Hope everyone is having a great week! This week’s entry is about the difficult beginning of the journey towards safety, towards America. It is very emotional for me to recount the difficulties in this journey and leaving the people that I love and have known all my life behind. Imagine leaving your home, friends, and family for a country where you don’t know the language, people, or culture…it’s starting all over. But, I believe that God makes everything happen for a reason, and one of them just might be so that I am alive to tell this story today!
The Trip Preparations
On Saturday morning we left from our new refuge, Habiba’s house, before dawn and returned home. Dervisha followed me, quiet as an early morning breeze. Her tired eyes told me that she had had a sleepless night.
“The couple from Belgrade, Branko and Dara, came to my home last night,” Dervisha said. “They are returning to Belgrade tomorrow morning, and you and Samir need to be ready. Pack your suitcases and; when no one is paying attention, hide them in the garage. Be extremely careful with this trip.”
“I can’t just disappear from here without saying goodbye to my friends,” I protested.
“You have to be smart and think of the journey ahead,” said Dervisha as we entered my room. “What would happen if the people in the house or your next door neighbor discover your plan? Do you remember what happened to Mina and Nijaz when they left their home? Your risk is many times worse.” Dervisha dried her sweaty forehead as she spoke. “You are 45 years old, but you behave like a child, and I am beginning to think that you will never mature.”
“I think that I never was a child,” I replied. “I watched our father die of a heart attack when I was only five. While the other kids played under our oak tree, I pulled weeds from cornfields and measured how much milk our cows produced.” I became quiet for a moment. “At age six I took care of my three year-old brother Alija. I wanted to be a good girl, because I was terrified that our mother could die. She was our anchor, our protection, and our shield from storms, and I did not know how we would survive if she died. ” That old memory bubbled up like clear spring water from a hillside.
“One day my brother and I broke the window. Mother came home exhausted, but she immediately noticed the missing window pane. My heart was pounding, but I managed not to blink as she walked across the room to where I was standing. But rather than punish me as I feared, she encircled me with her arms, embracing me tightly and told me in a gentle voice that one day everything would be fine.”
Dervisha hugged me as my mother had when I was a child, and our sobs filled the room.
“I am afraid now,” I said, “afraid that we will not make it across the border. I have already tried twice and failed both times.”
“I have the feeling that you will make it this time,” Dervisha said, drying her eyes. “Believe me, I have a good feeling, but please be extremely careful.”
As Dervisha left, I took my newest brown purse and walked to Yelena’s house. The walk was one of ecstasy and agony. My mind first presented me with the image of Samir and myself successfully crossing the border and walking hand in hand on the far side of the Drina River. But that joyous picture lasted only long enough to make its dark twin that much more terrible. In the second image we were caught at the border, and the police roughly pulled both of us from the car and threw us in jail. Our dream was gone and our lives in peril.
“Oh dear God,” I prayed under my breath, “Protect us on our trip!”
Yelena opened the door. Her eyes were tired and worried, the lines of strain on her forehead were deeper, and there were strands of grey in her hair that I had not noticed before.
The words that were on the tip of my tongue rushed out. “We decided to leave. Sunday morning. Do you still feel giving me your I.D. card?”
“Oh Aisa, yes! If I were able to share even my soul with you, I would do it this instant.” Her eyes filled with tears, and we embraced. She walked to her bedroom and came back holding the I.D. card. Our arms brought us together in a second bittersweet embrace, and even the walls of the room seemed to cry with us.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” I said. “God will reward you for your courage and your generous spirit. Please keep this brown purse as a remembrance of this moment.” I paused. “If I get into any trouble, I will lie that I stole your I.D. card from this brown purse. Remember it.
“I hope you’ll be fine. I don’t want to think about anything else.”
We walked together to the end of Yelena’s street where we finally hugged each other one last time. I began to walk quickly away, but after about 50 meters I heard Yelena’s voice again, “Aisa, wait!” She was almost running toward me, and my stomach immediately knotted. Has she changed her mind? Does she want her I.D. card back?
“I want to walk with you a little farther,” she said when she had caught up with me. “I don’t know when or where we will have a chance to walk together again.”
“Thank you, dear Yelena, but I think I’m under surveillance these days. I don’t want to create any problems for you.”
“I don’t care.” She put her vest across her shoulders. “Many people look at war as an opportunity to become rich. They bring back trucks, cars, furniture, and even clothes, things they looted from the people they fought against. I don’t know why they would need all of those things. Greed I suppose.” She paused. “The way you fought and survived here was an incredible feat of courage. Something inside me says that you will cross the border without any difficulty.”
“I certainly hope so,” I said softly. “My richness is the good people around me, especially you, my dear friend. I am thankful to God that He sent you to offer me your I.D. card. Without your help this trip would be impossible. Thank you for your enormous help. I admire you.”
“No goodbyes today,” Yelena said. “I hope that we will see each other again someday.” Yelena turned and walked fast to her home. I didn’t look back. I only listened to her quick steps until they completely mixed with the faint sound of the spring breeze.