Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Summer 1997

I have a friend. She is like my sister. Our grandfather's were very good friends too. They were born in the beginning of the 1900's and both their fathers owned large tracts of land and were in business with the sawmills. They often worked together in the forests and had respect for each other. Even after the two Great Wars, their friendship endured. Hadji made his pilgrimage to Mecca and my Dedo, who was forced to leave Bosnia in 1943 with his family, repatriated in Germany.

The summer of 1991 I went for a month long trip to Bosnia with my grandparents who took to the hot springs there every two years. That is when I met my grandfather's childhood friend and that is also when I met his granddaughters.

 We loved each other immediately. She and her sisters were shy but straightforward. They wore dimije and fancy blouses. They smoked cigarettes like they were going out of style. They laughed and told jokes and had clear, happy eyes the color of sky light.  They treated my grandparents like royalty on our short visit.  Given the history the two old men shared and the sacredness of Bosnian hospitality this was natural but even more highlighted because on the day we visited it was the first day of Bajram.

We left for home the next day and Suada and I wrote a few letters, and promised to keep our friendship. Not soon after, the war of aggression, the dark period, came to Bosnia and we lost all communication. There was horrible fighting, in and around my family town. My own family was lost to us for a year. No word.

On a rare occasion, already a year after the Dayton, I asked about 'our friends'. There was no mention of the old man or the grand daughters. The lines were drawn. It was fierce for those that lived there. I understood the emotions but I insisted. I got the big eye roll - what does an Amerikanka understand about our lives...

The next year on a trip to see my ageing grandparents in Munich, I slipped into Bosnia via Zagreb and went on the longest, weirdest and saddest bus ride of my life. I planned to go to Sarajevo to film and photograph the aftermath of the war for a story I had been researching but also to visit my family in Central Bosnia. At the same time I wanted to find out about the whereabouts of my dear friend Suada.  When I asked around everyone said 'I don't know' and had tense, worried faces, their heads shaking no, no, no and the eye roll thing again.

Don't look for her. We haven't seen them in years. No one knows if they are alive. You don't know if there are mines on the road going up there or if you will be welcomed. You won't be welcomed. We had a war. It's too early.

The fighting that Dayton had just ended a short two years before was a balled up terrifying pain in everyone's stomach.

My very gentle and kind cousin told me to ask the unprofor soldiers or the police for information.  Seemed absurd but I agreed. Why couldn't they just let me go to find her?

And as we drove into the front gate of my grandmother's old house, up on the hill from the road that leads into Sarajevo, three people were delivering the wood my auntie had ordered for the coming winter.  Just like that, within fifteen minutes of being on our property,  the answer I was looking for was in front of me.  We had called each other through the unseen and been pulled together again, in that moment of all moments. My friend, Hadji's granddaughter was part of the crew delivering wood. Quiet, as she always was and shy, going about her business with the wood, she spoke up after she heard me asking about her in my perfunctory Bosnian.

It could not have been any other moment in time but that one.


August, 1997. Busovaca/Rovna, Bosnia Hercegovina

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