Refugees bringing memories to life, one sip at a time

Fildžan. E. Kulašić

Fildžan. E. Kulašić


Gathering Grounds preserves stories and images about the social life of coffee rituals from the Yugoslav region in order to build connections among refugees and expand awareness of the region’s diverse histories and global diaspora.

Project Core Principles:

  1. We foreground connections across generations and between refugees displaced by the 1990s conflicts in the former Yugoslavia (1991-2001). Usually a younger person interviews an elder person.

  2. Gathering Grounds emphasizes the great variety of coffee objects, vocabulary, and practices across the Yugoslav region.

  3. We welcome all stories, be they happy, sad, funny, nostalgic, and more…

We envision Gathering Grounds as a virtual gathering space for the Bosnian Yugoslav diaspora and people interested in the region’s varied cultures and shared histories.

Meliha bringing memories to life. A. Croegaert

Meliha bringing memories to life. A. Croegaert


Between 1992-2012, more than 170,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia arrived in the United States. They are among the more than two million people displaced by political confrontations in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Muslim Bosnian women and children comprised the majority of this refugee cohort.

During my research exploring the impacts of forced migration and relocation among Bosnians in Chicago, people consistently expressed sadness that:

“No one asks us about our lives before the war.”

In particular, women expressed frustration that people did not ask about their working lives: where they went to school, what kind of jobs they had, what sort of homes they made. They wanted people to recognize that their lives did not begin and end with the traumas of war.

By focusing interviews on traditional coffee practices, women are able to share stories with the younger generation. This type of coffee preparation and service is a social ritual that is rarely done alone. It helps create the space to share information, and to connect over memories that are funny, happy, nostalgic, sad, and sometimes painful.

Džezve, fildžani, and handgrinder in Mostar market stall, 2009. A. Croegaert

Džezve, fildžani, and handgrinder in Mostar market stall, 2009. A. Croegaert


Sometimes referred to as “Turkish coffee,” or simply “pravu kafu” / the real coffee, the traditional Bosnian coffee practice uses džezve (s. džezva), symbolically significant coffee pots found across the Balkan Peninsula, and in regions influenced by the Ottoman period. In Bosnia they are often made of copper and are etched with regionally emblematic motifs. There is also a wide variety of colorful enamel-coated džezve in use. Coffee is served in fildžani (s. fildžan), small porcelain cups with no handle. Many women of the older generation were given their first džezva and fildžan by their husband’s family as part of their wedding gift. These coffee sets helped to establish a new couple’s first space, even if it was a small simple room attached to (most often) the husband’s parents’ home. Džezve were among the prized possessions women tried to bring with them as they fled their homes during the war.

Nowadays most people use electric coffeemakers and espresso machines, and džezve and fildžani may be displayed more than used. When traditional coffee is prepared it is a sign of great affection.

“How to drink Bosnian coffee.” Uploaded to youtube by Anesa Kratovac on 2016-09-24.

how we started

My name is Ana Croegaert and I am a Cultural Anthropologist. I created the project as a response to women refugees’ sadness that “No one asks us about our lives before the war,” and the younger generation’s desire to learn about their parents’ worlds. I was served Bosnian coffee throughout my field research looking at how Bosnian refugee-migrants drew on social institutions to situate themselves after their forced migration, and I noticed that people shared information and emotion when serving and drinking this coffee. In the Bosnian tradition, “coffee is for conversation,” as one participant, Meliha, puts it. I was joined by contributors Dijana Hodžić, Elmina Kulašić, Dženita Lukačević-Vilić, Memo Nuhbegović, Adela Sajdel-Cerić, and Snežana Žabić. I hold a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Northwestern University and my research explores the intersections of urban and domestic space, migration and social inequality, art and aesthetics.