“…and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.”
‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go‘ by Dr. Seuss
I have been waiting for something to happen for years, but it was already happening. The ex-Yugoslavia nostalgia I feel is here to stay.
I would not be going back.
This was not supposed to be my life.
I was born in 1986 in Former Yugoslavia, during what I would call the end of the sweet period. War was brewing, but I had no idea.
I was born in a place I was supposed to stay for the rest of my life. I was supposed to stay with my whole family, take holidays with them on pebble beaches and ski slopes, grow up listening to folk/rock and learn to dance kolo like a champ.
Me when I was three or four, skiing at a popular ski location in Jahorina, Bosnia.
When my family moved to New Zealand in 1995, I thought it was temporary. I thought we would stay until we can return to where I was supposed to be.
And then I waited.
It took me years to understand that I was never going to live in the place where I thought I belonged. In fact, my family moved to Australia in 2000, solidifying that we were moving further away, not closer to what I thought was my home.
A newspaper article about a bomb exploding in Mostar – I lived in the buildings you can see behind the exploded car.
For a long time, I didn’t think of myself as Australian. I didn’t want to get comfortable. When I would speak of home, I would be referring to Yugoslavia.
The Overpowering Ex-Yugoslavia Nostalgia
It didn’t and still doesn’t take much for the nostalgia to bring me to my knees.
I would hear a Led Zeppelin song (because my father was an avid fan) or listen to one of the best ex-Yugoslavia rock groups, Bijelo Dugme, and I would be pulled through a wormhole, straight into our apartment in Mostar. Cigarette smoke all around me, guitars playing, my parents and their friends singing.
That may not even be a real memory, but the strength of my reaction, the tightness in my chest, the tears that sting my eyes – they are all very real and the feeling is unmistakable and undeniable.
The feeling that I missed something. The feeling that something is still missing. This is ex-Yugoslavia nostalgia.
Eventually, years after we moved to Australia, I finally understood that I was not going back home. That in fact, I was home.
And in understanding that, I grieved. Grieved for the life that was supposed to be, one I never got to live.
I knew that that I had to start over again.
Instead of not wanting to set my roots down, I had to start building foundations, I had to decide what I wanted to do, what profession I would choose, what friends I will allow to be part of my life.
I’m not alone
And I’m not alone in feeling like this. There is a whole generation of children, the last generation of Yugoslavs, who grew up just like me. Children who were born in a land that was so rich and beautiful, so full of diversity, just to be displaced somewhere else in the world. Just to take years to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives.
We all had parents that had to start all over with young children on the other side of the world, in a country where they didn’t speak the language, where their professions were meaningless.
You had doctors and professors driving buses and taxis for lack of options.
And through that struggle to keep a roof over their families head and to give their children a better life, the children got lost.
Lost in a world that wasn’t theirs, trying to figure out where they were, why their parents were always crying, why they couldn’t see their cousins and aunts and friends. Why they didn’t speak or look or dress like the kids in their new schools, why they didn’t like fruit yogurt and meat pies like everyone else seemed to.
Finding my feet
I didn’t know I was waiting for the time I would return home. I lived my life in Australia, but lived it halfheartedly.
It was only recently that I understood that war didn’t affect me physically – but it affected me in every other way humanly possible.
I was surviving. I took jobs that would pay me money, not ones that satisfied my curiosity and encouraged my talents. I worked in cafes and restaurants, prioritizing my income over everything. Because to return home, I needed money.
That was my only focus.
But unbeknownst to me, life was taking place anyway, and under the most unlikeliest of circumstances, I met the person that I do belong with, one that I was meant to meet.
My family is where I belong
The Husband’s family have their own fascinating story of coming to Australia, but safe to say that in another life, my husband would not have been born here, had his family stayed in Vietnam like they were supposed to.
So if he stayed where he was “supposed to” and I stayed where I was “supposed to” – we would have never met. These amazing children would never have been born.
Throughout all my confusion in childhood, all the nostalgia that rocks me more often than I would admit – life was happening and the most beautiful life was created around me.
I look at my children, my husband, my home, and I feel free.
Free to choose how I will spend my minutes and hours, free to choose who I will spend them with. Free to travel back to my first home and free to travel to other places without fear.
To my parents…
A note to both my parents, who sacrificed their own lives for mine – thank you.
Thank you for having the courage to do what you knew needed to be done. For losing everything in order to give me what I have today.
I can never know how hard those years were on you. But I hope the joy you find in me and in your grandchildren makes up for some, if not all of it.
Know that you have taught me that there is so much more to life than the material things we surround ourselves with. I have learnt that life is about love for each other. And I thank you for loving me.
On that teary note, thanks for tuning in and peace out. Be kind to your parents, everyone.