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Interviews

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The Interviews- Page 7

Niza Mesret

This interview was conducted in the Albanian language.

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview (1)

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview (2)

 

I think that now it’s better for the youth; they have boyfriends and girlfriends, and they know who they’ll marry. We didn’t know; our parents made the decisions that we should have made. I think that it’s better now- because you can marry the one that you love.”

Prizren

NM: I was born in 1942. I have five children; four sons and one daughter. My husband is from Podujevo, but we have lived in Prizren for 35 years, always in this Mahala- Podrimska. We are Roma but we are Albanian; I attended a Serbian school because my father lived in Belgrade after 1942. I finished primary school. My father is from Prizren; my mother as well.

What kind of work did your father have?

NM: My father worked in a factory; he fixed cars there.

Which holidays do you celebrate?

NM: We celebrate holidays similar to Albanians, but we are Roma; the night of Bibi we don’t celebrate, but we do celebrate Herdeljez. That’s a good day; my great-grandfather celebrated Herdeljez. Winter has ended; the summer will come soon. mp3 Our mother would bake cookies; we’d buy a sheep.

NM: We would all get together, girls and boys, but we had no boyfriends like girls do now; everything is different now. We’d dance, sing, and on this day we’d go to the Turbe*. We’d pick flowers, and some of the girls would sing while we went there. mp3 Our mother would wash us in the early morning with a red egg.

Mrs. Mesret & her friend, Interviewee Nadire Kurlaku: Prizren, April 2003

(*Please refer to the Herdeljez description under Roma Holidays.)

Why a red egg?

NM: So we’d be healthy like a red egg.

How old were you when you were married?

NM: My husband was still in school. Some people came to my father, to ask about me; I didn’t even know who this guy that I’m supposed to marry was. My parents decided all that.

Was that good for you or not?

NM: I think that now it’s better for the youth; they have boyfriends and girlfriends, and they know who they’ll marry. mp3 We didn’t know; our parents made the decisions that we should have made. I think that it’s better now- because you can marry the one that you love. mp3

What customs did you follow for the wedding?

NM: My parents agreed to my betrothal; I was engaged for six months. Before I went (to my husband’s family), they gave me nice clothes and gold. I didn’t have a wedding dress.

How did they (the groom’s family) come to take you from your home?

NM: They brought musicians and a busload of guests (to pick me up). When I got off the bus from Gjakovë (Serbian: Djakovica), my new father-in-law took me by the hand and escorted me to the door. When I entered the home, my mother-in-law gave me sweetened water, and I placed my hand in that water and placed my hand on the door. mp3

What did the sweet water symbolize?

NM: It symbolizes a good relationship with my new family; things will go in a sweet way. mp3

And your mother-in-law will then eat from your hand?

NM: Yes. To show that there won’t be problems between us in her house.  

When are you then allowed to visit your family?

NM: After two weeks.

What is the custom when your husband first visits your family?

NM: (My family) will prepare a good dinner. They’ll play many jokes on him; they’ll make him eat a lot and then he’ll have to go outside to chop wood. (When he’s outside) they’ll yell, ‘watch out for the dogs! No, wait, those are wolves!’ mp3

Did the Turks have this tradition?

NM: Yes. The Turks and Albanians follow this tradition.

What else does the family do to the son-in-law?

NM: When he (the husband) is ready to leave, he’ll find that someone’s put things in his shoes; usually eggs. The wife will try to prevent many of these things. They (the bride’s family) will give gifts to the son-in-law, for his family. After another two weeks, the (bride’s) mother will visit her son-in-law’s family. They’ll have a good dinner and the mother will bring gold jewelry for her daughter.  

Why does she (the bride’s mother) bring the jewelry?

NM: Out of respect.

Niza's Granddaughter: Prizren, 2003

And on Herdeljez the children would have that symbolic bath with red egg, like I said, and all the unmarried girls would come together and place things in a pot, and an engaged girl will come forward and we will swathe her in a red cloth, all the unmarried girls will be there, sitting in the streets of the Mahala, and we will place the pot in front of her. The betrothed girl, covered in red, will remove an item from this pot, and we will sing poetry; the poem will depend on what the girl has removed.

