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Interview with Habiba Begic

Begic, Habiba
Pratt, Liz
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles; Relationships with people and places
Habiba Begic talks about moving to the USA and her kids and learning English.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Liz Pratt interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
LP (Liz Pratt): OK. So you're going to talk about your, um, what it was like when you lived in Bosnia?
HB (Habiba Begic): Yeah, my, um, city, when I was born, actually is a small city, it's a, small town.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: Small town, and, uh, we knew each other, you know, we grow up together and the people there, they don't move much, like in, in America, // you know. //
LP: // Oh, uh-huh. //
HB: And, uh, the house when I was born, actually it was house, that house was, uh, built my, my, uh, father and, uh, people, uh, don't move much like here and we knew each other and grow up together and, uh, it's different than life here.
LP: I'm sure of // that. //
HB: // Yeah. // And, uh, // ( ). //
LP: // Your // father built that house that // you grew up in? //
HB: // Actually // he doesn't build, uh, by his self-.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: -But he built that house, uh, before I was born.
LP: Wow.
HB: And, uh, I have many friends in Bosnia and we are friends still because we grow up together.
LP: // Of course. //
HB: // If you // know somebody 30 and [laugh] // 40 years-. //
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: -And, uh, it's, it's much better if you know somebody for a long time-.
LP: Yeah, // yeah. //
HB: // -You // know, you know everything about that people and they know about everything about you.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: It's, it's easier.
LP: And they know your family?
HB: Yeah and they know your family and grand, grandparents, // you know. //
LP: // Uh-huh. //
HB: And I think that's ( ).
LP: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
LP: Did you see those people when you went back last summer?
HB: Yes, // some of them-. //
LP: // Really? //
HB: Yeah and I took picture and I have pictures at home we took picture. And my, uh, my friends from school and, um, we sit together and, uh, eat together and talk about, about our life-.
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: // -Before, // you know.
LP: Oh, my // goodness. //
HB: // Yeah. //
LP: And most of them stayed ( )?
HB: // Um, some // of them, some of them stayed there, yeah and some of them I am in contact, uh, with, uh, my friends in whole world, you know, some of them might live in Europe, some of them in America, some of them in Australia, you know.
LP: Wow, wow. Huh, how when, when you saw them that must have been strange, after you had moved here?
HB: Yeah but, you know, uh, you can just, uh, we change just our face, you know // what I mean. //
LP: // Uh-hmm. //
HB: We are biological different because we become older.
LP: Um-hmm.
HB: But inside, I think inside we are not different.
LP: You are right. You're exactly // right. //
HB: // Yeah, // we, we still, l-, l-, love each other-.
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: // -And // have respect. It's nice-.
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: // -It's // nice to have friends.
LP: Yeah. So your parents had that house. And nobody ever moves? Everybody stays in the same place?
HB: Uh.
LP: Or not as much?
HB: Not as much. Most of, of people, uh, just stay there-.
LP: // Uh-huh. //
HB: // -Or // build another house in same place. It is different // than in America. //
LP: // Oh. //
HB: We had, actually we don't have much place like America. You know it's huge city-.
LP: // Uh-huh. //
HB: // -This // is huge city you know and you have enough place, you know, to build houses where you want, you know, but we don't have much place for that. It is reason probably.
LP: // Um-hmm. //
HB: // It is very // expensive to buy place to, to build house.
LP: The, the land itself is very // expensive? //
HB: // Yeah, // it is very expensive.
LP: Oh.
HB: Yeah, and if you, if your grandparents have some place, er, to build house, you are going to build house there, you know, because it's less expensive.
LP: // Um-hmm. //
HB: // And, uh, // it's maybe some traditional you know, it is, uh, your place where your grandparents live and then your parents and, you know. // ( ) //
LP: // Oh, OK. So // big families usually tend to live together?
HB: Yeah.
LP: Oh, OK. All on, on the same piece of land?
HB: Yeah, I mean they have different houses, nobody live together. Everybody have different house, I mean you have old ones but no. For example this house is mine and your house is there but it's not, it's not far away. You know // what I mean? //
LP: // Right, // right. So you're together even if you're not in the same house, you're together all the time.
