It is 1993, a young mother takes her three smal children with her on a three day-long bus ride across Eastern Europe. Her hope is to flee from her homeland Kosovo, where the tension between Serbians and Kosovo-albanians had risen in the wake of the Balkan war,

Hanife was a trained nurse and had also studied Albanian language and literature. When she got married, she moved from her hometown Mitrovica to the small village of Busi, where her husband was from. She taught Albanian language, history and literature at the village's only secondary school. Kosovar-Albanians who in any form promoted Albanian culture risked being jailed, harassed and threatened by the Serbian police. The last thing she saw before she left was her students, on their way to school. She never got to say goodbye.

Although they managed to build a new life in Germany, the pieces she tried to put in place were once again scattered four years later. In 1997, the German government proclaimed that it was safe for Kosovar Albanians to return home, but reports from family members who had stayed behind, were painting a different picture. Again the family had to pack all their belongings and escape to the Netherlands. They first came to a small transit center, with only a shower and two large rooms for all the refugees: a living room with chairs fixed to the floor and a dormitory that was opened in the evening. Breakfast, lunch and dinne consisted of slices of bread with butter and cheese, and an apple. After a year at various refugee camps, the family was again rejected and had to escape another possible deportation. The rug was again pulled from underneath their feet and all hope for a safe life began to fade, but giving up wasn’t an option. The next destination was Norway, another unknown country, new language and even more asylum centers.


In 2002, after nine years of struggle, the family was finally granted residency and eventually citizenship in Norway. Not because their home in Kosovo had been burned down and the family members that had stayed behind had been driven out of their homes. Not because they had been on the run for 9 years and needed help. But because Hanife had worked her way up to a position in health care again and there was a lack of nurses and nursing assistants that year.


Hanife is my mother. I was four when we fled from Kosovo and 13 when we were granted Norwegian citizenship."Before I knew you" is a photographic documentary, which attempts to dokument a life that has been sacrificed, in an attempt to find protection and peace. It's a personal project, where I have followed my mother on a trip back to her homeland, to give the past a voice , in a time where it has been wiped out and buried.

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