The Pigeon Press (Portland, Oregon)
Dario Jungic has a way of bringing everyone into his little world where time just isn’t an issue. He is a man who came to Portland from Bosnia following the conflict that broke up Yugoslavia. He almost always gave a warm answer, no matter how difficult the question.
“Yugoslavia, like this all together, was something like- you know utopia from Marxism?” Dario said. “I think Yugoslavia was the closest to living it.”
Dario still talks about Yugoslavia like he is describing a place that is still his home. Unfortunately, it isn’t still home for him.
“It was beautiful country and then we destroyed it in one year… everything,” Dario said.
Dario said the damage was unimaginable. Every tragedy that happened affected a friend or neighbor, which made everything that much more personal.
“One musician said, beautiful, it’s hard for me to say in English but he said, ‘We never believe, you know, every grenade that exploded on someone else’s house, it was a neighbor, not a tower,’” Dario said. “I just woke up one morning and there was a tank in front of the house.”
There was only one way for Dario to get out; he had to give all his possessions to the military and go to Croatia. The problem was, he needed a visa.
“My friend found paper, someone from the neighborhood had this paper [for a visa] and he erased names and then copied and he put our names,” Dario said.
He and his friend traveled 50 miles to the border of Bosnia and went through 16 checkpoints.
Eventually, Dario made it to Croatia. Though he was a refugee, his mother was Croatian so he was able to obtain citizenship. He had a few options: go to war, flee to another country or stay and help other refugees. Dario decided to stay as a volunteer.
Dario worked for Suncokret, a Croatian refugee organization.
“In order to work in Suncokret you have to speak English, and I didn’t speak a word of English,” Dario said. “And I come and interview and I didn’t know it is required. So I come in office and everybody is like, German, Dutch, Spanish and one girl Croatian. And she interviewed me in Croatian and after last question she said, ‘You speak English?’ and I said, ‘Of course.’”
He paid refugee kids in chocolate to teach him English, so when he had to do a follow-up interview three months later, this time in English to determine if he could stay as a volunteer, he passed.
In 1996, after the war ended, Dario and his girlfriend at the time, now wife, Jasna, decided they were going to move to the United States. Although they both went to America it was originally Jasna’s idea.
One day Jasna decided to take advantage of their routine, which was to drive people to town whenever someone had an interview with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a UN refugee agency. Dario would drive and Jasna would interpret.
“One day they came out and usually it’s full, they brought people and it was only two people,” Dario said. “We come there and I said, ‘Okay I am leaving,’ and Jasna said, ‘No, wait, in just a half hour we go together,’ and I say okay. And then a woman went out and said, ‘Who is waiting for America?’ And I said, “Nobody” and Jasna said, ‘Me.’”
According to Dario, a woman who had worked at the same refugee camp as the Jungics went to work for UNHCR and found out that they had applied to leave Bosnia. Dario knew that she was mad at them for not telling her. Even so, she took their forms and moved them from the bottom of the stack of applications to the top. They left for America two weeks after that.
In order for the Jungics to move to America, Wade Willis, the theater teacher at Northwest Academy, had to sponsor them. Willis met them while he was volunteering in a Bosnian refugee camp. The Jungics have been a big part of Willis’ inspiration to write a musical based on his experiences as a volunteer, called “Stories from Illyria” recently performed by students at Northwest Academy.
“Basically it came down to, I had to be financially responsible for them for three months,” Willis said.
Willis brought the Jungics to Portland and helped them get started. They both got jobs as interpreters at the International Refugee Center of Oregon.
Everything Dario has been through was just one little part of his life, and he makes that clear because he has experienced much more than just his suffering. Dario has now begun a new chapter; he has opened Marino Adriatic Cafe here.
The cafe serves Bosnian coffee and food. They serve a range of food items that includes paninis, burgers, desserts and a Bosnian style pita dish. In case all that isn’t enough, they also have a belly dancer perform every other Friday.
In 2010 the cafe was voted the most romantic restaurant in Portland by the users of the app Urbanspoon.
“I found myself staying for four hours and not having the inclination to leave,” Josephine Appleyard, a sophomore in the theater program, said. “The cafe has a home-like feeling where you become relaxed and content.”
Though they were glad to be in Portland, Dario struggled with culture shock. He missed the tight-knit society that was such a huge part of Bosnian culture.
“When I tell people that our city was 300,000 people and that everybody know each other they cannot even imagine this,” Dario said.
They went from a place where they knew everyone, to a place where they only knew Willis.
In addition to the culture shock, Dario, understandably, was also not in love with all the rain.
“We are watching basketball game and they talk about Clyde Drexler, they say he is coming from the most rainy city in the world,” Dario said. “And I said, ‘Who can be crazy to live in the worst [climate in the world]?’ and they say Portland, Oregon.”
Even with Dario’s struggles with the cultural differences, and the horrible weather, he is still glad he came to Portland.
There was only one question Dario did not answer warm-heartedly. Would he ever go back to Bosnia? Without hesitation, he firmly said no.
Photo Credit: H Matthew Howarth