Going home to Trebinje after 20 years

Home.. as I sit in my comfortable apartment in a suburban Sydney town I am reminded how lucky I have had it. A happy childhood.  A safe one. Yet I always think of how my life would have been back home. My real home. The one my brother and I would have grown up in of the war didn’t happen. But it did happen.

I was born in Trebinje,Bosnia in 1988. At that time it was part of Yugoslavia.  Now its part of Republic Srpska, the region of BiH administered by Serbs following the 1990s war. Its crazy to think how in modern times a war could break out in Europe!

From what mum has told me, my family was told to leave just like the rest of the town. Even Asmir Begovic, who plays in the Bosnian national soccer team. Our fathers played in the same team. I was four when we left so I don’t have any memories and my brother was born during the war. My parents grabbed what they could carry, we fled Sandzak in Montenegro then made our way to Denmark. Unlike Sarajevo and Mostar, there aren’t too many visible signs war had happened in Trebinje. This is because when the Serbian forces took over, they forced us all to leave, and was used as a major command and artillery base by Yugoslav People’s Army troops besieging the Croatian town of Dubrovnik. Only the mosques seemed to have been damaged.

My third birthday. Beforeour world changed.

My third birthday. Before our world changed.

When the war broke out Denmark accepted about 20,000 Bosnian refugees. They were placed in refugee camps across the country. We stayed in one of these camps for almost two years with other displaced Bosnians. .But Denmark only saw us as temporary residents and we would go home as soon as we could. No one predicted the war would be that long. The Danish government didn’t grand asylum to Bosnians for a few years. But they did try give us a normal life by organising day cares for kids and activities for everyone. I remember attending a big Christmas party in their hall. I am so glad we have alot of photos and video tapes (which i do need to eventually make onto dvds haha), from these days. We couldn’t really go to Danish schools, as it would give us false hope of staying in Denmark. They gave the children Bosnian curriculum in school because they would want us to continue our education when we got back home. The uncertainty if the war would end soon and if Denmark would grant us asylum led my parents to make the decision to move to Australia, in hopes for a better life, leaving my mums family behind, they settled Denmark & Norway later.  I still remember the day when one of the kids there said to me that’s she’s moving to Austria. I proudly said that I was going to Australia.  Even though I didn’t know where it was or how far from the rest of the world it was. As a kid you don’t think about why we moved, or why we would be moving again. I had my family with me and that’s all that mattered to me.

During our first month in Australia i remember i was going to the doctors to get my before you start school shot. I kicked the doctor and ran our crying after saying I hated Australia. I think that’s where my fear of needles came from. I started school shortly after. Knowing no English my first day was horrible. When I parents said goodbye I cried. I was confused why they would leave me.  I didn’t go pre school in Bosnia and Denmark only had a children’s play center. I had to copy off the board a language I had no idea about. Come to think about it I don’t think I really had written much before than. So i was trying to figure out how to “draw” these weird things that were letters! And because it took me longer than anyone else I had to stay back during lunch and finish. My first day and I had no lunch. great start.

Fast forward 20 something years. I’m 26, almost 27. I think and speak in English. I am an Australian citizen. My dream as a teenager was to visit the USA. I was obsessed with anything American. I blame American tv shows i was addicted to. That changed about 10 years ago. I started to appreciate and love where i was from. And then finally in 2013 I went home for the first time since we fled from it. My perspectives changed.

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Trebinje. It’s a place I always wanted to one day visit and a place my mother wanted to forget. I was a baby when I left. No one remembers things from when they are 4. But mum was 23. She was young with two babies. She left everything she loved and knew about her home.

In July 2013 my mum and I went back to Bosnia. Our first time.since we fled in 1993; 20 years since we stepped foot on Bosnia soil. The journey was both emotional and exciting. To be around your own people, to speak your native tongue and just forget about everything else is something I can’t put into words. We spent 5 amazing weeks in Bosnia and during this time we visited all the places we wanted to see and even went down to visit family in Dubrovnik where mum spent most of her childhood vacations. Since Trebinje is 28km from Dubrovnik, mum and i took the hour bus ride into Trebinje

When we sat in the bus I noticed a sticker in front of me. It was of a kangaroo. It had to be a sign. The bus pulled into the station an hour later and emotions overwhelmed us. It is such a pretty town.

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Trebinje Hospital where i was born

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Azzaro Cafe. This is where my dad worked, and also where my parents first met.

What could have been…

As we approached the block of houses, my heart was pounding, palms were sweaty, and my phone was ready to snap away!

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In front of my old house.

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When we walked up the stairs to the neighbourhood where I lived I got deja vu. The backyard to the house looked familiar. That’s because 20 years ago it belonged to us. Now some family lives in it. i could hear them sitting down for lunch. It makes me so angry that my parents worked for that house, and someone can come in and kick us all out and claim it for themselves. I’ve been taught to not hate people no matter what they have done.Please note that this post isnt about hate. I have very close friends who are Croatian and Serbian and we never let our countries differences affect our relationships. Im not religious but i dont judge those who are. My dads mum is a Catholic from Mostar, so ive always been accepting from both sides. We are all humans living on the same planet. Religion or ethnicity should never define us as a person.But i cant help feeling hurt about this situation.

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I couldn’t help notice a toy truck next to the door. I tried to imagine that being my brothers. Him and I playing in the back, but no memories come to mind. Because there were no memories of us enjoying our childhood together there.

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This little beige house with the brown door was once upon a time ours. Until they kicked us out and took it for themselves.

Getting to see my old home was a good experience. Something both mum and i needed. For different reasons. Everyone should know who they are and where they came from. Where the lived, and played. My first four years were spent inside this home.

