Thursday, 21 March 2013

Life after Bosnia

It all took place in just a matter of minutes.

I was driving home from university on what could be described as a beautiful and sunny early-autumn afternoon.

Rewind a few days, and this very road was packed bumper-to-bumper with cars carrying all sorts of tourists and families who were heading down to the local Surf Coast area -- a place I call home -- to soak up the beach and sun.

There’s little doubting it: this is a truly amazing part of the world. 

Especially at this time of year.

Beautiful, crystal blue water as far as you can see. Sand. Sun. Sun. And more sun.

Throw in the fact the magnificent Great Ocean Road is on its doorstep, and you have one incredible mix that drags tourists here from not only Australia, but all over the world.

On this particular afternoon, however, driving home surrounded by all this natural beauty, my mind is elsewhere.

Fifteen-thousand-kilometres elsewhere.

What was I concentrated on?

Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(Did you guess it?)

One might be inclined to ask a simple question: Why?

Even Bosnians themselves would probably be perplexed as to why I am thinking about their country when all I should probably be thinking about is how to make the most of this wonderful scenery surrounding me.

But I can’t help it.

This small Bosnia-Herzegovina flag was presented to me by
friendly neighbours in Zenica in order for me to not forget
their country. Don't worry, guys, I haven't needed such reminders!
And, before I knew it, there it was.

Despite some meagre attempts to portray myself as a bit of a macho-man at times, I confess to expelling a tear or two in that car as my mind raced back to all the things I have left behind in the Balkans.

Yes, I, 21-year-old Rusty Woodger, cried a little.

What can I say? I miss Bosnia. A lot.

It is not one, but many things.

It's the lifestyle.

It's t
he ‘Ezan’ call for prayer playing across the city five times a day. The strong scent of cevapi and onion emanating from the local cevabdzinica.

It's dashing across to the local mesnica and ‘Konzum’ to buy all the necessary ingredients for lunch. 

It's coffee for morning, mid-morning, lunch, afternoon, evening, night-time and any other time we bloody feel like it.

It's dodging stray and angry dogs on the street. Dropping past the local pekara twice a day to grab some hljeb (Bosnians love their bread). 

It's the tense atmosphere of an important match on Bilino Polje. Being ‘that’ Aussie in Bosnia. Receiving constant compliments from locals and invitations to join them for coffee or lunch.

It's the amazingly beautiful landscape. The mountainous terrain. The Adriatic Sea a mere few hours away.

But, most of all, it is the people: those who became friends, and those who became family.

Make no mistake; Bosnia is filled with a vast array of good-natured, strong-willed and inspiring individuals. Upon leaving, it was the realisation I would not see these people for a long time that made it such a bitter pill to swallow. 

More than a month has passed since I returned to my home country of Australia.

Although he did not know much English, my fiancé's
grandfather - whom I lived with in Zenica - is someone
I grew close with, and I regularly ponder about him since
returning to Australia.
To most, my life seems relatively “normal.” I go to school. I come home. I catch up with friends whenever possible, sitting for coffee and talking about ‘everyday’ topics.

Even on that day I drove home from university with a tear-in-the-eye, I settled myself, walked into my home and confronted my Bosnian fianc√© as though nothing at all had just happened.

On the inside, evidently, my life is rather different.

Constantly, my mind travels to Bosnia, as I ponder about my old friends and family.

How are they doing? I wonder if so-and-so has found a job yet? If such-and-such has stopped getting himself into so much trouble? If this person’s health has begun improving? If that lady is feeling lonely without our semi-regular visits for coffee?

Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely happy to be back in Australia with all my locally based family and friends, and to have all the educational, occupational and other opportunities not enjoyed by others elsewhere.

Further to this, anyone who knows me personally can vouch for the fact I love my city, Melbourne, very much.

However, the fact remains: I still feel as though my life is not ‘whole’ or ‘complete’ without Bosnia.

Every day I am attempting to stem these feelings.

A photo for my 'Robijasi Zenica' friends to let them know I
have not forgotten about them here in Melbourne.
Whether it’s cooking up coffee in a dzezva, listening to some Dino Merlin or Dubioza Kolektiv, getting the “Robijasi” scarf out of my cupboard, or briefly jumping in on a Skype chat between my partner and her mother – I am always trying something to reconnect myself with the nation and culture that was home to me for 12 months.

Although I do not have any immediate plans to return to Bosnia, I long for the day I will be there taking a walk down carsija once again.

There is little doubting that this magnificent nation has left an indelible mark on this Australian’s heart.

As the saying goes: ‘There’s no place like home…

The expression is generally perceived as referring to just one, singular ‘home.’

For me, however, that scenario is too simple.

Australia is my home, but so is Bosnia.

And, trust me, there is no place like Bosnia.