20. Croatia – The Universal Language of Tragedy

If only it was rare for regions of the world to be devastated by war as much as the former Yugoslavia. In the mid-1970s, a young woman by the name of Kamea traveled north from her home on the Dalmatian Coast, to Norway, where she would enroll in Folk School and meet an American girl by the name of Cordee. Their friendship flourished, and following their international student journey, Cordee visited Kamea in Split to meet her family. From there, life would take different directions for each of them. Though they longed to remain friends, they lost track of one another. Then, war ravaged Kamea’s homeland for a decade, from 1991 to 2001.

Zagreb, Croatia 

During the war, Kamea, like so many others, plastered black garbage bags to the windows to protect her family from being seen by those fighting in the streets. She remembers trying to keep her children quiet for fear that they would be heard and face the wrath of those in the territorial dispute. Bombs and explosions were not only heard, but felt through building’s frames. She reflected on memories from Folk School and the American girl who wrote Joan Baez lyrics with a turquoise pen and played guitar sitting on the bed.

The American girl, Cordee, continued playing guitar once she returned to the United States. It was one of the qualities that the man who became her husband loved about her most. The two of them wed, moved to a farm in Pennsylvania, and raised four children together. In 2001, on a Tuesday in September, the phone rang while Cordee was vacuuming the living room. It was her sister-in-law. Cordee’s husband had been working in the World Trade Center just days earlier and, according to the television, two planes had intentionally crashed into them just minutes earlier.

Tragedy affects each and every culture around the world. Many countries experience it briefly, while other nations seem to experience peace only for a moment. But grief, terror, and pain, are common languages spoken by humans across the globe. You would think anyone who has ever experienced such would not wish it upon another. Sadly, life is not yet that way, which is a tragedy of our world in and of itself. Thankfully, emotions of relief, belonging, and joy also translate cross-culturally.

Cordee’s husband survived the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and Kamea and her family were resilient through the atrocious conditions of the Yugoslav Wars. It was around this time that the internet became accessible to the common person, and you could look up an individual via websearch and discover one’s “e-mail address.” One afternoon after school, my mother Cordee asked me to help her respond to an electronic letter she’d received. In an instant, the distance between the United States and what was now called Croatia, was a lot less far than it had been for twenty years.

It turns out both Cordee and Kamea had given birth to a set of twins. That, among many other things, allowed for the two young-at-heart women to dust off their friendship as if no time had passed. Laughing about mischievous deeds from their youth, a part of each one’s soul was revived. But the story didn’t stop there. The internet continued to play a great role in this legacy. In 2015, my brother and I were on a backpacking trip through Europe, where one Facebook search led to another beautiful reunion… this time, in person.

August 2015 – Zagreb, Croatia – A “Reunion” of Strangers 

Journal Entry ~ 19 August, 2015
Thirty seven years ago my mom met a dear friend, Kamea from Yugoslavia, at Norwegian Folk Camp. Last night, this woman welcomed my brother and I into her home in Zagreb, Croatia. She pulled out a photo album and told us of many adventures… breaking into the school kitchen into the middle of the night, studying music while everyone else focused on more “practical” courses, and how inseparable they were for their year of studying abroad. I’m so incredibly grateful for this summer of traveling, and this stop has made me wonder if thirty or forty years down the road, my children will connect with some of the friends I’ve been visiting over the past few months. Love, joy, and contentment are my companions this morning as I drink my Turkish coffee and gaze at pictures of my beautiful mother.

Every one of us has the chance to be grateful, for moments and people and experiences and much more throughout our lifetime… and who knows how many of the kind souls we meet in passing during our travels will later welcome the next generation of explorers into their home for a respite and a tale. God knows I have a few stories tucked away with plenty of you.

All my love,

This piece was written from Norway by Cordee’s daughter, forty years after she and Kamea met there. She, too, is studying abroad.

Read more about Thirty by Thirty here

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