" I had a strange feeling of nostalgia for a place I had never been, yet knew in some way. "
As a first generation Australian I always had an itch to visit my parents' homeland. It wasn’t until the Yugoslav Wars finally ended in 1999 that it seemed feasible. So off we trotted - my brother, mum and I on our first taste of travel beyond our idyllic island home. The landing alone was emotional; I had a strange feeling of nostalgia for a place I had never been, yet knew in some way.
Approaching Belgrade airport, I was struck by the flatness of Serbia. There wasn't even a hint of undulation in the landscape, and the memory of seeing the Balkan earth painted with geometric shapes of surrounding farmlands that day still brings a smile to my face. Finally we landed and awaited our gigantic suitcases (unfortunately the advantages of packing light were unbeknown to my young self). As we passed through the departure gates, I spotted my grandmother beaming; it had been over a decade since she and my grandfather left the shores of Australia to return to their birthplace. Our visit would be a long awaited reunion.
It was a nail biting 40-minute journey from the airport to my family’s village as the driver of our black Mercedes seemed to hold no regard for speed limits nor oncoming traffic. Fortunately, we arrived in Curug - the village that has been home to countless generations of my family - in one piece.
It was immediately clear that we had arrived at the peak of sunflower season; the fields that encircled the village were scintillating, almost magically. It was a truly beautiful sight.
The coming six weeks were to be spent meeting family I had never met, eating quantities of food I’d never imagined possible, making life-long friends and absorbing a culture which I thought I knew to its core, but now realised ran deeper than I could have ever envisaged. Serbia is a land torn apart by its brutal history, much of it unnervingly recent. The remnants of war were clearly visible during my visit; bridges left shattered by NATO bombs lay in the Danube and the stories I heard were stained by the atrocities each storyteller had survived. Yet a human spirit ran deep. Lightheartedness prevailed.
I felt proud to be of this people, yet fortunate to be Australian. In the approaching decade I would travel the world and visit places many people only dream of, but I will forever hold on to a piece of my heartland as a beacon of strength and inspiration to see me through my days.