And it’s a shame to ask, “Is it my future husband?”

We’d recite these poems in Turkish. mp3

We’d sing these songs in Turkish, because we lived among them. mp3

Thank you.

Back to top

 

Dragomir Ivanović

Gracanica

Mr. Ivanović is an ethnic Serb.

Mr. Ivanovic requested that we not videotape or photograph him.

"Many Roma work like the Serbs work- the ones who finished school do. But Roma mostly do physical labor."

DI: I’ve lived with Roma here in Gracanica for around 45 years. Roma have been here awhile; we have good relationships with them. No problem. mp3

Are there differences between Gracanica Roma and other Roma?

DI: There are some differences; I don’t know why. Perhaps because Roma, say, from Pristina, well that’s a city and they learned trades there. Roma from Gracanica always work with our Serbs, in the fields. When (other Roma) came here, the Gracanica Roma began to work in the markets. There are still differences between them.

Are many Roma, working privately, employed by Serbs?

DI: Many Roma work like the Serbs work- the ones who finished school do. But Roma mostly do physical labor. mp3

Roma here celebrate your Serbian holidays- Djurdjevdan and Vasilica (the Serbian new year). How long have they celebrated these days?

DI: Yes, on those days I celebrated with the Roma, and on those days they called me godfather. They (Roma) have always celebrated these days; they didn’t start recently. mp3

Roma call Serbs (males only) godfather (Serbian- Kum). Why is this?

DI: I think we are godfathers to the Roma; that’s why they do this.

Back to top

  

Fatima Mehmeti

Gracanica

Mrs. Mehmeti requested that she not be videotaped.

"I came to ask your daughter’s hand for my son; they love each other. I don’t have any money to give; I’m not rich. The only person who’s really rich is God."

FM: I don’t know many things (about marriage traditions), but I can tell you that we were in a very poor situation- worse than now. mp3

In my time- when I was teenager- Roma parents would arrange these things.

They (the parents) would go to arrange marriages with another family. Later, If the bride’s family lived far away, they’d travel by horse, with blankets thrown over the horse, and the bride would ride in the cart the horses pulled. We’d bring nice clothes for the new bride, to show the groom’s parents that we provided for her; we’d bring the clothes in a wooden chest. It’s different now.

Did the groom’s parents always pay a dowry?  

FM: In some places, yes; in some places, no. It depends on the family; if they are very rich, they’ll ask for, and give, lots of money.

A long time ago, Roma didn’t have money to give; so they gave something else. A cow, a horse or a sheep… mp3

What will happen if a Roma boy loves a Roma girl, and they want to marry, but her father’s bride-price is too high?

FM: Then they’d need to make an arrangement with the girl’s parents. If parents want to give their daughter away for free, then okay. There are some Roma that will really understand when the boy’s father says,

I came to ask your daughter’s hand for my son; they love each other. I don’t have any money to give; I’m not rich. The only person who’s really rich is God. mp3   

But there are people that don’t care about any of this; they don’t care for anything. Then it becomes hard.  

What about the boy and girl? What will they do?

FM: The only solution- the girl will flee her home and go to the boy that she loves. She loves him; that’s the most important thing. mp3

Will her parents be against that?

FM: Some parents are against it; some don’t care.

What kind of Roma are you?

FM: I am Muslim; I am Gurbeti,* and my husband is Arlija*.  

(*Gurbeti/ Gurbets- Roma from Gnjilane/ Gjilan. FM’s testimony disputes what some other interviewees have claimed about Gurbeti.)  

Can you see a difference between your childhood, and childhood now?

FM: It’s very different. We were very poor, and we lived in terrible conditions. One of the things that we never achieved was getting a good education. mp3

Did you finish school?

 

FM: No, because my father had seven children. We couldn’t dress well, we couldn’t eat- we couldn’t really do anything.

When you were young, did you know any Ashkalija or Egyptians?

FM: There were Ashkalija- and we were very good together, eating and working. They also spoke good Romanes.

What about Egyptians?

