Saliha Osmanović’s garden overflows with life. Wayward dogs and cats curl up in the grass beside it, taking a reprieve in the green tendrils that ebb into rows of nourishment for the 63-year-old woman whose family was murdered in the Bosnian genocide. After serving us dinner in her courtyard at dusk, she settles herself on a cushion in front of us, backlit by the home’s glowing windows in sharp contrast to the night around us, to tell her story.
“I had the courage to come back,” she says quietly, with the help of a translator by her side, “because I did not do anything wrong.” She speaks to us, drawing up the grief and suffering of the deaths of her husband, Ramo, and her sons, Nermin and Edin, because she believes people should know what happened, and our visit reminds her that she is not forgotten.
In July of 1995, Saliha and her family left their home before Serb troops invaded and took shelter in Potocari. Her youngest son, Edin, was killed in an artillery attack. Nermin and Edin tried to escape through the woods toward Tuzla, seeking refuge, but were captured and executed. Their remains were identified in 2009.
Before the war, Saliha lived happily with her family in the small village of Dobrak, a municipality of Srebrenica, and, after the war, returned alone to her home in ruins. Saliha rebuilt her home and tended her garden, all the while living beside new neighbors – Serbs who claimed her town as their own after the fall of Srebrenica. She is not living she says, her voice cracking, simply surviving and suffering. Remembering. Even through it all, through the culture of denial that she is immersed in, Saliha does not hate the people around her. She walks through the town and passes out chocolates to the Serb children playing in the streets; the same streets where her kids once ran and laughed, because children are children, she says, and they deserve every bit of their childhood to be happy and free.
Before we leave Saliha, I notice the shamrock plants in her garden. They are the same plants my late mother grew when I was a child. She would cut them into pieces, repot them and give them away as gifts to her friends, neighbors, and coworkers. I had never seen them planted outside before, and, through the translator, I inquired as to how they survived the winter. They reseed themselves every year, she replied, nodding and motioning for me to wait when she heard of the plant’s connection to my mother. I knew she understood how much I miss her, knew it was a link we shared in our lives in two different worlds, two different languages, two different stories of loss.
Saliha comes hurrying back to me, shovel in hand, and heaves it into the dirt with the strength of a woman half her age, and pops one of the plants from her yard into a bag for me. To remember, she says, thrusting it into my arms. The plant, reseeding itself year after year, is a symbol between us. It speaks of transitions and hope. Of new life, of death, and of resiliency.