Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Yugoslavia Native Reports On Visit to "The Old Country" After 16 Years
Sixteen years ago, Nikolai Onischenko and his wife, Stana, arrived in Rochester with only a few clothes, some dishes and a few bunches of garlic. Their arrival here from their native Yugoslavia had been sponsored by First Congregational Church as part of the displaced persons program. They and thousands of others had wandered throughout Europe on aimless trips that finally led to displaced persons camps.
In Rochester, Stana has become a familiar face. She can neither read nor write English and she is difficult to understand. But many store owners found she was willing to sweep up, scrub floors and wash walls. She also performs the same jobs in private homes.
THOUSANDS OF SCRUBBED floors later, she has saved enough money to fulfill her dream of returning to her homeland for a visit. So last July she sailed aboard the Rotterdam for LeHarve, France. From Paris she took a train that carried her to the capital city of Belgrade, and finally another train to her hometown. There, 20 relatives and friends welcomed her at the station— and a three-month reunion celebration followed.
Stana found that her first duty was to report to the police station for a “signing in.” That is a regulation in the communist country headed by Marshal Tito. She found the country much better off than when she left it. No longer are there mattresses filled with corn husks. No longer is corn bread the main fare. And people there can still go to church if they want to.
There’s TV, there’s cars,” Stana reported. “Everybody eat and drink all the time. Everybody make whiskey or wine” — at least everyone who owned a home and had a few fruit trees on the premises.
“But I never want to live there again, just visit,” Stana explained.
“One old man, a communist, I argue with. He say Yugoslavia much better than the United States. I say that the United States is best and I never want to live in Yugoslavia again because of the communists. He say, “Why don’t you stay in the United States.” I tell him that I’m going back to the United States. I’m not afraid of those communists.”
Stana visited with a brother and sister and their families who live only a few blocks apart. She also spent a month visiting the farm of the family of her first husband, whom she saw murdered 26 years ago.
WITH HER VISIT finally ended, she reported once more to the police station to “sign out.” She made a four-day crossing of the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary. Arriving in Detroit by train at 7:30 a.m., Stana decided not to interrupt her husband’s work day, so she took a taxi all the way to Rochester.
“Maybe Nikolai and I go back again in three years after he retire,” Stana declared. Nikolai, however, has no known relatives surviving to visit.
Back again scrubbing floors and cleaning homes, Stana is sure that America is really her home.
They live in a tidy little home on Second Street that Nikolai attractively remodeled inside. In only 16 years they have paid for the house— an achievement not many of us can brag about.
And how many of us started out with a few dishes and a couple bunches of garlic?