Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Quiet Bosnian by Sophie Parrish

The sound of hot, rattling pots and the smell of fresh baked bread spread into the cozy two-bedroom apartment. Atif Beganovic sits contently on his couch, watching the local KRON 4 News show on his on 48-inch flat screen TV. His tan Chihuahua Tino is tucked under his arm and gnawing a large dog bone while Atif watches the on-going destruction in Iraq. The screen is filled with women crying, men yelling and people being carried off in stretchers. Smoke and gun fire spray across the sky.

As calmly as Atif sits, it is hard to imagine that this Bosnian native has also experienced the same kind of terror, destruction and fear during the war Bosnia a decade ago. He and his family have been refugees twice, forced out from Bosnia, then from Germany. He has been through six years of displacement, worry for his family and trying to find a peaceful and accepting place to raise his children.

Now settled in America, Atif, 55, recounts this modern tragedy and the terror and persecution he and his family faced. "What a lot of people don't realize is that (those who fought one another) are all Bosnians, we are all born in Bosnia, we all look the same, we all lived together, it is only our religions that made us different," Atif says with his heavy accent.

The country of Yugoslavia -- which came apart in the Nineties -- integrated the Bosnian Muslims, Orthodox Serbians/Nationalists and the Catholic Croatians. Before the war everyone lived in peace and being a Muslim did not create tension, Atif says. But as the country was falling apart, Serbs who had served in the Yugoslavian army stole the army planes, guns, grenades and ammunition. "The Serbians planned to take over Bosnia and Croatia to make a big Serbia," says Atif.

That's how the war began. Later the Croats turned against the Bosnians, the majority of whom were Muslims, and supported the anti-Muslim warfare. Atif says the war only seemed to be about the Croat and Serbian pursuit of Bosnian land, but it was the unmistakable genocide of 200,000 Bosnians that proves it was because of religious reasons, also. "Slobodan Milosevic, who was the Serbian President before and during the war and Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian President, wanted to make an agreement to divide former Yugoslavia into Serbia and Croatia, and ridding the countries of the Muslims", Atif says.

As Atif delves into the past, the room gradually assumes an intense and somber tone. Atif remembers when the war started, and suddenly his words pour out as he recollects the details of the first day they were attacked.

"I was at home, my wife was cooking and our two children were in our house," Atif says. "I was working on a car in my garage. I heard planes fly overhead. I thought it was just a military practice. Many of my Bosnian neighbors came out of their houses to see the planes. These planes then started to strafe, but it wasn't until a couple of people got injured that we knew that this was a war."

Atif's blue eyes flash with sadness. He says that from then on, every night Serbian soldiers would attack whole families in their homes, often killing and injuring them. Street by street they came. The Serbian soldiers had stolen the dark green uniforms of the now-disbanded Yugoslavian army, with a star symbol on their caps. But later they made their own uniforms, similar to the US camouflage design. "People became very scared. By day the Serbians would drive by in a red van, which we called the 'Scorpion'. When they would see a Muslim on the street they would stop and attack the man or woman. Sometimes the Bosnian would be left injured, and sometimes they were left dead," says Atif as the tension rises in his voice. Atif's two sons, then 15 and 7, attended school until a classmate attacked his older son. Even his son's Serbian friend had turned against him.

Before the war, in 1991 their oldest child Alma had gone to Germany to work. After hearing about an approaching war, she told Atif that she would stay in Germany and get papers for the family to travel and live there. Her decision would ultimately save the lives of Atif and his family.

As the war progressed in Bosnia, mosques were destroyed, women were raped and even children were killed. The soldiers wanted to scare the Bosnians out of their homes and out of Bosnia, Atif says. This tactic proved successful, and everyday hundreds of Bosnians fled to the UN refugee camp in Croatia.

After a year of on-going violence and fear, in August 1993 Atif decided to flee with his family to Croatia. What made him finally decide to go was a sight he will never forget. "I saw my cousin's wife dead in their house," says Atif. His cousin told Atif the Serbians came to their house and attacked him. Thinking he was dead -- he pretended to be -- the soldiers were about to leave when his wife began screaming about her 'dead' husband. Hearing her screams, the Serbs shot her point blank in the head. The couple also had two children who were hiding in the house. The older boy told Atif that he covered his sister's mouth to keep her quiet, so that the soldiers would not find them.

