Sheila Kanja is the second African-American woman living in the Balkans that I have had the pleasure of knowing.  Sheila is living a life she could have never imagined growing up in the countryside of North Carolina.  Sheila made a life changing decision that would impact not only her life but those of her 3 children when she decided to move to Serbia for love.  I really appreciate her candor and honesty.  Read and enjoy Sheila’s story.  And oh my what a story it is!

1. Where were you born and where did you grow up?  I was born in Greenville, North Carolina. I grew up in Greene county and partially in Springfield, Massachusetts.

2. What is your husband’s ethnicity?   Bojan, my husband is Yugoslavian.  Sheila K 1

3. How did you meet?

Bojan and I met on Facebook back in January 2011 via mutual friends. We added each other in November 2012, but didn’t officially speak until around January.  We hit it off fairly quickly, talking day and night almost. We Skyped, talked on the phone and a lot of messaging.  Around March we were magnetic.  The attraction was unmistakable.

4. And how long had you known him when you got married?

We had known each other for about nine months. He proposed to me via Skype on March 15, 2012.

5. When were you married?  I got married 3 months after arriving here on August 10, 2012.  We got married by the justice of peace. It was nothing big or fancy, actually the opposite.  I married my husband in a $80 Military dress.  We want to get remarried in the church with the dress, tux, cake, vows, etc. I hope this can happen around our 5th year anniversary.

sheila k 26. Was this your first interracial relationship?  Yes.

7. How did you feel about interracial marriage/relationships before you were in one?

I felt no different from how I feel now. Love is love. It’s like hearing music that sparks your soul. You’ll get up and dance to the beat.

8. Did you face skeptics and criticism from friends and/or family about your interracial/international marriage?

Well, I had one friend that kept asking me was I sure about everything.  After 21 times, they stopped asking. My actions spoke louder than my words in this case.

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9. Do you recall how you first informed your friends and family of your interracial relationship and subsequent marriage & decision to move overseas?

They were fine about my husband but were not at all okay about me moving abroad and taking my children. Let’s just say my family tried everything to stop me and went nuts.  It got so intense that I just wanted to leave. I was a college educated, working, single mom.  I had been on my own since high school and felt fine about it.  But my family called all government agencies they could think of to intervene.  Later I realized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (yes the FBI) was watching us at the airport.  An agent showed up in photos we took at the airport.  It was one of the biggest misunderstandings that my family had as they thought I was going to Syria. Then they thought Siberia.  They never even thought of Serbia.  I understood their drastic measures but after talking to the Embassy, everything was good.  We have found ourselves mini celebrities as we were in a few newspapers.  And we have been featured in news segments and a television show called Mira Adanja Polak.  My family sees how happy we all are.  They have calmed down and accepted Bojan and our situation.  The rest is history.

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10. What about your husband’s family?

Absolutely no problems at all.  Bojan’s family accepted us right away and were extremely supportive.  We were blessed.

11. Have you felt pressure or experienced a significant difference between your non-interracial and interracial relationships?

I think in my case there is a bit of pressure only because of our location. We are the first interracial relationship here in our village.  So its like all eyes are on us. If we were living in a bigger city like Belgrade, I don’t think there would be any pressure at all, but I could be wrong.

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12.Do you feel that there are societal criticism and pressures concerning interracial relationships?

I think there are to an extent. You have people who believe that one should date and marry within their race. Then you have people who never seen those types of relationships. For example, it is normal for Serbs, Croatians, Bosnians or Hungarians to date and intermarry.  However, interracial relationships and marriage between Serbs, Africans, Asians and others is something that is new to the villagers. In the bigger cities it is more common.

13. Do you attribute or connect it to negative images of blacks from slavery or something else?

No. Many people were enslaved. Not just black people. My husband is Slavic. In history, they were enslaved. He considered a South Slav.

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14. You have children.  How did they factor in your decision to relocate overseas for love?

I have three children from a previous relationship.  My daughter Kaya is 11; my oldest son Jabari is 9; and Cameron Rashad is 8.  They are the reason why I’m here.  My children encouraged me to make the move.  They had fallen in love with Bojan too.   The original plan was for him to come to the states.  He talked about coming to the states, but I wanted to go to Serbia so I had to change that plan.  I got a little scared at the end getting cold feet because it so stressful.  My children wanted to leave badly and I made the decision — it was time to go.  We just packed up and left.

I called my best friend and asked him if he would my apartment after I left, and ship me the boxes I couldn’t take on the plane. He instantly said yes. I got everything in order and waited on my future husband, who ended up bringing us home to Serbia in May.  I have since had another baby named Jimi Mychel with my husband. He is 21 months.  Just fyi, the best healthcare here is for those who can afford it.  Jimi was born in a private hospital with no complications and no medication.  I just wanted my son and he has brought us all so much joy!

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Did you have any issue with the father of your three oldest children?  I mean, you did move them out of the country.

When it came down to my children’s father, I got lucky. He was on my daughter’s birth certificate, but not our sons. He signed for her passport. I was prepared get an attorney and to go to court if necessary but it wasn’t. He walked out on us 8 years ago and I could easily get full custody of my daughter since he is on her birth certificate. It was easy and not an issue.  

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15. Will race figure into child rearing for you now?

Yes.  In the aspect that we have a Slavic/African-American child and 3 other children to enjoy all 3 backgrounds.  There has been no negativity so far.  We will deal with negative aspects if and when it happens.  Almost 2 1/2 years have past and we are doing great.

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16. Are your families different religions?

We both have Christian backgrounds. My family is Baptist and Bojan’s family is Orthodox.

17. What about politics? Are you both on the same page?

Not really.  My husband is a die-hard Communist. As for me, I don’t affiliate myself with any political party nor do I trust them at all.Sheila K 12

18. Where do you live in Serbia?

We live in the Vojvodina region. In a village called Bingula.

19. Do you think Serbia in general is a good place for interracial couples & families?

Yes, if you have a career or job. The unemployment rate is ridiculously high here.

20. Do you work outside of the home?

No, my husband and I decided that I stay home with the baby while he works.  I decided to take on gardening. I’ve saved my family a lot of money just by planting and growing our own food. We have roosters, chickens, pigs, ducks and few rabbits. I was born and raised in North Carolina, so I’m not a stranger to the country life.  My upbringing has served me well and I love it!

In the future, I have plans to teach English as a second language to natives and foreigners. For now, Bojan is a History teacher and a Veterinarian tech.  He is a wonderful provider.

21. What do you do for fun?

I love gardening and I love growing our own food.  I like reading, writing poetry and going out with my husband and family.  Oh, and I love, love, love music!

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22. Do you have any suggestions for black women just entering or considering an interracial relationships?

My suggestion is to open up yourself up to endless opportunities.  Laugh, love and live. Don’t let negative views affect you. We have one life. Live it to the fullest.  There are no regrets.  This place is beautiful, our children love it here. I’m glad I made the decision to come here, life is beautiful. We are the Kanja’s!

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Thank you.

Follow Sheila’s From The Americas To the Balkans Facebook Community page to see updates and more beautiful photographs.