The house of peace in the country of war

2014-12-22 16.23.50

Around the time I was twelve years old my family moved from a small flat in Zagreb, where we lived with one of my Grannies, to a house in the suburbs. I complained, I didn’t want to move. I had good childhood friends there, I loved the neighbourhood, I went out for walks in the nearby park with people who had dogs, while we had none. Both the dogs and their owners were my friends and I loved that. I liked the part of town where I grew up, I was there since my birth. I didn’t want nor need a different home. ‘Home’, a word that would in my late teens deepen and change meaning, and the external image that I will in the future associated with it will shift outside of my native Croatia, at that time was still none-negotiable.

I had two years of primary school to finish and I didn’t want to go to a new school. We would move to a village in the suburb of Zagreb and I didn’t want to live in a village. As you can tell, for one who was a rather happy child I was quite unhappy with the decision to move somewhere else. I said I will not study and I made sure to make it very clear that I will protest before and after we change our address. But with all the hustle I created verbally, I was the first one to settle. Strangely, I got to love it there.

First of all, our new house was exactly that, a house. It was not big but compared to the flat where we lived until then, it was a palace. What is more, I had my own room. The house had the ground flour and the top flour. The living room downstairs had a fancy sofa on which we often watched TV. In-between other rooms there was a corridor out of which a set of wooden stairs led upstairs to the attic where my brother and I had rooms, each on one side of the house. The window in my room looked towards the sky. Beneath it was a desk where I studied, and since I would soon-after turn into a diligent student, that desk was well used. My room in that house was a room where many of my dreams were born.

Outside, leading to the front door, was the front yard, with a beautiful cherry-blossom tree just near the house. At the back was a small garden where we initially grew vegetables. Later on my parents decided to plant the grass there instead, but we first tended to the garden for a few years. I hated working in that garden, and naturally my parents thought it important I helped in that area of house-work too. How I ended up being someone who loves gardening now, I do not know. If someone told my ‘teenage-me’ that I will develop green fingers and become a-self-thought expert in indoor gardening, she would laugh and say “tell me another joke, this is a good one”. Perhaps in all my complaining a little seed from the garden of my youth fell into my heart and it blossomed many years after, when I moved to the country of my dreams where I live now.

Yet this house from my childhood would soon be overshadowed with war, missiles and the sound of bombs. I must have been twelve when Croatia voted for the independence and when the war started. I was pretty much sheltered from it all, unlike many I could still keep my childhood and was not forced to grow up over night. But I did hear the bombs, saw the news, and the terror got soaked within my skin-pores. The emergency sirens would notify us that danger was near on a very regular basis. If I was at school at the time, which was fifteen minute walk from my family home, the whole class, in fact the whole school would seek refuge in the basement of a nearby house. For us kids it was a time for celebration, for it meant less time spent at school. Play was one of my ways of escapism, I guess, but I didn’t know it at the time. You do need to find ways to remain sane in the time of war. Thankfully sometimes the ideas would come out of our childhood innocence, somehow naturally, as if imagination and survival were very obvious options to take as a child. If the sirens were sounded while I was at home, we had to go to the centre of the house, at the bottom of the wooden stairs, and wait there until the danger passed. That was the most secure part of the house, and we spent many hours there.

I must have been around fifteen or a bit older when the war was over, but life goes on, even during the war, and so year after year growing up in that house my deepest dreams were born. A vision of the country far away from where I lived started to grow within me. Those dreams inhabited the word ‘home’, and even though I loved the house where my teenage room was, deep down in my heart I knew that is not where I belong.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 20th April 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

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