Looking back, prior to the age of seven, I lived a pretty regular life in a middle-class family.
As the only girl, I was (and still am!) the apple of my father’s eye. My biggest “troubles” were my two brothers endlessly provoking me and poking fun at me because I was “so easy to tease.” And, of course, I was always sad when my mom didn’t allow me to cook my “specialties.”
My grandpa Zejnil would teach me du’as during my visits to the tiny, beautiful village where both sets of my grandparents lived, and I would reward him afterward with my “delicious” bread that was so hard to chew that he probably broke a tooth or two, but never complained.
My carefree childhood was gone at the age of seven. My Barbie dolls, “cooking lessons” with grandma, and my ever-favorite activity of knitting, became ancient history. Instead of laughter and joy, my face was showered with tears until I had no tears and strength left to cry anymore.
After a little while, life seemed “normal” the way it was, even though in retrospect there was nothing normal about the way I lived.
It all changed only weeks after my seventh birthday. Life has not been the same since.
I can still feel the fear of that first day and all the days that followed after. I can hear the sounds of grenades and bombs, that “special” sound of snipers. I still vividly remember that shake when the first bomb fell.
Perhaps that day is most memorable, even though at the time I didn’t know it, because that was the last day I saw one of my grandfathers, Begler, and several other relatives. Little did I know that this was the beginning of the worst genocide and ethnic cleansing that Europe had seen since the Holocaust.
It was the beginning of the Bosnian genocide.
In the years that followed, life consisted of people dying around me every day, living in refugee camps and moving every couple of weeks. I studied in makeshift schools in Croatia for a couple of years, but we were segregated and not allowed to mix with Croatian children since we were Bosnian Muslims.
I was separated from my dad and older brother for a year and a half, not knowing if they were alive or dead, except for the occasional Red Cross message consisting of a couple of sentences saying that they were okay. I would, in turn, respond, complaining about how my little brother refused to do his homework. It seems silly, complaining about my brother’s lack of homework dedication in a time of war, but looking back, that was my only source of normalcy.
For many years, I reflected on what it was that kept me going through that difficult time, through all the turmoil and chaos.
Besides my love for school, my mom’s constant fight for our survival, and the innocent bravery that we all possess as children, I realized that what kept me going was my faith. My faith – my constant “talks” with God, praying to keep my dad and brother safe.
I did not come from a religiously practicing family. Yet faith was something that, as young, as I was, came to me naturally when I needed it the most.
I felt drawn to it even before I knew much about it. To me, faith is something greater than my human understanding of it will ever be. However, I feel my faith in the very core of my being. The more I learn, the more I fall in love with it. In the toughest and darkest moments of my life, my faith was the only thing that I had, the only thing that kept me going. It is only due to my faith that I don’t feel hatred and anger towards those who harmed me most.
We all have hardship stories, one way or another. My story is one of blessings.
I was lucky to survive. That’s what matters most.