My name is Zahida

"My last name, Dudic, is one that I got from marriage. Even though I am divorced, I have never changed it back. I have a son and a daughter, and my wrecked marriage has actually yielded some good."

I was born in 1960, which was such a long time ago. I had such a carefree childhood. I’m a really emotional person in general, so the outlook that I have on my life, both looking back and looking forward, will sound like poetry. And I don’t want to be falsely humble. So I will say freely that I am a really generous person and I choose to live my life like that. I have two sisters and two brothers. Both of my brothers had to have a leg amputated after being injured during the war.

I graduated from high school and I wanted to continue with my studies, but my father got really ill and we were not in a very good financial situation. So I could not continue with my education and I got married instead. That turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in life, because I didn’t choose a good spouse.

I met him at my cousin’s place. It was a completely accidental meeting and we dated for just a short period of time and got married very young. I was only 20. And I didn’t leave until 28 years later and I’m really ashamed of that.

The marriage was bad from the beginning. But I hoped that people could change. I thought that if I was positive towards him, he would change. I believed that if you treated people in a positive way, then positive things would happen. That is what I hoped. But that was my biggest mistake. What it really did was to encourage him to do whatever he wanted to do.

He drank a lot and he was very aggressive and very impulsive, even though I am sure that he did love me. But that was not enough. He was this way from the beginning, even as a young man. And it became worse during the war.

We had been married 11 years when the war began. I was really afraid for my family, for my children. My mother and brothers became internally displaced people. And it was my duty to go and see them and to cook and clean for them. There were no phones, so I would need to go see them to check that everything was okay with them. My life was so stressful and so tumultuous, but one memory clearly stands out as one that I would gladly erase from my mind if I could. One day, I went to see my mother and she was with my aunt, her sister, and she was fine. She was standing, and everything looked normal. And the next day, I heard that she was dead. Just like that. I believe her heart just broke, for her two sons; her second son had just gone to hospital and also had his leg amputated and she just couldn’t take it.

I couldn’t leave my husband for the longest time for many reasons. You see, I had practically built the house we were living in and I didn’t want to leave it. It was my house. And my husband, he almost had a split-personality. Sometimes he would be good and kind and, in a way, that kept my hopes up that things might get better. And that’s how it went year in and year out, but sadly it never did. And there was also my son. My son would beg me to stay with his father. He said that he would be so ashamed if I were to leave his father. What could I have done at that point? I did not want to put my child through so much stress. And as I said, I hoped that things would get better but they never did.

The breaking point came one day. A scene happened in my house that I really can’t talk about. It’s too much pain to go through. But that night, my son packed my stuff and his stuff and he asked me to leave his father and he left with me. My son and I are now renting this small house here and my daughter is now married.

Just before I decided to leave my husband, I joined a woman’s organization. At that time I didn’t really know much about the group. I didn’t know what the program was or what they offered. My only reason for joining was to get out of the house to get a change of scenery and to get some peace somewhere else. And to meet other women and socialize.

I was already crystal clear on my life; I knew very well what my life was like. It's like a line in a Bosnian song that says: “There is always enough space in the top when you start from the bottom.” And so I realized that my life couldn’t get any worse. It could only get better because I was starting from the bottom.

When I joined Women for Women International, I was connected to a sponsor, and I sent her a bag, as a sign of my gratitude for the financial support she was giving me. With that money, I could start making bags. I would buy a little bit of material and make a bag or two, and then sell them and buy more material, and things evolved from there. That was four years ago, and since then I’ve sold almost 2,000 bags. In the beginning, I gave some away as gifts. And that was my version of a marketing campaign. Every buyer and every person that I gave a bag to is a free model and a free advertisement. Unfortunately, I never got any letters from my sponsor, and that made me feel really sad because at that point when I had zero self-confidence. I would have loved to hear from someone who lives on the other side of the planet and it would really have meant so much to me to know that that person cares about me. And it would really have helped me so much spiritually as well.

As for the topics in the program, each of them was interesting in its own way. For example, learning about women’s rights was stressful for me because I couldn’t exercise my rights even though I knew very well what my rights were. It was good to have someone in the sessions continuously telling you “you are worth it,” and “you know you can do it.” Even though somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that really is the way things are, you need to have someone say it out loud, and when I finally heard it being said out loud and I was given the positive energy I needed in my life, it really helped me to change things.

I didn’t know any of the women in my group when I started the training. And I only met them when I started the session. They were very interesting women. There was so much positive energy, so much laughter, and they also had a lot of stressful and difficult stories. That actually saddened me, but on the other hand, it also made me feel like I was not alone in my problems. There are also other women who have hard lives and problems very similar to mine, so I can relate to them.

I have really rebuilt my self-confidence a lot. I still have problems, and those problems still affect me, but it is such a wonderful thing to get recognition and to have people who, with their actions, tell me that I am worthy of respect. So, I began rebuilding my self-confidence by telling my story, not in front of all of the women, but in front of my sister and our trainer after the women left the session. When I first told her about my life, I felt horrible, but after a while I felt like a small part of my burden was lifted from my chest, and I talked in front of my trainer and my sister, and my sister and I, we cried a lot. When you have reached emotional rock bottom in every aspect of your life, just a small step forward actually helps you rebuild your life, because before that you didn’t really have a desire to live. But when you take a small step, you make a small breakthrough. You start to see things differently and to get back your will to live.

In terms of rebuilding my life materially, I had to start from scratch. After 28 years of marriage (I was 48 when I left my husband), I had nothing. I had moved into someone else’s house, which I rented, so I had more bills to pay, and even that was completely new for me. And the struggle and the battle for my life started all over again. I had to buy and get everything that a house needs to have, right down to spoons and that sort of thing.

I now live a very humble life. I spend as much as I earn and no more. And even though I sometimes don’t have enough income, the most important things is that I have my peace now. I am at peace. I live in comfortable surroundings. I am used to much, much worse, so I can call this happiness. And I need you to know that I am so honored by the attention that you have given me, because I know that I am a fighter, but I can’t believe that someone else recognizes me as a fighter.