Korčula, 28th of August 2010
Why do people move to places that are originally not their homes? Some of them move to study, some of them do it simply because of curiosity, but the most of them are trying to find a better life. Better life sometimes means more money, sometimes more rights. When they move because of more reasons, such as money, human rights, poverty, status, political issues, and so on, that can be seen as a serious problem. Almost all of them have the same problems when they arrive to their new country, as well as they feel the same (or even worse) when they are back, because they cannot fit in the new society as earlier.
These days I finished one of the best comics that I’ve ever read: Persepolis, written by Marjane Satrapi. Marjane was forced by circumstance to move to Vienna during the Islamic Revolution, to study and live abroad, completely alone. She was only fourteen. During her life in Austria, she passed through more phases, going from the nice and pretty girl who studied well, to become a homeless person in the end. After three months of living on the street, she decided to go back to Teheran. Their parents were well situated, but as communists, they couldn’t have any influence on the present society, political situation or any other aspect of life. They hardly survived the Revolution, and started a new life: women were forced to wear a veil and men who were politically “incorrect” didn’t have any rights anymore, and were often sent to prison. When Marjane came back to her home country, she felt the same like way as in Vienna: like a foreigner. In Vienna she was Iranian, in Teheran, she was a Westernized woman, which from the surface seemed ‘cool’, but when looked under the surface was not acceptable to the Iranian society.
This autobiographic comic was made on purpose for all the Iranian immigrants, but many other refugees, or simply people that left their homeland for a certain reason, can find themselves in Marjane’s story. During the last Serbian and Croatian aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina, around one million people became refugees. Some of them died on their escape from crazy fascists, but the most Bosnian refugees finished their trip in Sweden, Holland, Norway, Canada, Australia, USA and some other European countries. The numbers are outrageous, even so that Bosnians are recognized as a minority group and the second largest nation in Sweden. Unfortunately, the number of people that today leave Bosnia and Herzegovina is also rapidly increasing, as there is a huge lack of work, money and the complete political atmosphere is not pleasant. Nationalism still grows in my country and dislodges many people from here.
I spoke with two girls who left their homes. One of them, Vedrana Halepović, escaped from the war and after two years in Serbia and Croatia, she lived in Holland for a couple of years. She also went to school there and came back to Bosnia after less than four years. In 2004, she left Sarajevo for the second time and began from the zero again: in Amsterdam, the city where she didn’t know anyone.
Me: How did you feel when you came back to Bosnia in 1997? Was it hard to accept this kind of mentality, where the people don’t have similar values?
Vedrana: Well, as an almost 12 years old child, becoming soon a teenager, you are not so busy thinking about the mentality of the people in BiH. What you worry about is how you’re going to find friends, for the already fourth time in your life, how you’re going to learn at school in a language that you’re not used to use anymore when reading and writing, how will you behave towards family members that you know are close to you, but you actually don’t truly know. These are the first questions that came into my mind at that time, if I remember well. Then, when time passes, and you find your way in a strange country, that is actually your own, but you never got the chance to get to know it earlier, you begin to capture differences between the two societies you are familiar with. You start to notice differences in simple life situations, but that however can be very frustrating, as waiting in a queue for anything or to get into the bus. You notice almost two opposites: the quite well organized democracy in Holland, opposed to the wild wild West of a semi-democratic, post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina. You realize that many things get done through connections, or family relations, and that a person who did worse at school than you did, ends up higher on the list when admitted to high school.
In the core, I don’t think the values, in this case between Holland and BiH, are so different, but the conceptualization of these values is different because of recent history in BiH, and what happened in the Balkans during the 90’s. We transferred from one system to another, without time to prepare for this transformation, and often not having wanted this transformation in the first place.
Me: What values are better in Holland and what in Bosnia? Is it stupid to compare two countries? Where do you feel like you’re at home?
