April 5th, 1992 – just 3 days after I turned 6… I remember this day like it was yesterday. I had spaghetti for dinner that night. I remember my parents watching the news and having a frantic conversation. I asked my mom what was wrong and she said don’t worry about it as she tucked me and my almost 2 year old sister into bed. I felt uneasy because the sound of her voice that night was not the same comforting voice she always used when she put us to bed. Somehow I fell asleep anyway.
A couple of hours later I was woken up by sounds I had never heard before. My mother rushed into the room grabbed my sister and told me to run. I was confused, stunned, I couldn’t move. She yelled at me and I finally started running. We ran across our beautiful garden, the one full of beautiful roses that my mother tended to daily. I looked up and saw what looked like fire works but were instead bombs falling all over our beautiful neighborhood. That beautiful garden. We managed to make it to our neighbors basement where we would take cover for the next month or so. It seemed like forever. This was the start of the Sarajevo siege that lasted nearly 4 years.
My father had to leave us as he was in the army. Some days later, still sleeping in the basement with most of our neighbors, I heard women talking about buses coming to take women and children out of Sarajevo and into refugee camps in Macedonia. Somehow my mother managed to get us onto one of those buses. It was crowded that day as everyone was trying to get out. My father, dressed in his army uniform, met us as we were getting on the bus. I cried and my mother told me I had to stop and be strong. I sat by the window and my father from outside placed his hand on the glass waving goodbye. I cried some more. I did not know that I would not see him for the next 4 years.
The bus ride was long and exhausting. We got stopped by Serbian military many times. They would walk up and down the buses looking at us like we were nothing. They took some women and children off of the buses. It was only a few years ago that I found out the fate of those people. We were so lucky. We ended up in an orphanage in Skopje that took in refugees until we met a lovely family that let us live with them for 4 months until we moved to Germany and eventually Austria where the happiest parts of my childhood happened. We were taken in by the most wonderful Austrian family whom I will forever be grateful for. What a heart you have to have to take in complete strangers and give them some of the most memorable moments…
1996 we move back to Bosnia. Fortunate enough, most of my family survived the war. We had nothing, my father who was a very experienced accountant had to work at a grocery store and we could barely make ends meet. If you had a job at all during those times you were lucky. It was not enough. My driven mother got in contact with family members we had in Chicago. After numerous questioning an waiting over a year we were finally approved to come to America.
1999 We packed a bag of belongings and were greeted by extended family. Both of my parents worked shitty jobs as soon as we arrived. Speaking absolutely no English, they took classes a couple of times a week to learn. They were determined to make our lives better. And they did. And we are so grateful that we got the opportunity to better our lives. This is just one of the many many many refugee stories out there. This is also why I am so passionate about what is happening today. If you took the time to read this, if I can in any way change someone’s outlook on refugees, I will feel accomplished.