Sakiba

I'm Sakiba.

From the area of Kisejak, near Sarajevo, from the village of Tulice, that's between Ilidza and Kise1jak, I was born there, I haven't moved around much, or traveled, a bit to Mostar but no farther, and to Sarajevo, I went mostly to the market in Otok, I sold cheese, clotted cream, butter, potatoes, beans.

We've been together since we were kids, yes I went to elementary school, he finished school, he's a tool machine operator, I was sixteen when I married. He was often away working on construction sites, he worked for a Sarajevo company, Vranica, a construction company, he was in Iraq, twice, each time for a year, he worked in Russia for five years. I was home with the children, worked the farm, built the house, I had my father, two brothers, mother, they helped when he wasn't around. We worked and built the house, it was a nice house, new, new things, he worked over there so we had money, we bought everything, went to Sarajevo and bought everything, I had two vans transport the things, we built a barn, had our own cattle, had everything, lived a normal life. It wasn't a lot of land, just enough to carry a family through the winter, so I didn't have to buy food for the winter, country living, it gave us enough to live normally. We had everything, two furnished floors, two balconies, and a terrace out front. I lived on the middle floor, there was an attic upstairs and the first floor downstairs. What I needed for the winter that was downstairs. We had a phone, we had everything. We had a barn, a cow, sheep, chickens, I made cheese, clotted cream, butter, you have to know such things if you live in a village.

Where I was everybody was Muslim, but as the place grew and the population expanded, it became mixed, we had Croat neighbors, Serb, the way I lived I couldn't tell who was what, I knew Muslims because of their customs, them I could recognize, but I didn't know who was a Croat and who a Serb, to me they were all the same, I couldn't tell the difference. The kids went to school of course, they played, went to discos, the movies, cafes, it was all normal, everybody was together, the young, everybody.

I was especially fond of that brother, he was with me and always took care of me when my husband was away, whatever I needed, wood for the winter, food for the cattle, he'd carry in the hay and prepare it for the winter, he was always there. He'd always ask me, I was older than he was, if he had to buy something he'd always ask me my opinion, if I thought it was okay. And he asked me, he took me to see his girl, to see if I liked her, and I said it doesn't matter if I like her what matters is that you like her, that you love her and she loves you, because I love you so much I'll love her too. I was so happy about his wife, there was a wedding, everything was fine, it went fine, everybody came, it was the real thing. I loved them all, we worked together, my father had horses for whatever needed to be transported, plowed, planted. I was happy next to them, I felt happy.

Then came the word from Kise1jak county, the shelling had already started, people had two hours to be evacuated, so us women left, we took each of us two or three of the neighbors' kids, and some stayed behind to cook for the men, they stayed behind in the village, but the children came with us, because we thought it wouldn't last long. We went without knowing where, it was like a Red Cross evacuation. They told us we were going to Split, but when we got there they wouldn't take us, nobody knew about us, so we went to Rijeka, we were in a mosque and rested there, the children had some tea and were given sandwiches, and then we drove on. We arrived at the Slovene border, in fact before we reached Slovenia we rested at a cafe. When we first set off I thought it wasn't going to be so terrible, but then the children started getting hungry, we traveled two nights and three days over Mount Vran, they were hungry, we'd run out of food, in Butorovic po1je the women brought some pies and spread for the children, because we hadn't brought a lot of food with us and the trip was long. Butorovic po1je, I don't really know where that is, I didn't really travel much so I don't know. In Bosnia, yes it's in Bosnia, but it belongs to Herzegovina- That's the last meal the kids had until we reached Rijeka, and then there in the mosque in Rijeka, then we moved on, the children were hungry again just before we got to the border, we came to a cafe, I don't know which, we went inside to ask for water for the kids, but the waitress there was a refugee herself, from Vukovar, and she told us to call over all the children and she'd give them some Juice, we didn't want to accept that, but she said she was a refugee herself and knew what it was like. So she brought out the food for the children, and I found it so sad that I had to feed the child bread to fill its stomach.

Then we arrived somewhere, I don't know where it was because I've done little traveling so I don't know, but the drivers stopped and asked everybody to pay thirty marks per seat, and that was like a Red Cross evacuation, I had a hundred and eighty marks in my hands so that's what I gave, and I was left without any money. I had fifteen billion, I don't know now what the money was called, I forgot, but it's worthless, you can't use it anywhere anymore. Until Butorovic PoIje we used the Croatian dinar, we couldn't use our money anymore, what used to be the common currency, that money was worthless, the kids are hungry but there's no money to buy anything.

We arrived in Slovenia after traveling two nights and three days, we spent five hours at the Slovene border, they wouldn't let us in, they offered us Germany, Austria, Italy, we refused, we wanted to go to Slovenia, because it was part of one state, that was the closest to home, we didn't think it would last so long and turn out this way. I left Tulice on May 14th 1992 with my three kids, and brought along another three, I took my husband's sister's twelve-year-old girl, they'd left Ilidza county, they'd been expelled from there and had come to me, and I took my own sister's eight-year- old daughter, my sister worked, she asked me to take her daughter for ten or fifteen days until it all blew over, and I took my brother-in-law's grand-daughter, his son's one-year- old little girl, I'd give her some bread to eat and water to drink, the child never cried, there was something special about her on that trip, little Esma was very quiet.

