If there is one thing that I am thankful for, it is how our lovely host and the owner of our hostel, Naida, has taken in our Global Practice Bosnia group like we are her own. The hostel which we are staying at is Naida’s childhood home. She grew up here and continued to live here as an adult, even during the siege of Sarajevo. She raised her family here, and yet she opens her doors to people from all over the world. She is one of the kindest, smartest, and most fiery women I have ever met. If I grow into even half the woman that Naida is, I would be more than happy.
Naida spent her life teaching as a university professor, and later worked as a government translator. She has traveled the world, and has stories and photos from her time all over the Middle East. She has seen places that I wish to see (Homs, Hama, Damascus, Aleppo), and she even took her students along with her. She speaks several languages fluently, including English, Arabic, French, and German. At one point, she was a personal translator for the wife of Muammar Gaddafi. I asked her if his wife was as crazy as he is, but she assured me that she wasn’t–according to Naida, she’s actually a very nice lady.
On the fourth of July, as we were celebrating our nation’s birthday, Naida let us take over her kitchen and cook all sorts of American food. Little did we know that earlier that day, she had taken the time to bake us a traditional Bosnian cake, writing “Happy Birthday America” on it in Bosnian. When her and her husband presented it to us, I couldn’t help but cry. The fact that she did something so special for us, this loud, messy group of Americans who leave dirty dishes all over her hostel… was beyond special. I’ve never felt so welcomed by anyone before. The fact that we were in another country thousands of miles away made it even more touching.
Naida and I became close because her grandson, Ekrem, took an unusual liking to me and over the summer, became very attached to me. One night, while doing work downstairs, he sat on my lap and started drawing. Suddenly, we were watching Youtube videos of every single Disney song I could remember from my childhood. “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from the Lion King, and “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas. Every time he is here, he will ask Naida “where Meggy is.” Together, we watch Pokemon, and sometimes we even draw pictures of our own Pokemon and make up names for them. Some of the pictures we have drawn over the summer are still taped to the doors downstairs.
When the Center for Healthy Aging threw a Bosnian-American themed party, Naida made sure to come. Along with her, she brought Ekrem, who was carrying the toy Pikachu that I had bought for him from one of the stands on the street. That night, we all danced together, and Naida and I even convinced Ekrem to dance with us. We taught him the Macarena, which he really seemed to love. I stayed with Naida and Ekrem until the party ended, and afterwards, she treated me to some coffee and dessert at the restaurant across from the hostel. “You are a good person, Meggy,” she told me. “I can tell because Ekrem likes you. Children know these things,” she explained, as she took my hand in hers.
I am lucky to know Naida, and I tell her that one day, when I am a professor like her, I will try to bring my students to Bosnia and stay in her hostel. She laughs when I tell her this, but she always tells me that she hopes that I do. I’m sad to be leaving Bosnia, but especially to be leaving Naida. She is like a grandmother to me. A fiery grandma who wears red lipstick and smokes cigarettes with me when I’m having a bad day. I’ve never felt so welcomed by a complete stranger. Thank you for everything, Naida. I will never forget you or the memories we have shared.