Books are ships which pass through the vast seas of time.

Francis Bacon




Moja mala knjiga

za buduće velike ljude!


My little book

for future big people!


FOREWORD

 

My autobiographical work is a direct result of the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s. But it is not a book about the war. It is about the refugees from Bosnia and other parts of ex-Yugoslavia affected by the war that were forced to flee their heartlands. It is a book about refugee tears and fears during the daily struggle for a new life. This is my story that lasted over three years. It is about losing a life in a single night, and starting all over at dawn the next day. It is about the human strength to survive…

I would like to dedicate this book to every single refugee in this world, and to every single refugee's tears. To every mother or father who lost their son, to every grandmother and grandfather who lost their grandchildren, to every woman who lost a husband or the husband who lost a wife, to every child who became an orphan, and to anyone who has ever had to leave the doorstep of his or her house to seek refuge under an unknown sky.

Also, I would like to dedicate this book to my parents who lived in a refugee center for nine years, after which they continued their refugee journey as immigrants in the USA.

I would also like to say thank you to my beloved father, who has since passed way and cannot thus read this book borne out of my refugee soul. His gentle nature taught me how to love without prejudice, and how to forgive without hate. He taught me to love and be good.

And thanks to my wonderful mother who gave me the strength to live without fear, teaching me pride and justice. Her extreme generosity enriched my soul and helped me walk through the life with a proudly raised head, grateful to have her as a mother.

Finally, a warm big thank you goes out to God and life in general for giving me the two most beautiful things in my life: my daughter Lara and my husband Frederic, with whom I have found a deep and gentle love. Love forever.

 

 

 

Refugee Tears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

Spring 1992. It is early in the morning, five o'clock. The sun is slowly rising up, bathing the mountains and fields with its golden rays. Everything looks so heavenly beautiful and peaceful that, for a moment, I could forget reality. Yet, in an instant, the smell of burned houses brings me back, and the picture that I am exposed to is one that I will hold and remember for the rest of my life; it's the one that will change me forever. With every burned house that I see, something in my soul is burned: the joy of my youth, my enthusiasm for life, the love, confidence, and trust that I had for my people, for my nation is gone forever. I see the columns of refugees passing by old women wiping their tears silently, thinking of their sons who are somewhere in the front lines. Young women trying to calm their children who are crying, suddenly awakened from their peaceful sleep and forced to march.

I am wiping with my sleeves bus windows still-fogged from the morning dew, and rubbing my tired eyes in disbelief watching the scene from which I feel the pain that goes to the back of my head creating a strong sharp pain that reminds me I am awake, and the sight that I see is not just my dream.

I am suffocating from fear that tightens my throat. I feel that I don't have enough air, while large drops of sweat wet my forehead. The musty odor on the bus mixed with the stench of cigarette smoke makes me feel sick, choking me up more.

I will die if I don't breathe fresh air, I am thinking while my heart is pounding in a panic attack. I open the window in order to get some fresh air, but instead of freshness the smell of smoke from burnt houses is stinging my throat and eyes.

Suddenly I hear the cry of a young woman, "Hurry up, my son. Don't stop, and don't cry. There is no time for it. Don't look at the house. Don't turn around. It is useless. Hurry to catch up with the column or they will leave without us. Move quickly. I am scared we will get killed."

But the little boy doesn't hear the mother's plea. He is standing silently not moving, with his eyes fixed on the burned remains of what, until this morning, were warm and comfortable homes. He looks so vulnerable in his blue pajamas and small brown rain boots on backwards, wiping his tears with a little white plush bunny.

The fear for the little boy makes me forget my own fear, and the only thing that I think of in this moment is wanting to help and reassure him.

"Hurry up little boy," I am screaming through the window. You will come back one day. Go now. Run as fast as you can."

As if my voice brought the little boy back to consciousness he raised his head, reached out to his mother, and ran with the stuffed bunny in his hand to reach the column.

As the bus was slowly leaving, I lost sight of the column and village. But the memory of this morning has never left my soul.

I took a deep breath, closed the window and leaned my head on the seat trying to get a little rest.

My head is heavy and my eyes are swollen from the many sleepless nights. I am sitting on the refugee bus, wondering where I am going. It is a yet unknown destination. The only thing that I know is the name of the little town where we are supposed to meet my brother, who has already been there for some time, carrying out his job as a musician. However, I don't know where we are going to live because he himself doesn't have a steady place, as his job requires him to move a lot from one hotel to another. It is the beginning of the war in Bosnia and there are a lot of refugees leaving their homes trying to find a safe place in other parts of Yugoslavia where it is more peaceful, hoping that the Red Cross will help them find a roof and give them a piece of bread. I feel scared thinking about my uncertain future. I am looking at my mother and father trying to find courage. My father looks rather scared and sad, but my mother looks calm. She is always calm in every dangerous or uncertain situation. She is very wise and courageous. It was her idea that we leave before it gets worse. Unquestionably, my family and I trusted her and packed our things immediately. This is not the first war that she has lived through and she knows very well that a mixed couple, like her and my father, don't have much chance to survive in a country like Bosnia which, all of a sudden, became like a volcano with its mixed population of Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, who for so many years had lived in peace, and now the hate has started to come out and burn people's lives and souls. So here we are, on the refugee bus leaving this hysteria, this madness, wondering how long it will last, and when we will be able to come back. Everything happened so fast. We had to pack between two fires, grab the necessary essentials—a few bags for the beginning of a new life—and leave before the battle would start. I didn't have time to say goodbye to anyone. I left my room and all my dreams in its safety. All my books, all my poems that I had written since the age of twelve. I even left my teddy bear, my friend and my faithful companion since I was born.

