”. He stayed for two days and he left again. I did not see what he has taken but he has taken some T-shirts, socks, underwear. He has taken also winter boots. He was going to Prekaz, Lubovec, or Bare, only his soul knows where he went. If I wheedled him, he would have told me.
One day his father told me “Tell to Reshat that whenever he wakes up to come at the garden. Come together to do watering”. How to say this to him because Reshat was not at home at all, but I just said OK. Me, as mother, all the time was concerned about him but when Reshat came and said to him “it is almost two months and we did not drink any water or had lunch together. Why you wrote that letter and put on your pillow?” he said “I will also go like Father Sadik. They are belonging to their mothers”. He ate and meanwhile a sister-in-law phoned me and asked “tell me how the situation is there? Are you afraid? She said “Come to this side”, “No, we are staying home” I replied. I could not say to her that my son is not at home. He ate that food and dressed up. He said “Find my best clothes”. I said “they are all there hanged, take whatever you want, but tell me where you are going.” He replied “I have told you once. Wherever everybody dies, I will die there also and wherever all are, I will be there also. Because I cannot stay here and there the youth is being killed, this is not right”. I said “you do whatever you want!”
On that day he came four times and changed his clothes. He was taking on and off his clothes. He was taking all his best clothes that his brothers have sent from abroad. I said “Reshat, your father asked you to go at the garden for watering.” He never rejected anything. He said: “recently rained a lot”. I said “rained or not you have to come.” He said “I will”. He left and I left in direction of garden. In our neighbour it was a guy at first floor, he requested to come with me. While I was going there, Reshat was with other two friends at “Kivi”.” I said “Reshat, my son, come.” He replied “I will come just to buy a juice you will drink with old man and auntie Valbona.” I took the juice and we went there. We were waiting for Reshat, but he was not coming.
The rain started. We have built a cover, just to be protected from rain, and we entered there. We stayed over there up to nine in the evening. But he did not come. I was afraid that police might come. When the clock showed 9.30 Bajram went to bed and said “Reshat is late” I said “he will come, he always does”.
I got a nap. I left the door unlocked. When I later woke up, he was sitting in his room. I said “look, it is one a clock in the morning. Where have you been?” he said: “wherever are all, I will be with them. Don’t you worry my mother.” He mentioned Prekaz, Lubovec, Bare, all the villages. I said “Why are you going there?” “I’m just going.” He replied. He was dressed up completely and said “can you look for me the sport pants that Isa brought from Holland?” he also requested the winter shoes and a jacket that Isa had brought for him. He said “I am going out with some friends, and I am coming back later.” He dressed up well and said “Lock the door, go to bed because I will not be late.” I couldn’t stay calm. He left and I said “Reshat, don’t be late because is one in the morning.” And I further said “maybe there is full of police, as soon as you go out they will get you.” “Let them get me – he said – enough are killed, let them get me! You go to sleep because I won’t be late.” I replied “how to lock when is one in the morning and you are out. I am leaving the door unlocked”. “Ok, as you want” he replied and left. Those are his last words.
If I knew that I will not see him anymore, I would have looked until he reached down the stairs. I have waited for him until 4 in the morning. I had no sleep at all. I woke at 4 o’clock, opened the door of his room to check for him, but he didn’t come. Usually when he came back home, he did not leave his shoes on the shelf but always in front of his room door. But on that night, I was waiting and waiting. In the morning I told to Bajram that Reshat did not come home at all. He said “he will come latter”. I said, “He is coming and going again, I am afraid.” Bajram said “you don’t have to be afraid, he will come.” I was sad” very much. I said to myself, he never had a rest, for two months his body had no rest. He never slept, ate or drunk enough and he was not calm. He used to say “wherever all are, I will be also. If everybody dies, I will die also. Kosovo is our country.”
It was Wednesday that evening. We know nothing anymore about him. There is no friend who can talk about him. No one. Moreover, all the inhabitants that were there, they were asking for him “We did not see Reshat for a time.” I lie saying that he went with some friends there where they go camping.
