Love, Life Stories

I survived the Bosnian genocide

It all changed only weeks after my seventh birthday. Life has not been the same since.

[bctt tweet=”My carefree childhood was gone at the age of seven.” username=”wearethetempest”]

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 afterwards 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 in me 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.

[bctt tweet=”Life has not been the same since.” username=”wearethetempest”]

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 possessed as children, I realized that what kept me going was my faith. My faith – my constant “talks” with Allah, my constant supplication to keep my dad and brother safe. I remember doing some heavy negotiations with my mom to allow me to fast. I did have to compromise with her and eat “stupid chicken noodle soup,” as I liked to call it, midday in my fast, since there was no breaking through my mom’s stubbornness, but I got my taste of Ramadan – and I was thrilled! I still don’t know why I was so insistent on fasting and why it mattered to me so much. 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.

[bctt tweet=”To me, faith is something greater than my human understanding of it will ever be. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

My bond with Islam is a very special one. 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 to 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. Islam doesn’t teach me to hate. I don’t feel a desire to be the friend of those who caused pain and suffering for me and mine, but at the same time I could never hate or wish them harm.

My connection with my faith is unbreakable, not only because I found faith in some of the toughest moments of my life but because, as I get older, the innocent childhood bond slowly turns into a beautiful understanding of life.

We all have hardship stories, one way or another. My story is one of blessings. I was lucky to survive. I have nothing to complain about in comparison to others.

[bctt tweet=”My story is one of blessings. ” username=”wearethetempest”]