HB: Not much because life is, uh, is, is busy-.
LP: Um-hmm.
HB: -But we see each other very often.
LP: Um-hmm. So, um, you all started to build a house before you felt like you needed to leave?
HB: With my husband.
LP: // Um-hmm. //
HB: // Yeah. // We started to build house cross the street where, uh, my mother-.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: -Live. And, uh, we start to build and we almost finish everything but we couldn't finish. We left country before we finish.
LP: // Oh. //
HB: // If we // stay there, we would have, // [laugh] you know-. //
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: // -You know, // good life, but I, I don't complain, we, we live, we have good life here // now-. //
LP: // Uh-huh, // uh-huh.
HB: -After many years.
LP: You have worked // very hard. //
HB: // Yeah, yeah. // It was hard really.
LP: Yeah, wow. Well, did you, um, any of your sisters, do you have a sister and a brother? I have // forgotten. //
HB: // I have two // brothers and sister.
LP: And your brothers both came to America?
HB: No both, uh, the oldest brother, he stay, uh, in, uh, Bosnia with my mother and he lives with his family and my mother live there. // ( ) //
LP: // Oh, // OK.
HB: My, another brother, he lives here-.
LP: Yeah.
HB: -In Charlotte. And my sister she lives in, uh, Germany.
LP: Oh, yeah. // [Clears throat] //
HB: // She's // in marriage with German man-.
LP: // Oh. //
HB: // -And // she lives there.
LP: And so when you left Bosnia did you go to the town where your sister was in Germany?
HB: Yeah, we were in Hamburg.
HB: Eh, she lives near in city near, it's city near, uh, Manheim. She's actually in south, we used to live in north. // [Laugh] //
LP: // Oh. // So you didn't go near her.
HB: I, I was there three or four times, when we were in Germany, I was there just for, for a visit, but we didn't, didn't live there. We used to live in Hamburg. Because we, uh, we couldn't stay there.
LP: // Um-hmm. //
HB: // We were // in Hamburg like a refugee-.
LP: Um-hmm.
HB: -Five years.
LP: Wow, wow. And then, uh, why did you choose to leave Germany?
HB: Uh, because when war start in my country Germany, uh, invited, uh, many people, uh, from Bosnia. They invited us to come to, uh, to save life, you know. And, uh, they invited us and we, uh, we just came there.
LP: Um-hmm, um-hmm.
HB: And we stayed there until the war, uh, ended.
LP: Um-hmm.
HB: We stayed there and then, uh, our government and the German government, they sign contract that we, that we, uh, could, uh, come to our country, but some people couldn't come because everything was full, // you know. //
LP: // Um-hmm. //
HB: And there is economy zero, you know, and, uh, many people don't have, uh, job and many people decide to come to America because America invited us to come, and this program was just for people who don't have house, who don't have you know, if you, if you don't have place to go then they invited that people to come.
LP: Hmm, hmm. Well, I'm glad they invited you. [Laughter]
HB: // Thank you. [Laughs] //
LP: // [Laughs] I'm glad we invited // you. I didn't know that.
HB: Yeah, // yeah. //
LP: // I didn't // know. That's very interesting. Huh. And how old was Czarina when you came?
HB: Uh, when we left, uh, our daughter Czarina was two months old.
LP: Wow.
HB: Yeah and, uh, but when we, uh, came to America, she was, uh, almost seven. She was between six and seven-.
LP: // Uh-huh. //
HB: // -And // she start first grade here.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: When we come here she start to school in first grade.
LP: Did she speak, learn to speak German?
HB: She used to speak German, but when we come here she start to learn English and it was very hard for her to remember, you know, and, uh, I don't mind because she lives here and she needs English now-.
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: // -More // than German, but she understand question. If you ask her question she understand still but she can't answer.
LP: In German you // mean? //
HB: // Yeah, // she always answer in English.
LP: But you speak fluent German?
HB: I, I used to speak fluently, I used to speak fluently, but it's for me very hard you know. If somebody talk I understand maybe 98 percent.
LP: Wow.