After this horrific event, Atif's cousin and many neighbors urged Atif to leave and take his two sons and wife to Croatia. They left. With two bags of belongings they went to the refugee camp to wait for the papers that would allow them to live in Germany. Alma kept her word, and in September 1993 Atif took his family to Germany.

"We were transported by bus from Croatia to Munich, Germany," Atif says. 'It was so good to see my daughter and be a family again. But only three days later we had to leave Alma and check into the refugee center."

At the refugee center, officials accused Atif of illegally crossing the border. He argued with them and within two days the paperwork was filed and they were sent on to the other side of Germany, to a big building full of refugees. Atif and his family had to move three times while living in Germany. The longest period of time they spent in one apartment was from 1994 to 1998. "It was a seven-story building, and we had one bedroom for the four of us, in a three-bedroom apartment. We shared the small kitchen and bathroom with two other families. Every week packages of food were dropped off to us. There was no private phone, only electricity and water," he says.

Finally after five years of sharing tiny apartments with up to 11 people, Atif and his family were given their own one bedroom apartment. "This was our time to relax, and not feel so overcrowded," Atif says. Atif says they spent the year re-generating and enjoying their privacy. They were just trying to live a somewhat normal life.

But the drama was still not over for Atif and his family. Having re-established himself in Germany, learning German, working again as a car mechanic and sending his two sons off to school, Atif was shocked when a letter arrived from the German Government. "It stated that the war in Bosnia was now over and I had to return home with my family," Atif says, his hands raised up in frustration. "Where were we supposed to go? I didn't know if Bosnia was even livable! We were not allowed to stay in Germany; they would have kicked us out if we did not leave."

Atif returned to Bosnia, the first time since they had left. He saw the amount of destruction Bosnia had endured. "Looking around the blown up neighborhood, houses fill of bullet holes and at our house, I knew there was no future for us in Bosnia, ' he says.

Atif immediately applied for a visa to the US, for the German government had given him two options, to either go back to Bosnia or travel to the United States. "It was yet another move, a new culture and another language to learn," he says.

Leaving Alma in Germany and taking only four suitcases filled with their belongings, Atif and his family set off for America. One of Atif's cousins who lives in Oakland, California, suggested he come and stay in the same apartment complex.

Settling into the American lifestyle has been hard for Atif. "I have found it difficult to learn English," he says. "When people don't understand you and you don't understand them, it is easy to be taken advantage of," says Atif. He complains about the excessive health insurance expenses in the US; in Bosnia health care was free for everyone. "All people want here is money, you want to get a health check up, you have to pay, you want to have eye surgery, your insurance covers only one third, so you have to pay, car insurance, you have to pay. Everything, everything, people here just want money," he says, throwing his hands up.

For all his frustrations and complaints, Atif has done well in the US. His sons and his wife have joined him. He began work as a successful car mechanic at a Mobil gas station in Oakland and now for a Union 76 gas station in Piedmont. In five years Atif has adequately established himself here. His older son, now 27, is also a car mechanic and his younger son, now 20, is working as a manufacturing technician for Intel.

Atif says leaving his daughter in Germany was one of the hardest things they had to do, but he is proud that she is running a very successful Japanese/Chinese restaurant with her husband. Atif says his main reason he came to the US was to give his sons a better life. He plans to live here at least until retirement, and then perhaps go back to Bosnia. Now an American citizen, Atif is a manager at his new apartment complex. He and his wife lead a fairly quiet lifestyle, for which they are grateful, he says. During summer they enjoy going to the Sacramento lakes, and taking their dog for walks around the neighborhood. Atif reflects on the war and says that he is so lucky to have not lost anyone in his immediate family. He knows of many parents who have lost a couple of children.

He prefers a quiet lifestyle, he says. His blue eyes light up and he chuckles. "A good thing about living here is that there are not too many surprises," he says.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Scene at Subway by Douglas Madey

Without a smile the teenage girl with shoulder length black hair asks, "What can I get you?"

A quick response from the man across the counter, and the girl reacts. She turns her back and reaches inside a Windex-streaked bread oven.

As if it’s a task that she’s done a thousand times, the young woman places a 12-inch loaf of wheat bread on a white cutting board covered with crumbs. She pulls two clear plastic gloves from a small box to her left and blows into each one, making it easier to stuff her hands inside.

