It could have been me

09/10/2016 Off By Katja Willemsen

Anita Rakidžija’s memoir on the Dubrovnik war

Where were you in July 1991?

I had just moved to Cape Town and loving life – just as Anita Rakidžija was.

Now imagine bombs whistling overhead, grenades raining down. That’s what happened to Anita Rakidžija, a successful Croatian businesswoman in her 30’s.

Her memoir They Won’t Hurt Me, Mom is heartbreaking. The English translation isn’t great… but, but, but… it’s a deeply personal story about a young woman desperate to survive a horrendous war with two small children.

The many grammar and spelling mistakes in this English edition just make it more real. This is when quality of translation can happily take a back seat because the words come straight from Anita’s heart:

It’s winter, about six months into the siege. The family has been forced to evacuate their village and they’re holed up in a Dubrovnik building with broken windows. It’s freezing cold in their room. A Red Cross boat drops off humanitarian aid and Anita, who probably once shopped in the best shops, has to scrounge blankets for her sick children.

‘I feel humiliated, but I take those brown blankets that are not even properly hemmed, and seem more suitable for horses. Europeans spent holidays in sunny Dubrovnik but they take us for horses. Anyhow, at least now I have my own blankets; they are mine even if they are ugly.’

It’s exactly how I would have reacted to those crappy blankets, and it hit home how utterly dehumanised refugees become. Here’s a woman who one day could have been me, and the next, is a desperate refugee foraging for food and clothes.

I see photos all the time of dirty, stricken refugees. I feel terrible for them but then a shameful they’re-not-like-me syndrome rears its head. Anita Rakidžija’s story changed that. Refugees are like me. They’re like you.

The book isn’t easily available – we bought it in Dubrovnik last week – and I’m trying to contact the author/ her publisher to see if I can help get an e-book on Amazon for them. Given the world’s refugee crisis, this is a story that needs to be heard.

Update September 2018:
Anita’s son Antun stumbled on the above post and tracked me down. Anita and I are currently editing the English translation and I hope to help her self-publish the new English edition by the end of the year. Watch this space!

copyright © katja willemsen 2018