Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 9, Scene 5 Four Pieces of Wood

This Little One has a Rich Heritage
Ever since I arrived in Kosovo, I’ve heard stories of Bajrush Ibishi. The first person to greet me in the country was Bajrush’s son, Valdet. Valdet takes care of every employee at Prishtina High School. 

He is a good man. 

So when I started hearing stories about his father—a man who had been an educator, an entrepreneur, a government official and mayor of the place where the director of Prishtina High School, John Chesnut made his home, I was anxious to meet him. My chance finally came.

Bajrush Ibishi is a well-educated, well-spoken, and interesting man. He graduated in 1979 with a Degree in Philosophy and History from the University of Prishtina. He subsequently taught for six years, was the principal of a local school for ten years and served as a high school professor in Podujeva following that. In 2001 he worked in Prishtina in the Ministry of Labor and Social work while also serving his community in Orllan as mayor.

He has many stories but there was one in particular I wanted to hear him tell. Although Bajrush understands and speaks English, this story, this one that has inspired many…this story that is close to his heart and has woven itself into the history of his family and community, he shared in Albanian. Valdet translated.

“We were under occupation from 1989-1999. We were suspended from every official duty in Yugoslavia. They took us out of schools, fired us from our jobs, and yet we would continue to teach kids in Albanian without salary for that period of time.”

“During that time I was arrested many, many times. Twelve times in front of the students, just because we were not accepting Serbia’s discriminating laws for Albanians.”

“They did not recognize Kosovo Albanians and the Albanian language.”

“Milosvic was in charge and he destroyed Yugoslavia. When Tito was in charge, until 1989, Kosova had its own constitution. Milosvic suspended it in 1990. This was Kosovo then, with our salary suspended and everything.”

“I’m explaining the circumstances of that time.”

I nodded my understanding while trying to capture everything on my computer. Bajrush waited a moment for me to catch up before continuing the story. Finally, as my fingers came to rest, Bajrush began talking again.

“In Podujeva, 99 % of the population was Albanian yet no Albanians worked in Podujeva. We weren’t allowed. Yet we had to pay taxes and all taxes went to Serbia. We had to pay. If we didn’t pay the taxes, the police and military would force us to pay.”

“We had to open a business elsewhere. My three brothers and I opened a lumberyard to do a business so we could survive. The day before opening our business, the police arrested me but they released me. The next morning my brother called and told me the police and inspectors were there again.”

“I went to the business. One of the inspectors said, ‘Would you please give me some wood I need for my house.’ I thought they had come to arrest me, but he wanted wood. And he wanted to pay me later. He needed four pieces for his house. It was close to winter. I told him ‘You get the wood and you don’t have pay anything.’” 

“After a couple of years, on my way to Nish in Serbia, I see him when I went to get tires for my truck. He was waiting for a bus.”

“I take him home. When I get close to his house, I don’t just drop him on the road, I drive him to his house. From the main road to his house was about 5 kilometers.”

“He said, ‘Drop me here and I can walk.’ But I drove him. Then he said, ‘You don’t need my help but if you need it I will give you my help.’”

“More than three years after that, the Serbian police arrested me. It was in April of 1999. I had come from the war to bring food to the refugee camp. I was bringing food to my family.”

At this point, my friend Valdet, Bajrush’s son, spoke up. “They took him away and we thought they would never release him. He left and we were all in tears. I was seven years old.”  
Valdet with his beautiful wife. "They took him away and we
thought they would never release him. He left and we
were all in tears. I was seven years old."

Bajrush took a deep breath before continuing with his story. “They took me to Podujeva to their base. Their station. It was around 11:00 in the morning. They beat me and tortured me. They made me stand straight up to the wall. Several different people beat me. ‘You are bombing us!’ they said. It was at that time NATO had started bombing.”

“At 10:00pm they took me to a different house.  A private house because the city of Podujeva was all empty. Everyone was leaving Kosova or they were in hiding.” 

“When I walked in that house, the inspector there, his name was Milan, saw me. He said, ‘Professor, why are you here?’ He calls me inside he gives me a cigarette and he brings me food. But I couldn’t eat. I didn’t eat the whole day and now I couldn’t eat.”

“And then the inspector tells me, ‘I owe you your life. They were going to kill you slowly. In the middle of the night, about midnight, I’m taking you out of this place.’” 

“I asked him to take me to the middle of the city. ‘I know more people there to get help,’ I told him.”

“He said, ‘No, it’s not safe for you there. I’ll take you to a different village. I’ll drop you at this village and please be careful. There are snipers all around the houses. If they shoot at you, fall down and crawl.’”

“I crawled for a couple of miles to this river and then I got up and walked to a house where I spent the night. The next morning I wanted to see my family at the refugee camp which was about 12 kilometers from where I spent the night.”

“That guy and God saved me because I would have been dead…that guy, Milan. The one I gave the wood to many years ago.”

“After the war, friends of mine that traveled from Germany and Switzerland went through Serbia. Milan met them and asked them about me and sent me greetings. But I cannot go and see him. I could get arrested because I was part of the KLA.” [Kosovo Liberation Army]

“Since then I’m a free man living in a free country.”

“After the war I decide I’m going to work more than I used to. I want to do everything I can do for my country. I wanted to dedicate myself to Orllan and the Podujeva area. And be thankful for my life and for living in a free country.”

“We came back home on June 15, 1999 and everything was burned to the ground. We started life from zero.”

“And one of the first to help us start our life was John Chesnut and his family. Their family and my family, we are like one family. Later, as a leader, the mayor of the area, I had a great relationship with KFOR and Swedish organizations. In the beginning we all had meetings everyday and then later every second day. And then we didn’t need to meet so often.”

Bajrush is ready to share
 the family history with his grandchildren.

“So bit by bit our life was getting back to normal.”

Relationships. Isn’t that what it is all about? Bajrush harbors no ill-will toward the Serbian population. He is a testament to the fact that there are good people even in the most difficult of circumstances. And he shares a lesson…a real life example of how being kind and doing what is right is the way we must live. Bajrush didn’t help his Serbian neighbor in hopes it would one day benefit him. He helped him because the Serbian was his neighbor. That’s all. 

Join me in Kosova (the Albanian pronunciation for Kosovo) in Southeastern Europe. Each week I share my experiences. Leave your comments and questions below. I’ll try to address each as best I can. And if you don't want to miss a post, simply add your email address in the box on the right where it says "Follow by email." 


  1. My husband, a Serb, shares a lot of stories of what his family suffered during the postwar years (WW2) under Tito. One was similar to this. His family was able to escape, but had already been taken to the killing fields and by God's mercy were able to prove their innocence and were released instead of shot, as their neighbors had been. Eventually his family made it first to Canada and then to the USA.

    1. Thank you for sharing this an dos happy he made it through that trauma!


Leave your comments here. I look forward to hearing from you.