She reaches for a knife and slices the loaf of wheat in the middle, but not all the way through. Then, opening the bread as if it were a book, she sets it down in front of her. As if folding laundry on a countertop, the young woman rolls slices of processed turkey and white cheese, and places them on the bread.

Sliding the unfinished sandwich in front of silver bins filled with purple onions, olives, green peppers, and several other vegetable choices, she prepares to present the man with his options.

The girl looks up from the sandwich and makes eye contact with the man across the counter. He looks down and makes a large circling motion over the vegetables with his index finger. In an orderly progression, the girl distributes his vegetable choices upon the sandwich in front of her.

Unable to close up the sandwich without spilling its contents, the girl rolls it up in a piece of wax paper to keep it tightly pressed together. As quickly as the process began, the girl slices through the wax paper and sandwich, places it next to the register, and walks back to the front of the sandwich line to greet the next customer.

Our Darling Clementine by Theresia Ota

Tucked between 2nd and 3rd Avenue on Clement Street is a gem of romantic French cooking. Two blocks, and much more, separate Clementine from the Chinese bakeries and dull cafes so typical of this part of Clement. Named by the chef/owner, Didier Labbe, for both the street and the orange, Clementine's menu featured everything that should be on a classic little French restaurant's menu, that is to say, nothing was unexpected, not even that each item on the menu was first written in French, and then explained in English below. The appetizers featured foie gras with caramelized apples, and escargots with garlic butter; but we decided on the asparagus, endive and crab salad with aged balsamic vinegar($9.75), as well as the porcini mushroom ravioli with truffle oil and cherry tomatoes ($8.50).

For such a small restaurant, the wine menu was quite impressive, featuring wines from many different countries, including not only the obvious -- good old U.S.A. and France -- but also Argentina, Greece and Israel. Despite the worldwide temptations, my friends and I decided on the only Pinot Gris from California on the menu ($39). Not a spectacular wine, it was very middle of the road, not too much alcohol, not too much fruit, and not too heavy. It was a warm day and a wise choice that paired well with most of the items we ordered.

Our appetizers were before our eyes within minutes of ordering them, barely allowing us the opportunity to admire the romantic interior. It is lovely. The walls are a creamy tangerine, with mirrors in detailed gold frames, and the perimeter of the restaurant is a bench upholstered in a sage green and gold fabric with pillows to match. But the porcini mushroom ravioli brought our attention back to the food and proved my theory that it would take a fool to ruin an ingenious Italian idea, such as the aqueducts and pasta. The ravioli were topped with a light mushroom broth, and the porcini-Parmesanesan filling gave the dish a delicious, warm, and rustic flavor that was enhanced and brightened by the cherry tomatoes. The crab salad, however enticing the presentation, was unimpressive. The crab appeared to have been fresh from the freezer, and tasted more like sea water than crab, with similar texture. It was served alongside endive that tasted very much like an old news paper. Still, the dish was not a total failure, since the asparagus was grilled perfectly and the balsamic vinegar that complemented it off was truly aged, not something to be found at any supermarket on sale.

The entree selection on the menu was as definitive of French cuisine as the appetizers, featuring such dishes as roasted poussoCornishnish hens)with garlic, duck breast with orange reduction, and bistro style rib eye steak wFrenchench fries. My party selected the roasted poussoin with garlic, the filet of salmon with portabella mushroom and fennel, as well as the rack of lamb with parsley and provencal herbs with spinach fondue. The presentation of all of the entrees was in the classic style, not an uptight Parisian style. The focus was the beauty of the food. Nowhere did you get the idea that the restaurant had hired an architect to put their dishes together. The poussoin was roasted to perfection, without a single taste too dry from being overcooked. The rack of lamb was the definition of medium rare, the herbs and seasoning were excellent; even the steamed fondue of spinach was lightly salted and fresh. But the highlight of the entrees was without a doubt the salmon. If it came from the freezer, I was fooled. The entire filet was delicate and moist, with just the right amount of salt, pepper, and dill, so that all of the flavor was coming from the fish; paired with the fennel and portabella mushroom, the chef allowed the star of the dish to be the freshness of the ingredients.

