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 with respect for each other and cultural differences. Their friendship endured even through the Great War. Eventually, Mohamad made his pilgrimage to Mecca and my Dedo, who was forced to leave Bosnia in 1943 with his family, was settled in Germany.

My grandparents went on yearly trips to the hot springs in Yugoslavia after grandfather retired, and in the summer of 1991 I went with them on a month long trip to the fabled Bosnia of my childhood memories. I met cousins and relatives and many people who I had only heard about. And, I met my grandfather’s childhood friend Mohamad, nicknamed Hadji and his granddaughters Suada and Sebira.

Suada and I loved each other immediately. She and her sisters were shy but straightforward. They were curious and wonderous to me, in their old fashioned dimije and fancy lace blouses. They smoked cigarettes like they were going out of style,holding them between the index and the thumb, smoking like Tito and his chibuk. They laughed and told jokes and had clear, happy eyes the color of sky light. I saw my grandparents treated like royalty and me by prox.   Given the history the two old men shared and the sacredness of Bosnian hospitality they were behaving normally, but on the day we visited it happened to be the first day of Bajram, and Bosnian hospitality was in overdrive.

We left for home the next day and Suada and I wrote a few letters promising to maintain  our friendship. Not soon after, the dark period of the war came to Bosnia and we lost all communication. There was horrible fighting, in and around my family town. No one heard from our own family for almost a year.

The year after the Dayton was signed, I dared ask about Suada and the family. No one knew anything about the old man or the grand daughters. The lines had been drawn.

It was fierce for those that lived there.

I understood the emotions but I insisted when I could. 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 for a story I had been researching and to visit my family in Central Bosnia. At the same time I wanted to find out about of my dear friend Suada.  When I asked around worried faces, 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 to Rovna 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?

The grueling bus ride through Bosnia’s destroyed countryside, devistated towns, blood stained streets ended in Vitez where my cousin Zoran picked us up. As we drove into the front gate of my grandmother’s old house, up on the hill from the road that leads into Sarajevo, I saw people delivering wood from a truck into the shed.

Just like that, within fifteen minutes of being on our property,  the answer I was looking for was in front of me.

It seemed Suada and I 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 whereabouts to my relatives sitting on the porch.

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

Kismet

August, 1997. Busovaca/Rovna, Bosnia Hercegovina