The other story Neno shared that stayed with me is the love story of his own parents. His mother is a Muslim Bosniak and his father was a Christian Serb, but despite their differences and because of it, they stuck through the war together. Neno’s dad, as a Serb, was expected to side and fight with the Serbs, but he proudly stated that he is a son of Sarajevo, and as such will defend his home. He and other Sarajevo-born Serbs fought the war alongside the Bosniaks and did all they could to defend their homes and their families.
During the war, Neno’s mother was one of the lucky few who still had a stable job. She worked for one of the government ministries and earned a living despite the disruption caused by the war. Everyday however, she had to walk three miles to her office each way, never knowing if she was in the crosshairs of one of the hundreds of snipers perched on the hills around Sarajevo. Everyday for three years she walked, everyday for three years her family breathes a sigh of relief when she comes home, everyday, they are thankful for being alive.
In the midst of the war when even the most basic necessities were hard to come by, Neno and his family, through sheer determination and perseverance not only survived but thrived. Foodstuffs like meat and vegetables were near impossible to find, and if you do find some on the black market, it comes at a very steep price. The USAID and other foreign humanitarian missions usually gave canned meat, some grains and noodles, and maybe packets of peanut butter. But for the majority Muslim population, the canned meat was for naught, for the labels never say what kind of meat it is.
One of the rare treats that Neno came to value during those days, and until now, were sugar and candy, for they were almost impossible to find. Neno and his family managed by planting whatever vegetables will grow on the miniscule patch of soil they have in their yard.
There were makeshift schools in various neighbors’ houses, and children from all ages attend the same classes. There was no luxury of segregating the kids by age or educational level. There were days when more than a dozen kids are able to make it to school, and on some days, only one or none can make it. But throughout the war, Neno’s parents insisted he go to school. They refused to sacrifice his education to the war.
Neno’s father during this time was in and out of their house and their lives. He was a soldier, a husband, and a father fighting for his home against his own kinsmen. He survived the harsh conditions during the war, but not without cost. His leg was shattered when a mortar exploded near him. He didn’t need an amputation, but to this day he walks with a pronounced limp and limited mobility.
Neno’s mother, despite being worried sick over her husband decided not to play the expected role of martyr. She channeled her fear and grief into fiery determination. That same fiery determination is what held her family together for the next 44 months that the war raged on. Despite the danger of walking down the streets, she marched on to work everyday. When what her family needed wasn’t available anywhere, she either made her own or went around the neighborhood looking to trade what she had for what she needed. When one of her children got sick and medicine was not available, which was usually the case, she relied on the wisdom passed down by her elders and made do with home remedies. When the schools were shut down, she corralled her children in the kitchen and taught them herself.
Near the end of the war, Neno’s father finally came home due to his injury. Still refusing to be a victim, Neno’s mother continued with her daily routine only modifying it slightly to care for his dad. She never pitied herself or her husband, and to this day still runs her household like a well-oiled machine. Neno’s father also refused to be a victim. While no longer to able to serve in the front lines, he helped his Bosnian comrades by providing valuable insight to the opposition’s tactics and by training new recruits.
When the war ended, Neno’s parents tried to rebuild their lives to how it was before the war, but at the same time, they looked towards the future and moved on. Almost twenty years later, they are still happily married and their children grew up to be successful educated adults. When Neno talked about his parents, and the amazing love and dedication they have for each other over the years, his eyes would light up with such pride and joy, and rightly so. Their love story is the real deal, they had the kind of love that conquers all, war be damned, and is the kind of love we all hope to have in our lives.