As a child, Dženana Vucic was forced to leave Bosnia after muslims were targeted for genocide in the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995. In this beautiful braided essay, she relates the dissonances of returning to a place that once was home, one that compels her to come back despite the steep personal and financial cost.
In Bosnia, I learned to speak my mother tongue, albeit haltingly; to drink coffee short and strong and sweet; to cook grah with Vegemite in place of suho meso. I learned, too, that I had been gone too long, that I could not stay.
I don’t remember much of my village during the war and nothing at all of it before the gunfire and makeshift sniper nests. My father tells me it used to be bigger, all the houses full and whole, and there were shops too – cafes and a bakery and, in the next village (where my mother grew up), even a cinema. After the war everything was different, everyone dead or gone. The land wears this loss in ruins and abandoned homes with gaping windows, in exposed brick and plastic UN sheeting which, thirty years later, still replaces glass in our poorest neighbours’ homes. Trees erupt from broken walls; blackberry and nettle swarm the hollow bellies of houses across the street. Yet few fields have been left fallow, since without employment people have had to grow their own food. Now it is mostly the old who tend the rows of tomato and cucumber. The villages are empty of young people; they’ve gone to look for work.