MisplacedWomen?

Archive for the ‘Borders’ Category

Bojana Videkanić holding the “Misplaced Women?” sign on the Toronto Airport and diving into her profoundly touching memories about her initiation into the life of a refugee escaping Sarajevo siege in 1992

In Airports, Borders, Signs, Stories, Toronto on February 16, 2017 at 6:20 pm

On October 12 2016. Bojana Videkanić was holding the “Misplaced Women?” sign on the Pearson International Airport in Toronto and was diving into her profoundly touching memories about her initiation into the life of a refugee escaping Sarajevo siege in 1992 and her and her family life as refuges in the UK, Croatia and Canada. She wrote about it:

Missing Women: Some Thoughts As to Why I Became Missing While Waiting for Tanja Ostojić

By Bojana Videkanić October 2016-February 2017.

Last year I invited Tanja Ostojić to present her work at the 7a*11d International Performance Art Festival in Toronto. As one of the members of the Toronto Performance Art Collective, I have been wanting to invite Tanja to come to our festival for some time. She generously accepted and came in October 2016. In our conversations and planning prior to her arrival, Tanja asked me to help her by doing a specific action when she landed in Toronto. She asked me to create a sign and hold it while waiting for her at the Pearson International Airport. She told me that the sign should read: “Misplaced Women” which is also the title of Tanja’s piece that she was going to perform on October 16 at a tram stop downtown Toronto at the corner of McCaul and Dundas streets. Tanja gave me a choice to, if I wanted to, put a question mark at the end of the statement. I was happy to do the action and I made the sign, deciding to put a question mark at the end. My choice to do so was guided by the fact that Pearson is a large and busy place and I suspected that the sign will be noticed if I keep it ambiguous. I, however, was not considering the impact Tanja’s work would have on me.

The day came and I arrived 30 or so minutes earlier in order to keep the action a bit longer, to give it some time to play out. While standing there at the international arrivals gate, I had some time to think about the action I was performing (standing in the middle of the great airport hall with an ambiguous sign in my hands) and what its ramifications might be. There were a couple of important thoughts I had that came about as a result. First, throughout my action I realized that I was initiating Tanja’s performance, as it became obvious that my interactions with the accidental audiences were a catalyst for a discussion around borders, policing of bodies, and (in)visible violence of that. In short, I realized that Tanja’s performance has begun as people gawked at me. Secondly, I realized the echoes of Tanja’s work in our ‘local’ Canadian context with the missing and murdered indigenous women, and the impact it had in the light of Syrian crisis and the inability of the world actors to see the refugees as human beings. What I did not expect was my own physical reaction to the sign and the moment as I became missing in it.

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On October 12 2016, Bojana Videkanić holding the “Misplaced Women?” sign on the Pearson International Airport in Toronto and diving into her profoundly touching memories about her initiation into the life of a refugee escaping Sarajevo siege in 1992 and her and her family life as refuges in the UK, Croatia and Canada. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

It became obvious at that moment that the sign “Missing Women” was not about some other missing women (although of course it is about many thousands if not millions of them) but that it was also about my own experiences of borders and violence. It brought me back some 20+ years back to 1992, and my 15-year-old self, a confused, frightened child who, in a matter of few weeks between April 6 and April 20 1992, became a refugee. At the time I did not know what that meant, but I learned quickly. When my hometown of Sarajevo came under siege and the first grenades fell, my desperate, naïve parents wanted to save me, to protect me, so they found a way to put me on one of the last planes leaving the city to go to Belgrade and then on to London, England. I will never forget the scene of desperation at the Sarajevo Airport as hundreds and hundreds of people gathered to try to get their small children, parents and other family onto Kikash military plains. Pleading with important-looking military officers, with their long lists of people’s names, to let them through––crying, begging, consoling, desperate. Through some miracle my parents managed to get me on one of those lists and on one of the planes. They gave me a few of our family photos (so that I wound not forget them and where I come from), my mom lovingly packed my sinus medication and some clothes, and told me that I will be back at the end of the summer when the war will be over, and with my English much improved. And so I went, with my grey, Yugoslav child passport (which in fact was no longer valid as we were living through the breakup of the country), 500 deutsche marks, my photos, and a book. As Kikash plane lifted off (in fact this was my very first time being on the plane) I sat on the floor of its enormous belly with a couple of hundred other people not really knowing where I was going and what will happen to me when I get there. I was all alone, a child who never travelled without her parents, going to some unknown future.

