Nana's Shoes: A Story of a Family's Faith, Hope, and Courage in a Time of Ethnic Cleansing

Nana's Shoes: A Story of a Family's Faith, Hope, and Courage in a Time of Ethnic Cleansing

by Aisa Softic

ISBN: 9780996294911

Publisher Aisa Softic

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, Biographies & Memoirs/Leaders & Notable People, Biographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction

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Book Description

True stories what happend to my Bosnian people, my family, and me during war in Bosnia. My elderly mother-in-law, my teenage son, and me left there to virnesed war brutalities.

Sample Chapter

“You were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within you.

It is not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And, as you let your own light shine, you unconsciously give other people permission to do same.” Nelson Mandela

The Night in the Cornfield

Humans transgress all limits when they feel that there is no one above them.

In the beginning of July1993, the news of our neighbor Mirsad Kovacevic’s death spread like wild fire, consuming all joy of life and suffocating the entire the village of Dubrave in grief. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs to shake and rattle all who were bent on injustice.

I walked through the house with my heart as hard as a sunbaked field in July. Suddenly, several knocks on my window redirected my thoughts and sorrow. My neighbor Mina was motioning me to come outside. When I approached her she whispered, “Today is our Judgment Day.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead and looked around. “One of the Serb soldiers has been wounded in battle today. If he dies tonight, the Serbs are going to kill all of us.”

My heart skipped a beat, and I asked, “What should we do?”

“Run and hide in the cornfield. We cannot wait at home for our murderers to come.”

A chill gripped me. Samir, my fourteen-year-old son, had not yet returned from my sister’s home in Dubrave, and my mother-in-law could not walk as far as the cornfield.

“Wait a minute!” I raised my hand. “Wait! I must see to my son and Nana.”

I ran to the garage, grabbed my bicycle, and pedaled as fast as I could toward Dubrave.

Dear God, protect my son and guide him safely home, I prayed. Please protect him, protect him, and protect him, I repeated with each push of the bicycle pedals. After about fifteen minutes of riding I noticed Samir and the invisible chains that had bound so tightly around me fell away.

“What happened, Mother?” He inquired, staring wide-eyed at me. “Where are you going?”

“I came to find you,” I explained with a sigh, placing Samir’s heavy milk containers on my bicycle and quietly thanking God that my son was safe. When I told him the news about Mirsad, the muscles of his face stiffened and fear filled his innocent, youthful eyes. War robs children of their sense of security.

When we entered our neighborhood, Samir frightened as a rabbit, looked around and whispered, “Mother, hurry up. Hurry up. It looks like all our neighbors have left their houses already.”

“You must go with Mina’s family.” I looked at his eyes. “I’ll join you in a little bit.”

“Mother, please go with us,” he whispered.

“Come out with the child immediately!” I recognized the strong voice of old Mehmed, Mina’s father.

I signaled for Samir to go and opened the window. “What can I do with Nana? I must…”

“You must leave Nana,” pleaded Mehmed. “You cannot sacrifice your life and the life of your child.”

I said my evening prayer, lit a candle, and sat on the sofa close to Nana. Her shoes were delicately tied in her scarf. I looked at Nana, looked at the shoes and thought, Can I ask Nana to put the shoes on and carry her on my back to the cornfield? Could I push her in a wheelbarrow? How could we cross the ditch? Nana could fall and break some of her bones. I need to leave Nana and the shoes where they are. I pulled the door closed behind me. Dear God, protect us. We are powerless.

The coming night had begun to wrap itself around our small world and our great fears.

“Hurry up!” Mina whispered from her garden gate.

“I will stay here in my garden tonight,” I confided, almost in tears. “I have to come back to check on Nana. I cannot leave her alone.”

“I’m angry now,” Mina moved closer to me. “Look, she has seven children. Two of her sons have been abroad for years. Why didn’t they take her with them? It isn’t fair.”

“All of life is a test. Helping others brings blessings upon us,” I replied. “Nana has lived with us for twenty years. She is the mother of my husband. She helped raise my children. I must protect her. But how can I do it?” I spoke hopelessly through my tears.

As though to make my decision for me, Mina grabbed my hand and yanked me forward. We hurried through our gardens as the last of the evening’s golden light disappeared below the western horizon. Darkness and fear, its twin companion, walked with us as we moved quietly toward the deep ditch that separated us from the cornfield where we would lie in hiding through the night. I glanced back at the homes we had left, homes, which, in the ambient gloom of the night, had a look of sadness about them. Only one of them had a sign of life — one window where the flame of the candle I had lit sent forth its ray of hope. One small dancing light accompanied Nana as she sat in the house infirm and alone.

Oh, my dear Nana, forgive me tonight, I apologized from the bottom of my heart. I couldn’t take you with me, but my heart is aching at having to leave you. I couldn’t even tell you that I left. How are you going to spend the night alone? You were afraid to sleep by yourself in your own room. Tonight you are alone not only in your room and in our house, but also in the entire neighborhood. Please forgive me. O merciful God, protect Nana tonight.

