The old woman who couldn’t move & the old man who loved her too much

Burnt out car Lebanon 2006

It is so easy to stumble upon ghosts while wandering around the web. All I wanted to know was how to spell ‘Kosovo’. I came across this article written over seven years ago. And the horror still echoes.

The Crucible of Terror [excerpt]

Sunday April 25, 1999
Guardian Unlimited

As Kosovan refugees bring tales of further Serb atrocities, international monitors say the death squads are plumbing new depths of violence, reports John Sweeney in Tirana

They had to get out, all of them, now. ‘Move,’ the Serbs shouted, and fired in the air. But the old woman couldn’t move. She was paralysed from the waist down. And the old man wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

She was 72, he was 74. They had been together all their lives, marrying just after Hitler’s war.

The family were too poor for a wheelchair. They were used to carrying the woman around in their arms. But they had a car. They would leave in that, their son driving. They started loading the car, stuffing it with bedding, photographs, medicines. But the Serbs wouldn’t allow their son to drive. He had to flee, because he was of a killable age.

The Serbs started firing in the air again, impatient with the old couple sitting in the car, the old man behind the wheel. Why didn’t they get the hell out of there? A young mother dashed back from a tractor-trailer, packed with women and children, to get some baby food for her infant. It was an extremely dangerous thing to do – but her anguish for her baby was stronger than her fear.

She saw it from the track. She had a good view from about 100 metres away. She stared, then began to run.

The car was on fire, and inside two black shapes, two bodies, were burning.

Did you see this with your own eyes? ‘Yes,’ said the young mother, Zarie Berisha, 24, now living in squalor with 50 other women and children and two or three men in the decrepit Albanian town of Fier. Her eyes were wide, imploring us to believe her.

Could the old man drive?

‘No, he didn’t know how,’ she said, and wept at the memory of it.

The old man was Rexhep Hadjar Pacarizi. His paralysed wife was called Zyle. They lived in the village of Gure Bardhe in the district of Malisevo.


So what is happening inside Kosovo? Imagine a place where burn victims can only be treated with yoghurt; where you can smell the stink of the dead from poisoned wells; where people are eating grass and shitting themselves to death, and you might not be far wrong.

And inside a gutted car sit the skeletons of an old woman who couldn’t move and an old man who loved her too much.


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