"My little teddy bear," I am whispering softly to myself, remembering with longing the day when it first time smiled at me from the window of the children's store.

It was Saturday, the day that I always waited for impatiently.

"On Saturday, I'll take you to Sarajevo to explore the city," my father said at the beginning of the week.

I was six years old and still I could not correctly pronounce the letter "r." My "r" always leaned more towards lj. So when I called my brother Boljis, everybody laughed teasingly.

"Boljis, is tomorrow Saturday?" I was asking my older brother the same question every morning.

On Friday night I slept restlessly, impatiently waiting for the dawn. When the dawn finally broke, I woke up Boris. "Get up, Boljis,'' I screamed, "Saturday has arrived." "Leave me alone," he said, trying to get rid of me. "Get up, Saturday will run away!'' I shouted.

"Ah," my brother sighed, getting up lazily.

"My parents could have given me a brother instead of this little troublemaker sister," my brother said. When he saw that he had made me sad, he hugged me and said, "I am teasing you, silly. You're my favorite sister in the world."

"Daddy," I screamed in my parent's room, "Get up before Saturday goes away."

When we approached the city and arrived at the hill where I could see the city, my heart lightened and was pounding from excitement. Down in the valley between the hills, the city looked like it was like in the palm of my hand.

The tops of skyscrapers were glittering, bathing in the morning light like scattered pearls. And as we approached, I watched curiously through the soft lights of windows, the insides of apartments and houses, trying to see the people who lived inside.

"The town is beautiful," I told my father excitedly.

"If you love the city so much," he answered, gently smiling, "I will one day buy a house in the city." "I do not want a house," I protested, watching children playing on the pavement in front of building staircases. "I want an apartment," I told him, imagining that all city kids are happier playing in doorways and parks, and that their games were nicer than the games by the river in the countryside.

"When you grow up," my father said, not wanting to crush my dream of a city, "you will see for yourself what you prefer, a city or a village. Both are beautiful in their own way."

When we finally arrived in the city and went for a long morning walk along the Miljacka river, I watched with excitement the long shining clean streets still wet from a morning cleaning.

I was spellbound when I saw a red tramway and urged my father to get on. "Just hold on a little bit. Soon we will reach Skenderija," my father said. "Then we will take the tramway and go to the old town of Bascarsija or the so-called ''heart of the old town."

When we got on the tramway, I crawled between Boris and my father, happily watching the Miljacka river decorated with bridges on the right side and beautiful buildings on the left.

"Miljacka has a different color than our Ljubina river. It is yellowy, not as green as Ljubina," I told my father comparing Miljacka with the small mountain river that flows behind our house where we swam in the summer and caught fish in its cold whirlpools.

"Nobody is swimming, although it is summer," I said with a six-year-old child's curiosity.

"Miljacka river is not for swimming due to poor water treatment systems, but it is big and long, much longer than Ljubina, and forms the soul of the city with its green walkways and alleys," my father explained." And what is nicest is that it is decorated with beautiful old bridges that adorn and embellish it like jewelry on a lovely bride."

"This is Skenderija Bridge," my father started his tour with a history lesson. "It was built during the Ottoman Empire under Skender-pasha. That is why it is called Skenderija."

"This is the old town of Sarajevo," my father continued his lecture. "There are not a lot of new buildings here. The majority of buildings and houses here are either from the Ottoman Empire or Austro-Hungarian Empire periods."

"What is the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire?" Boris and I were curious.

"Hmm," my father coughed and scratched his hair thinking how to find the simplest possible way to explain history. "You are still small, but it is very important that you know your history and your town," he said.

"This is not my town," I said, "We live in the countryside."

''You little silly," my father said, laughing. "This is your city." And the more you grow up, the more you will be bound by it, and you will be spending more time here, especially when you start high school," he insisted. "Our village is only half an hour away from Sarajevo. We are lucky to have both: rural peace, and we have the noise of the city when we get tired of rural tranquility."

"You have to know," my father continued, "that Sarajevo wasn't always the city as you see it today. It was built for several centuries under two empires. First it was built in the fifteenth century under the Turks or the Ottoman Empire, who conquered the land and ruled for five centuries. Then it was conquered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who succeeded to win against the Ottomans and started to rule over Bosnia at the end of the nineteenth century, till the beginning of the twentieth century.

"This is Cobanija Bridge," my father pointed to the modest bridge made of iron. "The first bridge had a wooden structure that was replaced by iron. The post office is just next to the bridge on the right side of the river. It was built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century like a model of a Viennese postal savings bank. Like many other buildings from the Austro-Hungarian time, Sarajevo's General Post Office was designed by the famous architect, Josip Vancas."

With admiration and amazement, I observed the building that looked more like a castle than a post office, covered by an iron construction mixed with glass that looked like big shiny panels in the morning sun.

"What is this bridge called? ", I asked my father spotting a narrow concrete bridge with a wooden fence surrounded by beautiful buildings on both sides.

"This is Drvenia Bridge, the bridge of wisdom," he smiled, since it is situated between many schools. One of them could one day become your school," he answered proudly. "The first Gymnasium is here, and the School of Arts. On the right side is the School of Scientific Arts and the Pedagogical Academy on the left side, which was your mother's university."

"What is this white building?" as I pointed to the beautiful large structure." The white building that you see on the left side is the Jewish synagogue."