HB: But if I have to answer I always come to answer in English because English is, is, is you know, I think now in English // ( ) everyday-. //
LP: // Really? //
HB: -English and everything around me is in English and if somebody come and say something in German, you know it's just a, // I have to. //
LP: // That would be // hard. Rethink?
HB: Yeah.
LP: Wow.
HB: But you know, I could speak after two, two days, you know, you know, after two days, if I listen, last year we were there and the first day when I come there I, I couldn't, I couldn't talk, you know.
LP: // [Laughs] //
HB: // Believe me, but when // we leave Germany and when we, uh, come to airplane my husband couldn't say any words in English-.
LP: // Wow. //
HB: // -And, uh, // he couldn't say anything and he, uh, and in one moment he say, "Czarina, please help me," because if you can believe that because he say, "Czarina please help me," because he can't, he can't talk English, because he every day he, he talk German there and, uh, tomorrow it was better when we come here, you know, tomorrow on TV and-. [Laughter]
LP: You have learned quickly, // you really have. //
HB: // You know, it's, uh, // because it's third language, actually third language.
LP: // Um-hmm. //
HB: // And // and, but we don't speak every day German and but, uh, it's not hard, English is, is, is, uh, it's harder than German.
LP: English is harder // than German? //
HB: // Yes it is // harder, yes, yes, for us it's harder. Reading and, uh, writing for us and spelling is so hard for us.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: It's so hard you know, I don't like to, to write something if I, I'm not able to write correctly, you know, I feel just I'm not able to write some sentence correctly but it's hard, believe me.
LP: Um-hmm.
HB: German, it is, it is not hard for, for writing.
LP: Because it's similar to your, // to Bosnian? //
HB: // No, it is // not similar, it's not similar, but, uh, they read, uh, how they, uh, they say. If you say some word they, they write that word in same // way-. //
LP: // Uh-huh. //
HB: -But English, it is, it is different. You write something and pronunciation is different. You know what I mean?
LP: Yes, I know exactly what you mean.
HB: And, uh, you have to learn how to write every single word. And for me it, it's hard. You know Czarina she doesn't have problem. If I don't, uh, know how to write something my husband always say, "Ask Czarina. She's excellent with spelling."
LP: // [Laughs] //
HB: // ( ) // She write just, uh, [laughs] first. [Laughter] She's excellent with spelling because it's, it's actually, actually it is her language, you know.
LP: // Uh-huh. //
HB: // She // went to school and she, she learned that and she write that and if she writes me a note, she always write in English-.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: -And I don't mind.
LP: Can she write in Bosnian?
HB: She can write, but she, uh, she makes mistakes, uh, if she are going to, to write some word, uh, you know, she, uh, grammar, uh, she, she makes mistakes in grammar, but she's able to write letter, I can, simple le-, letter // you know, just simple letter. //
LP: // Um-hmm, um-hmm. // Does she write to your mother?
HB: She writes in computer. // [Laughs] //
LP: // On the // computer? [Laughs]
HB: Yeah [laughs], she send messages. // [Laughs] //
LP: // Oh, // you have email?
HB: [Laughs] Yeah. [Laughter] // ( ) //
LP: // Really? //
HB: Yeah. // [Laughs] //
LP: // ( ) // She always write hi in English and dear in English. For example, dear, um, Grandma. For example, dear Grandma in English and is starting to write sentences in our language. I don't know why. [Laughter]
HB: Yeah. [Laughs]
LP: I guess she's used to speaking English.
HB: Yeah. // [Laugh] //
LP: // And // then she goes, because your mother doesn't speak English, does // she? //
HB: // No, // no, no. She's not able to, to, to read and to understand // it. //
LP: // [Laugh] //
HB: But I'm glad that, uh, Czarina she used to learn to write our lang-, our language when she was, maybe, five years old.
LP: Um-hmm.
HB: And she still remember that.
LP: Wow. Are you going to teach the baby to write in Eng-, in Bosnian?
HB: I will try to teach her-.
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: // I will // try-.
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: // -To teach // her. You know she's going to learn English anyway.
LP: Yeah.
HB: And she's going to be good writer and, and, and, she's going to, to know how to read and write anyway. But I will try to teach her to write just, you know, just for to understand.
LP: Yeah.
