Author: Amela Trokić, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Photos are taken by Amela Trokić,
The article is the 3th prize winner of the Mladiinfo Article Contest 2012
You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.
I was born in the city of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina in September of 1991. Seven months later war broke out, which led my family to flee to Toronto, Canada in May of 1993. I grew up surrounded by the Bosnian culture, taking Bosnian traditional dance classes as a child, speaking the Bosnian language at home, listening to the music, eating the food … I even visited Bosnia twice. Whenever I was asked my nationality I would belch out BOSNIAN at the top of my lungs. As far as I was concerned it didn’t matter that I grew up in Canada, or that I was a Canadian citizen, I was Bosnian and that was it.
September 2008. “Kids, we’re moving back home!”
“Umm, dad we are at home?!?”
“We’re moving back to Bosnia.”
“I’m sorry did you say Boston …?”
When my parents decided to move back to Bosnia there were mixed feelings. Of course I was sad to leave my life in Canada but I couldn’t believe I was given the opportunity to go live in the mother land, to live in Bosnia, to eat in Bosnia, to breathe Bosnia – Yes I am going home, I AM Bosnian!
When the car pulled into Banja Luka and I looked around at my new home … I became Canadian so fast.
The Oxford dictionary defines culture shock as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”.
To say that I was experiencing culture shock at the time seemed insane, how could I be shocked by a culture that was mine? How could the people, the country, the food, the everything I identified myself with be so foreign to me?
I realized try as I might, there were things I would never understand about life in Bosnia, even if I ate all the čevapi in the world or danced folklore till my feet bled.
I began to feel left out and memories of Canada flooded my mind. I remembered how as a kid I wished I could be more Canadian just to fit in. The embarrassment I felt when no teacher could pronounce my name right the first time, how I considered going by Amy just to make life easier. I even remember one teacher telling me my name was phonetically incorrect. Identifying myself as Bosnian became a type of defense mechanism, an excuse for why I just didn’t understand some aspects of Canadian life despite having grown up there.
Now here I was, in Bosnia and unable to fit in, unable to feel at home – talk about surreal. All of a sudden I found myself using I’m Canadian as a way out of every awkward situation.
What’s with the accent? I’m Canadian!
You’ve never eaten this before? I’m Canadian!
What do you mean you don’t understand? I’m Canadian!
Then why do you have a Bosnian name …?
To make matters worse, fitting in became even harder for other reasons … Bosnia in itself is a funny country. 3 nationalities, 3 religions, 3 languages, 2 alphabets, 2 entities (and 1 district) – 1 country.
Unfortunately, some animosities still exist today and relations between the 3 nationalities are not always the greatest. Coming from Canada, a multicultural country with nearly 150 nationalities, being surrounded by other nations didn’t faze me. I assumed that despite the different nationalities everyone still identified themselves as Bosnian – like a Portuguese immigrant in Canada would identify himself as both. I was wrong. Some people took offence if you referred to them as Bosnian, or if you said that they spoke Bosnian – they even took offence if you identified yourself as Bosnian.
In fact, just last week someone looked me in the face and calmly said, “Bosnians don’t exist” then turned and walked away. How do you respond to someone when they tell you that you don’t exist … I guess you just don’t.
So here I am, in the city of my forefathers, in the country I want so badly to connect to, to call my home, and I can’t even if I wanted to, even if I tried. It’s been almost 3 years since I moved here but it seems longer. I’ve experienced so many situations I never thought I would in this short period of time and they have truly opened my eyes up to the world.
Of all the things I learned the most important is that social labels cannot define us. I guess if I had to claim a nationality I would have to say I am Bosn-adian – a hybrid of Bosnian and Canadian, the best of both worlds. I rather not though.
Despite all the differences in culture, way of life and attitudes I did manage to find something that stays constant wherever I go – good people. From Canada to Bosnia, the only thing I have always been able to click with, to identify with and to always find myself comfortable around is good company.
I no longer try to identify myself with a country, culture, food platter or dance; I identify myself with values and traits, with the person I am and the person I want to be. I am me! I guess I just needed to travel half way across the world to figure it out.