An Answered Prayer, by Darija Krecak

Could our life be worse than it was? A decade had passed in a misery, half of it in exile.  Canada, Australia and European countries had closed their borders to refugees and America was the only one inviting us. A few months earlier NATO bombarded Serbia day and night, and then their leader invited us to come and live there. We heard good and bad about America and bad seemed to be more believable. We never asked to go to America, but at that time we had no better choice. After all, at least there would be no war over there, I hoped.

I was twenty-three years old and had almost made myself ill thinking how disappointing my life would be. I lived in some imaginary world of holding a grudge, until reality hit me and proved the opposite. My fear of the unknown had built a growing ugly monster whose life line was cut once I met my reality.

In all of my pessimism and expectation of the worst, my only hope was in God’s will. Whether it was a coincidence or not, I do believe my prayers were heard. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which I never heard of, was our final stop and I was about to step into a completely new life.

“Welcome to Milwaukee, Wisconsin! Good Luck!” the captain and stewardess kept repeating to each passenger as they walked off the airplane.

“Thank you! I’ll need it!” I replied, but ‘Welcome to hell,’ I thought, as I took my exit from the plane.

Ten families, refugees from former Yugoslavia, walked off that plane with a rainbow of feelings. Most of them were happy, expecting a money tree in their garden, Hollywood’s lifestyle, and all kinds of goodies everywhere. Few of us were pessimistic and worried about what will happen next and “tomorrow.” Perhaps I was afraid to think positively fearing that I may jinx my family and myself. I felt comfortable expecting the worst, whatever it would be, because it wouldn’t be a surprise if it did happen. Yet, two feelings were engraved in all of us: fear of unknown or unexpected and a hidden hope.

On September 29, 2000, at two in the morning, we all stood in a herd and waited for someone to lead us to our final destination, our homes. No matter what kind of home each of us expected, we all had the same reaction to the question about it; a big deep sigh followed with a hazy look and wondering. I guess the sigh was our body’s instinct to protect us from a very high anxiety.

While waiting, I shivered and bugs of fear crept up my back and shoulders. I was terrified of the world that was waiting outside of the airport’s walls. That was the world that I saw on TV and in the one particular movie that had left remarkable impression on me. The movie, “My America,” was about the life of illegal immigrants from my country who lived in Chicago and New York. It strongly affected my opinion about the future. At that time, I didn’t know that there was a difference between legal and illegal immigration.

Although I had heard of people who moved to America and lived in nice homes and neighborhoods, it was hard for me to believe that we would be so lucky. We would end up just as those immigrants in the movie, I thought.

One of my biggest fears of living in America was living in skyscrapers, in the dirty and dark buildings without front or back yards. I was terrified of walking around those high buildings with metal ladders and garbage around; and sewage covers with hot steam. I was terrified of graffiti on buildings and walls that I would have to live by. That was my nightmare. I mentally prepared myself for the new home in such street and building, as someone came to pick up my family from the airport.

He said in English, “The house we got you is very old. Sorry we couldn’t find a better one. We had pest exterminators there today, so you should be careful around the poison and mousetraps.”

“Oh don’t worry, I’ll catch them without traps if you’d give me one broom and a good cat,” my Mom replied after my cumbersome translation. She surprised me with the positive tone of her voice.

His warning was food to the monster in my head: I envisioned building’s hallways infested with mice and cockroaches. I heard and felt cockroaches rustling under my feet, in the nights when they come out of their dark, creepy holes. My chest narrowed and I felt suffocated. My eyes burned in tears which I tried to hide, and this man thought those were tears of happiness. He hugged my shoulders trying to make me feel better, but instead he put a heavy weight on me: “You guys are gonna be fine! Wait till you all start working and making money; you’ll all fly away from that home to some mansion in New Berlin.”

Although his words were unclear to me I accepted them as approval of my imagination.

The twenty minutes long ride from the airport to our new home felt eternal. I was swallowing big heavy balls, sweating profoundly and needed air. I felt the weight of the whole world on me. My only salvation could come from God. He was my only hope and I prayed for help, while suffocating myself in silent tears and fighting with my vocals not to cry out loud.

And then, the car stopped.

“Welcome to your new home!” the man exclaimed excitedly.

Everyone was talking around me, but I couldn’t understand my own language, not to mention English. Their voices became Niagara Falls, then a river, a stream, and finally human voices.

We were standing in front of a little white stone house, gated with green bushes and huge maple trees. The green grass lawn seemed better then any red carpet in Hollywood. I stood there awed until I grasped enough energy to ask if we were on the right place and was it really our new home.

That little house, in a very quiet neighborhood, with a yard as big as park, was by far different home from what I expected; and it was rented for us, for my family.

Fresh air lifted my spirit and I walked around the yard to see another pleasant surprise; our church. The magnificent St. Sava Cathedral was in our backyard, standing proudly lit by the golden accent lights and greeting me with unseen warmth and love. To me our church was the sun in the middle of the night.

“O my God! Thank you God! Everything will be good!” I kept whispering as tears showered my face. These tears were tears of real joy.

The ugly monster from my ill imagination was demolished as if it was a castle made of cards. Everything I worried about didn’t matter any more. I was happy again. The little house looked like the ones from the fairy tales and our church next to it brought a new creature in my mind – an angel of hope and light.


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