They got a new start in the United States
We go to Union Square, downtown Manhattan, a rotary crowded with traffic and a woody, green park where there’s a famous greens market in the weekends. The air is vibrant with heat and exhaust this afternoon in May.
In the apartment on the first floor with windows facing the backyard it is much cooler. This is the home of Mitch (as he calls himself since he came from Bosnia to the United States), his wife Dragana and their 8 year old son Alexander.
Mitch serves us cold apple juice in big glasses when the telephone suddenly rings. He excuses himself and goes out the door and walks over to one of the neighbors who needs help. Mitch is the superintendent of the building and is supposed to fix almost everything.
”Success in your resettlement will depend as much on your attitude and efforts as on the type of help you receive.”*
In January, 1995 the family fled from war torn city Sarajevo in Bosnia to Austria. They left behind relatives, friends, colleagues, houses, three cars, and two promising professional careers: she as a lawyer, him as an engineer.
The way out opened up trough the US refugee program, They went through six months of interviews and security controls until they were accepted as refugees.
In New York, Mitch went from house to house offering his services. A blizzard took New Yorkers by surprise and suddenly created new jobs.
The old lady who hired Mitch for shoveling away the snow became so delighted with the handy engineer from Bosnia that she recommended Mitch to a friend who needed a caretaker of his building. The refugee family moved into the little concierge apartment near Union Square.
They got some furniture from the IRC, but also found a sofa, a black and white TV and a bed in a container.
In the beginning Dragana also applied for a number of jobs. Every day she wheeled baby Alexander in the carriage along the avenues and streets between the department stores and shops looking for work, ”anything, just as long as I could make some money.”
”She wore out four or five baby carriages on the streets of Manhattan,” Mitch says and tenderly pats his wife on the shoulder.
After three months the family were able to pay their own bills, and after a couple of months more they could afford a used car of their own, a red Pontiac.
What was most difficult about seeking a new country and a new life?
”To make the decision to leave. To leave Europe. To have one´s family, relatives, and friends far far away” Dragana answers.
Have you regretted your decision?
Dragana and Mitch in the green leather sofa speak English fluently, their son Alex with a genuine New York accent:
”I have lots of friends.”
”Physical education is my favorite subject in school.”
”I’m going to become an astronomer!”
Fact: Applying for US citizenship means that you have to pass one English test and answer 10 questions about American history, 7 have to be correct. Every year about 25 percent fail.
Alex gets permission from Dragana to go and play his video games in his room, which is the biggest room in the apartment.
Mitch has made folding doors out of beautiful, ornamented wood and turned the livingroom into two rooms, a small part of the room with windows facing the backyard has become a bedroom and a small study for the parents.
On Friday, April 19 they became US citizens, in their passports and in their hearts.
It was a great moment when they swore the Oath of Allegiance to the new country together with hundreds of new citizens:
”That I will support and defend the constitution, and laws, of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic... ...So help me God.”
It took them one year to gain the citizenship. They were summoned to interviews by the INS, their knowledge of English was tested and they had to answer questions about US history in front of INS officials.
A few days after the ceremony Dragana and Mitch were able to fulfill yet another dream in the new country. The couple in the sofa eagerly hand over a thick pack of color photographs: their longed-for summer house. A timbered cottage with a big lawn and a small lake.
We take the George Washington Bridge out from Manhattan. After only 15 minutes New York disappears behind us and we drive miles and miles of unspoiled countryside. For two and a half hours we swish through woods that resemble the beech woods in Skåne, past watercourses with high bridges, peaceful enclosed pastures and just a few villages, and then across the border to the neighbor state Pennsylvania.
Before we spot the sign of the summer cottage area we see Mitch in a t-shirt, and a quilted down vest, riding a lawn-mower on the vast lawn that surrounds the summer cottage.
Life here reminds of the one they once had, before the disaster. The pine trees, the forests, the water is similar of the Sarajevo region.
Mich and Dragana has found a new home.
* Quotes from ”A Guidebook for Refugees”.
Maria Trägårdh, Bo Lidén