Three days later I was on a plane ride to London, England with another boy, a son of my parents’ friends. The two of us were going to his aunt who accepted to take me in for the short period until I was to return home to Sarajevo. As the airplane approached Heathrow airport I became very anxious and scared. We landed and I was immediately detained by the UK customs and immigration. I was held in an interrogation room for six hours. I had to take all my clothes out of my bag, they took my family photos and asked me about each person in the photo and where they were, they asked me about my sinus medication, about how much clothes I had, and why I was travelling, do I know what is happening to my country? They even asked me about Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the one book that I managed to take out of my parents’ library as I was leaving (the book I cannot bring myself to read again). It is hard to describe that feeling of being helpless, of being at the mercy of people in uniform, and especially being that way as a child. Like a caged animal my heart pounded, I was shaking, and I cried. I cried as all those things that the immigration officers looked through were really the last things that I could say were mine, these were the last remnants of my childhood, of my family life, and of my country, even those darn sinus pills… My entire life on display, my entire life in one suitcase, now an object of conversation for immigration officers, and evidence of my status.

Finally, I was let through, they decided that my friend’s aunt who waited for us was credible. This was my initiation into the life of a refugee. From that moment on, I moved with my suitcase from family to family, twice in London (during the 2 month stay there), and some ten times later on when I lived as a refugee in Croatia. At one point while still in London, I was supposed to be moved for the third time with an unknown woman, but when that did not work out the people with whom I was staying decided that I should be given over to the Child Services (as having a 15-year old in the house was too much for them). I couch-surfed most of the time, slept in peoples’ baby rooms next to their kids’ cribs, in their master bedrooms on the floor, in spare rooms, living rooms, all kinds of rooms. I learned to hold my pee in so that I would not have to be in the bathroom when owners of the house were in the house. I learned to take fast showers, I learned to eat when no one was looking (usually late at night). I learned how to walk without making a sound, how to use a hand towel, soap, shampoo, or kitchen utensils so that they would look like no one has used them. I learned to be sparing with creams, food, cookies so that it would not look like someone has eaten them. I learned to be invisible, how not to be noticed by police, by men, by security. I learned how to pack my bag quickly so that I can move out fast. I learned that refugees are not welcomed, that we are perceived as a burden, not just to the state and all its mechanisms, but often to extended families, friends, and even do-gooders who think that they can take in refugees into their home but cannot deal with someone actually living with them, taking their space.

I, however, also met some amazing people on the way, selfless, caring people like my mom’s friend who took me and my family in with her son for four months. Or like a doctor from the Doctors Without Borders who I met on the street and in our conversation I told him that my parents are doctors in Sarajevo and that I was not sure if they are dead or alive as all the phone lines were down and I did not speak to them in two months. He told me that he will find my parents as he was going back to Sarajevo and deliver my letter. And he did! (that was how my parents found out I was ok and alive).

Finally, I also learned that my parents were broken by the war, the strong, independent people I knew before April 1992 were now broken physically, mentally, and professionally. When both my parents came out of the besieged Sarajevo (my mom at the end of 1992, and my dad at the end of 1994) and when we lived as refugees in Croatia awaiting papers to immigrate to Canada or Australia, I saw my parents waiting in line for food donations, for refugee status, clothes, aid, they were lost and defeated, depressed. My dad has severe PTSD which was never dealt with. The defeat only continued when we came to Canada, when my parents had difficulty learning English, not being able to find a job, being too old to go to school (early-to mid 50s) but too young to retire, struggling; my father going to a local Food Bank getting food, working on construction site as a construction worker, my mom working with developmentally disabled adults and being attacked and bitten. Yes, standing there at the arrivals gate at Pearson Airport became an embodied performance of myself missing and my parents missing. I was that 15-year old kid again, trying to find myself.

