Posted by Editor: FDBobko on Sep 05, 2020
September 3,  2020
Author Sanja Kulenovic
The Siege of Sarajevo: One Family's Story of Separation, Struggle and Strength  
Article by Stacy Trevenon
President Mary Rogren introduced the speaker, Russian-born Bosnian, now American citizen and author Sanja Kulenovic. When the Bosnian War broke out. Sanja had spent a year (1983-84) as an AFS high school exchange student in Pasadena, and in the 1990s, she and her husband became refugees while on their honeymoon in the U.S. In Sanja's presentation she spoke of how her parents and family lived somewhat isolated from the world in Sarajevo. Over 1,425 days the couple established a new life in the U.S. while trying to re-connect with family and friends. Sanja's experiences went into her book The Siege of Sarajevo: One Family's Story of Separation, Struggle and Strength.

Sanja spoke of Sarajevo's capital city, Bosnia, as a place of tolerance, where religious and ethnic groups had once lived in harmony, and of letters she had that were written to her by friends and family during the siege. Reading over them years later, she said, "I discovered I had a job to do," as she told her own daughters, feeling that her experience gave her something to teach them.  So she organized the letters and had them translated, integrating them into her own life and into the book, along with the voices of the people of Sarajevo.
She described her book as a book about war, about suffering and degradation, but she hastened to add  that it is also a book about life under siege, and "how people created life out of unimaginable misery." People were getting killed, she said, but there were also concerts, comedy shows, schools continuing in basements, opera rehearsals, even birthday celebrations and a beauty pageant. War diet had its advantages too, she noted wryly -- such as, it wasn't very high in cholesterol.

She recalled her father with his newspaper, translating the stories into the local language. Away from the basement, she said, life could quickly be over, so she began instead to think in terms of long-term projects. "Something to live for, and fight for, is always there," she said. "You just have to find it."
She related those times to the present day with the pandemic, with the widespread feelings of anger, helplessness and isolation from family, friends and the world. At least, she said, we now have the Internet, bringing us opportunities to not feel so isolated.

She read a paragraph  from the book, retelling how her family bought a new radio, which offered a break from the isolation, darkness and silence which had caused some to lose their minds. That radio, their only link to the world, was as important for survival as water and bread.  "A new radio was out of this world," she said. Later, that radio went to her parents.
Again she drew parallels between those times and today, when people feel they've lost control, and plans have to be cancelled due to the pandemic. She recalled 1992, when she felt stranded here and wrote in her diary of the many things she wished were different, and about her life in a strange place without feeling connection or guidelines of how to walk through it. For her then, she said, it was a new normal that she was not sure how to cope with, but she made the best of it under the circumstances, keeping her expectations low so that each little victory counted. She didn't think about what-ifs; she just looked for ways to adapt.

She learned craft, as she learned how setbacks can be opportunities, and how beauty can be found where you don't expect it. She held up an example: a beautiful, delicate, patterned  vase made from a large bullet, from her town in Sarajevo. When she returned to the country, she found many such decorative vases made from bullets just like that, which were engraved. 

She invited questions from the Rotarians listening to her presentation via Zoom.

Dave Andrews asked if Josip Broz, nicknamed "Tito," the leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was the one who had held the Balkans together at that time. She said yes, he was the person who had held Yugoslavia together.
EJ Dieterle asked about the area's relationship with the former Yugoslavia now, and Sanja noted that there was a lot of nationalism in the area, some political problems; but it was better now.
Larkin Evans asked if and how she got letters during the siege? Speaking of letters from her father, Sanja recalled how in the first eight months of the war there was no real communication with families. Amateur radio offered opportunities for communication, allowing people to talk briefly (30 minutes or so). Letters were often carried by foreign journalists covering the stories, or through humanitarian aid, and sometimes it would take a couple of months for her to get letters from her family. She wrote letters every day,  and collected the  writings that she sent to different journals. These went into the book.
Rosi Fontana asked about working and sending financial aid to the family, and Sanja said she and her husband did whatever they could do to help. They had been granted humanitarian asylum and had gotten work permits a year after their arrival. With those, they gardened and cleaned houses.
Guest Jane Hall asked about how to obtain the book, and Sanja said it can be found on Amazon, and on her web site of Prez Mary said she will get some copies signed for those who want them. 

Sanja said, referring to her experience with the Rotary exchange program, she did not initially know how it would affect her life. She said that when the war started, she and her family did not have much, but in that first year, her host mother, Margaret, took them in until they got work permits. Her husband worked in pizza delivery, though he was a mechanical engineer. She herself was an economist.

Rose Serdy asked Sanja about her reactions when she and her husband came here. She noted how bad things can happen, anywhere. In Sarajevo, where people had lived together for centuries, you just grew up and raised your children. She said she didn't like labels, bad or good; while hatreds had been simmering there for a long time, her book does not dwell on political aspects but rather on everyday life in Sarajevo at the time, which made her what she is today. That is something we can all learn from, she said. 