When the war ended, the day that NATO entered, we came from Dibra on the next day, because we were staying in Diber, where my daughter lives. They brought us by buses. We came with old people. I don’t know the date and day.
As soon as we came, we went at Bajram’s father. Later we went to the apartment. When we left, there were barricades. I did not know anyone even though we lived there for 36 years, there close to MIA. At the bridge they said to Bajram “you cannot go through, only the lady.” Bajram got nervous little bit and he started…. But I stepped on his foot, then he said to me “are you afraid?” I said “No”. Slowly I went to the apartment there up to the north, and on my way, I saw many of them with head kerchief.
When I entered the entrance, I heard some “bam bum”. But I was not afraid at all. The doors were crashing because it was windy. Nisada Čalaković came and said “Why you came?” I replied “I wanted to see my apartment.” She said “You have nothing to see.” I replied “More or less to see if any brick is left.” She said “it left but you will be sad.” I said “No, I will not be sad.” I climbed the stairs and went in. All the facade felt down because it was burned, and the apartment was mess. I checked the documents. They weren’t touched. I have taken them and put in my bag. On the ground I also found a cheque of Bajram’s pension. I have taken also some pictures that I found there, and I left. I went back at father’s apartment. Father, may his soul rest in peace, said to me “How did you come, my daughter? I said “I just wanted but everything is on the ground, father because they are burned!” he said “Are you sad?” I said “No”. But my heart knows because there I have lived for thirty-six years, and I was feeling that Reshat will see me. When I went at the bridge, Bajram asked me if the apartment was there. I said “Bajram, it is destroyed completely”.
The next day, we woke up at five in the morning. Again, at the bridge they said “The lady can go but not you.” Bajram said “Are you afraid?” I said “I said you once that I am not.” I went and said to myself I might not come here again. Sejdi Sylejmani was there and said “Where do you stay?” I said: “In my apartment.” “How come in the apartment?” I said again “in the apartment” and I did not go out for five days. I have cleaned all the garbage up to the balcony. It was completely destroyed. I have cleaned as much as I could, and I slept over there. An old lady that was there used to come, she was called Koka, and she said “Don’t be afraid.” I said “I am not afraid.” It is true, I wasn’t afraid because all the time I was thinking about my son.
As soon as we came, we have stayed in the north part for two years after the war. There was no Albanian. Only Bajram and me. I was never afraid. Bajram never went out. We managed to fix the apartment. Thanks God, otherwise, we had no shelter, Bajram did not want but we could not live on the road, even if you have hundreds of grieves you cannot live outside.
In an evening three people came. I did not know why they came. I opened the door, they came in. I knew Serbian but I never spoke in my life. Neither `dobar dan` (good afternoon) nor `dobro vece` (good evening), I never wanted to speak. They said to Bajram: “John Kennedy, tomorrow is on magazine.” I did not understand what magazine means in Serbian. I though is about the wallpapers that we used to put on the wall. Bajram was talking to them and they said “We are sorry for you and your wife, but you are in the wallpaper also. Bajram shouted on them and said “Go out of my apartment, this is my apartment.” I said to them in Albanian “Whoever dares to touch this door, let them come but we are not leaving from our house.” Believe me we have stayed there for two years until we received the order. All of them who have been ripped up, they were there. They all were ripped out at our garage, at Bosnians neighbourhood. The committed a massacre. There many of my cousins were killed, oh my God. We all were there.
It’s more than ten years that Bajram is looking for Reshat. Usually does not go out, only for his son. For all of them who are missing. He was on TV also, in all media and he stated ”I will not go only for my son. I will for everybody.” However, up to now no one said to us anything, they even did not come to ask us anything. Only Bajram goes around.
To me, as mother, it happened twice, while I was sitting, I heard his voice “Nimeee!” I stood up, opened the window, but he was not. I left the window open and sat. Again, I heard his voice, he was calling loudly “Nime!” I stood up again. This happened to me twice in this house. Oh, me, what shall I think. I said maybe he is somewhere outside, who knows! I would like to go in the mountains, on my own, and to yell as much as I can: “Reshaaat!”
