The Neighbors

Many of you try to make spending time with family and friends or getting to know your neighbors better your new year’s resolution. This week’s post is about the power of having good neighbors- and how it can also save a life in the case of the war. It means more to me than you’ll ever know, what it meant to have had your help Ljubica.

The Neighbors

I was lucky to live among the best neighbors in the world. During the war in Bosnia people in our neighborhood helped and protect each other. Late in the afternoon, after the night in the cornfield, neighbor Ljubica called. “I heard you spent last night in a cornfield. Come to my house tonight.”

I couldn’t believe that any Serb was ready to take the risk and help Muslims, and I asked, “You are inviting us to come to your house tonight?”

“Yes.” Ljubica’s voice was firm.

“I have a problem. I cannot leave Nana at our house alone anymore. Last night was…”

“I am inviting Nana too,” she interrupted me. “I want all three of you to come.”

“Oh, Ljubica! How generous. Thank you, and thank you again.” I was ready to accept the invitation, but I wasn’t sure if Nana would be able to walk to her house. “Let me talk to Nana and I’ll call you back.”

Ljubica truly amazed me, and her wish to help us brought light to my tired eyes.

When Samir heard our conversation, he jumped. “Mom, Nana, let’s go,” he smiled. “Tonight we can sleep in a bed instead of on the hard ground in a cornfield. Let’s go.”

Nana did not move. Even after I explained the invitation to her, happiness failed to brighten her face. After hearing our excitement, she said, “It is a good plan for you and Samir, but I cannot go.”

Samir came close to her, touched her hand and said, “Nana, I’ll push you in a wheelbarrow and make it comfortable. Please Nana, go with us, please.”

“Ah, my dear grandson, I don’t want make any trouble.” Nana almost cried. “If soldiers see that Ljubica is protecting us, they’ll kill her and her husband first.  They’ll kill us too. I am thankful for her invitation. May Allah reward her, but I don’t want to make problems for her family.”

“We will hide you. I’ll cover you with a bed sheet. Go with us, Nana, please,” Samir begged.

“This is the third war of my life,” said Nana as she looked into Samir’s innocent eyes. “I know how it works. You are young, and you don’t know how cruel people can be.”

“Ljubica wants to protect us from that cruelty. We’ll be safe at her house,” I said, wishing to change Nana’s mind.

She turned her head toward me quickly and raised her voice, “You think like this child.” She paused. “I cannot take my scarf off, just as you cannot take off your blouse. If a soldier sees me, he immediately knows that I am Muslim.” She fixed her scarf. “You can go with this child. I’ll be fine.  If Allah allows them to kill me here, I am fine with that. I’ll be a martyr.”

Nothing Samir and I said could change Nana’s mind.  Her decision to stay in our home was final.

I ran to Ljubica’s house and explained Nana’s fears and concerns. Ljubica admitted that she already had a few unpleasant visitations from soldiers. They asked her why she chose green, a Muslim color, for the color of her balcony tiles and why she didn’t post the Serbian flag on her house. I was very pleased when she said that she feared only God and not the soldiers, and that she really wanted to protect us in her home. On my way home, I thought how the war exposed the true character of individuals. Those whom I considered friends, their friendship did not survive the test of war. That test like an x-ray exposed diseased hearts, rotten souls and fearful character. Ljubica did not only exchanged neighborly greetings in passing, but opened her home to protect us. With her the pure wish to help me and my family during the war despite the consequences, showed the true nature of her friendship and made a huge, pleasant place in my heart. Even though I declined her offer, her home was a safe island that I could count on.

Thank you Ljubice from the bottom of my heart.

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