FM: No, I’ve never heard about them. All I know is Ashkalija.

How long were you in school?

FM: Eight years, but now that doesn’t mean nothing. mp3

Mrs. Mehmeti & Friend 

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Sead Demiri

"The dead- his good or bad works will stay with him, and some say that tomorrow he will be judged."

Gracanica

Sead’s family welcomed us with Orange soda, coffee and unfiltered cigarettes; his father sat on his front steps, his eyes closed as the sun warmed him on the first real day of spring. He politely declined an interview; he had things to do, plants and soil to poke around in, and a chair to repair. The Demiris live on the outskirts of the Mahala, in a house so pretty and well-kept that some of the Roma neighbors joke that Serbs actually live there.

Sead just welcomed his first child; his wife gave birth in the Serbian hospital in North Mitrovica , and Sead got the news just before we showed up. Gracanica’s Roma travel there to give birth; Albanian hospitals have only recently begun treating Roma again, after 3 ½ years of refusal of services. Roma still don’t trust them. There are too many stories about Roma lying in the waiting room with untreated knife and gunshot wounds for the Roma to simply walk in when a doctor says they can finally, after years, expect treatment.

Sead, like Afrim Osmani, prepares the Muslim dead for burial. He is responsible for the ablution of washing the deceased.

SD: I am from Gracanica.

How do you properly prepare the dead for burial, and what customs do you follow during the burial?

Muslim Graves by Murat's Tomb

SD: For example: if my father died, the elders would prepare his body and place him in a waddle* of straw. That night, when someone dies, everyone goes there, and they will sit all night.   mp3

(SD is referring to a deviation of the traditional Islamic rite- the Takfeen. A deceased Muslim is traditionally wrapped in a Kafan- a white sheet. Males are wrapped in three; women are wrapped in one. These sheets are precisely measured.)

Now they simply cover the body with a blanket. From the next morning until afternoon, the family and cousins of the dead will come; all the relatives of the dead will visit. And in the afternoon the Hodja (an Islamic cleric) will come to wash his body, and prepare him for his grave. All the funeral guests will walk together with the Hodja to the graveyard. mp3

The Roma graveyard lies above our community. When we arrive, we place the dead on a large stone. We will turn him to the right side and pray in front of him, and after we pray we will bury him. mp3 Someone from the dead person’s family will have gone earlier, to dig the grave, so everything will be ready.

(The deceased will be buried on his side, with his face towards Mecca .)  

What prayers do you say?

SD: We go there to pray; that’s a rule. We pray for Allah to forgive the dead and save him. Our holy Koran says we must do this. mp3

Do you bury the dead with his covering?

SD: With the covering around him. The Hodja will then read the Talkin*. It answers questions about the next life, and other things from the Koran.  

Sead at his Family's Shop in the Gracanica Mahala: April 2003

(*Talkin is, in Arabic, Takbeer; it is recited, usually by an Imam, four times. In Arabic, the burial ceremony is know as the Salat ul Janazah.)

The dead- his good or bad works will stay with him, and some say that tomorrow he will be judged.

The Roma Graveyard above Gracanica

Is that all that you do for him?

SD: Seven days after the funeral, the dead person’s friends and relatives will gather to pray and eat dinner. Others also do this after 52 days, others again after six months. Others will gather a year later, but some do nothing at all.    

What do they do during the gatherings?

Those days are Sadaka- the family will invite guests and feed them.  

(Sadaka- a Turkish word. Usually Sadaka refers to alms, or charity.)

Is the Hodja paid for his services?

SD: We don’t pay. Before we needed a Hodja from Pristina. He was Albanian, so we paid him 100- 200 Deutschmarks. But now we know how to do these things, and we do it ourselves. mp3

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Adilje Osmani

This interview was conducted in the Albanian language.

Mrs. Osmani requested that we not videotape her.

 

"It was very difficult. After school (my husband) worked, but we could only buy one liter of oil and one kilogram of sugar. We also needed wood, but with wood it was a question of whether we could afford it or not."

