Saturday, August 11, 2007

Letters home: School uniform is 'cool' for Kosovo girl shot 16 times and now in UK

From Manchester with love

Cool school uniform, warm Manchester days and refugee theatre form some of the early impressions of a young orphan rescued from Kosovo, recounted in letters home.

Saranda lost 14 members of her family in the war.

Saranda Bogujevci, 22, enjoyed the most miraculous of miraculous escapes as Serbian paramilitary killers riddled her body with 16 bullets in a massacre in the garden of her family home in the village of Podujevo on the 28th March 1999. Six of her family - including her mother and brother - were killed.

Saranda left the bloodshed in Pristina behind as she settled in Manchester and recovered from her injuries. But the horror of her family's murder follows her, and years later she returns to the region to testify against the killers.

Below are extracts from letters she wrote home to her grandmother, as she gets to grips with her new surroundings in the north-west of England.


Dear Grandma, It's been months since I saw you but so much has happened and I want to tell you how I've ended up here, sitting in a hospital bed in Manchester, England.

We were rescued from the hospital in Kosovo and sent here. I can remember the night so clearly in my head. 14 June. All four of us cousins were in Pristina Hospital. This was where the other soldiers had sent us after the shooting of the family.

I've not been able to say what I'm thinking because my English isn't good enough. It's driving me mad

It was very dark outside - pitch, pitch black. The lights in the corridor were really dim. It was so quiet inside. I could see the nurses going up and down the corridor but there were no soldiers. Usually this corridor was filled with drunken or injured soldiers. With lots of noise, shouting, laughing, singing, even shooting sometimes, but on this night there was none of that.

In the morning, when the time came for the nurses to wake us up, nothing happened. So I got up with the girl who was sharing my room to go to the toilet. Whilst I was waiting for her, I looked out the window and I caught sight of a Nato sign on one of the tanks. Even though I was tired and weak, I ran down the corridor to tell my cousin Jehona. I just wanted to scream as loud as I could.


Dear Grandma, The last time I wrote I was lying in a hospital bed. Well, things have got better since then. I still have physiotherapy all the time, sometimes up to five times a week but at least I get to go home in the evenings.

About three months ago I had the major operation on my arm. Please don't worry about my injuries, though, the doctors here did a great job. So good in fact that I'm back at school. It's great to be back amongst kids my own age. Plus I get to wear a school uniform which is really cool. No one back home would wear them but here we all turn up in our grey skirts, jumpers and purple ties.

It's hot here too today - it doesn't happen often but Manchester can get pretty warm

The lessons take my mind off what has happened in the last year. Even though it's only science, maths and the odd art lesson, I can lose myself in the tasks. Plus the other pupils and the teachers are really nice, which makes all the difference.

It's strange though, as the whole school system is different to how it would be in Kosovo. Instead of the teachers having their own room, my class has a room and the teachers have to come to us.

Although I'm healing well on the inside there are still things that get in my way. I can't tell people what I think. So many times I've not been able to say what I'm thinking because my English isn't good enough. It's driving me mad, I want to say to people: "This isn't me, I'm not coming across in the way I intend!"

But I can't so I feel like a different person. I hate it. I was never quiet back home and here the teachers think I'm so well behaved. If only they knew! I miss you and home so much. Hope to see you soon. Love Saranda.

20 AUGUST 2002

Dear Grandma, I was just thinking about you. I'd got my music system on and cousin Ismet's track was playing. You know, the one about the wedding. If I close my eyes, I can see myself out in the garden in Podujevo, in the bright sun. It's hot here too today. It doesn't happen often but Manchester can get pretty warm, not like home though.

Anyway, I've got some good news. Today I got my GCSE results (they're sort of like the exams you'd do at the end of primary school). I got the top mark in art!

Ever since that day, when the Serbian army came in and shot us, I wanted to see them brought to justice

I think I had a really good teacher but still, I feel a little weird, I really didn't write that much for the coursework. I wasn't even sure if I'd pass the exam. So to get an A* is, well, not what I expected.

Having said that, recently I have become so much more confident in speaking to people in English. Now I can say what I really think. I've felt invisible for the past few years and its great not to have someone else talk for me at last. I think I might take art at college, since it was my best grade. The place I've decided to go to has a great art department.

Remember how I thought I might have to be a pharmacist? Well, how things change. I can tell you, I would have been a really bad pharmacist, it's probably better for everyone's health now. Hope to see you soon. Love Saranda.

MARCH 2003

Dear Grandma, I'm feeling so odd today. We got back from the airport yesterday but it still hasn't sunk in that the trial is over. Ever since that day, when the Serbian army came in and shot us, I wanted to see them brought to justice. Seeing them sitting in the courtroom everyday, it felt so, on the one hand great because we could say what they'd done to us but also scary.

We were worried that something could happen again. It was tough getting through the process: we needed 24-hour protection. From the moment we landed in Belgrade to the moment we left again.

It's funny, when I went home this summer and tried to hook up with my old mates it was harder than I expected - most are now married, or have moved away

It was weird because I ended up testifying on mum's birthday and in the car on the way back I remember resting my head on the car window and looking at the sun, it was so bright. Anyway, just for a second, there she was, smiling face-to-face at me. I'd forgotten it was her birthday and it took my mobile phone's calendar to remind me of it. When I switched it on at the end of the day it beeped up with the message, "Mum's birthday".

We had to go and I'm glad we did but I'm pleased to be back home in Manchester. I've spent so long thinking about what happened back in 1999 and now, at last, I feel like I can move on, that it's okay to move on, that the people that did this to me, to you, to all the women and children, that they've been punished. I miss you. Love Saranda.


Dear Grandma, I've just come back from meeting a friend in town. She's like me; she has family abroad and totally gets what it's like to have two cultures in your life, one foot in Manchester and one foot elsewhere. She's so chilled out and doesn't judge me at all.

Aside from Claire, I'm making other new friends here all of the time. It's funny, when I went home this summer and tried to hook up with my old mates it was harder than I expected. Most are now married, or have moved away. I suppose we've all grown apart. We're not the people we were back in primary school.

There are other good things going on in Manchester too. I've started to do loads more activities. The local theatre, the Royal Exchange, has got a group together of refugees who act and we're devising a show for the studio theatre. I learned a lot from the cast. Most of us hadn't acted before but this made us all really close as we needed each other. The show we devised was called Face to Face: Love in the UK and is all about relationships. It's very funny. I wished you'd seen it. Love Saranda.

30 JUNE 2007

Dear Grandma, I've got time to write to you as I've finished my uni for the summer. You'll never guess where I'm going next year though... Canada. I can remember wanting to go places as a kid, especially coming to England. I never thought I'd live here and now I'm heading off for another land.

I can't wait to see you all. You know that Kosovo will always be the place of my childhood and where I was made but Manchester is what made me an adult. I wish I could talk to Mum and ask her what she thinks of me as an adult. Is this the grown up Saranda she had in mind? I'll never know. I'll write soon, love Saranda.

Fair use from BBC.


Anonymous said...

Is that all you can come up with simplistic propaganda?Im sure theres plenty of stories like the 16 year old mentally disabled girl old Serbian girl who was raped repeatedly and then stabbed to death by albanians.

Balkan Update said...

Your inability to show sympathy with the victim of a such horrible massacre speaks volumes about you! No need to add anything else.