Nouvelle American

Lunch with Bosnian Aldijana Sutkovic

But her memories aren't idyllic. She lived her early teens in the middle of a ghastly ethnic war. "I've seen a lot of people get shot," she recalls. "My Grandma, by the Croats. A lot of people. You'd just look through the window, and see people get shot." She laughs a little, as if at the strangeness of it. "You get used to everything, guns shooting, bullets flying right next to your head and stuff . . ."

She says this with no visible bitterness. When I ask her if the war still haunts her, she's dismissive. "It's not that bad now. I feel safer here. Everybody does."

The impressive-looking lady sets our lunches in front of us. The "meat sticks" are small sausages served on lepinja, a pitalike bread, with a little pile of very lightly cooked onions and a fire-engine-red paste that seems to be made of tomato and red pepper, though I can't be sure. The overall taste effect is of a larger and more soulful Sausage McMuffin. I like it.

While we eat, Sutkovic talks about the nationalistic divisions that ravaged her homeland throughout the '90s. She seems as unimpressed by them as she is untraumatized by the horrors she witnessed. "When I went to school, everybody said they were Yugoslavian. Nobody said, 'I am Serbian or Croatian.'" The fall of communism changed all this, of course, but now, perhaps, America has become a new Yugoslavia -- "When the war came, some of my friends had to move out, and they would go to the cities where the Serbs were only, or where there were only Croats," Sutkovic notes. "And now they come here, and everybody is together again, you know? It's not the people that began the war, it's the politicians. It's like, so many people died and so many people lost their homes and stuff, and now everybody's back. . . . It's just a waste of time, and waste of life."

I ask if she had friendships across ethnic lines before the war, and she says, "I have Serbian friends right now, and Croatian." The old animosities appear not to interest her. "I have a cousin who died in the war, and another of my cousins, he's gone, nobody knows where he is. But, you know, you have to forget it, 'cause the people who are here now, it's not their fault. That's how I feel. Everybody feels different."

I believe her, too. In fact, I'm thoroughly charmed -- Sutkovic seems astonishingly sensible and well-adjusted and bigotry-free, in light of what she's been through. While she regrets seeing her brothers, especially the youngest, seeming to forget about Bosnia, and while she hopes to return there for a visit, to take money to her relatives there, she's basically committed to life in Phoenix.

The impressive-looking lady comes to the table to offer me a special treat, a dish called Begova Corba (the second word is pronounced "chorba"). It's a vegetable soup, with what looks like zucchini in it. Sutkovic doesn't care for any. "I don't really like stuff like that," she says. "There's, like, vegetables in it. I don't like cooked vegetables."

Spoken like a true Eastern European. But while she watches me eat the tasty soup, Sutkovic sounds pretty American. When I ask her what her favorite TV show is, she says, with more obvious passion than she discussed her wartime memories, "I like Friends!" Back home, though, before the war, she liked Beverly Hills, 90210. "I always thought, 'Oh, wow, to go to America, it's like that . . .'"

She found America somewhat different when she got here, of course, but still, "We thought it was great, you know? 'Cause in Bosnia we didn't have nothing, almost nothing. I hadn't seen ice cream in, like, maybe six years or something." And then, like a true 90210 girl, she adds, "It was like, 'Oh my God!'"

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