My grandmother’s name is Sala
Sa-la
A hard L- the kind where your tongue has to push against the back of your front two teeth
My grandfather’s name was Mustafa
But we always called him Tati
Ta-tee
They grew up in the same village
And played together until the age that boys and girls are separated to learn their roles
My grandmother retreated to her father’s house, learning to cook and clean
And my grandfather started going to school
My grandmother blushes when she admits to me that she used to sneak up to the roof of her house when dawn came
Just to see my grandfather walking to school, books clutched against his chest
Every morning, him and the sun
It seemed to her that the sun rose with him,
That it could only be coaxed eastward if he pulled it with him
My grandmother married the boy who pulled the sun up for her every day
And they had six children
Seven, if you count the one who died before his first birthday cake could be made
My grandfather was, as they say, “ahead of his time”
He was an intelligent and forward-thinking academic living in Communist times
His children came home from school each afternoon singing songs about the benevolent nature of their leader
Tito belongs to us and we belong to Tito, they hummed
But when Tito died, the tides changed
And when my grandfather spoke up opposing the nationalistic movement against Albanians- which would one day grow into full-fledged ethnic cleansing-
He didn’t make it home from work
And my grandmother wondered how to explain ‘political prisoner’ to her children
One night, months after my grandfather’s disappearance,
My grandmother saw a blue-eyed stranger trudging up the village hill
In his hands- a note scrawled in my grandfather’s handwriting
Sell everything. Meet me in Rome.
So she did
She sold everything, kissed her weeping relatives goodbye
And trudged across Europe with her children
In Rome, a reunion
We’re going to America, my grandfather said
We’re refugees, he said
America- the word was bulky in my grandmother’s mouth on that sundrenched day in Rome
And even now she can’t quite wrap her tongue around it
Amer-eek, she said
Amer-eek, their children mimicked in high-pitched voices Amer-eek!
My mother, an 8-year old pig-tailed refugee in Rome
On her way to Amer-eek
New York City, to be precise
Their first house was right off of Ditmas Avenue in Brooklyn
A crumbling 3-family home shared with other Albanian refugees
Where, during that first year, English was spoken so rarely that you could almost forget you’d left home
The house was right underneath the Cortelyou Road subway station
Every time the trains rumbled past, the walls of the house shook and trembled and my grandmother prayed under her breath
My grandmother- a woman who gave birth to seven children and raised six of them
But never learned to read
Every morning she sent her children to school, a place she would never set foot in, a mystical land where knowledge and learning were the status quo
They came home speaking English, which my grandmother was glad for only so that they could translate for her at the grocery store or the doctor’s office
My grandfather worked days in a factory and spent his nights smoking and reading about the land that he’d left behind
As his sons and daughters grew into young men and women,
Their old country smoldered-
A fire quietly growing
It would spread soon, my grandfather knew
It wouldn’t be long before the name of his country became famous for all the wrong reasons
Blasted out of radios, smeared across CNN
Serbian forces move to Kosovo
Ethnic cleansing
Genocide

But that wasn’t until the ‘90s
And in the decade before his country was ripped apart by misplaced nationalism,
My grandfather sent my 18-year old mother back home
Go to college, he said, get a degree
Meet a nice boy
, my grandmother said, get married
She did both
And when she finally returned to America a couple of years later,
It was with my father and oldest sister in tow
My parents made their own home in America in the mid-80s
By 1985, my second sister made her appearance-
the first of the Latifi’s to be born in America
Meanwhile, my father was studying for his medical boards and his ESL class at the same time
And my mother was raising my sisters in the bustle of Brooklyn
The 80’s faded and in the first year of the 90’s, my brother joined our family
My father named him Kushtrim, which means battle cry
And was fitting because as my brother was taking his first steps,
Our Bosnian neighbors were being brought to their knees
By the time the war spread from Bosnia to Kosovo,
I was 5 years old and living in Virginia with my family
In a sprawling brick house surrounded by a lush green lawn that my father mowed every Sunday
Just like a real American
But the news was on every hour of every day
And some of my earliest memories are of peeking over the living room couch,
Straining to see what was happening in the country where my family started-
Where my grandparents met as children
Where my parents fell in love as college students
My brother and I were deemed to young to watch the news with my parents
So we snuck looks from behind doorways,
Sat on the stairs that wrapped around the back of our house-
Anything to catch a few words from Christiane Amanpour’s mouth that would explain why my mother jumped every time the phone rang
And my father sat in front of the TV with his mouth pulled into a tight line
My brother and I whispered to each other from our hiding spots,
Pulled dictionaries into our room and blew the dust from their pages
Genocide: the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation
My brother read the definition aloud and I tilted my head to the side
Why us?
He slowly shook his head side to side
8 years old
How was he supposed to know?
In the spring of 1998,
I sat on top of my father’s shoulders as we marched through Times Square,
Chanted in front of the United Nations building in Midtown Manhattan
Around us, the crowd swarmed
Red and black t-shirts, the Albanian eagle stamped on every single one
Free Kosova, U.S.A.! we yelled
Free Kosova, U.S.A.!
In 1999, Bill Clinton became the hero of Albanians everywhere when he ordered NATO to launch an air strike against Serbia
78 days later, the war was over
But what we didn’t understand then was that it had just began
The first time I saw the country of my ancestors was in the summer of 1999
British army tanks rolled down the streets instead of cars
And my mother tried to distract me by pointing out landmarks
That’s where your father and I used to have coffee
That’s where my dorm was