Finally, another important thought I had at that moment of waiting for Tanja, as I had some confused looks from passersby, was that people could recognize the signs, they could recognize the ambiguity of what Tanja was stating. Several people stopped and asked what the sign was about. One man came around as asked where are these misplaced women? He was confused… I replied that it was a part of Tanja Ostojić’s art work relating it to refugees and migrant women, but also used the opportunity to address a more pressing Canadian context of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and the current inquiry into this tragedy (https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/

Fact_Sheet_Missing_and_Murdered_Aboriginal_Women_and_Girls.pdf). A female security guard came to me asking about the sign, she approached and said, ”You know you will get a lot of people asking about the sign,” “they will think you might have some answers for them…” Then she said, “you know, I am misplaced too…” These interactions with the security, passersby, people who wait for family and friends, and being at the airport, opened up a whole other conversation about invisibility of violence, of invisibility and visibility of women who are marginalized, who are placed at the mercy of governmental mechanisms, police, immigration, child welfare, welfare and unemployment services, ministry of Indigenous affairs, lawyers, immigration courts. It became clear then that this performance was placing an ethical and moral obligation on the passersby as it directly asked them to confront the question/statement on the sign I made for Tanja.

I write this as the Syrian refugees are fleeing their country just like I did 20+ years ago. I write this as Trump has barred people from entering US, I write this as frozen refugee claimants are crossing the US/Canada border at -40˚C, I write this as an official Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is just taking place 40+ years in, I write this as hundreds of unaccompanied minor children are prevented from entering UK (as the government stopped its program to help them,) I write this as women and children are still going missing––no questions asked… Tanja Ostojic’s performance which asks that question is therefore more important then ever. Standing in the crowd with a sign “Missing Women?” at this moment becomes an ethical and moral confrontation, one that troubles the age of invisibility. And at a time of alternative truths, the truth of those who are marginalized truth is the one that matters, and only one that cannot be erased in the swamp we call the Internet.

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Bojana Videkanić is an artist, art historian and curator. Originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who came to Canada as a refugee. Videkanić now lives in Canada where she teaches at the University of Waterloo and is a member of the curatorial board of the 7a*11d International Performance Art Festival.  7a*11d festival, now in its 20th year, is one of the oldest and largest performance art festivals in Canada. The 7a*11d collective gathers over 20 international and national artists for each of its biannual festivals that takes place in the fall in Toronto: http://7a-11d.ca/  #7a11d2016

Please see as well:

https://misplacedwomen.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/misplaced-women-performed-by-tanja-ostojic-dedicated-to-the-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-in-canada-sunday-october-16-in-front-of-the-art-gallery-of-ontario-7a11d-2016-toronto-can/

https://misplacedwomen.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/misplaced-women-sign-on-pearson-international-airport-in-toronto/

Teresa Albor´s performances, The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick and Westfield Shopping Mall, Stratford London, December 13 and 14, 2016. in the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s “Misplaced Women?” in LADA

In Borders, London, Performances, Shopping Center, Stories, Workshops on February 12, 2017 at 3:31 pm

In the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s “Misplaced Women?” workshop hosted by Live Arts Development Agency London and Elena Marchevska, Teresa Albor realised a series of two very strong performances on displacement:

December 13, 2016, The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick, 2-4pm

December 14, 2016, Westfield Shopping Mall, near Olympic Park, Stratford, 1:45-2pm

On December 16, 2016 she wrote the following related statement:

Packing up the large objects this morning, the bright orange life jacket (child size), the beaded scarf, the soft black little girl’s jacket.  The smell— part smoke, part sweat, musty, human.  Then the small objects—into the orange envelopes and then the zip lock bag, the bits and pieces of jewelry, including the fragile, fragile necklace, all tangled up, hopelessly tangled up.

I imagine,the women who are preparing to be evacuated from Aleppo this morning.  They are packing up what little they can bring.  Little girls (perhaps oblivious), teenage girls (dreaming of a future?), mothers (thinking of their children’s needs).

