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Ina Musafija: The Story of A Local Woman Who Fled Conflict In Yugoslavia to Become An Important Part of Her Family and Community

Ina Musafija is the matriarch of her family of three children, and grandchildren, who are spread between both Oregon and Canada. Her daughter Tamara says “When my kids were little, she did babysitting; she looked after them a lot.  [At one point we] came to live with my Mom. She’d cook for you, take you places.”

According to Tamara, Ina never wants family members to put anything off; if there’s a medical issue go see a doctor. If there’s something else that needs attention, pay attention to it; don’t be in denial.  

As well as staying close with her two daughters in Corvallis, Ina is close with her son’s family and her brother in Canada. These close family connections are even more impressive considering that until 1992, Ina and her family had lived in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and had to completely up-root when fighting erupted in the country.

Tamara and her mother Ina sat down to talk on a wintry afternoon in February in Ina’s home.  Potted plants grow in profusion outside the front door, and inside it is cozy with cups of tea and homemade cake. The cake was left over from her grandson’s birthday.

Weeks earlier, the mixing bowl to make the cake was sitting inside Ina’s shopping bag as she waited to board the city bus. Also in the bag was a 2019 Northern Lights Calendar. Ina had just watched a movie at Corvallis’ Darkside Theater.

She sees movies at the Darkside regularly, including “The Wife,” which she saw with Tamara. “I liked this movie,” says Ina. “I liked this relationship [between the husband and wife]. They are so sincere with each other.” Ina uses the word sincere regularly, and her daughter Tamara said that telling the truth is very important in their family.

In a family story that demonstrates the importance of telling the truth, when Tamara was a little girl, her teacher asked her who had done her homework. Tamara said, “I don’t know. I fell asleep. It was either my father or my mother.” The teacher was impressed that she told the truth, and so was Ina. Ina likes this story. Tamara said that her mother encouraged her to be a good student by promising her a bicycle. At this time she was eight or nine and she earned the bicycle in six months. She had been a good student ever since, going on to earn her master’s degree.

The arts played an important part in Musafija’s life in her native Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, as well as her life in Corvallis. A week after watching “The Wife” with Tamara, she saw the famous guitarist Carlos Santana play for the “very professional” flamenco dancers at OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center, with her youngest daughter Miriam and her children.

In 1992, Ina and her husband Albert Musafija left their native Sarajevo with Miriam. Their oldest daughter, Tamara, was studying in the United States and their son, Mayo, was grown up and encouraged the move. He was a journalist in Sarajevo at the time and now lives in Canada. Before making the difficult decision to leave, Ina joined fellow citizens of all ethnicities who protested the sudden civil war that was tearing apart their country.

Rock stars and actors performed their repertoire in basements for free to keep up the spirits of the people in Sarajevo. On a recent visit, Ina’s friend recalled the tremendous call to action, solidarity, and human kindness that arose among Yugoslavians at that time in the face of their great hardships.

Ina, who worked in Sarajevo as a philosophy professor, keeps up with philosophy. In the magazine “Philosophy Now,” she points out an article about the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, who was the subject of her doctoral thesis. Existentialism holds that one is totally free and responsible for his acts, and that this responsibility is a source of dread and anguish that encompasses oneself.

Ina remembers hearing on the radio in Sarajevo, which was at that time part of Yugoslavia and now is in Bosnia, a grandmother, pleading for peace for her grandchildren. The grandmother, says Ina, was Muslim. Ina herself, is Jewish. She remembers attending synagogue on Yom Kippur with her grandmother. When Ina heard her fellow citizen, the Muslim grandmother, pleading for unity on the radio, Ina told her husband and daughter she had to go out to join the protests for unity, and she did.

A friend of Ina’s son is an experienced marksman and he was recruited to join in the fighting but decided to leave the country instead, a decision Ina is proud of him for. But leaving her country was hard for Ina.

For decades, Ina has attended a French conversation club in Corvallis. Longtime fellow member Marcia Shapiro says, “Ina is very much tied to her family. Family is everything I think to Ina. Ina is an interesting person, did her dissertation on Sartre, but I think family is everything to her, more than your average American anyway. She’s pretty amazing.”

Story and Photos by Karen Canan

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