“Today, this country is made for and only serves the privileged. The world is losing respect for the United States.”
I looked up and saw slate. Everything was polished, primped, and measured. The ‘scrapers looked down on me in my Old Navy jeans, and still I looked up. We were intimidated. The heart of FiDi beat, and beat, and beat, so that everyone around could hear. Salary suits rushed this and that way, and we really didn’t know what to do. The ones standing still were fixated on their phones and the journey to the butt of a three-inch cigarette.
We approached Beba. She was dressed to the “workplace-casual” nines. She sported a white blazer over a leather top, Starbucks in hand. We probably caught her at the end of her lunch break. She didn’t seem surprised at all that we wanted to talk to her, like we’d spoken somewhere before.
Beba comes from Bosnia & Herzegovina, and immediately spoke on what she referred to as “the best diplomatic success” of her home country. Her life in the U.S. started in Memphis, later to New York, back to Memphis, and finally to San Francisco. “My daughter graduated from Harvard University and moved to San Francisco for both her career and to start a family. My husband and I moved here to be close to her and to our granddaughter.” Her face immediately beamed at her own mention of her granddaughter. The pride seeped from the edges of her smile as she stopped everything that she was doing — questions unanswered — to show us photos and videos of her, active and giggling. She was eager to continue; the joy that stemmed was infectious. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to spend the day with my mom after that.
Beba’s been in San Francisco since 2014, and her gradual impression of the city has shifted over the past several years. “The City is always under construction. There are a lot of bad conditions, a lot more people than when I first remember, and the rent — I don’t know how people pay it. But I understand it, because from one point of view you see it as a strong investment.” Beba worked in the behemoth of the building that stood directly behind us. She talked about her career as an AVP in International Trade Financing for Bank of America. The staccato of her voice blended pure with the confidence behind it. “I love what I do. My career allows me to cross operational workflow with the analytical. I love it.” The building looked like it went for miles. My eyes couldn’t reach its end, and I wondered what it was like to live that kind of life.
Outside of BofA, Beba’s into biking. Big time. She and her husband live in Walnut Creek and are always finding reasons to be outside. “We bike, we hike. We’re always finding mountains to climb. If we’re not doing that, we’re in San Francisco visiting our granddaughter.” Our conversation was steady, unrushed. We jumped all over the place — my fault, probably — but she took her time talking about what she liked, and what she didn’t like. On the topic of music, her face bit and her response made me laugh. “That Top 40 stuff these days is awful. Absolutely terrible.” I couldn’t exactly disagree. “Give me that classic rock, jazz, and blues. But we don’t get that good stuff anymore. I wish we did!”
With her career in mind, I was curious to dig into her thoughts on the state of the world outside of her own. What about the country, and the world, have you observed? What can be fixed? She immediately focused on the political, as the majority of the people we’ve met thus far have. “This country’s situation… it’s hard to believe. Hard to believe that we have a president in 2017 that’s building an oligarchy…. A monarchy. In 2017!” Go on. “I’ve been in this country for many, many years. I pay my tax dollars. And now the dollars I pay are going towards such racism, such ignorance. We live in one of the greatest countries in the world, and we are on the brink of losing so much respect on the world stage…” If not already, we both murmured.
“I visit Bosnia every year, and wow! You won’t believe how many people are quick to comment and critique, and what can I do? All I can do is agree, and bask in the frustration.” Her chords were stern, and it was surprising to hear this kind of sentiment from someone in her field. That assumption helped confirm the exact reason why we embarked on this journey in the first place.
“Today, this country is made for and only serves the privileged. The world is losing respect for the United States. And you young people, all you young people are so hopeful that it will get better, but with that needs to be a call to action. You need to realize that urgency is key. You all have the power to change so much if there is more put behind the rhetoric.” I stood there and listened. Bryan had stopped photographing. He was listening, too. There was a brief silence before we shook hands and made our way back through the Financial District.