Clio looks good in red so I have bought her a red dress.  Libby wants a particular book for her medical studies.  I put the red dress in a black box and tie a red ribbon around it.  I wrap the book in silver paper.

Someone else, once carefully packed the things I brought to Hackney Wick. All these objects once belonged to others, who took risks, who are hopefully somewhere where they feel safe, where they can dream, love, argue, fall out of love, make plans for the holidays.

The mall is busy.  People are trying to find things to give to others.  To make them smile, to show somehow—as impossible as it might be—how much they love them.

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Please see Teresa Albor´s video of her performance in front of The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick, London

The necklace is hopelessly tangled.  I spend a good hour trying to ease the knots out.  First I try to soften the snarl, gently easing the tiny chain into a loose little heap.  Then I try to find the ends and see how long a length of chain is possible.  But this makes the knot in the middle grow tighter and tighter.  My fingers are numb from the cold, with little dents where I have been holding the chain.  It seems maddeningly simple.  I picture the untangled chain.  I picture it hanging around the neck of a woman.  She is smiling.

Tosha needs someone to babysit.  It’s not easy being a single mother.  She says it’s hard for her, now that she has a son, to watch the news, to see woman and children, the bombardment, their desperate flight.

I feel vulnerable sitting on the cement paving stone outside the Omega watch store.  Someone else has the power.  A man with a vest that says “security”.  Calling out names: Amena, Yana, Ola, Liliane, Nour, Kamar, Lamma Dayoub, Qamar, Haya, Zeinah, Aya, Nooda, Ranim, Reem, Asil. Please be safe.  What is the worst that can happen to me?  What is the best thing that can happen to you?

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Teresa Albor performing in Westfield Shopping Mall, London, (December 14, 2016. 1:45-2pm) Photo: Tanja Ostojić

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Teresa Albor performing in Westfield Shopping Mall, London, (December 14, 2016. 1:45-2pm) Photo: Tanja Ostojić

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Footnote: Clio, Libby and Tosha are Teresa´s daughters.

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Things I learned in the workshop:

The advantages of being our own audience: Working together, watching each other, making work for each other to see, acting as a magnet in public spaces to draw others in, acting as a protective shield when there’s some question about our “right” to make work in public.  Being open to each other.  Allowing everyone to be at a different point in his or her process. Observing each other and learning from each other.

Explaining to security: The art of just describing what is actually happening. “I am looking for something.”  “She is wrapping a present.”  The power (see above) of being able to focus on an action whilst someone else does the explaining.

Gut feeling + props:  The need to allow your gut feeling to direct you, to give you ideas.  To have the props but then let the action evolve.  But to still be able to edit one’s self, and question one’s ideas, and not to incorporate every single idea.  I have so many ideas.

Also, I wanted to say how much this workshop meant to me. This was a new way for me to work with these objects– the second piece, a way to put myself into the work, to make myself a bit vulnerable. It has given me plenty to think about. Once again, thanks to Tanja Ostojic for her warmth, patience, openness– for making us all feel so safe, and so encouraged as artists.

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Teresa Albor is London based performance and visual artist interested in how different groups of people negotiate the world. Her work is research-based and often involves broad collaboration. It can involve video/moving image, performance, installation, publication, community-based workshops, and forms of artist-led curation.

www.TeresaAlbor.com

www.TheThingsWeLeaveBehind.co.uk

www.Paradox-of-Order.com

www.Rufus-Stone.org

Photos: Tanja Ostojic

Video: Teresa Albor

Buffalo Border/Aubergine Kartoffeln´s Story

In Borders, Stories on February 11, 2017 at 7:58 pm

By Aubergine Kartoffeln

Monty and I were denied entry to the U.S. at the Buffalo border (beginning of December 2016), but I can’t tell you why. Not because I want to keep it a secret, but because the reason was kept secret from us too.

