Like most other villages in Bosnia, Suhaca can’t move on. It exists in the present, but lives in the past.

Travel Period: July 2012
Length of Stay:
22 days

If the formative years of one’s childhood turn you into the person you become, then I owe everything to Suhaca: the village in Northern Bosnia where I spent the first seven years of my life.

The last time my feet felt the ground of this village – while I still called it home – was in 1992. I was lifted off the front porch by my mother, and placed on top of a tractor with other crying children. In front of us, hundreds of people were walking away from everything they ever knew. With soldiers striding behind us, we marched forward with disquiet, hoping the road ahead didn’t lead into the arms of death.

In 2012, this memory was on my mind when I revisited Suhaca for the first time since the exile that day.

A small village roughly twenty minutes outside Novi Grad (Bosanski Novi), the town and municipality of the region, Suhaca is a settlement founded beside the river Japra, a vein of the main river Sana that flows through Northern Bosnia.

I was in a car with my girlfriend, my father and uncle. I waited patiently to see the village, but each minute swelled like a bruise. We passed Blagaj and I looked out of the window to see if I remembered this place at all. I wanted to recognise the houses, see my extended family, but it all looked outlandish. Like a place from an intense dream.

I expected scars of war when we finally arrived but I didn’t expect to find Suhaca so buried in the past. It wasn’t even a shadow of its former self – the Suhaca before me was now a place of arid desolation. While some houses were occupied, more were abandoned. Shells of homes, stripped of everything when they were looted back in 1992. Not even electrical cables remained, no windows or doors. Some, like the house I grew up in, were destroyed down to the foundation. Like statues, the concrete slabs poked out of green fields all around.

After the war, a lot of families rebuilt their homes. The majority however, never returned. They built their lives elsewhere in Europe and across the world. They only came during summer breaks to appease the appetite for their homeland.

The few that did return, attempted to reestablish their lives with the support of the Diaspora. But their lives were of a futile existence.

Suhaca, like most other villages in Bosnia, can’t move on. It exists in the present, but lives in the past. The future doesn’t interest it because it doesn’t have one.

Still, even with this sad sight before me, I became drawn to its geography. Unlike the villages closer to Novi Grad, Suhaca was isolated, hilly and secluded. The main road split nature and civilization in two. Human life with its houses, farms and livestock was on the left, closer to the river Japra, while the untouched forest was on the right.

Our house, which my uncle rebuilt as a holiday home, was one of the first you see upon entering the village. Built on sloped land, it looked down onto the extended fields beside the river and up, onto the towering forest.

After a week of strolling about, visiting families and hearing stories, I suddenly recalled the path I used to take into the forest as a child. The access was just a little further from our house and my girlfriend and I decided to take a walk. My father protested, asking us to reconsider. He feared there might be land mines.

With sticks in our hands, we mustered the courage and walked all the way up, emerging on top of the hill. The view looked over the entire village and beyond. I gazed at the distant meadows and felt it’s silence speak of rest.

I attempted to see if I could love nature as profoundly as Peter Camendzind did in Hermann Hesse’s first novel. I wanted to peer more greedily into the hidden truths that places such as this carried. Like him, I wanted to love valleys before me like a person. To listen to them like one listens to the voice of one’s lover. But I didn’t. I was consumed with deep hatred. I knew the truths these meadows hid, but I couldn’t see them any longer.

It became apparent to me the longer I stayed in Suhaca, the less I connected with it – only it’s past. The valley green like emerald stones. Hills curved like perfect circles. Mosques with shiny minarets. Lush forests and blooming trees. It was all beauty, waiting to be appreciated by someone else.

The weeks ahead only brought me closer to an understanding I needed to feel; that I, now a proud resident of Melbourne, was once a peasant from this small village. A boy of intemperate behaviour, drawn to trouble and mischief.

During my childhood, Suhaca was the entirety of my world. Nothing existed outside of it except for its neighbouring villages. Toil and labour were the things that made its existence. I was a happy child until that day.

Suhaca now represents the state of being a child for me. Unlike a foreign city I have no relationship with, this village’s beauty I cannot fully articulate. We are bound closely with too sentimental of an experience. It bears the essence of my childhood. It holds, in its hands, the first word I ever spoke, the first time I walked and the first time I fell. It holds the first tears I cried in pain and the first tears I cried in fear.

I enjoyed every second I spent there but I could only see it for what it was: a spot on earth that forged the foundation of my character.

Maybe you might see it, for what it actually is.


Ennis Cehic