"What is a synagogue?" I asked, confused. My father stopped talking a moment to look for the right words to answer to a six-year-old child.

"A synagogue is a place where Jewish people go to pray. It represents the house of God, the same as a church for Christians. Furthermore, there were about 10,000 Jews in Sarajevo before, but the majority were killed during the Second World War by Nazis in concentration camps."

I could not understand everything that my father was explaining, but I felt a deep sadness in my child's heart for people that vanished in such a horrifying way. Often I watched the Partisan movies which were very popular during my childhood. I had a very good idea about who were the Nazis and the Partisans in the Second World War, but this was the first time that I learned about the Jewish tragedy.

Soon my sad thoughts were replaced by interest in a new bridge that I saw. It was built of stone and it had four arches standing on three pillars. "What bridge is this?" I asked again. Then I heard my brother saying proudly," I know it, I know it. I have seen the picture in the book. It is Princip's Bridge, originally called the Latin Bridge."

"Who is Princip? " I asked again, curiously.

"You are too small to know," my father answered. "Gavrilo Princip killed the heir of the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophia on this bridge. This sad event led to the First World War. This is the bridge where the course of world history was changed. But don't get your little head mixed up with this. You are too young. One day when you grow up you will read and know all about this."

Almost all of these bridges were along the tramway route. And so was the Gavrilo Princip Bridge. While the new passengers were getting on the tramway, I was looking scarily at the people getting on the tramway, imagining Gavrilo Princip with his gun. "Here he is," my brother said teasing me. I hid my head under my father's arm looking with one half-open eye. But instead of Gavrilo Princip I saw friendly faces smiling gently at me.

"Don't be scared," my father said. "This happened a long time ago. Gavrilo Princip is not alive any more. He died in prison."

At the next tramway stop I saw one of the most beautiful bridges I had ever seen. It was built of stone, standing proudly on its three arches carried by four pillars. It was surrounded by small houses with red tiles and a large tower on the right side. On the left side there was a large colorful building with a very rich architecture.

"What is the big tower?" my brother and I asked my father. We had never seen anything similar before.

"It is a mosque," he answered, "a place where Muslims pray." "This one is called Alifakovac Mosque. The bridge is called Seher – Cehaja Bridge or Vijecnica Bridge because of the National Library called Vijecnica, or City Hall, which is located next to the bridge on the left. One day you and your brother will be proud to become its members," he insisted.

The tramway slowly turned around the building making a small semicircle, and it soon stopped at the next stop.

"This is Bascarsija," my father announced. "We are getting out here."

We went out slowly holding our father's hands, scared to get lost in sudden crowds. I watched with open eyes the large square paved with stone slabs that looked as if they were polished. In the middle of the square there was a fountain and benches where people sat and fed the pigeons. Almost a quarter of the square was flooded with pigeons that were cackling, satisfied. On the sides of the large square there were many terraces of various restaurants and kebab restaurants where I could smell the delicious gourmet smell of grilled kebabs.

"Let's eat something," my father said before we continued on walking. It was only 9:00 in the morning, but the kebab houses were already full of people having their plentiful breakfasts.

I took a small portion of five kebabs on buns. Those hot buns dipped in sauce and warmed on the grill together with the small soft kebabs just melted in my mouth. My brother took a large portion of 10 kebabs. "I am a man," he said proudly, "I am not taking children's portions."

After a while, he offered the leftovers of several kebabs to my father.

"What happened to my big man?" my father teased Boris.

"Well," Boris answered with a blushed face," perhaps, after all, I am not that big. When I'm hungry I am big. When my tummy is full, then I am again a little man."

We continued on walking, laughing, and teasing Boris.

We embarked on a wide, paved street intended only for pedestrians. "This is one of the most beautiful streets," my father said. "It is called Saraci. The street is known for its numerous craft shops."

I looked around, mesmerized by what I saw. On the right and on the left side of the street there were various shops. In front of each of them there were different hanging merchandise: hand-made Turkish carpets, hand-woven colorful bags or beautiful leather pouches and purses. Some of the shops were selling silver and copper coffeepots with little round white coffee cups placed on glossy polished trays. On each of them was a wood-carved picture of Bascarsija.

Most of the shops were filigree shops whose windows were decorated with rich jewelry and glamorously carved silver and gold bracelets, and rings with colored stones and shiny earrings of different sizes.

In front of each shop there were low wooden benches on which the owners sat sipping black Turkish coffee from small white cups smiling to passers-by, kindly inviting them to come in and look at their merchandise.

When we got to the end of Saraci Street I saw a wide square. On its left side there was the park and on the right a beautiful tall building.

"This is the cathedral, "my father explained. "We will enter and light candles."

"No. Daddy, we cannot," I replied with fear. Mommy says that our communists will punish us if they ever catch us in a church.

"Don't be scared, my little girl," my father answered." Your mother is a teacher. As a teacher she must be a member of the Party. But I'm not. I'm a musician, and I am free." I sighed with relief. I took my brother's hand and entered the church for the first time in my life.

Stunned, I looked at the high cathedral ceiling decorated with numerous paintings of various saints.

"This is the Virgin Mary with the little Christ," my father pointed to the picture that showed a woman with a baby in her arms. At that very moment, the Morning Prayer began. I looked curiously at the people in the lobby kneeling on their knees repeating words and prayers in front of the priest dressed in white.

I listened carefully, not wanting to miss a single word. While he spoke of Christ and his suffering and crucifixion, large tears began streaming down my face.