Asked if she still has family there, she said her mother is still living there, and she has adult children who are Americans first but love it there, and she wants them to know who they are. She said that by the next generation, all could be forgotten unless we teach them, which is important. "History and background make us who we are," she said. 
Kevin O'Brien asked her how the siege ended, and she said that America took it on itself to help resolve the matter, with air strikes led by the UN and NATO.  Following peace negotiations held in Dayton, Ohio, the war ended on Dec. 14, 1995. 
Rosi Fontana asked Sanja about her own children, and Sanja said they are grown now, with one daughter getting her master's degree and a younger daughter studying at UC Santa Barbara. 
Jane asked if Sanja would be willing to talk to other Rotary clubs as she did to us, to tell this story. She said yes, the story is still relevant; but it is not depressing, it is uplifting, given what the people went through and survived; and what they went through, we can too.
President Mary asked club members to tell her if they want a copy of Sanja's  book, which can be purchased for $20, they should email her to let her know.want a book.
She presented a certificate of appreciation which she will send to Sanja as our speaker. She explained that it also goes with a donation to Polio Plus in Sanja's name, and explained to Sanja what that is, which pleased her. 
Club Meeting, September 3, 2020
Everyone exchanged warm greetings as their photos popped up on the computer screen.
"This is quite a crowd," said President Mary Rogren, before calling the meeting to order at 12:04 p.m.
Pledge of Allegiance Kevin led the Pledge of Allegiance
Inspiration Thought Patricia Roma offered as the inspirational message, a quote from Steve Jobs: "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes ... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules ... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things ... They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius."
Mary noted that there were a lot of guests present for the meeting, including her sister Cynthia, Richard Parness, Kevin O'Brien's son Tom (a founding member of Rotaract).  Prez Mary introduced her guest Jane Hall from the Rotary Club of Mill Valley, who is helping her with the youth exchange program and District 5150 Assistant Governor Rick Chinn. Pat Roma introduced her significant other, Bill Barry. 
Announcements were invited, and Rose Serdy began by noting that she and husband Michael celebrated their 53rd anniversary yesterday with a nice, intimate dinner. She also noted the wrapup for the recent, virtual Relay for Life, which brought in $76,000 in total pledges.
Rotary was also mentioned in the latest Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce newsletter, among other local businesses, as having been helpful in its responses to the recent wildfires.
Prez Mary introduced her guest Jane Hall from the Rotary Club of Mill Valley, who is helping her with the youth exchange program. 
Mitone began by explaining cleanup efforts she hopes to do in the month of September, beginning with Dunes Beach this Saturday, Sept. 5, and that she plans for similar cleanups to continue throughout the  month. She added that she envisions cleanups by small groups, practicing social distancing.

Susan Kealey announced another seniors' gardening project in Canada Cove this  Sunday,  Sept. 6, beginning at 1 p.m. Participants should bring gloves, masks  and gardening clippers. She said that it's a little safer since it's outside, and that this will help fulfill our commitment to community service.

EJ Dieterle shared an update on our project of bringing sandwiches to  Abundant Grace. He also updated the club on our previous exchange student Caroline from Belgium, and what she was doing now, including having recently introduced her boyfriend to her parents. 

Speaking of exchange students, next week, the Rotary club will welcome Michael Warner-Carey, who will discuss his year in Belgium.

Kevin complimented Prez Mary on the great programs our Club has been seeing. Mary described the committee the Club has that will help with arranging speakers in the future, and invited club members to think about good speakers for our future Zoom meetings.

Warren Barmore encouraged members to participate more in, and donate more to, future marble drawings.

Kevin asked if Club members  knew anyone who had been affected by the coronavirus, which led to a discussion about the importance of wearing masks.

Mitone Griffiths recounted her daughter Mia's arrival in her new college dorm where, a week after she had arrived, there had been virus testing and contact tracing in the school. Mitone said that though Mia is out and about, she takes the threat of the virus seriously.

Warren said that his daughter Grayson is also preparing for classes via Zoom. 

EJ mentioned that he is curious as to how does one deal with people who do not or will not wear a mask? In such a case, Kevin cited Miss Manners, who said you can just say you forgot your mask and will get one as soon as possible. Invited to share what they do when encountering people who aren't wearing masks, the members agreed that it is hard to not say something when you meet a person without a mask, but an alternative is to perhaps just walk well away and around them. He mentioned that the risk of contracting the virus outdoors is lower.

Prez Mary mentioned that our Sept. 24 meeting will be the joint meeting with the Rotary Club of Half Moon Bay, New Zealand, when members from each club can offer overviews of where they live and what they do. She asked for suggestions of more ideas of what we can share or what we can ask the New Zealand members to share with us too.
Sorry no photos from this week since Dianne was taking her daughter to the airport to return to her home in Italy.