Fourteen-year-old Lavdie Maqedonci-Krasniqi and her parents were on the second plane of refugees departing Kosovo for a new life away from war and terror. “We got to JFK at four o’clock in the morning,” Maqedonci-Krasniqi, 32, said in a soft voice, remembering her first glimpse of the United States. “It’s hard to say because I never had to speak it. As a kid, there’s a part of it that you put away. This (talking about it) is a memory lane I haven’t walked.”
Her experiences remained alive within her until her involvement with the Chappaqua Rotary prompted a speaking engagement. “A group of people came to hear my story!” Club president Dave Shields said Maqedonci-Krasniqi “became active, bringing her kids to Community Day, and is now on the board.”
Born in Prishtina, capital of Kosovo, in 1985–Yugoslavia started to break down–Maqedonci-Krasniqi’s early teenage years were fraught with worry. The regime wanted to assimilate as a nation, “and wanted us to lose our identity, language and traditions. From 1990 to 1997, we were oppressed: the economy crashed, and bank accounts were frozen. Universities, schools and hospitals were closed or controlled by Serbian military.”
Those who needed medical assistance were forced to bribe doctors with money or seek help at a private family Albanian doctor. “When I was about 10 or 11, I injured my leg while playing and needed stitches,” she said. “It was getting late, and at that time we were not allowed to be outside our homes after 6 p.m. because of the imposed State of Emergency.”
Unable to take her to a hospital, Maqedonci-Krasniqi’s father brought her to a family/friend doctor, who stitched her leg without anesthesia at his home. “I remember my mom holding me tightly while I was biting on a pillow from the pain,” she said. Albanian families in Kosovo converted their homes to schools; teachers went from house to house with different subject studies. Her grandfather’s house became a daily classroom for 35 Albanian children from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. On March 5, 1998, the small town of Prekaz was attacked, an attempt to eliminate Kosovo Liberation Army leader Adem Jashari and his brother Hamëz Jashari.
After that day Kosovo was never the same, the war had fully began, the Serbian military was all over our country,” Maqedonci-Krasniqi said. “By March 18, 1999, we knew NATO was starting to bomb,” she said,” and by April 1, 1999, they forced us out of our homes.”
Nearly one week later on March 24, President Bill Clinton announced U.S. armed forces were joining NATO allies in airstrikes against Serbians. “I owe my life, and my family owes our freedom, to President Clinton,” she said, eyes watering at horrific memories not known to teenagers. “It was about five o’clock in the morning when we reached there, and they asked us to walk in the middle of the train tracks–kids and adults and older people–because if you stepped out of the train tracks there were active mines,” she said.
After hours of walking came to a camp–“a strip of land next to Macedonia”–filled with people from her Kosovo. “You saw people dying, older people and kids with colds, Maqedonci-Krasniqi said, and while UNICEF and the RED CROSS arrived a few days later, “little kids and older people were not handling the cold well, some didn’t even make it.”
Those who were lucky and strong caught the pieces of bread thrown to the estimated 150,000 refugees struggling to survive more than two months at the camp; people not as fortunate waited until the next round.
Maqedonci-Krasniqi’s parents chose the United States because her mother had a sister living in Elmhurst (Queens). She began high school, took ESL classes, and got an afternoon job at Burger King (where) at age 15 to help her parents and send money to Kosovo to rebuild their home.
“It was hard,” she said quietly. “My dad didn’t want to leave our house. He told us, ‘We decided to live in U.S. even after the war ended. Let’s make sure we do not regret it, let’s make sure you finish college and work hard so when you look back, I hope you can say, Dad thank you for deciding to stay.’”
Sixteen years later, the college graduate and mother of two sons (five and seven) is humble and grateful and a successful mortgage officer living in Mt. Kisco. “It is very meaningful, and we are honored that Lavdie is the most recent member of the Chappaqua Rotary Club, and of Rotary International,” Program Director Sandy Bueti said. Maqedonci-Krasniqi presented Horace Greeley High School senior Ellie Loigman with the Student Community Service Award at the Rotary’s Annual Charter Night Celebration and Dinner on March 4.
“We bought our first home, and we still continue to work hard and try to create the best possible life for our children,” she said. “We learned to never lose hope and as long as we have the freedom to follow our dreams, everything else is possible.” Still, Maqedonci-Krasniqi admitted, “there’s a part you don’t think about, yet when May 26 comes, I know I got on a plane to come to this country.”
“I am a refugee, and I am an immigrant,” she emphasized. “The only thing given to me was the freedom to come to this country. My grandmother used to say, ‘Hard work and a good heart.’ Lavdie is also a Muslim, another reason she felt compelled to share her story. “Don’t look at people a certain way,” she advised. “You may think you know them, and you don’t.”