Shqipe tells...

My name is Shqipe, I am 11 years old and I live in the village of Gllareve. In Albanian, Shqipe simply means "girl". It is funny: it is as if you would call a cat "Cat" or a dog "Dog". Because in my family, we speak Albanian. I believe that when I was born my dad and my mom were so glad to have a baby-girl that they gave me this name. My parents have 7 children and we are lucky because we live in a house with a roof, a door and windows that close. I made a drawing of me and my house. I cannot draw very well yet but I will learn, because now, I go to school.

There is also a stove in the main room, where we burn wood. It is good, because now it is Winter and it is snowing outside. Dad says that we are lucky because this year Winter is very mild. It is not like last year, when we were in the mountains. We have been traveling a lot, this year. 

It started when I was nine years old. I was in second grade, and we were already living in Gllareve. One day people in uniform came by, and they said that we could not go to school in the village any more. It was a pity, because the school was just opposite my house, and my dad was a professor of history there. So it was quite practical for me. To make sure that we should not go to school any more, they set fire to the classrooms. They also burnt all our schoolbooks, because they were in Albanian, and that was prohibited. We were scared, and we fled. That was a wise decision because as we were going away from the village we saw that they had also set fire to our house.

We were lucky, because we could go and stay with one of my uncles, in the village of Llapqevė. It was only three hours walk from Gllareve, near Malishevo. There were many other families like us there, who had had to leave their homes. There were also men in uniform, which one called UCK. But these spoke Albanian and they did not burn the houses - at least, not ours. 

Shqipe's dad and school childrenWe stayed at my uncle's  for one year. But one day (I believe that it was on March 24 of this year) some soldiers who spoke Serb came and attacked the village. They said that was to take revenge on other soldiers, called NATO, who spoke neither Serb nor Albanian, and who had attacked them. I did not quite understand all their soldiers' stories, but as they looked very angry, we left my uncle's village, and we went much further West (it is the direction where the sun sets). There were heaps of people like us on the road. It was not very funny, because nobody really knew what to do. One day we found a 5 year old girl along the road, she had been left all alone. She could not speak, because she was wounded. We took her with us, and some time later we gave her to UCK soldiers who said that they would take her to Groxhan, a village where there were sisters who took care of wounded people. We did not see her any more, but my dad said to me that she is well now, because he has seen her picture in a newspaper. 

Shqipe and the ruins of her houseWe arrived at Kralan village, and were lucky enough to find a shelter. There was not much room because many people had arrived at the same time (my dad said to me that there were twenty thousands of them). There two of my big brothers left us and ran off to the mountains. Good job they did  because two days later the Serb soldiers returned again, then everyone fled even further West and we arrived in Albania. Well, almost everyone, because my grandfather could not walk very well any more, so he remained in Kralan with other people who did not want to leave either. My dad said to me that there were about four hundred people left in the village. It was not very funny for them, because when the Serbs arrived they had to go without food for 3 days. My grandfather told me that on the third day, a Serb officer and two soldiers selected ninety-five people and took them along. My grandfather and all those who had not been selected were expelled from the village and they had to flee to Albania. We have no news of those who had been selected. It was said  that most of them were from the surroundings of Klinė, a city very close to Gllareve. 

Shqipe, her grandfather, and two of her brothersAs this was happening, I had arrived in Albania, in a place called Bajram Curri. They called that a refugee camp. It was even more crowded than in Kralan, and it was not easy at the beginning. But after two months it started to get better, and I was lucky because I could even go to school in a tent, during two weeks. I even made new girlfriends in the camp: Linda, Dona, Norga and Seila. They came from a city of Kosovo called Gjakovė. 

And then, one day one of our cousins arrived in a truck. He came from our village of Gllareve, and he told us that we could go back there. It was on June 20 and the weather was very hot. We were lucky that he could find a truck and gasoline. My dad gave him some money (he told me two hundred marks: now the money here is called marks, and they say that two hundred marks is much money). We all piled up in the truck and we returned to Gllareve. On the way we finally saw those famous NATO soldiers. They were everywhere, with tanks and all kinds of vehicles. For me, at the beginning, they looked like the soldiers whom we had seen before, the Serbs and the UCK. But now I can recognize them, because they all have "KFOR" written on their tanks and their trucks. They do not speak Albanian, nor Serb. My dad told me that they came from many places, there were Turkish, Americans, Belgians, Dutch and many others. There are even Russians in the area of Malishevo. 

In front, remains of the destroyed school. Behing, tents erected by CaritasWhen we arrived at Gllareve, we found our home burnt down. But we were lucky because  one room  was still in good condition. So the first night we all slept in it. As there were sixteen of us, it was not very comfortable, but we were happy because finally we were home. 

Now my dad and the neighbors have rebuilt our house. The school had two buildings. One of them is completely destroyed, there is nothing left of it, except scraps of the school furniture, that did not burn. Sometimes I go and play there, but my mom does not like it because she says that I might get wounded. The other building was still upright, but there were no more doors or windows, and inside it was a real mess. 

We were lucky, because some people came from far away (Switzerland: it is a country which also has mountains). They are called CARITAS, and they started to clean, to repaint, and to put doors and windows. Well, they did not do it themselves: they brought the money and all the material, and our people did all the work. They were pleased, because in this way they could earn marks and nowadays one needs many marks to buy things. 

The renewed school building. Here, the professors' placePeople of Caritas even put up two large tents beside our school, and it is there that I am now going to school. We are lucky because the two tents are heated. I was told that there are still many schools (especially small schools, in the mountains), where there is no heating in the tents. So, as it freezes very badly outside, they have to do gymnastics  between classes to get warm. But here, as the buildings are almost finished, my dad told me that we would soon return  to a real school. And soon we will also have books in Albanian language. 

So, life is now back to normal. Well, perhaps better than before. My grandfather, and my brothers who had fled to the mountains are with us again, and we all live in a house that has a roof, a door, and windows that close. And we have electricity  almost every day. My dad got back to teaching. He does not get a salary yet, but he says that it will come one day.

Diana, a young Serbian girl in the school at Belobrdė, close to the Serbian borderThe other day I climbed on a tractor that was going to a nearby village. On the way, we saw other houses that had also been  burnt down, and that did not have roofs on any more. But this time it was very recent. My dad told me that they were Serb houses. We personally do not have contacts with the Serbs. Perhaps, in one of these houses, there was a small girl like me who is called "girl" in Serb, and who has also traveled much. I do not know her history, but I hope that she will  be as lucky as I was.

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...This is the history, just as Shqipe and her parents told it to me. It was on December 12, 1999. Close from there, Europe was starting to celebrate Christmas and the arrival of the third millennium...

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