For those of you who don't know, I am taking a Spanish class on Tuesday nights. Tomo una clase de espanol los martes :) See? It's working! The class is through UVA's continuing ed program, and its not for credit so it attracts a great range of people with many reasons for taking the class. One is taking it to help her son through high school Spanish; another woman promised herself that when she finished her phd she would do two things: learn to play the violen and learn to speak Spanish.
My favorite reason so far, however, is that of Azur. Azur is a middle-aged Bosnian man who is taking the class with his girlfriend, Kate, so they can have a common language! He is learning English alongside Spanish by taking this class, and he and Kate have quickly become my favorite people to talk to admist our confusion.
Tonight I got time to talk to Azur during our break and after class. He left Bosnia in 1996, after being a soldier in the Bosnian war for two years. Time out: Azur is over six feet tall, with greying hair down to his waist, bright eyes, a slight build, and missing a few teeth. When he said he was a soldier I involuntarily laughed. "I know, I don't look like a soldier do I?" Azur said in response. He then went on to explain that in his country, when the war with Serbia and Croatia began there was no way to escape.
Bosnians were landlocked between their two enemies, and as Azur put it "You had to stay becuase you couldn't get out. And you had to fight because you had to live." He doesn't strike me as the type who would sign up for military service, and he confirmed that as he spoke of the need to protect the women and children behind him.
I had mentioned that I knew Charlottesville was a national refugee center because our church has tried to reach out to refugees in the city. Azur was surprised to learn that I went to church... when I invited him to come visit Trinity he said "I do not go to church. Where I come from people get made fun of for going to a church or a mosque." When I assured him that he could come without being mocked, he replied "I grew up as a Communist." We continued our conversation about church after class, about the tension between "religion" and "just God"... between guilt and grace. I am looking forward to future conversations!
How often on a Tuesday evening do you get to talk to a refugee from Bosnia who has killed people simply to stay alive and who now plays chess to make money?
Welcome, friends, to Charlottesville.
** for more information on Charlottesville's refugee program check out this article: