New Voices: Aida Halilovic

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(Host) This week on VPR we’re hearing New Voices who are adding to Vermont’s cultural diversity.

Aida Halilovic and her family are among the more than 2000 Bosnians who resettled in Vermont during and after the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

She’s now part of a growing, multi-ethnic Islamic community based around the mosque in Colchester. She talks about the lessons and legacy of ethnic violence.

(Aida) “I remember when I was in maybe fourth year of my high school, I was only Muslim girl in my class; there was two Muslim boys…. And you know it’s like we really joke about that.”

“And people start to divide. You can see that in one caf you will see mostly Serbian… In other part you would see Croat.”

“But still in Bosnia we live in La-La Land. We thought we are the most diverse republic. We will be safe.”

“When really war started I went to Central Bosnia…. We used to live in horrible condition, in one room like 50 people – 60 – in classroom, old classroom.”

“The war go on and on. We all fought each other… Every day people died and you’d see dead bodies. And you…you don’t have food. You don’t have anything.”

“After twelve years I still fighting with the nightmares, and sometimes…I’ll just like go into that mood that I don’t see anything. And people I work with – they said, Oh, are you okay? I don’t know am I okay… but just give me five minute I will be okay.”

“When we moved here I felt safe, honestly… But after September 11, I felt that I didn’t escape. Like, for example, sometimes I wear head scarf because it’s obligation if you go to mosque. Some women wear it all the time… It’s hard for them. Because I know from my experience when I put it on my head, people staring at me…. I know that is something new for them, but I don’t know any more is that like curiosity – or they are afraid of me?”

(Imam chanting)

“Right now this is the woman part of the mosque. It’s a praying area… women and men cannot pray together….”

“I didn’t know much about Islam before in my country. But during the war in Bosnia they didn’t ask me do you pray or do you practice Islam? They kill us only because of the names. But when you say Aida, everybody would know that I’m Muslim.”

“But you know when you are on the ground and the bomb explode nearby to you, what can protect you. It’s only maybe God, nothing else.”

“One of the reasons that we like to be in Vermont…is that we heard that there is a mosque.”

“Right now I am student teacher. I used to work as a Bosnian liaison for our Essex and Colchester school district. And I try to deliver a message to students: it doesn’t take too much to start conflict. Just one little wrong deed, and it’s like a fire start building and nobody can turn it off.”

(Host) Aida Halilovic will finish her teaching degree at Johnson State College in December.

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