The Sarajevo shoeshine man everyone loved — and misses

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Marco Werman: This next story is about a shoeshine man who became a beloved fixture in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. "Uncle Misho" died on Monday at the age of 82. For decades it was his job to polish the shoes of residents in Sarajevo. Apparently he even kept on working when the war was raging in the 90's. Now, people in Sarajevo want a statue erected in his memory. Elvira Jukic is a journalist in Sarajevo. She's been writing about Uncle Misho or Chika Misho. Who was Uncle Misho? What was his real name? I don't think that's his real name. Elvira Jukic: His real name was Hosein Hasani which barely anyone knew, even though everybody in Sarajevo, I don't know a person, I mean you can always find one, but I don't a person who doesn't know who was Chika Misho, and nobody knew his name. I knew his name for the last couple of ways, but not for always. Everybody knew him as Chika Misho or, as we could translate, "Uncle Misho". Werman: Mm, so what's his story? Where did he come from and how did he end up with this kind of permanent position on the boulevards in Sarajevo shining shoes? Jukic: He came to Sarajevo as a teenager with his family from Kosovo. And there were nine of them, brothers and sisters, and they all came here to Sarajevo with their father and mother. And Misho used to say that he was training to, that he was playing box, he wanted to be a boxer and he was training to box for seven years and then realized he couldn't earn a living playing this sport. And then when he was something around twenty, he took over this job from his father who was also a shoeshiner in Sarajevo when they came. He said he came in '46, in 1946 to Sarajevo. So when he was twenty, he took over this job and, as he said, he did it every since he was twenty and he died aged eighty-two. Werman: Right. Now, you met him several times. I guess it's impossible not to meet him. He's out there on the street everyday, right? Jukic: Yeah. I actually took a photo of him nine years ago or something like that and I found that photo yesterday and I published it in my article, and I was very glad that I found it because, for me, it's an old photo which I took with an analog camera. So it's black and white and it describes the moment with him. Werman: Yeah, he looks very distinguished I've got to say. I mean he's a shoeshine man, but still. Jukic: In the last couple of years, he was always wearing a black coat and a man's hat and he had this mustache and he was always looking nicely dressed and he was always smiling. I couldn't remember that I saw him once that he wasn't smiling. Werman: And when you took that picture of him I gathered he really wanted to be proper and have your portrait be good. Jukic: Yeah, yeah. He did. Yeah, he wanted to pose, like he said something like, "Let me sit straightly. Now take a photo of me." Werman: Elvira, is it true he kept on shining shoes even when the war was raging in the 90's? And why did he do that? Jukic: Yeah, I wasn't here during the war. I mean I was four when the war began, so I couldn't say by myself, but people who used to live in Sarajevo and also he said in many interviews that he was here in Sarajevo during the war and he kept on coming everyday because he didn't have anything else to do. And he also said that many people, even rich people and poor people, used to help him during the war because he was in the main street, sitting there everyday. Werman: Now, he took the business of shining shoes over from his dad and I gather his son is now gonna keep the business going? Jukic: I'm not sure about that, but there is an interesting story about his daughter whom he adopted. His wife found this baby more than forty years ago, near a garbage dump in the streets. Werman: Abandoned? Jukic: Abandoned. And he said in one interview that his wife called him and said, "Misho, I've found a pack of millions," like money. She wanted to say that she found a treasure and he kept on saying that that really was a treasure for him and his wife. Werman: Wow, what an incredible story, and this is a humble shoeshine man who manages to pull off this incredibly generous thing. Jukic: Yeah. Werman: Elvira Jukic, a journalist in Sarajevo. Thanks very much for speaking with us about Uncle Misho. Really appreciate it. Jukic: Thanks to you too.