The first thing the border protection officer found in Monty’s shoulder bag were a few loose pages of notes, including four sheets with nothing written on them. Apparently, this was immediate cause for suspicion, as the officer said, “These four pieces of paper don’t have writing on them. Why are you carrying four blank pieces of paper?”

All of a sudden, everything we carried was suspect and seemed to pose some threat to the U.S.: “Why is this soap this colour?” “You only need this tiny container for hair gel?” “You’re telling me you wear these pants for fashion? I don’t believe you.”

Maybe we got turned away at the border because the officer looked in Monty’s exercise log book and smirked: “You do a hundred push-ups a day? Well, this guy [indicating to another officer] does a thousand.”

Or maybe we were detained at the border because the border protection officer couldn’t fathom why we would be making music and art on vacation. He demanded to know: “Why would you be making music on vacation?” When I asked what he meant, he explained: “When I go on vacation, I go shopping; I go to shows; I don’t make music.”

We sat in a waiting room for a long time through the night. We were each brought alone into a small room to have our mugshots and fingerprints taken, surrounded by four or five officers. We were interrogated separately about each other’s affairs, and questioned about our involvement with countries in the Middle East. Waiting is especially stressful when you don’t know what you are waiting for — maybe what happens next will be worse than the suspense of waiting. We already knew we couldn’t enter the U.S., but imagination gives way to all sorts of nauseating outcomes that make the wait even more excruciating.

An officer stood watch over us in the waiting room, his eyes fixated on old reruns of American Dad playing on the TV. I got the sense that these border protection officers really enjoy their jobs, especially the power they get from intimidating others, making people feel flustered and vulnerable.

Then suddenly, with no explanation, we were told to go. How did they come to that decision? What did they find out from their computers? What had they decided about us? What sort of threat did they think we posed? What will happen the next time we try to cross the border?

It bothers me that we were not given any explanation. It bothers me that we can not refute anything because we were not given anything to refute. It bothers me that the border protection officers obviously made the decision to deny us entry before they even finished their investigation, so that it’s very likely that there was no reason of why we were denied entry other than the officer’s distaste for the art objects in Monty’s suitcase.

Not that reason seems to matter anymore. I’m just glad we could go free, and that our lives didn’t depend on this crossing. I can only imagine how horrific it is to leave your fate in the hands of border protection.

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Monty Cantsin’s suitcase full of agitprop materials caught the eye of USA Customs agents.

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Aubergine Kartoffeln is Toronto based social worker and artist

Istvan Kantor alias Monty Cantsin is Toronto based artist of Hungarian origin

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Please reed as well the related article by Sarah Ferguson who interviewed Istvan Kantor related to the denial of the freedom of movement on the U.S. Buffalo Border:

http://thevillager.com/2016/12/23/rivington-school-propagandist-monty-cantsin-held-at-u-s-border/

She wrote that according to Istvan Kantor, the agents in Buffalo, NYC, became alarmed when they found sealed packages of hypodermic needles in his luggage. Kantor is renowned for his “blood art” — using his own blood to splatter walls in museums like the MoMA to protest the “commodification” of art — and has been arrested numerous times both here and abroad.

He says the customs agents were also irked by the megaphone bearing Kantor’s trademark “Neoism” slogan, along with his Nazi-like cap, Chinese security armbands and red flag — all props for the satirical performances he planned to stage.

Although Kantor has been detained at the border before, he says he’s had no trouble coming into the U.S. in the last three years. But this was different.

“They took me and my girlfriend to a special room for fingerprints and mugshots,” he said, “and that’s where the more serious questioning began — especially about my travels in China,” where Kantor has been teaching multimedia art. “They wanted to know if I had visited Pakistan, Libya, Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries.”

After three hours of grilling, Kantor and his girlfriend were put in a car and taken across the border, where they were forced to take a $220 cab ride back to Toronto because it was 4 a.m.

“We never got a concrete explanation or piece of paper or anything to explain why we were turned away,” Kantor said.

Jasmina Tešanović´s Story

In Borders, Railway-stations, Stories on October 18, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Here I am now as a wannabe European woman traveling alone. Because you see, women don’t travel alone; they travel with their men, families or friends. If they are alone, it means they are lost or dangerous. I always get those looks and check ups, even friendly offers.

