1. In which year did you emigrate?
In December 1991.
2. What do you remember most about your early life in the Western world?
I was only 7 years old when we emigrated to Switzerland and at first it seemed like a strange adventure vacation. My father worked at Radio Television of Pristina and had lost his job, like virtually all his Albanian colleagues at that time. I was aware that we Albanians in Kosovo were discriminated against. I had also experienced poison attacks during school hours. I'll never forget that day when during class a grenade (or I don't know what it was) hit the window of my classroom and the kids started screaming, crying and running and running away from the school. I can't forget the sad and shocked faces of the children and the mothers looking for their children calling their names. I was a student in the first grade of the "Vuk Karaxhic" elementary school in Pristina. It means that even as a child I was aware that we Albanians were in danger and discriminated against. We spent the first months in the "heime" for asylum seekers. The first two weeks I was alone with my mother and my 11-year-old brother, then my father came and joined us. We were in a shelter for asylum seekers in Zürich, and our parents told us that we would stay in Switzerland for a maximum of 6 months. They always said "as long as the situation in Kosovo calms down", then we will return. The first 3-4 months seemed like a long and interesting vacation. I was curious about the Swiss language and food, the workers who took care of us children, I had many friends (children of other refugee families), etc.. After this period, we settled in a small village with a few hundred inhabitants in the north of Switzerland, near with Germany. There we experienced a "Kulturschock" as a family. We were the only foreign family and we lived in an old house that had previously been a farmer's stable. We didn't even have a kitchen, or a real bathroom. But mostly the problem was that the Swiss culture in these small towns is quite different from the Albanian culture. Mom often looked out of the window in the evening and asked: "Does anyone live in these houses?" Because we didn't see people at all, there was no one on the street. As I was born and raised in Pristina, I had a lot of difficulties with the new situation. That's when I started getting bored of my friends and of course my family in Kosovo, that we had left behind. And I just missed Pristina! In the evenings in the corridor, where I went out almost every evening with my family, the National Theater, where we often met with my aunt (Melihate Ajeti), I also missed Radio Television of Pristina, because we actually lived in the RTP complex. I missed my mother's family in the village, my uncles and aunts. I missed the evenings in Pristina when we would go out with my father to the video store and borrow movies (video tapes). I missed the smell of meatballs, I missed the call to prayer, even the crows!
When I started school, I didn't know a word of German. But I liked the school and the teachers very much, from the beginning. This was the only thing I liked more than in Kosovo. The teacher in Kosovo beat our hands with a stick, or humiliated us in front of the whole class. (Later I realized that I have dogs in the parallel class with football player Lorik Cana)
But, back to Switzerland: In the first years, the children were very cold and discriminating towards me and my brother. I spent the long break, almost until the third grade, in the toilet. During the long break (break at 10.00) you don't have the right to stay in the toilet, but I used to pretend I had to go to the toilet, so as not to stand outside myself, because simply no one was playing with me. I would take a book with me and read, or sing in the toilet... I never had a hard time being alone, so I didn't get too bored. I was a very good student and learned the language very quickly. I have always had the teachers very engaged. Although the children initially excluded me, it was not too late because I had the support of my family.
One morning, I was in the first grade, some sixth graders closed the school door and wouldn't let me in, they showed me the middle finger and made hand gestures that they were going to cut my throat. Shocked and crying, I returned home to my mother and told her what had happened. She made me go back to school and complain to my teacher. But I didn't speak the language yet. Mainly, I pulled myself together and went back crying.
I have never given up.
3. How did your integration go and what difficulties did you encounter?
My integration has flowed through school, sports and music. I was part of the gymnastics group, I was in the basketball club, the volleyball club, where every week I traveled by bike to a village 9 kilometers away from the village where I lived. I was an excellent student (I don't want to sound arrogant) and I never gave up. From the third grade I regularly participated in skiing holidays organized by the school. In the beginning, when I didn't have many friends yet, I spent a lot of time in the library. I went out riding horses, took the neighbors' puppies for a walk, had piano lessons, worked in the school holidays picking grapes (like all the children in the village)... and so over time I found my place in Swiss society.