"This was a long time ago," my father tried to reason with me and bring me back to reality, but the sadness I felt then for Christ filled my soul with a new feeling of piety which followed me for the rest of my life. When the service finished and people began to come out of the church turning their faces towards the altar, they made the sign of the cross, and I did the same. I raised my little hand awkwardly but piously making the sign of the cross with a deep and joyous feeling of respect and devoutness.

We went out to a sunny day smiling, and quietly continued to walk holding on tightly to each other's hands. When we arrived on the main street my father said: "This street is named after our President Josip Broz Tito. It is called Tito Street."

"Tito won the war against Hitler, my brother proudly added showing his knowledge of history. "He also imposed himself against Russia when their leader, Stalin, wanted Yugoslavia to be part of Russia."

"We are very lucky to have such a strong President who loved his nation, my father answered, impressed by Boris' knowledge.

I was looking at Tito Street, impressed by the noise of the cars and tramways. All around there were plenty of shops with clothing and footwear.

Then I saw one particular shop that caught my attention. It was a children's shop with many toys.

I ran in excitement towards it watching in disbelief its beautifully decorated window with a myriad of toys. On the top of the main window there were plenty of red balloons hanging, and at the bottom of the window there were oodles of multicolored balls; blue, yellow, red, orange and white of different shapes and sizes from the smallest to the largest. On the right side of the window there was a little blue locomotive. On the left side there was a big doll dressed in a long green dress like a princess.

"Daddy, could you by me the train?" Boris screamed eagerly.

"Sure," my father answered with a gentle smile.

"Would you like the doll?" he asked me. "I'm not sure I like her dress" I answered. "I would prefer the pink one."

"Well, they may have it inside," father said, pulling me gently by the hand.

At that moment I saw something that drew my attention. There, in the middle of the window, was one little plush teddy bear half-hidden among colorful balls. He was sitting comfortably with his hand placed on a big white ball. He was golden brown with dark eyes made of shiny marbles. He had a small cute embroidered black nose, and small round lips. He was wearing a blue scarf around his neck and a white soft cotton sweater.

My heart was pumping faster in excitement with the desire to have this precious teddy bear.

"I want it," I screamed, pushing my way into the shop like a speedy roadrunner shuttering with excitement.

"Would you like it wrapped?" the clerk asked laughing. "No thanks," I said. "I want to hug it immediately and never separate from it."

We left the store happy with our new toys. Boris with his blue locomotive, and me with my first best friend for life. We embarked on the tramway and went sightseeing in the new part of town. At each tramway station, our father explained the names of various districts. This part of town was completely different from the old town. It had high buildings with several floors made of cement and concrete. Some of these skyscrapers had even fifteen and more floors. "Look Daddy," I screamed in astonishment every time I saw one of them. "They are almost touching the sky." It must be nice to be so close to the stars at night," I questioned. "It is not as close as you think," my father laughed. And besides, I wonder if it is really nice to live so high? I feel safer with my feet on the ground.

While I watched parks around the building and children on swings and slides laughing, it all seemed so nice that I wished I lived in the city in one of these buildings playing in parks and swinging high up to the sky, or playing in front of building staircases.

We continued our sightseeing in the tramway to the last station of Ilidza where we changed tramways to get back to the bus station.

At the entrance of the bus, I set comfortably between my father and Boris. I put my head on Daddy's lap and hugged my teddy bear tightly. Within a second I fell asleep exhausted and overwhelmed with many emotions and impressions, dreaming of bridges and the Miljacka River, mosques, and the muezzin that calls people to prayer with its mysterious singing, and the bells of the church accompanied by the rattle of tramway wheels. I dreamed of tall buildings twisted up into the sky and myself sitting on the top on one of them on a swing reaching up to the moon.

A few years later my dream has almost came true. My parents bought an apartment in the city of Vogosca, one of the most beautiful suburbs of Sarajevo with a lot of large green alleys and parks, little rivers, and many new four-story buildings. Our apartment was not on the top of the building. It was one on the first floor of a nice new building with sixteen apartments and two main entrances. There was a park next to the building. However, I was now too old to play with the children in front of the building staircases and climb on swings in the park. I was fifteen and already at high school in Sarajevo. Yet I was happy taking the trolley bus in the morning to go to school. It took only ten to fifteen minutes to get to Sarajevo to the last station called King Tomislav Street, that was situated just at the entrance of Sarajevo. From King Tomislav Street I would continue on foot to Skenderija which would take only a few minutes of a nice walk through the park. Then I would take the tramway to Vijecnica. Or, if I had time, I would walk through Bascarsija, enjoying the stroll through recently-washed streets that reminded me of the freshly-washed bridge I had seen many years before. From Bascarsija I took a shortcut through the little street where I had passed a long time ago, exactly near Vijecnica Hall, where I would finally cross Cehaja Bridge and walk through the plaza to my high school.

Later on, when I was enrolled in university and went into Vijecnica Hall to find books that I needed, I remembered my father's words and his first history lesson.

"My father's wishes were fulfilled," I was thinking on the refugee bus, as I watched my father's tired face with new wrinkles on his forehead. Boris had completed his postgraduate studies at the Music Academy in Sarajevo, and I was a student of Yugoslav Literature already in my third year.

For the first time in my life I realized how everything had been perfect in my life until now. Every single day since my childhood was filled with love, discoveries, happiness, and with the warmth of a wonderful family nest. Here, on this refugee bus, going who knows where, and leading to who knows which life, I now realized what I had, and what I had lost.