I entered in the first comfortable train heading north… to even more United Europe.

Border officers were entering my train, checking us, and it all went well, until we managed to come across one small piece of one small country that once used to be called Yugoslavia, that once used to be my own country.

I didn’t have the proper papers, they claimed. Politely, they took me out off the train, and even more delicately, they locked me behind bars. A small prison hut, really, with two young officers watching me from outside with guns.

Then they went through my suitcase, then through my hand bag and then through my computer.

They were amused:

– So, what are you doing here, madame, smuggling yourself in our country without a visa?

– No, I wasn’t , I said bewildered, I was just traveling back home.

– But you took the wrong train, you cannot travel Europe without a visa.

– No, I said, I just took a train that happens to cross this small country, a nation smaller than the city I come from, a country where the plastic covers on the haystacks look fancier than tablecloths in my country.

– We will have to charge you with an attempt to cross our border illegally.

– But I legally gave you my passport. It was a mistake, my country split up and Europe united…you know, it was such a big confusion…

– We don’t remember your ex-country. The two young blonde border officers stared at me.

I looked at them. Of course, they were too young to remember or even know, why would they care, they were just doing their job.

– You are a writer, one of them says.

– Yes, I am.

– What do you write about, asks he.

– Stuff like this really, I answered vividly, crossing the borders, messing with laws and people.

He was taken aback.

– We must take you immediately to your embassy, in the capital.

– No, I must call my lawyer, you must give me the phone.

It was actually a moment of hands-on struggle between us: the European new order and non-European individual.

The young officer said:

– If we let you go into no-man’s land between borders, you can wait for a couple of hours over there, and then enter Croatia, the country you travelled from. Since from tomorrow, the visa regime in Croatia for Serbs is abolished. You could sleep in the no-man’s land if they don’t let you into Croatia.

– It’ s a deal, I said.

And we did it.

They deported me a couple of kilometers, into nobody’s land where there was literally nothing. I walked slowly, dragging my luggage to the border, which soon enough would stop being one. I reached it, I crossed it because of a kind officer who looked the other way, and I took another train south.

Then a middle aged train conductor checked my new ticket to the south.

– Didn’t you go north only a couple of hours ago?

– Yes I did, I said. I tried to reach to my same destination but I took the wrong direction.

– Don’t you read your tickets, check your trains?

– No I don’t, I said peevishly, as if admitting that I never go to doctors for a regular check up.

– Well you should madame, this world today is all about trains and proper tickets and papers.

He was right: I looked at his kind elderly face with wrinkles, the devoted body bent over his conductor’s heavy bag, his stamps lost in a smaller bag. I imagined his long-sought pension round the corner, his future life, that of a railway clerk in pension: a little bit of gardening, a little bit of cooking, and a lot of memories of trips, and people he met and treated, or mistreated.

I remembered Walter Benjamin’s suicide at the border while waiting for a visa that arrived only hours too late. A Jew trying to escape Nazi Germany: a philosopher trying to describe the world he was living in. Which Benjamin did perfectly: only he did not have the patience and strength to survive it.

By Jasmina Tešanović

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Editorial comment:

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This story has been written in Jun 2003 at the time when visa regime between Croatia and Serbia has been finally abandoned. But Serbian passport holders still needed a visa for Slovenia. (Slovenia joined the European Union one year later, on 1 May 2004). Jasmina Tešanović actually traveled from Zagreb to Belgrade. The train she took first was going over Slovenia, then she had to change to the one that was going from Zagreb to Belgrade over Budapest and where she would not need a visa.

Jasmina Tešanović is a women without homeland and without mother tongue, who lives and works on-line.

This story that she has kindly contributed to the “Missplaced Women?” blog is a part from her on-line book in english: ”My Life Without Me”. In Serbian language “Moj zivot bez mene”, has been publish by Rende, Belgrade in  2013. Italian version  “La mia vita senza di me”, Infinito, Bologna, 2014.

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