BEFORE I KNEW YOU
In the spring of 1993, a young woman packed what little belongings she had and set out on a three day-long bus trip across Eastern Europe. The trip she undertook with her three young children was not voluntary. In her country, Kosovo, tensions between ethnic Serbians and Kosovar Albanians was rising in the wake of the Balkan war and many Kosovar-Albanian families were fleeing the country in fear of persecution.
The young woman held a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and a master’s degree in Albanian Language and Literature from the University of Pristina. When she got married, she moved from her hometown of Mitrovica to her husband’s village in Busi. There she worked as a teacher of Albanian language, history, and literature at the village's only secondary school. Kosovar Albanians who in any shape or form promoted Albanian culture risked being jailed, harassed, and threatened by Serbian police. The last thing she saw before she fled the village was her students, on their way to school. She never got to say goodbye.
She and her family first sought refuge in Germany and managed to build a somewhat stable life there. But the pieces she tried to put in place for herself and her children, were swiftly shaken up four years later. In 1997 the German government claimed it was safe for Kosovar Albanians to return home, but reports from family members that had stayed behind, were painting a different picture. Again, the family had to pack their belongings, this time seeking refuge in the Netherlands. Here they were placed in a small refugee transit centre, housing hundreds of refugees, with a single bathroom for everyone to share. During the day the refugees wandered around a hall resembling an airport, with rows of chairs fixed to the floor. At night two large rooms filled with bunkbeds would open, one for the men and one for women and children. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner consisted of slices of bread with butter and cheese, and sometimes an apple. After a year of being moved from one refugee camp to another, the family was yet again rejected and threatened with deportation back to Kosovo. 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 more refugee camps.
In 2001, after eight years in limbo, 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 eight years and needed help. But because the young woman was a trained nurse and there was a shortage of nurses and nursing assistants in Norway that year.
This young woman is my mother. I was four years old when we fled Kosovo and thirteen when we were granted Norwegian citizenship. "Before I knew you" is a photographic documentary, which attempts to shed light on the life that my mother sacrificed to give me and my siblings a chance of a better life. But most of all this project is a gift.
During the project we travelled through Kosovo and Albania, visiting family and friends and people who had helped us fleeing the country. We visited the University of Pristina and walked through the corridors of my mother’s old dormitory. The project allowed us both to go back in time. It allowed me to see the young woman my mother was before I was born, while at the same time allowing her to bring to life the existence of an identity not tainted by war and destruction. An ordinary life filled with laughter, curiosity and youthful hope and vitality.
Dissociation can be defined as disruptions in aspects of consciousness, identity, memory, physical actions and/or the environment
In psychology, dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.