I am a stranger in my own hometown, Mostar.
Mostar is in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it’s where I was born. But that doesn’t mean that I belong there.
Let me tell you the sad story of where I came from and where I can never go back again.
Once upon a time…
I was born in Mostar in 1986 and I hold Mostar dear to me, much like anyone would their birth place.
If you’ve read my previous post, you’d know that my family and I left Mostar when I was six and I haven’t lived there since.
In that same post, I covered what I say when people ask me where I’m from… Yada yada yada, I’m from Yugoslavia… Yada yada yada, nope, doesn’t exist anymore… yada yada yada, well, I was born in Mostar which is in Bosnia.
Oh, so you’re Bosnian, then! Why didn’t you just say so??
The truth is, I don’t identify as Bosnian.
Real Bosnians are, like, legit.
I’m more like, tourist Bosnian.
The Prodigal Daughter returns
The first time I returned to Mostar after the war and moving to three different countries, was when I was 19. I went back with my older cousin. She knew all the ropes and showed me a side of Mostar that I accepted as readily as anyone who was ripped from their home during the war, could.
The next time I went back, I was somewhere in my 20’s and I took the then boyfriend, now Husband. As he was driving into Mostar (imagine, an Asian driving in Bosnia), I was giving him all the highlights, telling him how amazingly beautiful it was, I was so excited to show him my birth town.
What we drove into was something akin to a nightmare. My nightmare. Suddenly, Mostar wasn’t so great. I mean this with love. I saw graffiti, bullet holes, signs on buildings warning people not to enter as they may collapse, I saw the homeless, I saw the gypsies, I saw everything through different eyes. Strangers’ eyes. It was such a shock to me. Here I was introducing my love to my home and I felt like a complete outsider.
The guide being guided in Mostar
Suddenly, I had no idea where we were going, I didn’t know where we’d stay or what we’d do. The Husband, sensing my shock, took the figurative and literal wheel and guided us through a brand new city that it seemed I’d never been to before.
I recognised things, ever so vaguely. I was going off on a six year old’s memory. I couldn’t rely on that idiot 19 year old past me, who apparently wasn’t paying ANY attention when she was there!
I tried to find the apartment building I was born in, that much I managed.
And we saw a whole bunch of buildings that didn’t fare well in the war, nor were they rebuilt…
All in all, it was a sad sight, but then again, what did I expect?
Did I expect to see what I remembered from my childhood? Did I expect that the people would welcome me warmly, that they’d await my return with banners?
I was a complete stranger to Mostar. And not only was I a stranger, I was a foreigner. I dressed differently. I spoke differently. Even if I spoke to them in Yugoslav, my accent is confused and I don’t sound like they do in Mostar. I sound like a Serbian speaking a Bosnian dialect. I know that sounds confusing, but it’s a little bit like an Australian speaking English in America. You can hear the difference. And people from Mostar in particular have a very specific accent. It meant nothing to them that I was born there…
Life fact shattered
Suddenly I realised that Mostar was no longer mine. I was no longer Mostar’s. I was born there, and that’s about all the connection Mostar and I have…
Years later, during our Buddymoon (our Honeymoon that all our best friends attended) we went to Dubrovnik, Croatia, and I happened upon a lady from Mostar who was living and working in Dubrovnik. She told me that she feels the same way I do, that she is physically closer to Mostar but not to assume that her journey has been any different. She described feeling the same way I do, she is from there but she’s a stranger to that city.
She said that she doesn’t go back anymore because she finds it sad.
And that was the moment I learned my new truth.
Mostar, I am a stranger to you
Mostar is no longer mine.
I remember it being a vibrant, fun, colourful, dynamic place (in my 6 year old head). I think of it the way it’s been described to me, through the stories I have been told, the way my parents tell me of the life we lived in Mostar.
And on top of that are the new stories I’ve heard during the my life, the stories about my parents putting up a mattress against a wall to stop any bullets from getting in, the stories about shit blowing up, brother turning against brother.
But still, seeing it like that… It has a new identity, one I don’t understand and one I don’t belong to. I didn’t contribute to Mostar being what it is today. I, unknowingly, turned my back on it and Mostar is still hurt.
I get it. I built a new relationship with another place. Many places really. This new life I’ve been gifted has enabled me to grow up safe and happy and rich… rich with fantastic friends, a great family, more than enough money to enable me to travel the world and have a wedding and buy a house and a car and have two kids. All whilst safe. Not worried about loud noises that could be air raiding or counting all the graves in my garden.
A Beautiful Life
What a beautiful life I’ve had. And it all started in Mostar. I will forever be proud and grateful. But it’s not mine anymore. And that’s ok.
Thanks for your attention guys, I know that took a deep turn.
As always, until next time… PEACE!