This morning in the early dawn I left my little teddy bear on my purple pillow. I cut the cord of my childhood and my youth.

The time had come to close the door on the comfort of my previous life and my happy dreams, to now survive and boldly step into the future.

I closed the door without having time to look back. I left my friends and my town like a ghost at five o'clock in the morning, without reminding them how much I love them. But there was something that I didn't know, and that I couldn't even have dreamed about on that terrifying '92 springtime morning. I didn't know then that I should say farewell to everybody and everything that I have loved, and that I have known. I didn't know that I will never come back again. And sometimes, I think that maybe it is better this way. Because, if I would have known, I, possibly, would never have had enough strength to live. I would have never had the courage to sit on that bus that took me on a trip, which took years before its final destination, before my new life and my new country: CANADA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

Spring 1992. It is early in the morning, five o'clock. The sun is slowly rising up, bathing the mountains and fields with its golden rays. Everything looks so heavenly beautiful and peaceful that, for a moment, I could forget reality. Yet, in an instant, the smell of burned houses brings me back, and the picture that I am exposed to is one that I will hold and remember for the rest of my life; it's the one that will change me forever. With every burned house that I see, something in my soul is burned: the joy of my youth, my enthusiasm for life, the love, confidence, and trust that I had for my people, for my nation is gone forever. I see the columns of refugees passing by old women wiping their tears silently, thinking of their sons who are somewhere in the front lines. Young women trying to calm their children who are crying, suddenly awakened from their peaceful sleep and forced to march.

I am wiping with my sleeves bus windows still-fogged from the morning dew, and rubbing my tired eyes in disbelief watching the scene from which I feel the pain that goes to the back of my head creating a strong sharp pain that reminds me I am awake, and the sight that I see is not just my dream.

I am suffocating from fear that tightens my throat. I feel that I don't have enough air, while large drops of sweat wet my forehead. The musty odor on the bus mixed with the stench of cigarette smoke makes me feel sick, choking me up more.

I will die if I don't breathe fresh air, I am thinking while my heart is pounding in a panic attack. I open the window in order to get some fresh air, but instead of freshness the smell of smoke from burnt houses is stinging my throat and eyes.

Suddenly I hear the cry of a young woman, "Hurry up, my son. Don't stop, and don't cry. There is no time for it. Don't look at the house. Don't turn around. It is useless. Hurry to catch up with the column or they will leave without us. Move quickly. I am scared we will get killed."

But the little boy doesn't hear the mother's plea. He is standing silently not moving, with his eyes fixed on the burned remains of what, until this morning, were warm and comfortable homes. He looks so vulnerable in his blue pajamas and small brown rain boots on backwards, wiping his tears with a little white plush bunny.

The fear for the little boy makes me forget my own fear, and the only thing that I think of in this moment is wanting to help and reassure him.

"Hurry up little boy," I am screaming through the window. You will come back one day. Go now. Run as fast as you can."

As if my voice brought the little boy back to consciousness he raised his head, reached out to his mother, and ran with the stuffed bunny in his hand to reach the column.

As the bus was slowly leaving, I lost sight of the column and village. But the memory of this morning has never left my soul.

I took a deep breath, closed the window and leaned my head on the seat trying to get a little rest.

My head is heavy and my eyes are swollen from the many sleepless nights. I am sitting on the refugee bus, wondering where I am going. It is a yet unknown destination. The only thing that I know is the name of the little town where we are supposed to meet my brother, who has already been there for some time, carrying out his job as a musician. However, I don't know where we are going to live because he himself doesn't have a steady place, as his job requires him to move a lot from one hotel to another. It is the beginning of the war in Bosnia and there are a lot of refugees leaving their homes trying to find a safe place in other parts of Yugoslavia where it is more peaceful, hoping that the Red Cross will help them find a roof and give them a piece of bread. I feel scared thinking about my uncertain future. I am looking at my mother and father trying to find courage. My father looks rather scared and sad, but my mother looks calm. She is always calm in every dangerous or uncertain situation. She is very wise and courageous. It was her idea that we leave before it gets worse. Unquestionably, my family and I trusted her and packed our things immediately. This is not the first war that she has lived through and she knows very well that a mixed couple, like her and my father, don't have much chance to survive in a country like Bosnia which, all of a sudden, became like a volcano with its mixed population of Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, who for so many years had lived in peace, and now the hate has started to come out and burn people's lives and souls. So here we are, on the refugee bus leaving this hysteria, this madness, wondering how long it will last, and when we will be able to come back. Everything happened so fast. We had to pack between two fires, grab the necessary essentials—a few bags for the beginning of a new life—and leave before the battle would start. I didn't have time to say goodbye to anyone. I left my room and all my dreams in its safety. All my books, all my poems that I had written since the age of twelve. I even left my teddy bear, my friend and my faithful companion since I was born.

"My little teddy bear," I am whispering softly to myself, remembering with longing the day when it first time smiled at me from the window of the children's store.

It was Saturday, the day that I always waited for impatiently.

"On Saturday, I'll take you to Sarajevo to explore the city," my father said at the beginning of the week.

I was six years old and still I could not correctly pronounce the letter "r." My "r" always leaned more towards lj. So when I called my brother Boljis, everybody laughed teasingly.

"Boljis, is tomorrow Saturday?" I was asking my older brother the same question every morning.

