by Bojana P.
I talked with Gvozdena N. on February 17th 2020 in her apartment in Gerontology center in the Serbian city of Kruševac. She was a nurse, now she is retired.
Gvozdena was born in 1934 in village Stanci nearby the city Kruševac (central Serbia). In childhood she lived with her parents, older brother and grandparents. Family was middle class. Great influence on Gvozdena’s upbringing had her Grandad. Her Grandma died in 1937. so she doesn’t remember her well. Grandad died in 1941. She remembers when she started elementary school in 1941. School was in another village and she walked there on her own. There were lots of children in school. Due to the War her education was stalled but she continued school in 1944 when the War was ending.
She has a lots of memories from the 2nd World War. Gvozdena was separated from her family in 1942 when she joined partisans’ hospital in nearby spa town Ribarska Banja. She washed compresses, bandages and medical materials. She was assisting in surgeries and watch surgeries without anesthetics. She says that these experiences influenced her choice of profession. After the War she continued school but says that it was difficult because there were many children and not a lot of teachers. Her parents were supporting her in pursuing education but they weren’t helping her much. In order to pay scholarship, she worked several jobs. When she turned 18 she became a member of Communist Party. Her joining the Party was influenced by her father who was a communist since 1931.
In 1955. she moved to Požarevac (city in Eastern Serbia) where she worked until 1969. Period when she lived in Požarevac she remembers as happiest time in her life. She remembers socializing, labor actions (organized to rebuild infrastructure in the country), being a member of cultural and artistic association, traveling across Yugoslavia, parties for New Year’s Eves. She even managed to take a loan and buy a house in Požarevac. However, in 1968 seeing changes in public institutions she felt that huge change is going to happen in the society. She begun to consider the possibility to move abroad. Her brother helped her and in 1969 she moved to The Netherlands. First she worked different jobs in psychiatric hospital 26 km from Amsterdam and eventually she became permanently employed as a nurse. Social worker also from Serbia suggested her to financially supports three girls in Serbia, which was customary at the time. People living abroad were helping poor back home. Each month she was sending money for these girls. After a year she was asked if she wants to adopt them because it was legal even though she wasn’t married at the time. She agreed to adopt them and she got the picture of the girls. One day in a cafe where people from Serbia and Yugoslavia were socializing she showed a picture to other guests and a man saw it. It turned out that a man was girls’ father who worked on a ship. He was also sending money for his daughters but it turned out that an attorney, authorized by girls’ mother, was actually keeping the money so the family wasn’t receiving anything. Together in several occasions they went to Yugoslav Embassy to resolve situation. Just when she wanted to give up adopted parental rights to girls’ father, he proposed her. It was on April 15th 1971. In the meantime, he divorced his first wife and started living with Gvozdena on July 6th 1971. Several years later after losing a son in advanced pregnancy couple decides to adopt Gvozdena’s nephew. In 1982 they moved to Amsterdam. Together with her husband she returned to Serbia in 2005. Her husband died in 2014. They were married for 43 years and she says that she had a great marriage, one which she would wish to everyone.
She has health problem. In 1991 due to stress caused by disintegration of Yugoslavia she got diabetes. She managed to keep the sugar level in control until 1999 but again due to stress because of bombardment of Yugoslavia her health deteriorated.
She says that her life was fulfilled and happy. Helping others has always motivated her. She chose to live in Gerontology center because she didn’t want to bother her children (though they are adopted, she considers them hers own) and grandchildren. She leads an active life, frequently spending time with her friends outside the Center. She reads a lot, watches television, knits, crochets and braids.
She described a situation that she connects with discrimination of elderly people – in a crowded bus no one wanted to let her sit even though she had crutches due to leg injury. She emphasizes that up-brining in the family is the most important because many forms of behavior comes from the family.
Talking with Gvozdena was unforgettable experience for me. Interview was a bit difficult in terms of keeping the focus because Gvozdena has rich biography and loves to talk so she frequently made digressions. However, listening her was real pleasure. I thought that her story will be interesting especially because she lived abroad for very long time but I didn't expect that it will be so inspirational. Moral of her story and also message that she sends to younger generations is that helping others without any expectation of returned favors brings many goods. Gvozdana's story tells that hard work and efforts always pays off. She also tells that it is important to find a person to live together in harmony but it requires mutual respect and appreciation. To the younger generations she also recommends to get married and have children when they are younger because it gets more difficult as one grows older like it was in her case.