In the midst of a pandemic, fighting COVID-19 has often been compared to fighting a war. While there are similarities between the two, islander Dina Melic, who survived the Bosnian civil war during the early 1990s, was quick to say war is worse.
“It’s hard to be a human being, especially now,” Melic said. “As long as we stay healthy and strong, everything else is more easier and doable.”
Melic was 17 when the war broke out. Six years later, at 23, she and her husband Faim arrived on San Juan Island.
The quarantine during the war lasted three years, Melic said. Without the internet or phones, there was no contact with the outside world. It was not unusual, she continued, to go for weeks or months without speaking to loved ones. When they finally did hear from family and friends, the stories were not always good. Often there was news of loved ones being sent to concentration camps, being raped or buried in mass graves. On July 11, 1995, alone, Melic noted, 8,372 people were slaughtered during the Srebrenica massacre.
“I can’t imagine on top of this economic crisis having hundreds of thousands of people ill and not having a place to go for treatment. That is always the case in war,” Melic said.
During the Bosnian civil war, according to Melic, approximately 200,000 died. Many of these were innocent civilians, she said, including children. There are bodies that, more than 20 years later, have yet to be identified, she added. Millions of people were lucky enough to escape.
Melic and her husband were able to escape to Austria with refugee status through a church organization called Karitas, Melic said. The couple’s cousins were already living on San Juan and were able to act as sponsors for their move to the United States.
“It was a very difficult process, we came here with no English, no money,” Melic said.
The couple’s only possessions were two suitcases full of clothes.
Once settled, they both started their own businesses — Melic manages commercial and home rentals, while her husband runs a masonry company.
The Melics have one son, Alen, born and raised on San Juan, and they will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this summer. Thanks to the internet and new technology, they are able to communicate with friends and family across the world, Melic said, adding that she speaks with her mother almost daily.
“This community is what has kept Faim and I here, and it amazes me year after year,” Melic said.
Melic explained the vast number of local events and fundraisers held for both citizens in need, as well as nonprofit organizations, show how supportive and generous the community is. That voters have continually passed tax levies supporting schools and other important community projects also illustrates island generosity. For the sake of the community, Melic encourages everyone to follow Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home Stay Healthy order, which instructs Washington residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary.
“I know this is not the same as the war I lived through, but it’s a war against a deadly disease. Please stay at home,” Melic pleaded.
She added that by making these sacrifices, the community, country and world can prevail against the pandemic.
“The health of our small, vulnerable community should be our top priority right now. We have so many people that are most vulnerable to this virus,” she said. “These at-risk people are the ones that always support our community financially and donate beyond our understanding. Let’s think of them as well.”
Melic continued to give a huge thank you to local grocery stores; food co-ops; healthcare workers; postal service; restaurants for being creative with to-go options; and everyone else continuing to work and making these challenging times as smooth as possible.
“The island will always have a special place in my heart. It’s our home now,” she said. “I work with the most incredible people. My friends and clients are absolutely amazing. If it wasn’t for them, my life here on the island wouldn’t be the same. These people know who they are. They are not just friends and clients, they are a part of my family.”
Melic also encouraged her fellow Americans to pay more attention to the federal government, saying that she believes that the government checks and balances have eroded, which was why the United States was not prepared for a pandemic. She also hopes people rethink the word normal.
“Foks are eager to get back to normal, but our normal was one crisis after another. We normalized greed,” Melic said. “We are being given an opportunity to switch to a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”