On Friday night I slept restlessly, impatiently waiting for the dawn. When the dawn finally broke, I woke up Boris. "Get up, Boljis,'' I screamed, "Saturday has arrived." "Leave me alone," he said, trying to get rid of me. "Get up, Saturday will run away!'' I shouted.

"Ah," my brother sighed, getting up lazily.

"My parents could have given me a brother instead of this little troublemaker sister," my brother said. When he saw that he had made me sad, he hugged me and said, "I am teasing you, silly. You're my favorite sister in the world."

"Daddy," I screamed in my parent's room, "Get up before Saturday goes away."

When we approached the city and arrived at the hill where I could see the city, my heart lightened and was pounding from excitement. Down in the valley between the hills, the city looked like it was like in the palm of my hand.

The tops of skyscrapers were glittering, bathing in the morning light like scattered pearls. And as we approached, I watched curiously through the soft lights of windows, the insides of apartments and houses, trying to see the people who lived inside.

"The town is beautiful," I told my father excitedly.

"If you love the city so much," he answered, gently smiling, "I will one day buy a house in the city." "I do not want a house," I protested, watching children playing on the pavement in front of building staircases. "I want an apartment," I told him, imagining that all city kids are happier playing in doorways and parks, and that their games were nicer than the games by the river in the countryside.

"When you grow up," my father said, not wanting to crush my dream of a city, "you will see for yourself what you prefer, a city or a village. Both are beautiful in their own way."

When we finally arrived in the city and went for a long morning walk along the Miljacka river, I watched with excitement the long shining clean streets still wet from a morning cleaning.

I was spellbound when I saw a red tramway and urged my father to get on. "Just hold on a little bit. Soon we will reach Skenderija," my father said. "Then we will take the tramway and go to the old town of Bascarsija or the so-called ''heart of the old town."

When we got on the tramway, I crawled between Boris and my father, happily watching the Miljacka river decorated with bridges on the right side and beautiful buildings on the left.

"Miljacka has a different color than our Ljubina river. It is yellowy, not as green as Ljubina," I told my father comparing Miljacka with the small mountain river that flows behind our house where we swam in the summer and caught fish in its cold whirlpools.

"Nobody is swimming, although it is summer," I said with a six-year-old child's curiosity.

"Miljacka river is not for swimming due to poor water treatment systems, but it is big and long, much longer than Ljubina, and forms the soul of the city with its green walkways and alleys," my father explained." And what is nicest is that it is decorated with beautiful old bridges that adorn and embellish it like jewelry on a lovely bride."

"This is Skenderija Bridge," my father started his tour with a history lesson. "It was built during the Ottoman Empire under Skender-pasha. That is why it is called Skenderija."

"This is the old town of Sarajevo," my father continued his lecture. "There are not a lot of new buildings here. The majority of buildings and houses here are either from the Ottoman Empire or Austro-Hungarian Empire periods."

"What is the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire?" Boris and I were curious.

"Hmm," my father coughed and scratched his hair thinking how to find the simplest possible way to explain history. "You are still small, but it is very important that you know your history and your town," he said.

"This is not my town," I said, "We live in the countryside."

''You little silly," my father said, laughing. "This is your city." And the more you grow up, the more you will be bound by it, and you will be spending more time here, especially when you start high school," he insisted. "Our village is only half an hour away from Sarajevo. We are lucky to have both: rural peace, and we have the noise of the city when we get tired of rural tranquility."

"You have to know," my father continued, "that Sarajevo wasn't always the city as you see it today. It was built for several centuries under two empires. First it was built in the fifteenth century under the Turks or the Ottoman Empire, who conquered the land and ruled for five centuries. Then it was conquered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who succeeded to win against the Ottomans and started to rule over Bosnia at the end of the nineteenth century, till the beginning of the twentieth century.

"This is Cobanija Bridge," my father pointed to the modest bridge made of iron. "The first bridge had a wooden structure that was replaced by iron. The post office is just next to the bridge on the right side of the river. It was built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century like a model of a Viennese postal savings bank. Like many other buildings from the Austro-Hungarian time, Sarajevo's General Post Office was designed by the famous architect, Josip Vancas."

With admiration and amazement, I observed the building that looked more like a castle than a post office, covered by an iron construction mixed with glass that looked like big shiny panels in the morning sun.

"What is this bridge called? ", I asked my father spotting a narrow concrete bridge with a wooden fence surrounded by beautiful buildings on both sides.

"This is Drvenia Bridge, the bridge of wisdom," he smiled, since it is situated between many schools. One of them could one day become your school," he answered proudly. "The first Gymnasium is here, and the School of Arts. On the right side is the School of Scientific Arts and the Pedagogical Academy on the left side, which was your mother's university."

"What is this white building?" as I pointed to the beautiful large structure." The white building that you see on the left side is the Jewish synagogue."

"What is a synagogue?" I asked, confused. My father stopped talking a moment to look for the right words to answer to a six-year-old child.

"A synagogue is a place where Jewish people go to pray. It represents the house of God, the same as a church for Christians. Furthermore, there were about 10,000 Jews in Sarajevo before, but the majority were killed during the Second World War by Nazis in concentration camps."

I could not understand everything that my father was explaining, but I felt a deep sadness in my child's heart for people that vanished in such a horrifying way. Often I watched the Partisan movies which were very popular during my childhood. I had a very good idea about who were the Nazis and the Partisans in the Second World War, but this was the first time that I learned about the Jewish tragedy.

