Dreaming of Salina in Sarajevo

From Logavina Street, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), Kindle Loc. 766-804:

Television stations in Japan, Britain, Italy, Germany, and the United States broadcast the film of Berin at the brewery [mortar attack]—without the more gruesome scenes—and footage from the funeral. A retired couple in Salina, Kansas, were watching and arranged to evacuate the boy so he could live with them. It all happened so quickly Berin barely had time to say good-bye. Victor Jackovich, the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia at the time, accompanied Berin on a UN flight. An ABC crew filmed the hurried good-bye in the courtyard on Logavina Street. Berin wrote Delila a letter the day he was airlifted out of Sarajevo. “I have just taken a hot shower. I ate five bananas. I watched television,” Berin said in the letter written from the Frankfurt airport while he was en route to the United States.

Delila talked about Kansas incessantly. Her English grammar book and dictionary were always on the kitchen table. She would curl up on a rug-covered divan in the kitchen studying as her grandmother read the Koran. She kept an atlas open on the kitchen table with a circle drawn around Salina, Kansas.

When I first met Delila in January 1994, the kitchen was the only room in the house warm enough to sit in. It was an old house to begin with—slanty floors with bright Oriental rugs, hand-printed wallpaper curling at the edges. Plastic sheeting was taped over the broken panes of a window. A tiny aluminum stove was jerry-rigged on a stack of bricks. Berin’s cat curled up to it for warmth. Delila wore a baggy maroon sweater over three layers of T-shirts. Everything hung loosely on her tall, underweight frame.

“Physically, I am in Sarajevo, but in my mind, I am in America,” Delila said. “Everything that comes from America, I am interested in. I saw a television program about Bill Clinton that was great.”

The retired couple in Kansas did not realize initially that Berin had a sister still alive. After Berin’s arrival, they tried to bring Delila out as well. “They know how close we are. My brother is very attached to me. He used to take my cigarettes, hide them, and say, ‘I’ll give you one back when you give me a kiss,’” she said.

Delila’s recklessness completely vanished with the promise of emigrating to the United States. Suddenly, she was always frightened. She worried she would die before she could leave Sarajevo. She was afraid to take flowers to her parents’ graves across the street. She would only go on days when fog obscured the cemetery from sniper fire. The brewery shelling had left Delila with four pieces of shrapnel in her body, and she worried that if she slipped and fell on the ice, the shrapnel would shift and hurt her.

Outside the Lačevićs’ front gate, small children from the apartment next door used to sit on the stoop and play with dolls. Delila would yell at them to go back inside. “The kids hate me, but I don’t care what the neighbors say. I chase them away, and tell them, ‘Look, you can see Trebević like it is the palm of your hand.’”

Delila no longer disregarded the mortar shells that came crashing down from the mountain. When the shelling started, she said she could feel her shrapnel itching and she would run, not walk, to the bomb shelter, usually carrying the cat.

“I can run fast, when I’m scared. I’ll tell you, Carl Lewis is nothing compared to me,” she said. “When I get to America, I’m going to start running professionally.”

Delila planned out her future. She wanted to eat at McDonald’s and study medicine. She promised to give up her two-pack-a-day cigarette habit as soon as she got to America. (“I won’t be nervous anymore, so I won’t need it.”)

Once she left Sarajevo, Delila declared adamantly, she would probably never come back. Her brother had written her that his English tutor had asked if he missed Sarajevo. “He said no. If he ever came back, it would be as a tourist—and maybe not even then. I feel that way, too. I have to go somewhere where I can relax, physically, mentally. I don’t know that I would ever return.”

Delila’s sixty-nine-year-old grandmother had been listening to Delila speak, quietly weeping. I asked if she was afraid she might never see her granddaughter again. “No,” she replied, without hesitation. “I am looking forward to it. I will be happy when Delila leaves.”

Delila couldn’t count the days. For security reasons, people being evacuated usually had only a day or two’s advance notice. So she kept her bags packed and her documents folded neatly in an envelope in the bedroom with her few precious possessions. Her grandmother had given her a farewell present, a gold four-leaf clover that she always wore around her neck.

Delila practiced her good-byes to family members. She didn’t bother with her friends. “I told them that one day if I’m not around, I’ve either been killed or I’ve gone to America.”

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Filed under education, food, language, migration, U.S., war, Yugoslavia

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