Tao Yuan Airport in Taiwan, five-fifteen, early Tuesday morning. I am tired, sleepy and uncomfortable after my fifteen-hour flight. I push my luggage to the immigration booth and hand over my Bosnian passport to the attendant. My sleepy eyes and my tussled hair might have been why the attendant looks at me suspiciously and why she pulls out a loop to closely examine my passport. After about five minutes and the second attendant who comes over to help with the examination of this strange passport I ask, " Do you get many Bosnian visitors?" The attendant looks at me and laughing says, "No, we don't get any Bosnian visitors."
They eventually let me enter the country without any further incidents. I assume that they will go home and tell their families about this weird passport they saw, with a country that is called Bosnia and also Herzegovina.
So, here I was, Bosnian in Taipei, traveling on business and amazed at how small the world is these days. Bosnian in Taiwan, a girl who was caught in the war storm in the nineties, who dreamed only of the future with studious involvements at college and books, who dreamed of boyfriends and long walks along the river. Back then I knew little about travel and what joys and worries it could bring.
First time I left Bosnia it was nineteen-ninety nine. I was heading for college in America. If a young person was to read this sentence now, it would sound very common indeed to their powerful, arrogant, world-is-mine-to-behold, attitude. Lots of students get on the plane these days to go to college. However, after five years of war, loss of dignity and necessities, ones life becomes unpredictable and the world out there exists so far away that it seems surreal. My reality was a closed city, bombings, waiting for death to arrive. Open borders and flights were so distant and long forgotten. So, there I was heading to America. I did not know anyone there. I was leaving my family behind and the devastation that was Bosnia at the time. I was scared senseless, much more than your average college student these days. Once I arrived to Chicago and when I was driven by my host family to rural Indiana to be thrown into the American college life, faced with abundance, a beautiful campus, and all the amenities that a student has in the States I realized that I was miles away from home. It felt strangely Star Trek to me, to be transported from one world to another, so seamlessly on a man-made flying vessel, perhaps not as comfortably as I would have been if I was teleported, but still, the journey was only nine hours, a moment really in a human life.
Fast forward seventeen years, a couple of days after my arrival to Taipei I met my college friend that now lives there. We studied together in America. International students congregated at the small mid-western university we attended. We were all transported into a different reality, and some more scared then others. None came from a war as I did, some came from countries that were considered progressive and modern, some from less sophisticated countries (at least compared to the western standards), but I was able to befriend all of them, fascinated with the beauty of the differences between us all, fascinated that I was able to meet all these wonderful people and be so open, after years of the war-prison.
So, a Bosnian and a Taiwanese, unlikely friends, who met in Indiana in the late nineties, early two-thousands, meeting in Taipei, thirteen years after our graduation. We reminisced about our college days, talked about mutual friends, about our families now. We ate traditional Taiwanese food. I tried stinky tofu and I must say it was one of my more adventurous food samplings (not to be repeated though). Certainly, this friendship formed in rural Indiana, meeting of two girls from two different worlds, one from war, another from a country that is greatly industrialized and where air is heavy with pollution, is surreal, science fiction-like experience.
One thing that war has given me is the opportunity to leave my country. If there was no Bosnian war, I would have probably studied in my hometown, gotten married and maybe traveled much much later in my life. I would have not been brave enough to try new things and meet new people. The war gave me the ability to see the world and meet people, different people and realize that we are all essentially the same, vulnerable, beautiful, with fears and desires and proud of our heritage, willing to share it, with friends and strangers.
There are many things I lost in the war, family members, friends, my youth and my childhood. I developed a fear of loud sounds and I still struggle to understand why there is suffering around us. But those who are responsible for the war then and the wars we wage now are not realizing that they are at risk of creating people who will be displaced and meet other inhabitants of this planet earth. These war refugees would have the ability to understand people from other places and see the uniqueness of their backgrounds and the beauty of it all. They will appreciate friendships and what they have. Waging wars destroys nations, but it also creates courageous and beautiful people, gentile and forgiving, openhearted and willing to coexist to make a better life for themselves and their offspring.
I am raising two children and I hope to pass on some of my experience and my knowledge onto them, making two members of the society who will not look upon refugees and other religions and people of other colors and nationalities with disdain. They will not look at them as threats, but as friends and allies. They will believe that one day this world will be a better place, intertwined and forgiving, a world where a Bosnian will travel to Taiwan and where an immigration officer will look at the Bosnian passport and say, "Welcome to Taiwan fellow Earthian, we get many visitors from Bosnia."