He was lovely child, very careful, calm, he loved to chit chat, and he did not like to hear people talking bad for anyone. Never. He went to school. He completed secondary technical education. He was good student, he was well behaved, and we never heard any complaint whenever we were invited for parental meetings, or whenever I went to school. He used to ring on the bell of neighbours and gave their keys because they forgot them outside. During the time that three sons where here, before they exiled, they were selling cigarettes. They went, took, bought and working with cigarettes. They were badly beaten here close to Feriq. He loved to go abroad to work.
Since he was born, I never saw Reshat happier than the day when his nephew Aid was born. They phoned us and told “Isa has a son”. I told him. He started to cry, he was crying because of joy. He said to me “I am so happy, you cannot imagine, I want to say you something”. Even my family members never knew what he said to me, but I am saying it now: “Isa was not only my brother, he was like father and mother for me, he was everything in my life.” He requested some money because he wanted to celebrate with his friends. He had joyful tears on his eyes whilst going down to the stairs. His biggest joy was when Aid was born.
However, I could never think… this is welcomed for Kosovo, if he gave his life for this country. Maybe, me as mother, I might be mistaken, because mother is never enough with his child. They all gave their lives for freedom of Kosovo. All of them. Thanks to God that everybody is free. But is good not to misuse it. It’s good to appreciate the ones that are gone. Should be recognized that this land is washed in blood. However, who was seen by God are safe now.
I want nothing, I just want a good word to hear. My biggest wish while I am alive is to have understanding, firstly with my family because the family is saint. Everything in the world that tries to break a family and interferes, it’s a big mistake. You might have everything, the family is complete but when you have no understanding, for me everything else is useless. The ones that are alive to have good understanding among them. Oh, just a good word to spell.
Like Bajram, even I sometime went with families, but I could never speak. Thanks to them in Prishtina, Hashim Thaçi, Isa Mustafa, Hajredin Kuçi, came out and talked to us, they gave us hope. I did not meet Isa Mustafa, but he is mentioning the missing persons on TV. Me, as mother cannot ever take my son off from my mind, but I cannot not blame anyone because only if half of the word does not fit, I will be in very bad position. Maybe they want also, because whoever has children, believes it. But, maybe even they are doing as much as they can. I believe on that.
At the end, I am declaring publicly from my heart, for these 19 years I know nothing about my son. God knows. But thanks to you. Whatever you request from God, let him fulfil. You did a good job to come in this family. I cannot spend a minute without thinking for my son, only when I go to sleep and what I take these sedatives. It’s like a part of my body is cut. However, wherever all others are, my son is there also. They are mothers too. I feel pain for them too. I would like to meet them even I don’t know them, just to talk. Conversation helps a lot. In general, they understand the grief of a mother. The family grieves also but not like a mother.
Bajram never stops. He leaves at seven and comes at seven. Bajram does this thing since we don’t know where our son is. I am living with him for 60 years. Never in my life I asked or disturbed Bajram about his issues. The only conversation I have with his is: “Are you tired? How are your things?” I don’t talk longer. I never mentioned Reshat’s name in presence of my husband. Not to make him sad. Never. He never saw my face sad. Never. I never ruined a wedding, joy or grief to anyone, and I will never do. I will never ruin the peace of anyone. People were dancing, playing, believe me I am happy for them. Thanks God they are. I hope God will give to everybody. I am very careful because when a person is in grief might make mistake. However, above everything I say: “God, give me patience, because I am at the edge. I will confront with God. Will this heart be healed? No, until I die. Never in my life my children saw me crying, neither my grandchildren. I don’t know if he is somewhere in a guest room, cuffed or somewhere in the fire suffering. Mother thinks about these things, they are all in the heart.
(This story is part of “Living with memories of the missing: Memory book with stories of family members of the missing from the last war in Kosovo”, implemented by forumZFD program in Kosovo and Integra, in cooperation with Missing Persons Resource Centre, with the support of Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Rockefeller Brothers and Swiss Embassy in Kosovo)