HB: And, um, after she's going to, you know, to choose, what she's going to, you know-.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: Yeah. That's me.
LP: You have to go to your class. It's time to stop.
LP: Uh, you want, uh, let me think. What did you think of America when you got here?
HB: Oh, // I thought-. //
LP: // [Laugh] //
HB: -The first day, uh, when we came here, uh, we, we went to Salisbury.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: It is small city and, uh, I was surprised, // believe me. //
LP: // Uh-huh. //
HB: I say, "Is that America?," because I just saw America at the TV, // you know. //
LP: // [Laugh] //
HB: I said, "Is that America?" You know, I was surprised. But, uh, after three weeks we move to Charlotte and we find apartment and we saw Charlotte and after that, you know, we went three times to Atlanta to visit, uh, my uncle. Atlanta is big city and, uh, you know, and I, [pause].
LP: Why did you choose Charlotte instead of Salisbury?
HB: Uh, because, uh, I didn't like, uh, to stay there, uh, the first reason was that, uh, we wanted to go to, uh, // CPCC to learn English. //
LP: // Ah, yeah. //
HB: Uh, it is the reason that we move to Charlotte. They had, they have, uh, some classes there but they don't have, uh, they don't have, uh, many classes like CPCC.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: And they don't, they don't have every day, you know, uh, CPCC, uh, uh, they are really perfect and I am really satisfied and I want to, to tell that I'm so satisfied.
LP: Wow.
HB: And they do everything it what they could to do for students.
LP: Wow.
HB: They have first shift, second shift, uh, they have classes at weekends, you know, // for people. //
LP: // Wow. //
HB: Some people are not able to come during the week because they work and they have classes at weekend. They have classes early in the morning, six thirty.
LP: Wow.
HB: Yeah.
LP: Isn't // that wonderful? //
HB: // And, you know, // if you want to go there, you know, everybody, and everyone who wants to, to, to learn English can go and find there some, uh, class or you know-.
LP: Yeah.
HB: -Some good class, because they, they really have many, many, uh, different schedules.
LP: Wow, yeah.
HB: And it's free.
LP: // Wow. //
HB: // Yeah. //
LP: I didn't know that.
HB: It is free, they have, I mean, I think, Queen's college or yeah, they have some academic classes, uh, but they are not expensive. But, uh, after seven, uh, levels, I finish seven levels and everything was free. And after seven levels, if you want to continue you can take academic classes.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: You know, just for, to improve your language and more grammar and more, uh, more reading, and, yeah. But, I mean I think that seven levels is enough-.
LP: // Probably so. //
HB: // -You know, to // be able for conversation and find job or something.
LP: Now you're going to Central Piedmont now, but you're not taking English // anymore-. //
HB: // No, no. //
LP: -Because you don't need it?
HB: I mean I think I need much more. I am not satisfied with my English still. But, uh, I am going to take some another classes, uh, to get, uh, some diploma, certification to, to be able to find a job for me.
LP: Um-hmm.
HB: But I think that, uh, when I start to work, my English is, is going to be better if I'm going to, to, uh, speak every day-.
LP: Right.
HB: -You know, and, uh, if you speak every day, you practice and practice and // practice-. //
LP: // Yeah. //
HB: -And practice more.
LP: That will help.
HB: Yeah, but, uh, no, I'm not going to, to stop to learn English never-.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: -Because, uh, uh, there is much more what I want to, to learn.
LP: Wow.
HB: Much more grammar and much more, uh, vocabulary // because-. //
LP: // Uh-huh. //
HB: -We need more, uh, for, for our conversation for this, for today, you know, I-.
LP: You've done great.
HB: Yeah. I'm not-.
LP: // You've done great. //
HB: // -I am not // satisfied because I am not able to, uh, to say everything what I want to say. You know, my expression, you know, uh, I need more vocabulary-.
LP: Uh-huh.
HB: -And I will learn more.
LP: Just think how far you've come.
HB: // [Laugh] //
LP: // Just think // how much you've learned.
HB: Yeah, [laughs] but believe me, uh, I, I know many people who speaks much more than I speak, you know, uh, for short time.
LP: Well, I think you've done a fantastic job. I really do. You'd better go.
HB: Thank you.