The village of Acareva lies about 60 kilometres northwest of Pristina in one of the poorest and least developed parts of Kosovo. Acareva is the home of the Rrahmani family. Two of the Rrahmani brothers live here; two more are guest workers in Germany and Austria. With the money the two brothers send back home, the family in Acareva manages to make ends meet.
The family has a long tradition of men going abroad for work. The husband of Zema Rrahmani, the mother of the household, has worked in Austria for more than 30 years. As his widow, Zema still receives his Austrian pension. A Kosovo pension would hardly suffice to buy one loaf of bread per day.
Life was hard for women like Zema, who married into a new family and had to stay behind when their husbands migrated abroad:
"When my husband went to Austria there were only two people here, his old parents. He said to me, "I take my bags and I will go abroad; I have nothing here." He took his bag and went. I had eight children. Three have died, and five are still alive. Sometimes my husband did not come home for the New Year, but he did come to help at harvest time in July. He never took a vacation; he saved his vacation time for the summer months, to help us."
Their father's long absence was painful for the children. Rramush Rrahmani, recently appointed director of the primary school in Acareva, remembers awaiting his father’s return.
"When we were little kids, we lived alone with our mother and our grandparents. Our father visited us every six, seven months, and sometimes even less often. It felt bad not to see him for six months. There was no telephone back then, no other information, and so we could only communicate through letters."
For many families like the Rrahmani, the hardship of migration was the price of economic survival. In the absence of a welfare state, without unemployment benefits, with no effective health care coverage and meagre pensions, remittances were a family’s only lifeline. Rramush Rrahmani explains:
"I use the money my brothers send us for our children’s education – and for my brother’s, who studies medicine in Pristina. Without the money, my brother could not study. Yes, the foreign workers play an important role for our family, for all the other families, and for all of Kosovo."