Monday, 5 April 2010

A New Life

The other day I went over for coffee with a friend here, let's call her Azra. We were sitting in her kitchen and she suddenly asked me how old I was.

I'm 37 Azra. Well nearly 38.

Azra carried on spooning the coffee absentmindedly and didn't say anything for a little while.

Do you dye your hair? She asked eventually.

I wasn't sure where this was going. I don't dye my hair but I'm also blessed with not a grey hair on my head despite my advanced age. I said not.

She was quiet again.

You look so much younger than me. I'm only 2 years older than you, but I look like your mother.

She was right. We do look like we come from different generations. It is not so much that I look young, but that she looks far older than her years.

But Azra, I started to say I haven't had to deal with a half of the things you've had to cope with in your life.

For Azra has had to live a life. She came from a village near Srebrenica. When the war started she was newly married with a little baby. They were worried by the rumours of what was happening in villages further north and left her home to come to Tuzla. Her husband joined the Bosnian Army (which was essentially the Bosnian Muslim forces). She had another baby. Her husband sent word that he was so excited to be the father of a little girl and that he couldn't wait to meet her. She never heard from him again.

After the war she remarried, had another baby. This husband started beating her, so she left him. He cut all ties, refusing to acknowledge his son, refusing to pay towards his upkeep.

So there was Azra. 3 children. No money. No job. Her family were scattered across the world. One brother was in the US, another in France yet another in Germany. They sent her money occasionally but it wasn't really enough to live on. Her father was dead now, her mother came to Tuzla, sick, and moved in with her and her children into their 1 bedroom flat. She tried to find work but couldn't. They found the remains of her first husband in a mass grave near Pilica. She went to the mosque for the first time in years.

I'm going to leave Bosnia, she said. There's nothing for me here except sadness and loss. I have no more hope here. I must leave.

They decided to move to a Germany. Azra asked her brothers for money and paid 4000KM to a fixer to obtain for them a visa to travel as tourists into Europe. The fixer organised everything for them. He arranged for a letter to say that Azra's eldest son was employed  (he wasn't). He arranged for a letter stating that they had a certain amount of money in the bank (they didn't). He arranged for an invitation to be provided by someone in Poland to make it look as if they would be travelling there, but applied for a Shengen visa, which permits travel to any European country.

Their visa request was refused. They reapplied. It was refused again. They applied once more. I asked Azra why they didn't wait until Bosnia gets visa free travel, likely to be this year.

I can't wait any more. I want to go. I have to go. I can't stay here any more. I'm stuck, I can't do anything here.

The third time they applied they got it. The next day they were on a bus, with all their belongings, off to start their new life.

I haven't heard from Azra since they arrived in Germany. I don't know what she is going to do in Germany. She didn't finish school and has no formal qualifications. None of the family speak German. I asked her what she would do there. There are lots of jobs for cleaners she said. I said that the global recession had hit European countries pretty hard too and that there weren't lots of jobs any more. There are she insisted. Someone told me there are. I will find one. I will have a job. 

Their tourist visa is about to expire. They have no intention of coming back. I wonder how they are finding Germany, if Azra has found a job. But I wonder most if they are missing Bosnia. The blossoms are out here now. Everyone is sitting outside having coffee, tending to their vegetable patches and enjoying the sunshine. The young kids are playing on the streets and the older ones are strolling up and down the road laughing with their friends and eyeing up the boys.


Very Bored in Catalunya said...

A brilliant post, but so sad and poignant. I hope she's found a better life but you can't help but think that the grass really isn't much greener anywhere else at the moment.

Troutie said...

That was a really sweet post.

I have no idea what to call your new blog!

Troutie said...

That was a really sweet post.

I have no idea what to call your new blog!

notSupermum said...

What a lovely bittersweet post. And how about 'A New Life' as your new blog name?

Gappy said...

What a fantastic post. I wish that everyone who labels illegal immigrants scroungers would read it.

Behind every 'illegal immigrant' there is a human face and an often terrifyingly sad story.

I hope your friend has found peace in Germany. Is this the friend that you were referring to in your e-mail?

TheMadHouse said...

Oh my lord, I have not experianced a tenth of ehat this lady has, it makes me sad that this has happened, no it actually makes my blood boil

London City Mum said...

Very touching, very moving, very poignant.
Makes me realise how lucky we are.

I hope Azra truly finds a new (and better) life in Germany.


Iota said...

What a tough life.

This week I've had to jump through various medical hoops for visa purposes, and even when people are kind and it's all very civilised, it still makes you feel like a second class citizen. But of course you have to smile sweetly, because these people have the power to tick the boxes or not. And you don't want them not to tick the boxes...

How much worse for someone like your friend, who is doing it on the wrong side of the law.

Perfectly Happy Mum said...

It certainly brings things to reality... we have it so easy compared to some countries. I hope she has a good and happy life now, it sounds like she deserves it. Thank you for sharing.

In another note been thinking of a possible name for your blog and unfortunately the thinking didn't bring anything decent I am afraid :)

Anonymous said...

Gosh. How fortunate we are in comparison. Azra sounds like a resilient, determined character. I hope that helps her achieve the life she clearly deserves.

Sparx said...

Life really is in the luck of the draw; where we are born makes an entire world's worth of difference. I hope she's OK.

deer baby said...

This certainly gets things into perspective for me today. Loved this post. What a story she has.

A Modern Mother said...

I love this post Emily. And will you too miss Bosnia?

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I have several friends here in Albania & in Sri Lanka where we lived before with similar stories, everyone asssuming life is better abroad, desperate to escape their country. It is a sobering thought the whole accident of birth thing. There but for the grace of God go I etc.

Kat said...

This is such a touching post. I hope she makes it in Germany. I really hope she does...

PS-I have tagged you at my blog

Liz (LivingwithKids) said...

Oh I hope she's happy. As you know I went to school with some Yugoslavians and I always wonder what happened to them during the conflict and if their lives turned out OK. I hope so.

Lady Mama said...

Some people lead truly incredible lives. Whenever I'm feeling sorry for myself, stories like this remind me how very lucky I am. Great post!

Modern Dilemma said...

I think today, due to major puke induced sleep deprivation I will be crying at many posts. This one got me. What a sad story. So well written.

I wish there someone like you writing at News International to offset their anti-immigration stance. No-one wants to uproot their entire family and move to another country without money, contacts, employment, residence or hope unless their home country has even less likelihood of providing such things.

"...Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled massess yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I life my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883

Where is the spirit of compassion for our fellow human beings Emma Lazarus saw in the US in the late Nineteenth Century?

I hope your friend is finding peace in Germany.

MD x

Peabee72 said...

Stories like this make me feel so privileged and impotent. I cannot even imagine a situation where I would have to live through such horrors.

Your poor friend. I really hope she has found something in Germany, and that things work out for her. I hope too that you find her again one day, looking more equal in age to you...testament to a new found happy life. Px

Anonymous said...

Ohh dear, I wish Azra best of luck in Germany. Her life was tough in Bosnia, but it maybe even tougher in Germany without proper documents. Hope things work out for her !


elvedina2006 said...

Bless you for writing this post. There are too many stories like Azra's in Bosnia. So many lives were destroyed in that war. I'ts almost worse if you survived - then what - no job, no husband, no support.
I feel so fortunate that was not married during the war and did not have kids at that time. Thanks to all the ladies for supportive comments and understanding.