BALTIMORE – Thanksgiving is not yet a tradition in the Milanovic home, but the Bosnian family plans to spend Thursday in the traditional American way, cooking, eating turkey and visiting.
And counting their blessings.
The Milanovices had not heard about Thanksgiving until this month, just weeks after they arrived in the United States seeking refuge from war and intolerance in their homeland.
“I am a Muslim and my husband is Orthodox Christian. To us it does not matter,” Fahira Milanovic said, shaking her head. “But there (in Bosnia) we cannot live.”
As a mixed ethnic family, they also felt unwelcome in Serbia, where they had settled after fleeing Bosnia in 1992. They moved from Serbia to the Netherlands where, three years ago, they were granted temporary refugee status.
But they feared they would always be refugees there, not citizens. They applied and were accepted to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.
Now, finally, they are home. Mile and Fahira arrived in Baltimore in late September with their sons Igor, 18, and Ivica, 4.
In just a few years, they will be eligible to become U.S. citizens. Although the parents speak little English now, they are learning in classes at the Baltimore Resettlement Center.
They hope to find jobs soon. Mile, an economist by training, worked as a mechanic during the family’s time in the Netherlands. This week, he laughed at the difference between his education and the job he found, but said he would be happy to take on any type of work.
Fahira, who taught kindergarten in the Netherlands, said she loves teaching and hopes she will be able to teach young children here. “It is my work,” she says, smiling and hugging small, quiet Ivica on her lap.
Igor, a junior at Patterson Park High School in southeast Baltimore, is quickly learning English and about life as an American teen-ager.
Kids here have a lot of freedom, he said. Polite and dressed in the American teen uniform of jeans and a sweater, he said he likes school — his mother said he’s a good student — but avoids the fights he said frequently crop up in the hallways at Patterson.
Igor was the first to bring news of Thanksgiving home to the family, when he learned recently that he would have Thursday and Friday off from school. Then the resettlement center told the family it would be getting a turkey that had been donated by a local church.
They don’t know much about Pilgrims and Indians, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or cranberry sauce. But they said in an interview Tuesday that they do understand the meaning of gratitude and believe in the importance of family.
And they like turkey.
On Thanksgiving day, Fahira plans to cook a turkey, as she often did in Bosnia. The donated turkey is big, she said, so big that she was planning to serve part of it baked and make soup with the rest.
After dinner, if the weather is nice, the family might take a walk at Patterson Park in their neighborhood. Igor, who loves sports, may play tennis with his friends.
As the holiday neared, Mile Milanovic reflected, as many Americans do at this time of year, on that for which he is thankful.
“I’m grateful to the United States for having us here,” he said. “We are happy to make our home here in America.”