Stories and reports

Even a sheet of plastic over our heads would be enough

Skopje, 17.08.2001

The "1st May" hostel is to be found near Skopje's Albanian market, known as the Bit Pazar. Since the beginning of August it has been used as a collective centre. At the moment, 48 people, ethnic Albanians from the Kumanovo-Lipkovo area, are staying there. Most of them are from the villages of Matejche and Ropajce. We arrived with the van bringing humanitarian aid from MCIC to the displaced persons. Everybody helped to unload the van; even the children wanted to join in and the job was completed in seconds. The owner of the hostel explained to us that since their arrival, the people here had received humanitarian aid once from "El Hilal". The aid from MCIC is welcome and it has come just at the right moment as the hostel's own supplies were running low.

The owner took us to the other side of the building. In the yard there were two elderly women in traditional dress, two younger women and several children playing. We greeted them. The owner told them why we were there, and we asked whether they would like to talk to us for a moment. I thought we would not be able to talk with them as the two elderly ladies were shaking their heads. "They don't speak Macedonian", explained the owner, "but she does", he said, indicating one of the younger women. Sabilje Sulejmani was a little over 30. It was three months since she left her home in the village of Matejche with her husband and two children.

"In the first month we hid in the neighbours' basement as we didn't have one", says Sabilje. Then we left the village and came to Skopje. We were taken to a house on Dizhonska Street. After a month they told us we had to leave that house. We were left on the street; we didn't know where to go. Some people on the street asked us what was going on and they told us to go to the "Nikola Vapcarov" School. We stayed there for one month as well. This place is our latest residence, but it's only temporary", says Sabilje.

By now, the aid items we brought with us were put away in another part of the house and Sabilje's husband, Isak, now joins us. We ask them whether they ever had any problems with the neighbours in Matejche. "No", says Isak. "Matejche has 600 houses, and ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs lived there. We always lived together well, in the café, in the cake shop, in the tea shop... Even when the shooting started we had no problems, we hid together in the basements. I don't know what it will be like when we get back, but we parted with no grievances."

Isak and Sabilje heard that a great part of the village has been levelled in the fighting between the Macedonian security forces and the so-called NLA. "About 80% of the houses are destroyed", says Isak. We enquire whether he knows what has happened to their house, and he says it is still intact, as their house is small, and mainly the larger ones were destroyed.

The family still does not know what happened to the animals they left there, four cows, a calf and a horse. "They probably died in need of food and water", says Isak sadly. "In the village there are only a few elderly people left, all the others have gone. We had a lorry, a van and a tractor. We fled with the tractor, first to Kumanovo, and then to Skopje".

A few nights ago, Isak and Sabilje's unborn baby became a victim of troubles we are living through. There was some shooting nearby and Sabilje became frightened and felt sick. They had to go to the hospital at once. "They told us they could not do much to help. They were kind to us, they helped us as much as they could, but, unfortunately, they were unable to save the baby". With tears in her eyes, Sabilje tells us she was in her fourth month of pregnancy.

We ask them whether they will return to Matejche when the situation settles down again. "Of course", they answer. "If something has happened to the house, even a sheet of plastic over our heads would be enough, as long as we can stay in our own home", says Sabilje.

We leave Isak and Sabilje in their latest temporary home. We hope that it will only be temporary, and that their next move will be to their own home in the village of Matejche.

By Gonce Jakovleska

Unloading the goods
Sabilje Sulejmani in her latest temporary home
[hold cursor over pictures for detailed description]

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