After my great horror at reading about events in Bosnia that through much of my sheltered life I had no idea had ever happened, the chance to speak to Ibishi meant a lot to me. I probably shouldn't say it, it's not terribly professional...but he was my favourite ;)
Though Ibishi, an Albanian man born in Kosovo, immigrated to Canada more than ten years ago, his English is not his strongest language (he also speaks Albanian, Serbo-Croat, Macedonian, Montenegrin and Bosnian) – though not nearly as weak as my Albanian – we had some trouble communicating, but Faisal endeavoured to help us the best he could. (Please note that because of that language barrier, this record may contain more paraphrase, or when I do use a direct quote, it may not follow conventional rules of English grammar.) I asked Ibishi, if it was not too rude or impertinent, could he please tell me how old he was. He laughed and said that certainly he had nothing to be ashamed of in his age, and told me that he was sixty-four. When I reflected on the fact that my own father is 61, it seemed Ibishi looked much older. His face is heavily lined, and his smile, though infectious, is far from toothpaste-commercial perfection. He has not had an easy life. When I thanked him for speaking to me about his time in Bosnia, and said that I knew it must be difficult, he shrugged and lightheartedly said, “Is life.” He spoke of Slobodan Milošević, that the things he was inciting and doing were “slowly slowly going worse and worse and worse”. There were soldiers in his province, he said, because of the gold and silver mines, and the land and climate were ideal for agriculture; it was a rich province. He told me how a Serbian soldier was pressuring him to leave, that he would “maybe be killed”. He had a job, he said – as though to prove his worth – “Lost job, papers...burn!” – the emotion is evident in his eyes. The documents, his accreditation for the 28 years he had spent working construction, working with rebar, were destroyed. “He stole everything”, speaking of the solider, “burned me house!” He paused, looked away. “Bosnia was very hard, very difficult”.
He spoke of the previous relationships with Serb and Croat neighbours, how there had been peace, that people would intermarry. He shook his head at the senselessness of it all. “He take a gun”, Ibishi said, motioning and making rat-a-tat machine gun sounds, “and kill everybody for no reason!” He told me how his second son, only in high school at the time, was stopped by the Serbian military, and along with the eleven friends with whom he was walking, was lined up against and wall and threatened, that the soldier had held the point of a bayonet to his throat. His son survived, but Ibishi explained that even now, he has “bad dream[s]...just start[s] to cry”. He likely suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which is unsurprising given such experiences and memories.
When Ibishi and his family were leaving his home province, trying to escape, they were once again accosted by the military. What little they had managed to escape with was stolen or destroyed. “He had power”, Ibishi said, “I had empty hands”. In spite of losing so much, his job, his home, everything he had worked for, being forced from his birthplace and herded through refugee camps, Ibishi remains remarkably positive. He keeps his perspective on those things which matter most. “Somebody losed all family”, he said, and Ibishi, his wife and his five children all escaped with their lives. They immigrated among the 5000 refugees the government of Canada would allow, and landed in Nova Scotia. When asked by the immigration officials where he wanted to settle, he said, “I want to go to some warm place”. He was sponsored by a family in [town], and now lives here with his wife, one son and his daughter. The other three boys now live in Calgary. Ibishi expresses happiness that they all have jobs; employment – and likely the feeling of contribution and feeling of usefulness it can impart – seems very important to him. Even with struggles and trials that could easily destroy the human spirit, Ibishi remains thankful. I wonder if his belief in God and his sovereignty has helped to bring him the peace he now seems to have.
Want to start at the beginning? Part I is here.