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Enough about me!! Let me show you the rest of the town 🙂

Picturesque wouldn’t you say!

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this picturesque little town is my hometown!

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Reflections on the Trebisnjica River mirror its surroundings

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Gorgeous Trebisnjica River

The Old Town

Despite being so close to Dubrovnik, Trebinje isnt a busy place. Perfect for a day away from the crowds, to enjoy a nice coffee and walk by the river. We were in town only for 3 hours but we did get to experience the local side of the town. Markets, people drinking coffee, families walking around.

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This little house was used as a set for a TV show filmed here

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As most of the mosques were destroyed during the war, new ones have been built to replace them

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Arslanagic bridge

Bosnia & Hercegovina is full of beautiful bridges. Some from Ottoman era, some much older. Like Mostar, Trebinje’s famous bridge is a fine of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture. This bridge was originally built in 1574 by Grand Vizir Mehmed-pasha Sokolovic

In the late 60’s a hydro-power dam was built on the river, and the bridge was flooded. The water level was lowered again in 1966 to dismantle the bridge and it was taken, stone by stone and rebuilt in the downtown of Trebinje, about 10km from its original location.

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Click here to see an amazing 360 degree view of the bridge

Didnt want to leave my home town, but all good adventures come to an end. TIL next time!

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Tips:

  • ONLY one bus per day goes from the main bus station in Dubrovnik daily to Trebinje at around 1PM. It costs about 40 Kuna takes around an hour. The bus goes back to Dubrovnik from Trebinje in the MORNING. So unless you are planning to take a taxi home, you will have to stay overnight. The taxi didn’t cost us very much, maybe about $20 (ask the driver), and only took 30 or so minutes.
  • Perfect for a day trip from Dubrovnik. Enjoy the cheap food, and accommodation!

Wow that was long! haha but it was my favourite post to write. Bought back so many memories. Good and bad ones.  I recommend Trebinje for anyone who is looking for a nice peaceful day away from all the tourists.

Below are a few of the then and now photos i have stitched together!

Has anyone visited Trebinje, or any of you guys out there from this gorgeous place? Let me know! xx

16 responses to “Going home to Trebinje after 20 years

  1. Some twisted facts: Serbian forces did not “come in”, they were already in town since Trebinje was mostly populated by Serbs. Also, Trebinje is in Herzegovina, and never been Bosnian city. Some other “facts” are open to discussion. Other than that, it was nice and sad story: in all wars ordinary people suffer, no matter which side they support.

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    • I agree, Yes trebinje like the rest of Bih had serbs. I had serb neighbours who were our friends. Our nations Co existed for hundreds of years. But they took over the city and we had to leave. My family from prjedor had to leave. I meant Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole country. Trebinje is still part of BiH. My family were forced to leave the place where their parents and grandparents lived. Like ive said ive been taught to not hate anyone. And as you said all sides do suffer. And as much as everyone would like it would never happen to anyone ever again, it’s happening all around the world.

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    • Lovely people. WHY do we always need to talk about the war. Bad things happened but now we should LOVE and not hate. Ariana, I am glad that you had a nice time in out home town and you are always welcome to come back!!! Love from Hercegovina!!!

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  2. As Ranko said it was predominantly Serbian town and be lucky you were kicked out and not killed as sadly happened to many people of all the religions during the war. Both my aunt and uncle were kicked out of Sarajevo by Muslims and lucky to survive. There are good people and bad people. Also, they both got apartments back. All Muslims in Trebinje got their apartments back, my uncle is a lawyer who worked for international organization in charge of returning the properties so I don’t know why your family din’t get yours back (if you owned it as during the communism very few people owned anything, it was all owned by the government). Your mother seems to hold a lot of anger, she should get over it, all of my generation of all religions go back every summer and we have a blast. We can all find the reasons to hate. I find the reason to love going back and seeing all of my friends which I don’t label by religion. Quite frankly I don’t give a damn what they are as long they are good people. Twenty years later, it’s time to stop the hate. And all of us who left are lucky that we had opportunity for a better life.

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    • first and foremost id like to say my mother is not holding anger. Just hurt. Alot of bad things happened to my family because of this war, which i will not get into. Its not something that you just “get over”. In time you learn to deal with it better but those memories are with them forever. We had really good serbian neigbours who turned their backs on us. We couldnt get our house back cos we came into Australia with no money, didnt know the language and had to start over. We couldnt afford to get laywers, or go back to Bosnia to sort out stuff like some of my friends families did. Yes, because of communism the house wasnt owned by them, but everything they did to provide us with was paid for my parents money. Theres no hate here. I have very close friends who are Croatian and Serbian and we never let our countries differences affect our relationships. Im not religious but i dont judge those who are. My dads mum is a Catholic from Mostar, so ive always been accepting from both sides. We are all humans living on the same planet. Religion or ethnicity should never define us as a person. I am thankful for the life i have in Australia but like everyone else would rather the war had never happened in the first place.

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      • Bad things happened to a lot of people regardless of their religion. I left Trebinje with no money and my mother couldn’t even pay for my train ticket to get out, I had to hide on a train. Came to NY illegally again with no money. It was not a smooth ride, it was hard. It was war and however you look at it, we all have to move on whether you like it or not. You can blame a person(s) if they hurt you but not town or group like a nationality. As I mentioned above there are good people and bad people on all sides. And bad people will hurt, rape, kill no matter what their religion, race or nationality is.

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  3. This was so fascinating to read, and I love the photos of you then and now! War seems like such a different, far away world, but this is a reminder that it’s closer than I think.

    See you tonight at the blogger meetup!

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