My name is Jasminka Hidanovic, when I was 4 years old my family and I fled from the civil war in former Yugoslavia to the Netherlands as refugees. As we were forced to leave our beloved country, my parents were roaming through life like ghosts feeling a deep sense of nostalgia.
In 1997 my parents opened a bicycle store in Rotterdam where I assisted them daily before and after school. One day a curious customer greeted my parents in Bosnian and asked about their story. I will never forget how my parents’s eyes instantly lit up. He had awoken something inside them. They felt acknowledged and felt human again in a country where up to that point they felt lost and invisible.
It was as if he snapped his fingers and woke them up from a hypnosis. I had witnessed a man who seemed to have superpowers. The way this man connected with my parents had such an impact, that I decided I wanted to do the same for others. I decided to take it up a notch and with my passion for languages I learned how to sing songs from all over the world. Just so that I could sing someone back to life by seeing, hearing and acknowledging their heritage through a song.
I have always been internationally oriented and my wish was to meet people from different cultures and travel the world. I am very fortunate that my wish was granted. In 2012, whilst studying European Law, I moved to the United Arab Emirates to fly as an air hostess for a Middle-Eastern airline. I got to see the most beautiful places, met the most diverse people and learned valuable lessons about the world. On every flight I worked with a completely different international team of hardworking people. Sometimes the crew on board spoke up to 25 languages. I had countless eye-opening conversations with crew and passengers. It was the greatest adventure of my life. And yet, it was the loneliest as well. With demanding schedules, it was hard to meet with my cabin crew friends in Dubai. When I landed, they took off and vice versa. On top of that, I felt homesick sometimes.
I started wondering about the reasons people were flying with us. Business or pleasure? Was it a happy occasion or was it a sad one? What all these passengers had in common was that they all had one place that they call home. I went out of my way to exceed their expectations to provide them the best inflight experience by surprising them with a simple greeting in their language or a few lines from a song from the place they call home. I got the most heart-warming reactions and facilitated beautiful interactions.
On a flight to New Delhi I noticed an elderly Indian lady travelling alone and staring at a black screen in front of her. While I helped her find a nice movie to watch, I sang a famous Bollywood song to her. Her eyes lit up and she sang with me while other passengers were enjoying our interaction. With a smile from ear to ear she swept her hands beside my face and gave me her blessings. Just like a scene from a Bollywood movie. After we landed in New Delhi and I said goodbye to our passengers she was humming ‘our’ song on her way out and blew me a hand kiss. I am sure this moment awoke something inside her and that this song was stuck in her head the entire day.
In the hectic and divided world we live in today we all need a random act of empathy to make us feel acknowledged, appreciated and respected. This is what my parents needed when they felt lost in a strange country, they had the feeling that no one could understand them. It is that sense of acknowledgment, appreciation, and respect that inspired and motivated me to empower and connect people.
And it was not just the passengers for whom connection was important. I could tell you about all the exhausted, homesick taxi drivers from South-East Asia and Africa with whom I interacted through song on the way to and from the airport. Hence, it is the people traveling, living, labouring far from home, and other migrant workers in Dubai (who work under terrible working conditions) that inspired me to pursue a career in human rights. And so, in 2014 I left flying to obtain a master’s degree in International Human Rights Law. Subsequently, I worked on the promotion of international justice, prevention of radicalization and discrimination issues for the Dutch government.
Today, I fight for an inclusive society and equal rights for all. Due to my refugee background, I understand like no other the importance of participation as a fully fledged member of society. In the current Dutch society, populism has created polarization. I notice a deafening inability to listen to one another and a growing lack of communication. I am sure that the current gap between people could be closed by genuine interest in one another, as connection is key to an inclusive society. What could we do in our daily lives to stimulate dialogue? Strangely enough, sometimes a step towards living in harmony is simply a shared melody.