Seventeen years ago, a six year-old Albanian girl was abducted from her parents in a makeshift refugee camp in Kosovo. She was put on a bus by Serbian soldiers and watched in horror as those same Serbians beat up her father as he tried unsuccessfully to rescue her. Along with the other abducted girls, Njomza, had no idea where she was being taken. A few hours later she arrived in a strange place but instead of firing squads and soldiers, she found nuns and friendly faces. The Albanian girls had simply been shipped out of their home country of Kosovo and dumped, in Macedonia.
Terrified and alone, Njomza was taken by the nuns, cleaned up and put to bed. But before she went to sleep, a kindly man came by to see her. She looked into his eyes and instantly knew she could trust him. The next day, he came back and adopted her.
Njomza didn’t speak Macedonian but in any event was mute through the trauma of war and the separation from her family. But in her adopted family, she had a sister, Kana, kind adoptive parents and other young adults, who it turned out, were older children and their girlfriends and fiancees. The family was loving and generous, buying Njomza new clothes, making her feel loved and rescuing her from her war experiences and trauma. During the day, Njomza would play; at night she had horrendous nightmares. Gradually, however, she put aside the thoughts of war and her family of origin and settled into life in a new, loving world.
The bubble burst a few weeks later, when Njomza saw a photo in the newspaper of a girl waiting in line at a refugee camp. The girl looked vaguely familiar. And then Njomza realized: it was her sister Arbresha. Memories of her family, repressed for a while, now came flooding back. Njomza ran around the house clutching the newspaper and the memory of her family close to her heart. Later that day, Njomza refused dinner on the grounds that “if my family can’t eat this, then neither can I.” The rest of the adults agreed, and they all went hungry that night, too.
Njomza and her new family faced an agonizing decision. Did she want to stay on in the safety of the bosom of this loving new family or did she want to find her family of origin and rejoin the war zone? After very tearful goodbyes, her new father drove to the refugee camp at Stankovec in an attempt to reunite Njomza with her family. Miraculously, as they were entering the camp, Njomza saw her mother about to leave it, to go in search for her daughter. A joyful reunion was the cue for her adoptive father to say a sad goodbye and head home to Skopje.
Over the years, the Macedonian family wondered whatever happened to that little girl they temporarily saved from the war zone. Where was she? Did she survive the war? What happened to her? These were burning questions that weren’t extinguished by the passing of the years. Njomza too, wondered about the people who saved her and showered her with love. She was too young and didn’t speak the language to know their names or address or have any contact information. In a bizarre reversal of the typical adoptive’s dilemma who ponder whether to go in search of their birthparents, Njomza wanted to find the people who had briefly adopted her.
Years passed. Njomza’s family came to America and gradually, after some terrible difficulties, Njomza grew into an amazing young woman, full of grace, compassion and forgiveness. She has even written a book about her experiences and is about to launch an IndieGoGo campaign to raise some money for the final edit and publication.
Last week, Njomza, received a strange Facebook request from someone in Macedonia. She was suspicious at first but whoever was trying to make contact was persistent but fluent in neither English nor Albanian. Eventually Njomza realized it was one of her family members, the family from Macedonia. A call was quickly arranged and for the first time in 17 years she was reunited with her saviors.
“It was incredibly emotional,” says Njomza holding back the tears. “We couldn’t really communicate through words, but our emotions said it all. There was a lot of crying and smiling — I just wanted to reach through the monitor and hug them all.”
“They told me stuff that I remembered; that I hardly spoke and that I played all day but cried all night. But there were things I didn’t know. For example, they didn’t know whether I was a boy or girl until they bathed me! My mom had cut my hair short and dressed me like a boy so that I wouldn’t be raped, like most of the Albanian women did to their daughters. Apparently, I also ate a lot of ice-cream. I also connected with one of the daughter-in-laws. She was the one who took me under her wing and took care of me. Seeing her again was incredibly emotional for both of us.”
Now they have found each other neither party will ever let go again.
‘They are family. I will never forget what they did for me both in adopting me in the first place and then returning me to the camp to find my parents and siblings. They are so loving.”
The timing couldn’t have been better.
“Now I can feature them more clearly in my book.” Blossom: Confessions of a Child of War is in the final edit stage and an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to get it finished and published is about to start. To find out more, or to contribute or to merely spread the word, please go to:
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