 

Gracanica

All of Adilje’s boys have completed secondary school. None of her daughters have. Convention stated that it was enough for girls to have a few years of primary school before they were pulled out, to learn the ways of the home. For Roma women this is enough work to complete a PhD-level dissertation. Their days go from five AM to midnight ; it gets worse when they are first married. They leave their family homes forever, and in the groom’s family, his mother runs the show. They have to prove what they know. The do laundry until their hands crack open and their skin bleeds. They wash their stepmother’s feet every morning. They run and fetch, they work until a westerner would break down and cry, and then they keep going.

Adilje treats her son’s wife with uncommon kindness. Adilje’s daughters have all been married off, and they’ve gone to Kosovo Polje, Belgrade , or just down the road; but they come back often. Every evening Adilje’s home is full of visitors from the Mahala; they smoke and drink coffee and small, strong, sugary cups of ruski čai- Russian tea. Adilje often sits off to the side, ignoring them all as she talks to her husband on the phone. He works in Italy ; he’s been there for a decade. He’s tried to come back; economics won’t allow him to stay long, and he always ends up across the Adriatic , separated from his wife and children and grandchildren. It was harder during the war; he panicked in Italy while the bombs fell on them, and the phone lines were dead.

Adilje & her Husband, Circa 1969

Where you were born?

AO: Gracanica. I’m 46 years old.

My father came here from somewhere around Ferizaj.

(Serbian: Uroševac)

How old was your father when he died?

AO: He was 77 years old.  

And your mother?

AO: My mother died when she was 60 years old. She died 20 years ago.

What was the first language you learned?

AO: Romanes.  

Did you attend school?

AO: Yes- until the 4th year of primary school. We were so poor, that we didn’t have shoes. mp3

How many children were in your family?

AO: We were many; I had five sisters and four brothers. mp3

Did all of you attend school?

AO: Yes, but only until the forth year of primary school. Only my younger brother finished eight years of primary school.

How old were you when you were married?

AO: I was 15 years old- 30 or 31 years ago.

Did everyone marry so young back then?

AO: Just about everybody.

Did you know your husband before you married him?  

AO: Yes, because he was from Gracanica.

How many children do you have?

AO: I have nine children; five sons and four daughters. mp3

Adilje's Husband, Circa 1960s

How was your wedding?

AO: We had music- like now.

Did you wear nice clothes for the wedding?

Adilje & a Friend, circa 1960s

AO: It wasn’t like now; it was without wedding clothes. Just simple clothes. mp3

Did your father ask for a dowry?

AO: Yes, either 300 or 3000 Yugoslav Dinars. I can’t remember exactly. mp3

Which language did you speak with your husband?

AO: In my father’s family we spoke Romanes, but when first married I learned to speak Albanian; my husband was Ashkalija. mp3

How old you were you when you had your first child?

AO: I was only 16 years old.

Did your family and your husband’s family celebrate the same holidays?

AO: No, my father’s family celebrated Christmas, Vasilica, Herdeljez and Bajram. In my husband’s family we celebrated only Herdeljez and Bajram.

Why did your family celebrate Vasilica?  

AO: I don’t know. Because our great-grandfathers celebrated it, we did also. mp3

What customs did your family follow on that day?

AO: On Vasilica we bought a goose to kill; the day before, we baked four or five different types of bread, and we shaped the bread and drew on it.  

On Vasilica morning we prepared the goose; we baked more bread, with one Yugoslav Dinar hidden in it. Whoever finds it will have luck. We’d break the bread into as many pieces as there were members in the family; 11 pieces. Then there’d be drinking and singing- the song of Sveti Vasilija.

Avel Vasi*

Avel Vasi..

Ki Adilja

Vasi is coming

Vasi is coming

to Adilja

mp3

(*Vasi is the diminutive form of Vasilija)  

So we sang the song, and sang all of our names. We’d have candles as well, mp3 and after midnight the visitors arrived. 

Every family knows who their visitors will be. When the visitors come, we feed them goose; they’ll stay until morning, drinking with the family. And the next day people visit each other and congratulate each other for the holiday.

Did your family celebrate Christmas?

