When I came to Tuzla, I had no idea what to expect.
Back in Germany, I had tried to plan my trip as good as possible, without getting too bureaucratic about it. After all, I was out to explore a country I had never sat foot in. One of the things I had done was to post questions in some German - Bosnian forums, asking people what I should see, where I should go and what I should avoid, other than landmines.
I got a couple of good answers, but the best one came from a girl named Nerima, who lived in Germany. She offered me to stay with her parents and her sister Jasmina in their house in Tuzla at "any time you like". What made her offer most interesting was the opportunity to live with a Bosnian family for a week.
Up to this point, I had a vague idea of everydays' life in Bosnia, but no clue about family structure and things like these. Afte all, it was very much worth giving it a shot.
I arrived in Tuzla and walked out of the busstation, looking for Nerima's sister. She found me right away. Big surprise, since I stuck out like a nun in a pornshop, with my huge backpack.
Having lived in Germany almost all of her life, Jasmina spoke perfect German, even better than some Germans I knew back home. Not so her father. It was easy to sense that even after all those years in Germany, he still didn't feel too much at home there.
After we had said hello, Jasmina went to visit her aunt, while her father and I drove off to the house. I didn't know it by that time, but situations like these were to become stereotypical for my stay in Tuzla.
In a single week, Jasmina and her parents went to visit about a dozen aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and other relatives. Also, they had about just as many people coming to their house and so I got a firsthand idea of Bosnian family life.
I realized how important family is to the people in Bosnia.
For each of their relatives, Nerima's parents had brought a present and her mom had also goten a dress and some candy for the neighbour's daughter too. Another thing that struck me was that literally ALL of the old people were living with their folks and that most of them still had jobs, or a fixed function in the household. To put them in an old people's home was not an option in any way. In fact, it would have been considered a sin.
For one week, I was now part of this very tight social network and it felt very, very good. Still, there were some things that made me feel uncomfortable, even though not in a bad way.
One was, that I was never allowed to help in the household in any way, or even wash my clothes myself. Since I had become fully independent householdwise by the age of 15, I was not used to have someone looking after me like this. It was very nice and I enjoyed it a lot, but at some point I started to feel ashamed. Not only was I unable to give back, I was not even expected to do so!
Luckily, my chance came along.
On the 4th day of my stay, the father went out to help his brother harvest the plums and I insisted on coming to help them. When I first did, he gave me a pitiful look that seemed to say:
"How in the world would a young German like you know physical work?!"
In the end, I proved that I do.
Early in the morning, we drove off to a village, where the family had lived before the war. It was named Koraj which, more or less, translates "like paradise". HELL, the place deserved its name! I'm afraid that no words of mine can describe the beauty of the village...
Right after we had made our way up the mountains and my soul started to feel at ease. The hills lay streched out as far as I could see and most of them were covered with trees. Apples, peaches, bulbs and of course plums grew everywhere around us and we spent the whole day doing the harvest.
Nerima's father and her uncle would climb up a tree and start shaking it like crazy, while I ran for shelter from the plums, which fell to the ground like little violet wallnuts and hurt just as much, when you got hit. We picked them from the ground one by one and sorted out thouse, which had cracked open. These, I was tould, would be used to make Slivovica. A hell lot of it...
The sun rose higher and higher, and burned my neck.
Sweat ran down my face and into my eyes. Bees were everywhere around us, attracted from the sweet smell and my hands got so sticky, that I could not even spread my fingers apart.
I felt fantastic!!!
After three years in university, this was the first time since my civil service that I was doing real physical work. I guess it is a bit decadent to say so, but all of the bureau jobs I had worked during those years of studying did not give me such a good feeling as this one day of harvest. After all, I was able to see the result of my work piling up in front of me, as more and more boxes got filled with big, sweet plums.
By the end of the day, I felt exhausted, but enormously happy. I had earned a good bit of respect from those two men, who were used to work like this, for keeping up with them.
It was the best compliment I could have wished for. I fell asleep the second I sat down in the car and only just woke up, when we stopped in front of the house in Tuzla.
On the last night, Jasmina took me downtown to the Korso, the main pedestrian street of Tuzla. All in all, Tuzla is not a very beautiful city. In fact, it is fucking ugly, just like any other industrial city in the world...
Maybe it is because of this that the people of Tuzla look double as good.
While we were sitting in a bar on the Korso, I was hardly able to follow our conversation, since there were hundrets of gorgeous women passing by. Jasmina explained me that it was all a big circus and I was glad that I had made it for the show.
The next morning, when I packed up for Sarajevo, I was honestly sad about leaving. Nerima's parents, her sister Jasmina, her uncle and grandfather had all been so nice and kind to me, that I had really started to feel at home.
In the end, they all squeezed into the car, to bring me to the busstation and it became the hardest goodbye of them all for me. In a way, this one week with Nerima's family was the best experience I had had in Bosnia, so far.
Even now while I'm writing these lines, I think of the sun shining through the leaves of the plumtrees and I can still feel the gentle pat that Nerima's father gave me on the shoulder, when he finally tould me:" For today, we're finished."