One of my first memories is of my grandmother telling me not to cross my hands behind my head when lying down on my back. I asked her why, and she said it doesn’t matter, just don’t do it. My dad had no answer too. He just said listen to your grandmother.
My next memory is the sound of Yugoslav Army tanks rolling down my street, heading for the nearby frontline in north Croatia. We woke up early to go to seaside, in southern Croatia, our annual vacation.
The next memory is a white plastic bag my mom used to pack a spare of underpants for my brother and me when we fled our hometown, running from the tanks we greeted north just a few months before. When I asked why, they said it doesn’t matter, just go. The war in Bosnia changed my life forever. I became a refugee, never to settle, never to be at peace.
Then, the scent of bakeries in Sarajevo’s Old Town, a consolation after a drunken night, fueling the way home.
Then the mildew of my student apartment, the smell of victory and defeat.
Springtime nourishes my introspection. I don’t live in Bosnia anymore. The endless itinerary has taken me elsewhere, to a place of perennial flow and change: New York. However, I go back there often, at least once a year, to see dear people and let my daughter make connections with her kin.
My relation to Bosnian society was born in conflict, both literal and metaphorical. I realized that I’ve been in war with my culture since I got no response to the question about hands behind back of the head. I have asked many questions since. More often than not I met silence, resignation, and rejection.
When I visit, I remind myself of the endless love I feel for the individuals in these images, and an ashamed disgust towards the society they belong to. The society whose stamp I bear across my chest, whose scarlet letter follows me wherever I go.
I become both a son and an observer, a lover and an adversary.
Every visit presents me with the opportunity to experience emotions in the raw. I’m either in a brotherly and sisterly embrace with my loved ones, or in an open conflict with the norms and customs of their culture. I frequent ghosts of my life, to remind them that I’m still here, and that I matter. It is a voyeuristic pilgrimage I make to my past, as a tourist, curious but clinging to his foreign passport.
These pictures are a mirror of my identity. They show things that I love, and things that I don’t. I want to lift the veil. I am alive. I am vulnerable. I have a history.