We had reservations for 6:30, and seating was immediate, although we would not have been opposed to a short wait outside of the restaurant's adorable dark green gold-lettered facade. The hostess, pleasantly asked in a lovely French accent if we would like to sit in the front, near the windows and entering guests, Since we wanted privacy, we chose the back. We noticed that even when the restaurant became busier, the tables in front near the hostess station were never occupied.

Once we were seated with menus in hand, our waiter for the evening greeted us with a little speech in French that, by the end of it, had me and my two friends hanging on his every word. Simply the epitome of charm, Arno, our waiter, had learned our names and was shaking our hands before we knew it; plus he never let our wine or water glasses go approach half empty. Arno's attentiveness was a remarkable feat considering he was the only waiter in the restaurant for more than a dozen tables and his charisma brought smiles to the faces of every guest he served.

In fact, by the time our entrees were cleared from our table, Arno knew us so well that he told me what I would enjoy for dessert. Actually, the most impressive aspect of Clementine's presentation was the dessert menu. Unable to decide on one dessert for each of us, my friends and I shared the vanilla creme brulee, the fresh apple tart with caramel ice cream, and the caramelized French toast with hazelnut ice cream. Each of the desserts was marvelous. The burnt sugar that topped the creme brulee cracked like a perfectly thin layer of golden stained glass.The crust of the fresh apple tart was flakey and the apples were so fresh they maintained their crispness though sliced as thin as tissue paper; and the caramel ice cream that melted all over the tart, left our mouths with the sensation that we were eating a delicate caramel apple pie.

Before Arno could recommend it, I had decided on the caramelized French toast with hazelnut ice cream, as it was a remarkable notion amongst its traditional counterparts. The textures alone in this dish were fantastic. The first taste is the crisp caramel dissolving and crunching, followed by the velvety smooth, and lightly cinnamoned toast, very reminiscent of the velvety smoothness of foie gras, the creamy, cold, melting hazelnut ice cream, was the grand finale to our whole experience, the experience of a little piece of France only a few blocks from USF

126 Clement Street (2nd/3rd Avenues)

Overall: * * * *
Food: * * *
Service: * * * * *
Noise: ! !
Price: $ $ $

Overall/Food/ Service
* = not completely awful
* * = good
* * * = really quite good
* * * * = Almost Perfect
* * * * * = Amazing Perfection from food to price

! = very quiet
! ! = pleasantly noisy but easy to converse
! ! ! = must raise your voice to be heard
! ! ! ! = must yell to be heard
! ! ! ! ! = cannot converse/ near deafness

Price ( per entree)
$ = $ 0- $10
$ $ = $10 - $17
$ $ $ = $15 - $23
$ $ $ $ = $20- $30
$ $ $ $ $ = must have platinum Am Ex!

Friday, October 07, 2005

An Independent Journey by Jonahlynn Sabado

One day, Natalie Yang was flipping through a copy of Time magazine in the Philippines and came across an article about San Francisco. As she looked through the article, she read that San Francisco was “the best city in the world.”

She thought to herself, “I wouldn’t mind living there.”

After reading that article, she became attracted to this city because it presented so much diversity. “It was basically everything that I was looking for to experience something different in life. Oftentimes, I’ve also wondered what it would be like to live out on my own,” she says.

As Natalie prepared herself to move to America, she imagined San Francisco to be very sunny and cool. “My dad and my older brother were the only two people in my family who had been to San Francisco but they didn’t really tell me what to expect,” she says. In the movies, she saw that people wore summer clothing in California so most of the clothes she packed were for warm weather. Little did she know that it was foggy and chilly year-round. “As soon as I arrived at my grandma’s apartment in San Francisco, I literally stayed in bed the whole day,” she says.

But Natalie knew that she couldn’t hide under the covers for long, as there was so much for her to explore on her own.

Natalie’s journey from the Philippines to America was not just a typical vacation from her home land. It was a journey of a new beginning, a beginning that she hoped entitled her to achieve bigger and better things without the supervision of her parents and family she left behind. It was a journey toward personal independence.