Vedrana: As I recently said in a previous comment, I think it is not possible, or even better, in a way not justifiable to compare two countries, two cultures in this case. I worked with international students for two years, and our University organized workshops about intercultural communication, so we would better understand our students and vice versa. The first thing you learn when speaking about cultures is that you can’t put one culture above another. They are simply different, or even opposite, but none is better than the other. If you can’t understand this, you should at least respect it. For example, when grown up in an individualistic system as the USA and most European countries are, it is unbelievable how an individual can put private needs aside, and agree with collectivistic ones, or put collectivistic ones above their own, as is the case in most Asian countries like China and Japan.
So the question which values are better in one country than another, is in my opinion something personal closely related to your own vision of the world, norms and values, moral and so on. For example, I prefer the Dutch directness, sometimes it is so direct to the point that is almost brutal or unkind, but still I'd always choose this way of communication – at least you know what are you up to with someone or something. On the other hand, I prefer the Bosnian warmly way of behaving towards family and friends, as in my perspective this aspect gives an extra dimension to any relation between human beings.
Hmm…where do I feel home? I feel in both countries at home, but in a different way, in different aspects of life. When talking about relations between human beings, how well people host their family, friends, relatives, strangers, with warmth and pleasure, I feel more home in Sarajevo, but regarding other daily aspects of life, how people behave at work, the relationship with my colleagues, how things are regulated and structured in government institutions, and so on, I am inexplicably happy I live in Amsterdam.
Another one, Adna Omerbegović, moved few years ago to work in Milan, Italy. She graduated on airspace engineering in Kuala Lumpur and she got to know three different mentalities. I asked her what does she like in Italy and what in Malaysia?
Adna: I was only eighteen when I arrived to Malaysia with an aim to become an engineer within four years. But that was not all I had in mind. I was looking forward to living in a country so far from my mother land, I wanted to learn Bahasa Melayu, as well as to try different kinds of food, get to know different cultures and people. And I did. It was a real adventure; I have traveled South East Asia, got to know and like Malaysian culture and way of life, and made a lot of friends. When I boarded the plane to Bosnia, I knew I did all I had planned when I first came to Malaysia. But, it was not all fun and games. Aside from very demanding program at university, there were times I felt rather lonely and homesick.
I came back to Bosnia and I was planning to settle here, to find a job and start living a “real life”. But then a job opportunity came and it included moving to Italy for some time. I have accepted it, wanting to extend my Malaysian adventure. Even though my decision was based on the experience I would have gained, closeness was an important factor in my decision-making process. And I did not regret for going there; I live in a dreamland for many people, I have learned another language and got the experience I have wanted.
If I compare living in Malaysia and Italy, I must say they were both nice places to live. I had more fun in Malaysia, I have gained more friends, maybe because I was five years younger and I lived in a campus with students from all around the world. In Italy I have arrived when I was already 23, to a company where most of the people were a lot older thn me, and I did not have a chance to make a lot of friends. However, Italian mentality, food, heritage, and lovely land is what got me to like the place I live at.
Me: Do you plan to move back? If yes, why, if not, why?
Adna: Maybe the appropriate answer to this question is maybe yes, maybe no.
Since I did not live in Bosnia for last seven years, my habits, way of thinking and way of life have developed and are different from those common in Bosnia, I am sure it would take time to get used to Bosnian way of life. I believe that living away from home and family has thought me to be independent, to rely only on my capability and to be true to myself.
However, no matter where I live, I will be Bosnian. I will always have Bosnian coffee in the morning and sip it slowly, just like my grandmother used to do. Bosnian food will be always my favorite. I will always be proud of my ancestors. I will always speak Bosnian and be proud of my language.
Adna and Vedrana both have problems in their own country, where they feel as foreigners. “Motherland is this one where you feel good” is the old phrase. In my opinion, and I am sure that Adna and Vedrana agree with me, people should feel as home wherever they live and behave like they will stay there whole their life. Everything else is loss of time and energy.