The beginning was very difficult, because we experienced discrimination and racism. Some children came during the break and asked me when I will return to Kosovo. It was very humiliating for me, because I had the feeling that I was not part of society. Then they thought that in Kosovo we live in the mountains. They thought I didn't know what TV or telephone was. We used to laugh so much with my brother, because we grew up with my father, who was also a cameraman at the time, and we grew up among RTP, with journalists, cameras, etc...
In the sixth grade, I was the center of students' attention, I had passed the high school entrance exam, the whole village knew me well, the children who had discriminated against me at the beginning, were now close friends and the boys I had beaten up with because they used to tease me about my background, now they fell in love with me. J
My father had a habit of asking me: "Dafina, where are you from?" I told him with pride: "I am a citizen of Pristina?", he then teased me: "I'm from Pristina, let's go to town!"
4. What ties do you have with your homeland and what importance does it have in your life?
Homeland is very important to me. God willing, in the future I will buy a piece of land in Kosovo. Because it's the land I come from. I am registered in order to have the right to buy land in Kosovo. I love the Albanian culture and I am proud of my background. I am in no way a nationalist, but I just love my country and my roots. In Kosovo, I still have many family members with whom I keep in touch and I try to visit them regularly. For me, it is also important that my children, who were born in Switzerland, have a connection with Kosovo, even if only through summer vacations.
5. How many times a year do you visit Kosovo on average?
Once a year. Now, due to the pandemic, I have not visited since February 2020 when I was to interview Albin Kurti for the weekly newspaper SonntagsBlick.
6. How much has Kosovo changed according to your impression?
I don't know if I can appreciate it. But according to my impression, people have changed a little, because life has also changed. I would like Albanian values, such as hospitality and solidarity among Albanians, to never change. I try to teach these values to my children.
7. What do you miss the most from Kosovo in exile?
I have been living in the heart of Zürich for several years now and this is where I found myself, of course even though life in Zürich is similar to that in Pristina.
I sometimes miss that ease and kindness of people.
8. Do you think of returning one day to live in Kosovo?
If I were to return to Kosovo, then only to build something new and help society. Let's see what the future will bring us.
9. Describe your professional commitment to us in more detail?
I am a journalist and currently work for the newspaper/portal «20 Minuten» (www.20min.ch).
With 3 million readers a day, it is the most read newspaper in Switzerland. Before, I worked for the weekly newspaper "SonntagsBlick".
I started in the media at the age of 17 in 2001, where I won a contest in VIVA as a moderator. Before my career as a journalist, I worked as an Albanian-German translator for various institutions. This is why I graduated in studies at the University of Zurich (ZHAW). During my studies in linguistics, my love for journalism was rekindled and I transferred to the media institute of the Faculty of Zurich (ZHAW). In 2017 I started working as an online-producer for blick.ch, and in 2019 I moved to the weekly "SonntagsBlick" as an editor.
10. In your opinion, what should Kosovo institutions do for emigrants?
I think that Kosovo should undertake projects to protect Albanian girls and women from domestic violence. Unfortunately, violence against women in our Albanian society is a taboo topic. I told this to the prime minister, Albin Kurti, in February 2020 when I met him for an interview. During the time when I worked as a translator, I had many cases where young women were in very difficult situations. They had married an Albanian boy from Switzerland, they had come here from Kosovo to get married, and they had experienced terrible things (physical, psychological, sexual violence). Those girls did not even know the German language, because they were isolated in their husband's families.
There should be awareness about this important topic, every year Albanian women die - also in Switzerland - from violence by their husbands. Kosovo should have a special institution that helps victims - even in exile.
Otherwise, I am not a big fan of parallel societies, it is important that Albanians in exile are part of the society where they live.
Video: 20min.ch & blick.ch
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