Her mother had left her when she was a baby, five or six months old, and here in Slovenia I said she was mine. I fed her, took care of her, she was so pretty, she was happy with us, but she didn't like playing with other children a lot, they told her I wasn't her real mama, that she had another mama who'd left her, and she came into the room crying, she's crying and I say what's the matter Esma, the other children say you're not my mama, they're lying mama aren't they, oh they're lying, I say, I bought you where they had only the prettiest dolls, those children aren't very good. I never thought they'd take her away from me, I thought of that child as my own, although in my heart 1 knew she wasn't, but I loved that child as if she was my own. Then her father got killed in Bosnia, In Bakovici, and the grandmother wanted to see her, so I sent the child never thinking they'd take her from me, they took her from me. We talked on the phone now, the first time she didn't want to talk, she Just cried and said why did I leave her, you let me go and didn't come, you lied to me. This time it was fine, we talked, now she calls me by my name, Sakiba, before she called me mama.

First my father was killed, shot in front of my brother-in- law's house, three houses down from me, ten of them were shot in one place. But the worst was when my brother was killed. I loved that brother, I couldn't live without him and he couldn't live without me, we were always together, inseparable. He was killed between our village and Kreevo, on a big hill, Volujak it's called, that's where he was hit, wounded first in the leg, so he couldn't drag himself, and then in the chest, and they took him to the hospital and then he died. Left behind two kids, the little one is two now, the older one must be six, I don't know anymore I've forgotten everything, I can't even remember anybody's face, it's all faded.

That whole period was so hard, I was alone with the kids, with foreign people, no work anywhere, the kids went to school, they needed a lot, they kept growing, and he, well sometimes he'd send something, but not much, not much, I don't know, I guess they didn't pay them a lot either, and he came, in April of this year, he came just when my brother was killed, I didn't even know he'd come, I was out of my mind, I was under medication, injections, in the hospital. I didn't know I was alive. Now he's here, a refugee with me, he doesn't work, he quit his job, I made him, made him come back from Russia, I couldn't live alone anymore, I had to have him by my side, I was sick of everything I'd been through and didn't see any future, you lose somebody, suddenly he disappears and you realize you'll never see them again.

They've been registering people to go back, we signed up to go home. My house is gone, everything's gone, there's nothing, twice our house was hit by a grenade, everything's been looted, taken, the windows yanked out, the doors, everything we had, what's left is left, even if it's Just the walls, what matters is to go back to what's yours. If they gave me somebody else's house I couldn't live in it because it's somebody else's and because maybe the person did nothing wrong, he did nothing wrong and I live in his house, maybe he's got no place to live himself. No, I couldn't do that, not with such thoughts in my mind, I couldn't live in somebody else's house, in my own place yes, what you build you build, you build. You feel safest when you're in your own place. But the kids are afraid to go back, they're afraid of everything, first they're afraid they won't have anything to eat, they say we're going to die of hunger there, they're afraid of hunger, that most of all, they've gotten used to being here, to the people, they speak Slovene, they go to school here, they've been here for so many years now, kids forget, they've got no friends there, they grew up here, and now it's hard for them to go back, my daughter says how can I go back when I've got no friends there, you've got people your age, but how'll they receive me when I go back, they won't want to take me in. I don't know why she thinks like that. So I keep talking to them, repeating the names of all the places, and they think it's funny 'cause they're used to being here, don't laugh, that's where you were born, they laugh 'cause they hardly remember a thing, it's all faded from their memory. If only I could go back to my house it'd be easier for me to think about everything.

We signed up to go home, but we've just got our papers for America, I don't want to go there, if I go there I'll stay, my kids'll stay, my kids'll never come back, they'll lose everything that's theirs, they won't know then, they won't know who they are or where they're from. I'm staying with the kids, but to die over there, no I can't do that.

When I go back to Bosnia I don't know what the people will be like, what they've become, everybody seems so strange, my sister-in-law said when she came here, you're so strange Sakiba, why I asked, you act so different she said, and I said, well you're strange to me too, she'd changed, I didn't recognize her anymore, she'd lost a son, her only son, but She Wasn't crushed, she had some kind of inner strength, something that made her want to live. Then she said to Me, You're crazy to get so worked up, I can't get over losing my brother and father I said, and she said well I lost my son, I'm proud he defended his homeland, his country, that he gave his life for it, I'm proud she says, it's given me strength. You're not strong at all, she says, if You'd been in Bosnia, if You'd seen everything, she says, You'd never've lived through it. What can I do when that's flow I am, or maybe it's harder for refugees to Like all those atrocities than for people in Bosnia, thev're more bitter, they've been hardened, they've gotten Used to everything, nothing can shock them anymore, but us refugees we're constantly shocked, for us everything is terrible. All you've got left is what you took with you from Bosnia, what you've got inside you, that's all you've got. I don't know anymore how things will be, I know they'll never be the same. To think that that person is no more, or that life, or the joy in your heart. I lost my mother just after I'd left, two or three months ago, that was the first death, I longed for my father, my brothers, suddenly you don't have them, I can only say what I feel, I don't know what other people feel, I'm not in their skin, I just know my own pain, I carry it with me. I can't tell you what I felt for my brother, I was so happy with him, he was the best, I looked up to him. There's no state, no person, nothing that I Could say I was proud of after losing my brother, nothing on earth.

"Do you love your brother like that too?" she asked me.
"How?"
"That much?"
"More than my own life."
"I was always afraid for him, afraid something Would happen to him when he was away, if he wasn't there, but I hadn't traveled before, I'd been to Mostar, and in Sarajevo to Otok and the market, but now I've left, if I'd stayed I'd have saved him, if I hadn't left Bosnia, if I'd stayed."

Simon Wiesenthal Center-Museum of Tolerance Library & Archives 
For more information contact us at (310) 772-7605 or library@wiesenthal.net.
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