What i want you to know about living through a war

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Vesna.


I was nine when a war broke out in my country. For those first nine years of my life, my childhood was your middle-class picture-perfect: my parents had good jobs, I played with my friends, I had piano lessons and dance classes, was spoiled with Barbie dolls, we took long walks with our dog, we travelled for vacations etc. However, when the political issues in our country turned into an armed conflict, even though our city was spared of the fighting, our lives still turned upside down.

You see, we were the only branch of our extended family who lived in that safe city, and soon family members and my parents’ old friends started escaping their homes in more dangerous areas and looking for shelter. Our guests mostly didn’t stay long, they were applying to refugee associations, moving to other countries, just waiting for visas. Over three and a half years, approximately 70 people came and went through our home. You may not believe it, but even though the circumstances were abhorrent, and many of these people had experienced horrible things, our living situation was actually pleasant, with everyone pulling together and living as some sort of commune.

There was one person who stayed longest and made the most lasting impression on my life – a girl, Sally, only four months younger than I am. Her parents, good friends with mine, sent Sally to stay with us as soon as things got dicey and since their home town was soon besieged, they were not able to leave themselves. By the time they managed to escape and get their visas for a new life, Sally had stayed with me and my parents for two and a half years.

Sally is also an only child and having two prepubescent girls suddenly learning to share a room, toys, friends and everything else must not have been easy for my parents. As life does not just stop when things get difficult, our ordinary lives were continuing. My parents were still working, Sally and I were going to school, chores needed to be done and dogs needed to be walked. My parents treated Sally as part of the family – with all the perks and obligations. By their example, so did I, and we were soon truly living as sisters. At her desire, Sally also attended piano lessons and dance classes, we shared the responsibility of cleaning our room, we played together (and soon the playtime was replaced by daydreaming about our first crushes), we were cuddled and hugged, and expected to always finish our homework (my parents had always placed great importance on knowledge and learning).

When Sally left and her family started a new life in a far away country, we still maintained a strong bond (and she still refers to me as her “sister-friend”). Eleven years later, when she finished her master’s degree, she came to visit us. My father smiled broadly and with tears in his eyes raised a toast to the first of their children with a master’s degree. And then she showed us that her thesis had been selected for publication and she dedicated it to my parents, to “the home where learning came first”.

What I took from all this is that you never know what life is going to throw at you. The way my parents handled this, with extreme kindness, compassion and grace, is an example of character I can only strive to achieve. Moreover, in their role as my parents, they did all this while still ensuring that my childhood memories are maybe different than other people’s, but still mostly wonderful – and as she tells me, the same goes for Sally. This is what I learned – if I’m ever in a difficult situation (hopefully nothing this extreme!), the way I handle it will completely affect the way my children handle it. Since my parents kept up the routine, the normality and all our values throughout this chaos, I think this just strengthened my hold on the world, instead of pulling the rug out from under me. And this is why my parents are also my heroes.

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