The "Bridge of Blood" Mitrovica
"Ura e Gjakut" nv Mitrovicė
|My name is Lulzim Hoti. I'm 24 years old. I have two brothers and a sister. I live with my parents in Mitrovica, a town in north Kosova. This year I hope to earn my bachelor's degree in Albanian Literature.
After the war we feel the freedom, but we are worried about our city, because it is divided: half-Albanian, half-Serb. I like taking pictures and, if I continue this work, I will prepare an exhibit for the troubled people of my half-city. When I was young I liked to look at pictures in different books and magazines. At age thirteen I made my first black and white photo. I was very happy, because it was mine. Living in occupation, however, it was difficult to realize my dream. I acquired my first camera when I was seventeen years old and spent all my money to develop the photos. The situation was getting harder and it was getting harder to realize my dreams, too. I will try to write about a part of my life, and I'm sure that I'll forget to write lots of things. It is hard to remember, but I feel a need to express myself.
Two years ago Serbian police beat me very badly because I was studying the Albanian language; they found a book hidden in my shirt. Shortly after that, the war began. The fighting came near my street, and we needed to escape. My grandparents stayed at home because they couldn't walk fast and they preferred to die in their home. We cared for them constantly, but unfortunately we had to leave them. A lot of people left their homes and walked like slaves, looking at the flames coming from their houses.
Everything was a mess. Along the street I saw an old man who was killed because he couldn't walk. I heard many children crying and I saw many out-of-control acts committed by all ages. People were confused; nobody knew where to go or what was going to happen. I had my camera and I decided to take documentary pictures. After three kilometers I saw that there were no Serbs around and I saw the perfect shot with refugees in the front and many houses in flame behind them. I took it. A woman accused me of being crazy to take the photo, in view of what was happening at that moment. This shocked me and after taking that photo I didn't have the nerve to take another picture.
After two more kilometers we found ourselves in a river-like column of people; it seemed as if everyone was leaving Mitrovica. The weather was bad. It rained a lot. We walked and walked between paramilitary forces and the Serbian army. I will never forget when a Serb policeman shot his gun near my foot and shouted at me to walk faster. But we were in luck; we met my uncle with his tractor and he helped us to travel together. Near Prizren Serbs stopped us for eight hours. We had no bread or water. Some children were crying and our hope for life was little.
After a short time I saw a man with his wife and dead baby in her arms. They buried the baby under a pear tree. They said that the baby died because they couldn't find milk. They had walked four days, trying to help that baby. For a moment I thought to get again the camera and photograph that horrible situation, but I wasn't sure. There were more than 300 cars and different vehicles with people, and behind us, thousands of people walking day and night. The Serbs used our column to camouflage their artillery, to prevent NATO from striking their position.
Some Serbian police waited for orders from their commanding officers. Someone said if we could find 5000 DM ($2,500) to give to the Serbs we could go on our way. And it happened; we found the money and we were able to continue. The journey lasted four days; I was unable to sleep. Near the Albanian border the Serbs were looking for gold, money and other valuables. Some of the people gave them those things in exchange for their lives; in some cases they paid with their lives. It was dark and they were checking all the boys. They were looking for identification and other documents and sometimes they divided men from women. I was lucky; a child started crying, distracting the policeman who missed me. He yelled, "Move!"
We crossed the border. It was raining hard, but finally we were able to breathe freely. That night I had to sleep on the cement floor of a demolished factory in Kukes, a poor Albanian town. After four hours I awoke, because my body was freezing. In the morning I found myself in front of many photographers; I had lost my role as a photographer and was a subject for the eyes of others.
The next day, after 10 hours in a truck, we found ourselves at the home of the Kaēa family in Shijak. We found great hospitality there. For two months we waited for the words, "You can return to your home." It finally happened. In a short time most of the refugees returned to Kosova, their homeland. We found our grandfather and grandmother safe at home; they told us of the different events that happened during the time that we were away. A lot of my neighbors were still looking for their arrested and missing people. Pain had just begun, but at the same time we were happy.
The old dream of freedom has come true. Thanks, USA! Thanks, NATO ! Thanks Europe. You protected our rights and we will protect the rights of others. Now I'm very happy, because we have freedom. I don't think it's too late to realize our dreams. I thank the American people for their help, and I especially want to thank my teacher, Martha Grenon, who worked hard with us and shared her experience and assistance to all people here. Thanks a lot, Martha.
Une quhem Lulzim Hoti, njėzet e katėr vjeēar.Kam dy vėllezėr dhe njė motėr.Tani jetoj me famijlen time nė Mitrovicė, qytet verior i Kosovės.Kėtė vit pres ta mbroj temėn e diplomės nė Fakultetin e Letėrsisė shqipe.