Zlatko (Giano) Terzic is a storyteller, moving with ease from one anecdote to another, making fitting appraisals of people and life. I have known Giano for some five years and we forged our friendship over coffee. His European background perhaps offers him a greater coffee pedigree than I, as I order my skim cappuccino (or ‘fake coffee’ to Giano), and he a short black.

We are sitting in Alen’s Espresso at Roma Street.

“When you have a coffee it is not about coffee,” Giano confides. “The joy of coffee is about sitting down and taking a moment back and enjoying your surroundings.”

Gesturing around the crowded coffee shop he continues, “it is listening to two noisy women in the background, or flicking through the papers, and checking what the person over there is wearing, or seeing who is walking past, enjoying the weather, just taking life back for 15 to 20 minutes.”

He takes it all in.

So why Alen’s of all the coffee shops in all of Brisbane? I ask.

“Alen comes from Mostar (Giano’s hometown), about two streets up from me.

“We didn’t know each other then but we have common friends. He makes coffee how coffee should be made.

“To be honest we can come from the same town and be in Australia but if we don’t agree on how coffee is made then I wouldn’t be drinking coffee here, I can tell it to you!” he assures me.

Giano is one in a line of serious coffee drinkers. He describes his father’s daily ritual of sitting together with friends in Mostar, sipping coffee. The archetypical European men.

Giano grins as he describes his father’s posse, a group you must be invited to join, and even then, you must abide by the unspoken rules.

“One of the men introduced a young bloke to the group, and they were all sitting and watching these gorgeous women walking past, and one would say ‘ahhhhhhh!’” He lets out an audible sigh.

“And then this young kid says “hmm ahhhhh ahhhhh” – you know, he just did it twice.

“So when the session was finished one of the men said to the guy who brought him ‘can you please not bring him any more? He talks too much.’”

Giano’s belly laugh erupts and now it is our raucous conversation which draws attention in Alen’s.

His stories of Mostar, a picturesque town in Bosnia-Herzegovina, make you dream of jaunts in Europe. The paved windy streets, the stone bridge that glues Mostar together, people laying on the water’s edge. It has taken me several years to piece together how Giano came to leave the quaint, stony streets of Mostar and make Brisbane his home, as it is not a story he relishes reliving.

Born in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, to a Bosnian Muslim mother and Serb Orthodox Christian father, Giano and brother Igor fled to Germany in 1992, early during the Bosnian war.

His disparate heritage weighed on their future as cousins and friends on warring sides approached the young men to wear the uniforms of Croatia and Serbia. He said the choice was no choice at all and at the insistence of their parents, the boys left for Germany.

Giano’s light demeanour darkens as he remembers the start of the war.

“You sort of slowly started seeing division between friends. You know one day they are sitting drinking their coffee together and the next day you can see them sitting together but in different uniforms.

“And then the war slowly starts coming to you.

“Even in Slovenia, people didn’t pay attention to it. It went to Croatia; you don’t pay attention to it. It starts in northern Bosnia; you don’t pay attention to it. It comes to your town, but it’s in a different suburb; you don’t pay attention to it because you are thinking ‘those guys over there are different. It won’t happen to us’.

“I think it is the old thing of refusing to accept the inevitable is coming. The whole change in people’s reaction to life; the humanity just disappears totally.”

Giano left Mostar when he was only 18. It may have been his boyish optimism, or perhaps because he was a young man who had never experienced war, but Giano packed lightly, sharing one bag with his brother.

“We’ll spend some time there (Germany). We will earn some money. We will buy a car or motorbike and we will come back and continue uni, or whatever else.”

For Giano and Igor, a return to Mostar was a fait-accompli.

“You almost know 50 girls that you are going to marry, or who you might marry. You are going to get a job in that town, you are going to marry someone from that town… so it was the path; it was almost written for you.”

His detour from this path was aided by the people who resisted the wartime propaganda, and showed brave kindness to strangers.

At the German border Igor and Giano were helped by a Croatian woman, a friend of his uncle.

“You can’t judge people,” he reflects, “Even during the war.

“You can’t generalise based on nationality or religion or anything else because she (the Croatian woman) was the one who got us into Germany, with the help of my uncle, she was the one who put herself out.

“She went to the German border when the border guard wouldn’t let us through without visas or proper papers. She said we were her nephews.”

Amongst his stories Giano always comes back to people. His time in Australia has been marked by people, explaining that Australians’ ‘give it a go’ attitude is inimitable.

“The difference is people. They are the ones who shape you one way or another. The nicest thing about Australian society is its people – generally speaking.

“Wonderful, accepting, interesting, decent.”

Giano made the decision to move to Australia as he sought a ‘free future’ that he could not quite grasp in Germany. He describes life as a refugee in Germany as ‘all about administration’, a system where he reported regularly to the Foreign Office, to let them know he was present and accounted for.

His encounter with Australia’s foreign department, however, was utterly polar to his German memories.

“When I arrived in Australia I kept asking people, where do I have to go to report that firstly, I’m in the country? And secondly, I need to give them my address, so authorities know where I live.

“I finally found the Office of Multicultural Affairs and I went to talk to a public servant and I said ‘here I am to report that I am in the country’.

“The man said, ‘thank you; that’s great. Ummm…anything else?’” Giano laughs at the memory. You can see that the man’s confused response still tickles him.

“I said, ‘well, aren’t you going to take some of my details, and my address? I’m in the country, I need to report myself.’

“And the poor guy has just realised after about five minutes of trying to find out what really happened here. He said ‘ahhh mate, can I just tell you something? You are here now so don’t worry about anything. You are here with us. You are one of us. Just go out and live a life’.”

“It was probably the best thing, or the best welcome, you could ever get. And I realised that oh, this is something different.

“Oh shit I feel free.”

Free to travel to his family in Mostar, free to raise his daughter Milla as he and his partner Vanessa see fit, and free to enjoy coffee, and take a little bit of life back.

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