She had to go back after a year. But back where? She had been a student at Sarajevo University, with a healthy mix of Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian friends. But this was the 1990's and eventually, like many Kosavan Serbs, she left her home town and couldn't have gone back to her university city, so ended up as one of the huge influx of Serbs that increased the size of Banja Luka (in the Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzogovina) trying to find a home and start over.
She asked me to come many times, but between outbreaks of violence there and troubles of my own with my PhD, I didn't make it. Eventually, I summoned up the courage and bought a ticket to Belgrade, where she had bought a little house in between the grey tower blocks of Novi Beograd - New Belgrade. It had been built by the Germans in between World Wars, so was very solidly built, but tiny. She has added a second floor now. Holidays were spent here, in the Serbian capital city. Given the times, it was a very wise purchase as it gave her economic stability as well as a feeling of home. Kosova Mitrovica was out of the question, though she did have relatives there.
We stayed there for a while and then got a bus to Banja Luka, where she works at the University. The bus journey started out alarmingly, as our tickets had been double-sold and we ended up sitting with me at the back and my friend at the front. It turned out that the guy sitting next to me was a dentist (not so good) but spoke excellent English (a good thing). He was able to explain what was happening when we got to a part of the road that was very, very bumpy. I asked him why and he told me casually that we were actually on the rail bridge as the road bridge had been blown up. It was dark and a white-out as we were driving through a blizzard, so I started to feel a long way from home myself. However, before, when I didn't know about the road bridge, I had been fine, so I gave mysefl a talking to and settled back. When we reached the border, panic ensued, as the police came and forcibly removed a woman from the bus. My interpreter told me that she had been running away from a psychiatric hospital, but it was not nice at all to see someone so distressed, even if they were acting in her best interests. Then, the bus moved off, and I still didn't have my passport. This time, I was fairly distraught, but managed to get a message passed up the bus in various languages (Pass port is fairly similar in all) to my friend, who turned round, grinned at me and waved it. The border police had given it back to her.
The adventure didn't stop, as the break for refreshments at a cafe meant using the Bosnian facilities. I borrowed a coin from my friend and went to use the loo. I got a shock when it was the Turkish style hole in the floor and I chickened out. I told my friend that I could wait until we got to her house, but that I had had to give away her coin. She said, "In my country, you have to pay for cultural experience."
The journey of a lifetime. And now I'm on another one, not disimilar in some respects, with Oakdale Links. I will try to remember that when I didn't know about the dangers, I was fine. And not to ask too many questions about the state of the roads.