AO: On Christmas my family made pastries and bought apples, nuts, pears and other fruits. In the evening, after dinner, we gave the fruits to the children. The day after Christmas, people visited one another’s homes.

What about Herdeljez?  

AO: Herdeljez is the 6th of May. Roma buy sheep and new clothes. On that day they’ll drink a lot. On the 5th of May, all of them have collected Kukureg and Dren*. With those flowers, they decorate their homes.

When the 6th of May begins, at midnight , all the Roma families will wake up and bathe in water (with Kukureg and Dren). They’ll build fires and wait for the butcher to arrive.

When the butcher comes, we make him coffee, and he kills and prepares the sheep. Some people will cook the sheep outside, over a fire.

What religion is your husband’s family?

AO: Muslim.

And your father’s religion?

AO: Muslim.

Did your husband work when you married him?

AO: No. He was still in school. mp3

How old was he when he married you?

AO: He was 14 years old. mp3

When you had a child, he was still in school?

AO: Yes. It was very difficult. After school he worked, but we could only afford to buy one liter of oil and one kilogram of sugar. We also needed wood, but with wood it was a question of whether we could afford it or not. mp3

Did you go into the forest to collect wood?

AO: All summer, from March until October.

Did many Roma from Gracanica do that?

AO: Everybody did it. The forest was very near.

Where were you during the 1999 war?

AO: For the first two weeks of the bombing we stayed here; we slept in the shelters. Then we left, to Belgrade ; we stayed there for only two weeks before we returned.  

Below, Adilje relates three stories that she heard from her family when she was a child:

A relative of my father’s died; they buried him. On the way home from the graveyard, the dead man returned and appeared in front of the funeral procession. He beat a drum, and followed them home. The children told him-

‘Go home. Go to your new place. If the others see you, they’ll be very afraid. We just buried you- and yet you appear before us.’

The dead man disappeared, but later, when our family rested at home, the dead man appeared on the roof; he began to beat his drum.

Ooo, Ajet,’ the family called. ‘Stop, the children are frightened.’

But he kept playing his drum, and he played other instruments as well. He played all night; the family had no sleep.  

He was from Gracanica- my father’s family. And his name was Ajet.

Second story

AO: My aunt told this story to my father.

When my father’s mother died, she went to Pristina, and nobody knew that. She went to my father’s aunt, in the form of a dog.

‘I saw that the dog had opened my door,’ my aunt said. ‘The dog had a beautiful, bright little chain.’

My aunt tried to take the chain from the dog. The dog ran; she tried to catch him, but could not. She ran and ran, but lost her way, and was far from home. The dog appeared in front of her, and led her to her home. The dog led her until morning.

Third story

AO: My mother told me this story.

A Serbian woman died in Pristina. She had five children; two daughters and three sons. She was my uncle’s wife; she died after a long illness. And when she passed, the family buried her, but her spirit returned to my uncle and entered his body. She almost stopped his breathing. When the people heard about this, they commented,

‘She was a Serbian, but we buried her in the Muslim graveyard.’

She returned, every night. mp3 One night she took a donkey from my family, and all night she rode it. In the early morning, around 4 or 5 o’clock , she took the donkey and tied him to a tree and left him there.

Other Roma found the donkey, but they didn’t know who owned it. After awhile, they knew. And every morning they returned it to my family. That donkey was very tired.

This continued for six weeks. She did many bad things; she climbed on the roofs of our homes.

One day her husband asked her, ‘Why don’t you return to your place?’

She replied- ‘I can’t. Because your graveyard won’t have me. You should have buried me in a Serb graveyard.’ mp3

A long time after, some people saw her in another town. They recognized her and called to her, but she ran away from them. She boarded a train and left. No one ever saw her again.

A Cigarette Break: Adilje & Son, April 2003

A cigarette break: Adilje and son.

 

 

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Who We Were, Who We Are: Kosovo Roma Oral Histories
©Bobby Anderson 2003-2009. All rights reserved.

This project was made possible by the generous financial support of the Open Society Institute Roma Culture Initiative.

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Who We Were, Who We Are: Kosovo Roma Oral Histories © Bobby Anderson 2003-2009
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