This week's post is written by my wonderful best friend, Besi:
My name, Besarta Besa, is an Albanian name that translates to "faith" or "oath". I was born and raised in Kosovo - a beautiful little country that has been through a lot.
During my teenage years, the ongoing tensions between Kosovo's Albanian and Serb communities erupted into major violence, culminating in the Kosovo War of 1998 and 1999. I was a young girl with many dreams, but the only thing that I was hoping and praying for at that time was to survive the war.
The Kosovo War was fought by the military forces of Serbia which controlled Kosovo before the war, and a little group of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Through terror and violence, Serb forces drove 1.5 million Kosovo Albanians from their homes. Hundreds of settlements were burned and looted. Massacres led to innumerable mass graves in Kosovo and in Serbia proper. Many were arrested and never returned home, still missing today.
Thousands of Albanian women were raped in Kosovo as Serb leader forces used rape as a tool of war, their goal being to destroy Albanians’ honor and identity. It’s a strategy that worked. Even though Kosovo eventually declared independence from Serbia, the war is not over for these survivors who still suffer in silence. My dream is to help and support these rape survivors, so they can live better lives.
After attempts at a diplomatic solution failed, NATO intervened.
The NATO bombing of Serbia was the military operation against the Serbian military station in Kosovo during the Kosovo War. The air strikes lasted four months. For the first time in the conflict, fighting moved from the rural areas to the cities. Seeing all those Serbian tanks, military trucks ready to attack the innocent people of Kosovo, is a nightmare that still follows me.
These were the darkest days of my life. As a teenager all that I wanted was for my family to be safe. Even though I was staying in a basement with 30-35 people and we only had one meal a day, I knew that better days would come. While the bombings continued, so did the ethnic cleansing. Our family and the entire neighborhood were forced to leave our homes and seek refuge in other parts of The Balkans. I still remember all those beautiful houses burning, the smell of the smoke and all of us crying and praying for the lost lives.
The bombings continued until an agreement was reached that led to the withdrawal of armed forces from Kosovo, and the establishment of the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
Little by little we were rising from ashes. We mourn for all the senseless lives lost, the cities that were burned down started to rebuild, but the wounds of rape survivors are still open. And the families of missing persons are still waiting for the bodies or at least a grave to cry on.... we are still waiting.
It was hard going back to the new normal after war. I made a promise to myself that I would always seek the good in people, love the life that I am living and appreciate every little thing that I get to do.
Who would have thought that when I turned 22 years old I would leave Kosovo and move to Dallas, TX. After one year of a long distance relationship with my husband, we got married, and I moved to live with him and his family in Dallas.
I was the first of my family to leave the county. When I moved here, I spoke just a little bit of English and had never traveled outside of Europe. The mystery of the unknown in a new country was a little bit challenging.
I used to hear all the time the inspiring stories of many immigrants and they would often say, “America is the place to come to start a new life."
I never heard about the struggles until I lived them myself. As a newbie I had to learn the language and combine both cultures. I went to college and soon I started making friends and getting used to the Texas heat ;). I still have my accent and mispronounce words.
No one tells you just how hard it is to be a newbie. You will attempt seeming familiar in efforts to integrate, attempt the humor, laugh along when you can’t. But no one will warn you of the loneliness. No one tells you that you will find comfort in shared language because sometimes you will feel your mother tongue crumbling in your memory.
What they won’t tell you, but you must know, is that after some time has passed, you will find people who will make you feel less foreign and make you feel at home. You will know love, friendship, compassion and joy. And I was fortunate enough to meet people that showed me that family is not only about blood, but about those who accept you for who you are and stand by your side.
I’ve now lived in America for almost 14 years and as a working mom of two wonderful boys, I must say that I’m blessed and fortunate to be here as I continue to work towards my dreams and help those in need.