17, No. 22
4 - 17, 2004
Returning to Kosovo, and Looking for
by PRANVERA MATOSHI
In April of 1999, during the war in Kosovo, the Serbian police and military forced my family and me out of our apartment in Prishtina. As we were on the bus fleeing toward the Macedonian border, I remember looking back one last time and wondering if I would ever come back again. It turned out that it wouldn’t be until five years later that I would be ready to go back to the place where I had spent the first 23 years of my life.
For five years, I thought about the day that I would go back to my country. In my head, I painted an image that everything would be the way that I had left it — the city, the streets and the people. I expected to see the old familiar faces that I used to see whenever I went to the airport. However, the day of my return, June 3, 2004, was different from what I had been imagining. It was a cold rainy spring day, and as I walked down the steps from the airplane and toward the building, I felt like I was in a foreign place. I felt confused, like I did the day I arrived in America. Finally, I was back in my country, but as I was waiting for my baggage, I did not want to go any farther. I wanted to return to the United States right away. I felt like I did not belong there. Then, looking around, I noticed how old and tired the people looked, including my uncle and aunt who were waiting outside. When I saw my uncle and aunt I finally broke down in tears.
Later that day, at my uncle’s house, relatives, one after the other, came to visit me. I was extremely happy to see my uncles, aunts and cousins, and I even met, for the first time, two of my cousins who were born after the war. While I was glad to be spending time with my relatives and reminiscing about the old days, there was one cousin, whose father and little brother were killed in the war five years earlier, that I was nervous to see. I felt nervous because I was not sure what I would say to him, and when he finally came, both he and I, without saying anything, broke out in tears. Seeing my relatives again and spending time with them made me realize how much everyone and everything had changed, and that nothing will be the same ever again.
For the next 20 days, I had the chance to see my old friends and to visit the places where I used to hang out in my hometown of Prishtina. Even though I had spent 23 years of my life in Prishtina, I still felt like an outsider. I felt like I did not belong there.
The neighborhood and the building where I used to live looked the same, but to me it did not feel right. It took me a while to go back to my old apartment and, when I did, I stayed for five minutes and left. Since returning to the United States, I have realized that I preferred feeling like a stranger, a tourist, in my country, and staying with my
uncle instead of staying in my apartment. Since Kosovo is not the Kosovo that I knew while growing up, I prefer to leave that chapter of my life as it was before the war. From now on, whenever I go back to visit, I will not try to go back to my old life, but instead to start a new life.
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