“Aisa, hurry up,” Mina whispered from the other side of the ditch.

I closed my fists, ran down the ditch, jumped over the narrow stream, grabbed some sturdy plants, and pulled myself up the bank. Mina grabbed my hand and helped me to the top. In front of us was a field with dark green corn stalks moving gently like waves on the Adriatic Sea. We reached Mina’s family and Samir, sitting on blankets close to one another. I squatted next to my son and brushed his curly hair with my fingers.

“I hope we are safe here,” whispered Nijaz, Mina’s husband. “Our crazy Serb neighbors cannot cross the ditch in their cars to find us.”

“This is ridiculous,” Mina declared, raising her voice a little bit and turning toward her husband. “You can do what you want, but I’m going to get the documents I need and leave this hell with my children as soon as possible. I don’t feel safe in this field. I want to be in a home or shelter far from bullets!”

Suddenly a warm wind brought with it a burning smell. A huge fire in the direction of our houses almost blinded me. I jumped. “Fire! My house is burning! Nana is there! Help! Help!” I screamed, running through the field.

“That isn’t your house! My barn is burning! My poor cows!” Mehmed wrung his hands.

“You are both crazy tonight,” Mina determined, standing in front of us. “The fire is far from our homes.” She put one hand on her hip, and the other pointed in the direction of the fire. My eyes followed Mina’s hand as it confirmed our error, but even so a cold sweat covered me and I began to shake. I grabbed Mina’s cotton bed sheet and wrapped myself in it. Mehmed was whispering prayers.

A deep, frightening darkness and moist chill spread through the field. I heard rifle fire in the distance and the gunshots sounded as though they were getting closer. The cries of children echoed in the cornfield. I stood up and paced a few steps. All of a sudden the voices of several men and human footsteps from nearby paralyzed my breath and stiffened my muscles. It looked like they were only a few meters from us. Instinctively I cowered behind a row of corn. Mehmed placed the white sheets under an empty basket and touched a finger to his lips for silence. We stayed still, with only our eyes moving, darting around in the darkness. As the voices became louder, drums sounds in my ears played faster. I closed my burning eyes, frightened at the thought of what I would see when I opened them. Breathing slowly through parted lips, I felt like a speck of dirt in the huge cornfield, unwilling to accept all of our tragedies but too weak to take control of our destinies.

Are they going to slaughter us? I asked myself without moving my lips. Oh, no the children! Dear God, protect our children, all children, and protect all of us tonight. Make us invisible to our enemies.

Then as quickly as they had come, the voices and sounds vanished, and I could breathe again. The children, exhausted from the tension, finally nodded off to sleep. I thanked God. My heart softened, and I found a little bit of peace. Eventually I fell asleep.

Roosters spread their songs through the entire field. The dawn’s calm light appeared from the darkness. Mina and I woke the children, and we all slowly walked home. I found Nana sitting on her sofa, moving gently from side to side. Samir lay down close to her, curling his knees to his elbows.

“Oh, I had a terrible night,” Nana told me, still rocking. “The candle light vanished. I felt like I was by myself. Why didn’t you answer my calls?”

“I couldn’t hear you,” I responded and looked at Nana’s still fearful eyes as tears ran down my cheeks. I cried not only for myself and my family but for all those who loved our country of Bosnia more than their lives, for the millions of my fellow Bosnians who were spending fearful nights hiding in fields, for their burning and destroyed homes, for children who cried in shelters far from their motherland, for orphans without care. I cried for the death of mercy and compassion, consideration and love. In their place ruled hate and cruelty.


Excerpted from "Nana's Shoes: A Story of a Family's Faith, Hope, and Courage in a Time of Ethnic Cleansing" by Aisa Softic. Copyright © 2015 by Aisa Softic. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Aisa Softic

Aisa Softic

My parents named me Aisa (Aisha) – meaning a long comfortable life. The war in my country pushed me from my homeland. On September 29th, 1995, with my teenage son I met my daughter and husband in the airport in Dayton, Ohio after three years of separation. The new beginning, at the age of 45 and with no English, was difficult. I had taught my students back in Bosnia that knowledge is permanent wealth. Refugees lose even their knowledge. My true passion is teaching and I became special education teacher 2001. My Bosnian’s fellows invited me to St. Louis and on September 1st, 2007 to give a speech for the Bosnian president, Mr. Komsic and his delegation. I started my speech, “The world has big and rich countries, but in our hearts our Bosnia is the biggest and richest among them.” Many Bosnians cried. I am chairperson in Bosnian Community in Cincinnati. I am an American citizen now, and proud to be a part of this country that has opened the gate of opportunity to my family. But a part of my heart will always be in Bosnia. My memoir Nan’s Shoes is published on Amazon this spring. The book has 61 very good reviews. I want that readews feel what can happen to a people, and so that, whatever their faith, they realize that a wise, just and merciful God is always with them

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