Visiting Bosnia–20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago, we’d been teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) at our church. The regular ESL classes were overflowing, especially with Bosnian refugees, so we were recruited to help out. Of course, you end up with new friendships.

I’d even gone to the birth of Adis, the small boy in the photos. I’d gone to prenatal classes with his mother Zlatka, but also knew what English she could understand. I could also restate the medical jargon for her at the hospital. No one asked if I’d ever been to a baby’s birth or not. I admit to having shaky legs and needing to sit a little afterwards.

When Adis was two years old, his family returned to Bosnia to see their parents. His father Samir suggested that I go along with them, that I’d certainly have a better idea of their backgrounds. So I did.

Samir’s parents had a new home because their other had been destroyed in the war.

It’s built of cement blocks and the upper floors weren’t yet finished. Samir’s three brothers and one sister also live in Iowa. The youngest sister is standing between Samir and Zlatka in the doorway, with Adis’s older sister Dzenaela (who was two years old when she arrived in Iowa) and Adis. Samir’s parents are in front. Since then, they’ve also moved to Iowa.



Adis and Dzenaela (pronounced Janella) wanted to help their nana haul hay to the cattle.




Most of Zlatka’s family still lives in Bosnia. Her parents are the man with the vest and the woman in white. Zlatka lost her two older brothers in the war. Since this photo was taken (2001), she’s also lost her father, another brother, and a niece.

Six-year-old cousins Dzenela and Rifet are in front. Rifet would lean on my knee and try to carry on a conversation. My diary from 20 years ago today: “He told me to hold out my hand & close my eyes (Zlatka ranslated) & he gave me an apple. I later tried to put it on the tray & he said no, it’s only for you.” Wonder if he remembers. Will ask this morning.

In the last couple of years, I’ve reconnected with Rifet via Facebook! He’s got terrific English and it’s been a delight to converse about several things via Instant Message. He was so interested in Leora’s Letters so I sent a copy, which got caught in the pandemic and wasn’t delivered to him for several weeks.



We raked hay one day. Zlatka’s mother with the beautiful backdrop of the home this family left because of no jobs.

Dzenaela completed culinary school and just got married this year. Adis finished community college and is a member of the Air National Guard. They have a younger brother (Denis) who is also a high school graduate and is working full time.


    • It sure was! We stayed half the time with Samir’s parents, half with Zlakta’s. I forgot that Dzenaela was my “bunkmate” while we were there. Wonder if she remembers. I do remember having the first inklings of fibromyalgia while we were there, but I figured it was became we were in a mountainous region, or from all the vaccinations I took (even typhoid, as both homes had been in a war zone).

  1. You have had so may interesting adventures. I always enjoy reading about them. Wonderful pictures capturing this amazing adventure and family.

    • And such fun that Rifet was the first one to find it this morning. He said he “rather an annoying kid back then,” but I was delighted with his tenacity in trying to communicate back then, and still enjoy our “morning chats.”

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