The other day I went over for coffee with a friend here, let's call her Azra. We were sitting in her kitchen and she suddenly asked me how old I was.
I'm 37 Azra. Well nearly 38.
Azra carried on spooning the coffee absentmindedly and didn't say anything for a little while.
Do you dye your hair? She asked eventually.
I wasn't sure where this was going. I don't dye my hair but I'm also blessed with not a grey hair on my head despite my advanced age. I said not.
She was quiet again.
You look so much younger than me. I'm only 2 years older than you, but I look like your mother.
She was right. We do look like we come from different generations. It is not so much that I look young, but that she looks far older than her years.
But Azra, I started to say I haven't had to deal with a half of the things you've had to cope with in your life.
For Azra has had to live a life. She came from a village near Srebrenica. When the war started she was newly married with a little baby. They were worried by the rumours of what was happening in villages further north and left her home to come to Tuzla. Her husband joined the Bosnian Army (which was essentially the Bosnian Muslim forces). She had another baby. Her husband sent word that he was so excited to be the father of a little girl and that he couldn't wait to meet her. She never heard from him again.
After the war she remarried, had another baby. This husband started beating her, so she left him. He cut all ties, refusing to acknowledge his son, refusing to pay towards his upkeep.
So there was Azra. 3 children. No money. No job. Her family were scattered across the world. One brother was in the US, another in France yet another in Germany. They sent her money occasionally but it wasn't really enough to live on. Her father was dead now, her mother came to Tuzla, sick, and moved in with her and her children into their 1 bedroom flat. She tried to find work but couldn't. They found the remains of her first husband in a mass grave near Pilica. She went to the mosque for the first time in years.
I'm going to leave Bosnia, she said. There's nothing for me here except sadness and loss. I have no more hope here. I must leave.
They decided to move to a Germany. Azra asked her brothers for money and paid 4000KM to a fixer to obtain for them a visa to travel as tourists into Europe. The fixer organised everything for them. He arranged for a letter to say that Azra's eldest son was employed (he wasn't). He arranged for a letter stating that they had a certain amount of money in the bank (they didn't). He arranged for an invitation to be provided by someone in Poland to make it look as if they would be travelling there, but applied for a Shengen visa, which permits travel to any European country.
Their visa request was refused. They reapplied. It was refused again. They applied once more. I asked Azra why they didn't wait until Bosnia gets visa free travel, likely to be this year.
I can't wait any more. I want to go. I have to go. I can't stay here any more. I'm stuck, I can't do anything here.
The third time they applied they got it. The next day they were on a bus, with all their belongings, off to start their new life.
I haven't heard from Azra since they arrived in Germany. I don't know what she is going to do in Germany. She didn't finish school and has no formal qualifications. None of the family speak German. I asked her what she would do there. There are lots of jobs for cleaners she said. I said that the global recession had hit European countries pretty hard too and that there weren't lots of jobs any more. There are she insisted. Someone told me there are. I will find one. I will have a job.
Their tourist visa is about to expire. They have no intention of coming back. I wonder how they are finding Germany, if Azra has found a job. But I wonder most if they are missing Bosnia. The blossoms are out here now. Everyone is sitting outside having coffee, tending to their vegetable patches and enjoying the sunshine. The young kids are playing on the streets and the older ones are strolling up and down the road laughing with their friends and eyeing up the boys.