Soon my sad thoughts were replaced by interest in a new bridge that I saw. It was built of stone and it had four arches standing on three pillars. "What bridge is this?" I asked again. Then I heard my brother saying proudly," I know it, I know it. I have seen the picture in the book. It is Princip's Bridge, originally called the Latin Bridge."

"Who is Princip? " I asked again, curiously.

"You are too small to know," my father answered. "Gavrilo Princip killed the heir of the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophia on this bridge. This sad event led to the First World War. This is the bridge where the course of world history was changed. But don't get your little head mixed up with this. You are too young. One day when you grow up you will read and know all about this."

Almost all of these bridges were along the tramway route. And so was the Gavrilo Princip Bridge. While the new passengers were getting on the tramway, I was looking scarily at the people getting on the tramway, imagining Gavrilo Princip with his gun. "Here he is," my brother said teasing me. I hid my head under my father's arm looking with one half-open eye. But instead of Gavrilo Princip I saw friendly faces smiling gently at me.

"Don't be scared," my father said. "This happened a long time ago. Gavrilo Princip is not alive any more. He died in prison."

At the next tramway stop I saw one of the most beautiful bridges I had ever seen. It was built of stone, standing proudly on its three arches carried by four pillars. It was surrounded by small houses with red tiles and a large tower on the right side. On the left side there was a large colorful building with a very rich architecture.

"What is the big tower?" my brother and I asked my father. We had never seen anything similar before.

"It is a mosque," he answered, "a place where Muslims pray." "This one is called Alifakovac Mosque. The bridge is called Seher – Cehaja Bridge or Vijecnica Bridge because of the National Library called Vijecnica, or City Hall, which is located next to the bridge on the left. One day you and your brother will be proud to become its members," he insisted.

The tramway slowly turned around the building making a small semicircle, and it soon stopped at the next stop.

"This is Bascarsija," my father announced. "We are getting out here."

We went out slowly holding our father's hands, scared to get lost in sudden crowds. I watched with open eyes the large square paved with stone slabs that looked as if they were polished. In the middle of the square there was a fountain and benches where people sat and fed the pigeons. Almost a quarter of the square was flooded with pigeons that were cackling, satisfied. On the sides of the large square there were many terraces of various restaurants and kebab restaurants where I could smell the delicious gourmet smell of grilled kebabs.

"Let's eat something," my father said before we continued on walking. It was only 9:00 in the morning, but the kebab houses were already full of people having their plentiful breakfasts.

I took a small portion of five kebabs on buns. Those hot buns dipped in sauce and warmed on the grill together with the small soft kebabs just melted in my mouth. My brother took a large portion of 10 kebabs. "I am a man," he said proudly, "I am not taking children's portions."

After a while, he offered the leftovers of several kebabs to my father.

"What happened to my big man?" my father teased Boris.

"Well," Boris answered with a blushed face," perhaps, after all, I am not that big. When I'm hungry I am big. When my tummy is full, then I am again a little man."

We continued on walking, laughing, and teasing Boris.

We embarked on a wide, paved street intended only for pedestrians. "This is one of the most beautiful streets," my father said. "It is called Saraci. The street is known for its numerous craft shops."

I looked around, mesmerized by what I saw. On the right and on the left side of the street there were various shops. In front of each of them there were different hanging merchandise: hand-made Turkish carpets, hand-woven colorful bags or beautiful leather pouches and purses. Some of the shops were selling silver and copper coffeepots with little round white coffee cups placed on glossy polished trays. On each of them was a wood-carved picture of Bascarsija.

Most of the shops were filigree shops whose windows were decorated with rich jewelry and glamorously carved silver and gold bracelets, and rings with colored stones and shiny earrings of different sizes.

In front of each shop there were low wooden benches on which the owners sat sipping black Turkish coffee from small white cups smiling to passers-by, kindly inviting them to come in and look at their merchandise.

When we got to the end of Saraci Street I saw a wide square. On its left side there was the park and on the right a beautiful tall building.

"This is the cathedral, "my father explained. "We will enter and light candles."

"No. Daddy, we cannot," I replied with fear. Mommy says that our communists will punish us if they ever catch us in a church.

"Don't be scared, my little girl," my father answered." Your mother is a teacher. As a teacher she must be a member of the Party. But I'm not. I'm a musician, and I am free." I sighed with relief. I took my brother's hand and entered the church for the first time in my life.

Stunned, I looked at the high cathedral ceiling decorated with numerous paintings of various saints.

"This is the Virgin Mary with the little Christ," my father pointed to the picture that showed a woman with a baby in her arms. At that very moment, the Morning Prayer began. I looked curiously at the people in the lobby kneeling on their knees repeating words and prayers in front of the priest dressed in white.

I listened carefully, not wanting to miss a single word. While he spoke of Christ and his suffering and crucifixion, large tears began streaming down my face.

"This was a long time ago," my father tried to reason with me and bring me back to reality, but the sadness I felt then for Christ filled my soul with a new feeling of piety which followed me for the rest of my life. When the service finished and people began to come out of the church turning their faces towards the altar, they made the sign of the cross, and I did the same. I raised my little hand awkwardly but piously making the sign of the cross with a deep and joyous feeling of respect and devoutness.

We went out to a sunny day smiling, and quietly continued to walk holding on tightly to each other's hands. When we arrived on the main street my father said: "This street is named after our President Josip Broz Tito. It is called Tito Street."

"Tito won the war against Hitler, my brother proudly added showing his knowledge of history. "He also imposed himself against Russia when their leader, Stalin, wanted Yugoslavia to be part of Russia."

