Bosnia is a small republic in south central Europe which, from 1992 to 1995, was engulfed in a war that took the lives of more than 250,000 innocent people. The war caused approximately two million people to leave their homes and flee to the streets looking for a safe place to live. The war changed many lives forever but no one can truly understand how much pain and torture was experienced unless you were there. I was, and I still feel the pain deep inside whenever I have to speak about it because it brings back many memories.
April 7, 1992 was just another perfect day filled with laughter and fun when I woke up and smelled the fresh breeze. Only three, my thoughts were of running outside to play in the grass with my friends. Little did I know that it would be the worst day of my life. Out of nowhere the blue sky turned pitch black, the ground started shaking and I began to choke on the sour air. I had no idea what was happening, so I just stood there. Out of the black mess came my dad and he held me with all his strength. So, there we were, my mom, dad and I, running, for our lives.
I heard sounds I had never heard before. Everyone was screaming and asking for help. My dad held me and told me not to be scared, everything would be okay. Buildings and shops were gone and there were huge holes in the ground everywhere. Something was really wrong. We now had no home, no clothes, no food, only each other. And that would soon be gone, too. How could everything be okay if everything was going so wrong? No matter how hard I tried, I could not make sense of this. We walked past many dead people lying in the streets. People were being shot and killed in front of my eyes, even babies and children.
Just when I thought that nothing could get worse, it did. My mother and I were put on a bus that would take us to a safe place. My dad wanted to stay behind to watch over our home but he had no idea that the war would last as long as it did. Then as he made his way back to our house, he was captured and put into a concentration camp.
My mom and I had no other family and had to start
a whole new life in Germany. Days, weeks, months and then years passed with no sign of my dad. My mother didn’t know if he were alive since those in the concentration camps were not likely to survive. We knew that my father would be tortured at the camp along with thousands of other men.
Three years after the war began, the country was beginning to calm down and peace was spreading. I was six years old with a single mother who struggled to put food on the table. One day, I answered the phone and heard a strange deep voice say my name.
“Hi, Sanela, this is your dad,” he said. I was speechless. The phone fell as I ran up the stairs to tell my mom. My dad was alive and well. He was so lucky because of the thousands of men in the camp, only five survived and he was one of them.
April 20, 1996 was my seventh birthday and the day my dad was released from the concentration camp. I saw him for the first time in three years.
Now I see everything differently and never take anything for granted. So here I am now, in the United States with my parents and now a little brother, too. I make the best of everything and live every day to its fullest. My past has only made me stronger. The war brought everyone together in a unique way and made my family realize how precious each minute is with loved ones.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.