Coming to America would be a way for Natalie to set herself apart from most of her former colleagues in Manila, Philippines. “Pretty much everyone back home was at the same level and I wanted to deviate from that. Even if I graduated from one of the top schools back home, I would be competing with about thousands more from the same school, vying for the same job,” she says of her schooling in the Philippines. Furthermore, she says that her college back home emphasized academics, leaving her no time for extracurricular activities because of the weight of her classes. As a result, Natalie decided not just to come to America but to transfer to the University of San Francisco.

However, it wasn’t easy convincing her parents to let her go.

Shy, modest and timid, Natalie lived a sheltered life and usually depended on her parents for allowances, lunch expenses, books and other school materials. “Whenever I needed something, my parents would give it to me right away,” she says. Back home, she also counted on her family’s driver to take her to and from school, and a maid that would clean up in her room and around the house. But her decision to come to America meant she had to become more independent. Although she was shy, she considered herself to be adventurous, always wanting to try something new. “While my friends were used to their comfort and lifestyle back home, I felt that I wanted something more in life, something that I wasn’t accustomed to,” she says.

During her first few months in San Francisco, Natalie had to study local maps and bus routes in order to get around because she did not know how to drive nor did she own a license. This became a proud change for her because she didn’t need a personal driver as she did back home. Likewise, at her grandma’s house, Natalie would do her own laundry and clean her own room. Though these things were a first step, things she could do on her own without the help of others, Natalie also knew that she eventually had to start mingling with other people.

Natalie didn’t really experience culture shock when she came to the States because she was exposed to many American movies back home. The labels Americans used – “geeks,” “ jocks,” cheerleaders,” “the popular crowd” -- did not surprise her. On the other hand, she says it was difficult for her to adjust the way she interacted with Americans. Nobody ever noticed her heavy accent whenever Natalie spoke; however, she was always concerned about it. Also, although she knew how to speak English fluently, she was so accustomed to speaking her native language, tagalog (a dialect in the Philippines). “I had to adapt to speaking straight English rather than mixing half English and half Filipino,” she says.

As an international student, Natalie was only allowed to work on campus. During her first semester, she got a job at the coffee shop in Lone Mountain where she worked 10 to 20 hours a week. As she earned money, Natalie learned something else: how to budget her expenses. At the coffee shop, she also started meeting new people. Because she had to constantly talk to a lot of people, this helped her to step out of her shyness. She also began to recite more frequently in classes. Her new skills also encouraged her to become involved with organizations on campus such as the International Student Association, which she gained presidency of during her last year at USF. There, she met more and more people.

Natalie graduated from USF with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design in May 2005, two years after coming to America. But Natalie did not want to move back home just yet. She had more going to do. She wanted to gain work experience before settling back home. This made it tough for her because she was forced to find a job which was the only way she could stay in America. During the summer, she applied to numerous internships in California – and not just in San Francisco. “I believe my experiences so far have made me more talkative, independent and responsible. But after living with my grandma for two years and having her pay for my tuition, I wanted to break away from depending on her and really start living on my own.”

Escaping the cold weather in the Bay Area, Natalie now works as a full-time intern at Hershey Associates, a graphic design and marketing firm in Santa Monica, where she now lives with two other roommates. Now in sunny, laidback Southern California, she says with a warm smile (a really warm smile), she can return to sporting her summer wardrobe all year long!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I Left My Heart in Mauritania by Douglas Madey

The smell of chicken boiling and the sound of a newborn crying fills Ibrahima and Julie Wagne's studio apartment in Hayes Valley. Leaned back comfortably on the sofa with his legs crossed, Ibrahima Wagne pops an African date into his mouth and spits the pit out into his hand.

"These are a fruit from Africa, I bought them this morning," said Wagne, as he offered up some of the dates that were on a small yellow dish. Although he is able to get produce from his native country here in San Francisco, Wagne remains well aware of the 6,000 plus miles that separate him from his Mauritanian hometown in West Africa. Walking down a busy San Francisco city street to the produce market makes the idea of an unpaved West African road seem like a world away.

Born and raised in the small village of Bogme, Mauritania, Wagne graduated from college and went on to earn his PhD at the University of Badj Moctar in Algeria. With only 25% of his high school classmates continuing on to college, Wagne believes himself to be a rarity with his doctorate in biochemistry. Even more of a rarity, he says, was his decision to choose service over a large income and work for the Peace Corps in Mauritania.

