On Liceulice vendor Nataša Bojanić: “Engaging in different situations, ranging from positive to the negative ones, gave Naca a greater sense of independence”

Liceulice vendor Nataša, who has Down Syndrome, smiles while wearing glasses and her vendor uniform of blue and orange

Photo by Skullcheez

By Dejan Kožul

  • Vendor stories
Originally published:
Liceulice street paper, Serbia

Natasa Bojanić – or Naca – is a familiar face to all those who pass her pitch in Belgrade, where she has been selling Liceulice for more than ten years. During those years, she has experienced many things – some bitter and some sweet. But Naca has learned to deal with the occasional inconveniences she faces, and she remains cheerful and determined not to give up.

Naca fled Bosnia and Herzegovina with her mother during the 1990s because of the war. Arriving in Serbia and living in different refugee centres was so very hard, and particularly during a time that was crucial for her further development. This is because, for the first time ever, Naca had to live as part of a larger group and wasn’t able to access special treatment for Down’s syndrome.

Naca’s mother says that if not for the war, Naca would be living in Sarajevo now. She would likely have attended a special home-schooling program had the family been able to stay in their native country.

“I never had the intention of giving her away because she needed me,” her mother Milena explains. “Naca went to the speech therapist and special education teacher at three years old, which yielded results even back then. As a mother, I had a feeling that she could progress and reach her full potential – with a lot of hard work and sacrifice, naturally. Understanding that working with her had great results really put wind in my sails to commit even more to it.”

The war and their arrival in Belgrade brought all that to an end. There were no options available for Naca, in terms of special education, and Milena made the decision that Naca should join her peers in a mainstream school. This taught her how to fight for her space. She also learned persistence and that there’s a fine line between persistence and stubbornness. This fact is also known to Olivera Majnamarević, a special education teacher from the MNRO Zvezdara association, who remembers Naca from her first arrival. That was twenty-one years ago.

It’s been ten years since Naca first started selling Liceulice. She was in the first group from the association who started working as vendors, and she was named seller of the year multiple times. People started taking interest in the magazine, in part due to her.

As a mother, I had a feeling that she could progress and reach her full potential – with a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

Naca's mother Milena

“Engaging in different situations, ranging from positive to the negative ones, gave Naca a greater sense of independence,” says Olivera, noting the very important fact that people on the street recognize her as Naca, a social individual, and not as a person with Down’s syndrome.

Naca looks forward to each new day and her interactions with those around her, both when working as a vendor and when socializing in the offices of MNRO Zvezdara association, where she regularly attends the theatre group on Wednesdays. She likes that the most, she smiles. She has participated in several plays organized by the association as well as in a literary competition, recitals in the City Hall and several shows.

In addition, Naca enjoys the movies. Not just domestic ones, but foreign action movies as well. She watches a horror every now and then, but she has nightmares afterwards. She used to go swimming as well; she used to win medals in spades. Now she says she has no time for it: in addition to her daily work as a vendor, she keeps busy by acting, participating in the activities of the association and taking taekwondo classes twice a week.

Naca has her quirks and flaws, like all of us. “Of course, there are qualities in her that I don’t like,” her mother says. “She’s headstrong, which can also be due to Down’s syndrome.” Milena tells me that she sometimes gets frustrated when daughter spends her tips on sweet treats like Coca Cola or Guarana.

What’s the secret of Naca’s success as a vendor? A good location for her pitch, combined with her charm and politeness with passers-by – that’s what. And Naca’s been empowered by her work too, through the everyday communication she enjoys with her customers. Some might say she’s a great example of the success of inclusion, but we mustn’t overlook the fact that Naca has played a leading role in shaping her life. Her drive to be here, among those around her, has enabled her to thrive.

Translated from Serbian via Translators without Borders

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