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A Natural Friendship

A Natural Friendship

Issue 85 October 2011

Leila conquered a mountain and won Meliha’s friendship.




Sometimes you just click with a person. This was certainly the case with Meliha and me; there is an unquantifiable, indefinable affinity between us. Despite being a Londoner at heart, I have a profound love of nature and rural landscapes, so when the opportunity came to live in Bosnia as part of a volunteer programme, I was first to sign up.  


Whilst still in Sarajevo, I learnt that the home of my host family in Republika Srpska was situated at the top of a secluded mountain. Initially, I found this an overwhelming prospect. However, the difficult climb proved entirely worth it when I experienced the stunning views first-hand. 


It was Meliha whom I first bonded with. She has a natural serenity about her that reflects the beauty and calm of her surroundings. I was struck by what a gentle-natured yet confident woman she appeared to be. Throughout my stay, she would constantly refer to her “peasant” customs, needlessly apologising for any inconvenience caused to Lucy, the team supervisor and I. Nevertheless, the immense pride she had in her country was obvious and one I admired. 


Meliha has a strong moral compass. It is difficult to be an outwardly practising Muslim in Bosnia but despite this, Meliha is unwavering in her commitment to God. She, along with most other Bosnians, has suffered enormously; enduring genocide, hunger and displacement. Bosnians are amongst the most hospitable, appreciative and hardworking people I have ever had the privilege to meet, and Meliha is no exception - her positive, life-affirming attitude is inspirational. Not once did I feel left out of any group gathering because Meliha carefully translated and explained everything to me, with intricate descriptions and detail. Even when she caught a cold (from me!) and nearly lost her voice, she carried on relentlessly; attempting to make our stay as comfortable as possible. It was then that I realised she was one of the most genuine and caring people I had ever met.  


Although we both share a deep love of nature and the outdoors, I would say that Meliha is a lot braver than me. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not kill and de-gut the chickens that the family prepared for lunch. Given that I eat meat, you would think I could at least kill them! Yet again, Meliha stepped in to save me—like a true friend.





The greatest gift Leila gave me was her guidance on how I can communicate my affection for others. I have never been tactile in my engagement with others, and before I knew Leila, I loathed hugging! But Leila taught me that it is hugely important to show affection to those you care about—especially your friends and family.  She has taught me how to better express myself, and above all, she has taught me to enjoy life.

As a student of English language and literature, I relished the chance to have an English-speaking companion when I discovered Leila would be volunteering in Bosnia. Ironically, the attachment that developed between Leila and I was informed more by the rhythms and cadences of the Bosnian countryside, than the intricacies of the English language! 


One thing that plagued me before Leila’s arrival was the fear of failing to be an engaging host. I feared that she and the other volunteers would look down on us because they were from a far more affluent environment. I could not have been more wrong. Leila and I approached one another with sincerity and ultimately, that is why our relationship developed and naturally went from strength to strength. 

Emblematical and light-hearted highlights of Leila’s stay included the time that Leila attempted to catch butterflies. She ran spiritedly across the meadows in pursuit of them and when she finally caught one, she let out an almighty shriek—never before had she experienced the sensation of holding a butterfly between her fingertips. We laughed for what felt like hours. 


From the very beginning, Leila enthusiastically claimed that she wanted to do everything we do, but when it came to preparing the meat for the winter, Leila was so disgusted that she declared her newfound vegetarianism. An hour later, I grilled some meat and Leila could not say no to it! 


For the 25 days that Leila was part of my home, I took great pleasure in discussing our differences — she is Shi’a and I am Sunni. She was also momentarily vegetarian, while I am a meat-lover! Without undermining our beliefs, we listen to one another, and what is more valuable in life than to have a friend who can hear you with her heart? 

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1 Comment



7 Oct 11, 22:11

I went to Bosnia as part of a volunteer programme run by MADE in Europe.

Applications for Bosnia 2012 are now open:

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