This decision would ultimately change the course of his life. During his time at the Peace Corps where Wagne worked in cross-cultural training, teaching new
volunteers how to speak Fulani, an African language with French origins. One of his students, a young woman from Kansas named Julie, caught his eye and soon the two were dating. Within a year after the relationship began, Ibrahima and Julie were contemplating marriage.

While in Mauritania, under the traditional roles of a Muslim society, the couple lived in separate residences. "It was fine in Africa", Wagne said, "but we had to see if the relationship would work in America".

Wagne believed that the differences of working and living together in the United States, opposed to Mauritania, would reveal any unseen problems with the relationship that may not have been a consideration during their
time together at the Peace Corps. Financial responsibilities in the U.S., such as rent and food, seemed to be the major concern for Wagne as he contemplated the future of their relationship in a different country.

During his work with the Peace Corps Wagne applied to the University of California, Berkeley, with the intention of studying English, while at the same time testing the strengths of his and Julie's relationship. In the fall of 2002,
Wagne obtained a student visa and moved to San Francisco with Julie where he studied English and, as he had hoped, grew closer to the woman he loved.

After one semester, the resolute couple legally became Mr. and Mrs. Ibrahima and Julie Wagne. It was a simple ceremony, taking place at San Francisco City Hall in front of just three close friends. No big reception followed because according to Wagne, who scratches his head and smiles, saying only, "we had other things to do."

Just six weeks ago the Wagnes celebrated the birth of their first child, a girl they named Aissata. The baby was named after Wagne's mother, which in Mauritania is a common way to show respect to your family. The idea of family and togetherness is strongly shared amongst this newly extended family unit.
While Wagne talks about his wife and him raising a child, Julie Wagne sits in front of the desk in their bedroom gently rocking Aissata in her arms. "Having a baby", says Wagne as he pauses to gather
the words to say, "is not hard, but it's expensive," hinting gently at the strain a new child can have on the dynamics of a relationship.

While Julie Wagne cares for the newborn, Mr. Wagne continues our conversation, busy preparing dinner and tidying up the kitchen by putting away dishes from the dry rack. He says that Aissata wakes the couple up during the night and that her crib takes away from the already cramped little bedroom, but his expression as describes the inconvenience suggests the amount of joy that the two seem to get from looking at their child could fill a Pacific Heights mansion.

And just because the Wagne's of San Francisco are faraway from the Wagne's of Mauritania, does not imply a loss of contact with one another. Wagne keeps in touch with his family by calling at least once a week.

At 36 he has grown out of being homesick. With a quiet tone of certainty to his voice, Wagne says he doesn't "really miss" his many relatives in Mauritania. They're "a family, and I know they are there for me."

Wagne is now most concerned with providing for his wife and baby. With Julie Wagne home all day with the baby, Wagne continues to work full time as a "bar back," assisting the bartenders with making drinks, at the Zuni Cafe, the well-known San Francisco restaurant.

He considers himself financially stable. He is more concerned with San Francisco's unique gap in standard of living and its effect on his child. In a city such as San Francisco where the number of homeless seems to equal that of the wealthy, that gap is something Wagne finds hard to assimilate given his background. "In Mauritania homelessness is a choice," he says, noting that in Mauritania anyone could go back to his or her family for shelter instead of living on the street. "Here you can walk down the street and see someone in a Porsche and someone sleeping on the ground at the same time."

Wagne hopes to move his family to Mauritania -- if husband, wife and daughter have visas that would allow back and forth travel. The Wagnes plan on living the next five to 10 years alternating homes between San Francisco and West Africa. Wagne believes that it is important for his daughter to get a good perspective on where she comes from.

Through raising Aissata in both West Africa and the United States, Wagne hopes his daughter will have a better-rounded viewpoint of the important values and morals that he sees as necessary in an ever-changing world.
"Money," he says, "is not the base of success."

He wants his daughter to understand that success doesn'tfe doesn’t come from owning expensive cars. Wagne is focused on providing a balanced life for his daughter. He believes that he and his wife can do that best by partially bringing her up in West Africa. "Many times people can raise a kid, but they don't build family," he says.

Until Wagne is able to create the framework for a future of his family that incorporates the best of his parents' two cultures, he will continue
walking to work past the homeless of San Francisco on his way to help serve $12 drinks to the Porsche-driving elites of the city.