"We are very lucky to have such a strong President who loved his nation, my father answered, impressed by Boris' knowledge.

I was looking at Tito Street, impressed by the noise of the cars and tramways. All around there were plenty of shops with clothing and footwear.

Then I saw one particular shop that caught my attention. It was a children's shop with many toys.

I ran in excitement towards it watching in disbelief its beautifully decorated window with a myriad of toys. On the top of the main window there were plenty of red balloons hanging, and at the bottom of the window there were oodles of multicolored balls; blue, yellow, red, orange and white of different shapes and sizes from the smallest to the largest. On the right side of the window there was a little blue locomotive. On the left side there was a big doll dressed in a long green dress like a princess.

"Daddy, could you by me the train?" Boris screamed eagerly.

"Sure," my father answered with a gentle smile.

"Would you like the doll?" he asked me. "I'm not sure I like her dress" I answered. "I would prefer the pink one."

"Well, they may have it inside," father said, pulling me gently by the hand.

At that moment I saw something that drew my attention. There, in the middle of the window, was one little plush teddy bear half-hidden among colorful balls. He was sitting comfortably with his hand placed on a big white ball. He was golden brown with dark eyes made of shiny marbles. He had a small cute embroidered black nose, and small round lips. He was wearing a blue scarf around his neck and a white soft cotton sweater.

My heart was pumping faster in excitement with the desire to have this precious teddy bear.

"I want it," I screamed, pushing my way into the shop like a speedy roadrunner shuttering with excitement.

"Would you like it wrapped?" the clerk asked laughing. "No thanks," I said. "I want to hug it immediately and never separate from it."

We left the store happy with our new toys. Boris with his blue locomotive, and me with my first best friend for life. We embarked on the tramway and went sightseeing in the new part of town. At each tramway station, our father explained the names of various districts. This part of town was completely different from the old town. It had high buildings with several floors made of cement and concrete. Some of these skyscrapers had even fifteen and more floors. "Look Daddy," I screamed in astonishment every time I saw one of them. "They are almost touching the sky." It must be nice to be so close to the stars at night," I questioned. "It is not as close as you think," my father laughed. And besides, I wonder if it is really nice to live so high? I feel safer with my feet on the ground.

While I watched parks around the building and children on swings and slides laughing, it all seemed so nice that I wished I lived in the city in one of these buildings playing in parks and swinging high up to the sky, or playing in front of building staircases.

We continued our sightseeing in the tramway to the last station of Ilidza where we changed tramways to get back to the bus station.

At the entrance of the bus, I set comfortably between my father and Boris. I put my head on Daddy's lap and hugged my teddy bear tightly. Within a second I fell asleep exhausted and overwhelmed with many emotions and impressions, dreaming of bridges and the Miljacka River, mosques, and the muezzin that calls people to prayer with its mysterious singing, and the bells of the church accompanied by the rattle of tramway wheels. I dreamed of tall buildings twisted up into the sky and myself sitting on the top on one of them on a swing reaching up to the moon.

A few years later my dream has almost came true. My parents bought an apartment in the city of Vogosca, one of the most beautiful suburbs of Sarajevo with a lot of large green alleys and parks, little rivers, and many new four-story buildings. Our apartment was not on the top of the building. It was one on the first floor of a nice new building with sixteen apartments and two main entrances. There was a park next to the building. However, I was now too old to play with the children in front of the building staircases and climb on swings in the park. I was fifteen and already at high school in Sarajevo. Yet I was happy taking the trolley bus in the morning to go to school. It took only ten to fifteen minutes to get to Sarajevo to the last station called King Tomislav Street, that was situated just at the entrance of Sarajevo. From King Tomislav Street I would continue on foot to Skenderija which would take only a few minutes of a nice walk through the park. Then I would take the tramway to Vijecnica. Or, if I had time, I would walk through Bascarsija, enjoying the stroll through recently-washed streets that reminded me of the freshly-washed bridge I had seen many years before. From Bascarsija I took a shortcut through the little street where I had passed a long time ago, exactly near Vijecnica Hall, where I would finally cross Cehaja Bridge and walk through the plaza to my high school.

Later on, when I was enrolled in university and went into Vijecnica Hall to find books that I needed, I remembered my father's words and his first history lesson.

"My father's wishes were fulfilled," I was thinking on the refugee bus, as I watched my father's tired face with new wrinkles on his forehead. Boris had completed his postgraduate studies at the Music Academy in Sarajevo, and I was a student of Yugoslav Literature already in my third year.

For the first time in my life I realized how everything had been perfect in my life until now. Every single day since my childhood was filled with love, discoveries, happiness, and with the warmth of a wonderful family nest. Here, on this refugee bus, going who knows where, and leading to who knows which life, I now realized what I had, and what I had lost.

This morning in the early dawn I left my little teddy bear on my purple pillow. I cut the cord of my childhood and my youth.

The time had come to close the door on the comfort of my previous life and my happy dreams, to now survive and boldly step into the future.

I closed the door without having time to look back. I left my friends and my town like a ghost at five o'clock in the morning, without reminding them how much I love them. But there was something that I didn't know, and that I couldn't even have dreamed about on that terrifying '92 springtime morning. I didn't know then that I should say farewell to everybody and everything that I have loved, and that I have known. I didn't know that I will never come back again. And sometimes, I think that maybe it is better this way. Because, if I would have known, I, possibly, would never have had enough strength to live. I would have never had the courage to sit on that bus that took me on a trip, which took years before its final destination, before my new life and my new country: CANADA.