But all I could see was the soldiers guarding the entrance to my aunts’ apartment building
And the pile of rubble that used to be my father’s childhood home
I looked out with my big brown eyes
And saw an entire country bleeding and breaking
I went back to America after the summer of 1999 with the taste of my homeland burning my tongue
My grandfather-
Tati, remember?
He lived to see the war start and end
But died before anyone recognized our independence
A snowy New Year’s Eve
2003 slipping into 2004
A heart attack
A widow
A funeral
The first time I saw my mother cry
My youngest uncle washing my grandfather’s body
My baby sister only three months old, screaming like she felt our pain
It’s been 10 years and my grandmother is still mourning my grandfather
It’s been 15 years and my country is still mourning our lost souls
But my grandmother has stopped wearing all black and she laughs with her grandchildren like we’re the only thing that keep her breathing
And my country just celebrated 6 years of independence
I know my grandmother is lonely
She talks about my grandfather like he just stepped out of the room for a moment
And I know my country is hurting
We still hang flowers on the mass graves of our countrymen
But we’re all healing
Which reminds me of the best advice my grandfather ever gave me-
Shpresa le te v’des e fundit-
Let hope die last

Fortesa Latifi - The Plight of the Refugee & Their Family (via madgirlf)

Vintage Mostar! An old Documentary film about Mostar filmed in the 1960’s. Check it out. 

bag-of-dirt:

Communist Bosnian partisans of the 6th Krajina (Frontier) Assault Brigade pose for a photograph in Travnik, which at the time was annexed by the Axis puppet state of the Independent State of Croatia. Officially, part of the larger National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia, the communist partisans fought not only the Axis occupiers, but political and ideological foes within Yugoslavia such as the Serbian nationalist, monarchist Chetniks, and the fascist, nationalist Croatian Ustaše. Travnik, Central Bosnia Canton, Independent State of Croatia (now, Bosnia and Herzegovina). December 1944.

bag-of-dirt:

Communist Bosnian partisans of the 6th Krajina (Frontier) Assault Brigade pose for a photograph in Travnik, which at the time was annexed by the Axis puppet state of the Independent State of Croatia. Officially, part of the larger National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia, the communist partisans fought not only the Axis occupiers, but political and ideological foes within Yugoslavia such as the Serbian nationalist, monarchist Chetniks, and the fascist, nationalist Croatian Ustaše. Travnik, Central Bosnia Canton, Independent State of Croatia (now, Bosnia and Herzegovina). December 1944.

These are smart people;
They receive a mess from the east, and a good life from the west;
They never rush because only life rushes;
They are not interested in what awaits after tomorrow;
What is meant to be will come, and little of it depends on them;
When they are together they are in trouble, for this they do not like to be together often;
They rarely trust anyone, but it’s easiest to fool them with nice words;
They do not resemble heroes, but they are not easily scared with threats;
They pay attention to nothing, they care not of what happens around them;
And then out of nowhere suddenly everything interests them, they flip everything and look around;
Then they become sleepers again and do not like to remember what came to pass;
They are scared of change because it often brings evil;
They are easily fed up with a man, even if he does them good;

Strange people;
They talk bad about you but love you, kiss you on the cheek but hate you;
Laugh at noble deeds but remember them;
They spend most of their life on spite and goodness;
And don’t know which is stronger when;
Evil, good, gentle, raw, unable to move on, stormy, open, hidden;
They are all this and everything in between;
And most importantly they are mine, and I am theirs;
And everything I’m saying; I’m saying about myself.

Death and the Dervish by Mesa Selimovic

Bosnian charity project

I’m looking to team up with a charity organization in Bosnia and fundraise money for donating meat for kurban bajram (Eid al-Adha) to poor villagers in Bosnia. I’m so excited about this, but also really stressed about it! Our Bosnian and Muslim community is very small and rather separated. I have no funds so I basically need to come up with alternative ways to create an event, advertise and raise money. 

If any of you have any ideas, or suggestions about possible fundraiser events I could do message me! If you have a Bosnian association in your city drop some hints on what you guys do and how.