Maja – Mostar
“Through hardships to the stars.”
I had a great childhood. There were no phones and no computers. Instead, I spent my time playing outdoors with the neighborhood children. I especially enjoyed playing football with the boys when I was young. I would have loved to play competitive football, but unfortunately, Mostar did not have a girls’ football team at that time. So, I had to make a choice: volleyball, handball, or tennis. I chose handball and started training when I was nine years old. It took focus and determination, thereby impacting my ability to make and maintain friendships; teenagers are accustomed to enjoying themselves, but my dedication to the sport meant that I had responsibilities to myself and my teammates. I played on both of Mostar’s teams which were located on different sides of town. This was difficult. I came from a mixed marriage, and although I was raised to be accepting of difference, this did not necessarily mean I was universally embraced by my teammates.
Five years ago, I went to Sarajevo to play professional handball for ŽRK Hadžići. I enjoy the competition and comradery, but there is a general lack of support for women’s athletics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For example, Bosnia and Herzegovina lacks a women’s national handball team. I would love to be able to play in international competition, but for this to occur, I need to be recruited outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I would take an international contract if given the opportunity, even if it meant that I would have to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the conflict with which most of my peers contend. Love for our country does not often outweigh the economic benefit of leaving its borders. Perhaps if I played internationally, I would also earn respect as a female athlete, something that, due to the expectations placed on women, has not been forthcoming in my own country. I recognize, however, there is a limitation on my ability to continue playing competitively. As I get older, I risk injury. Perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to train up and coming athletes from Bosnia and Herzegovina and help to improve the conditions for the country’s exceptional athletes, providing them the opportunities which did not exist for me.
Although I enjoy competitive handball as a profession, I would appreciate the opportunity to work in the sector for which I was trained. I went to the construction high school in Konak and focused on geodetic survey. My twin brother attended the same high school as I did but concentrated in construction. While there are so many well-trained young adults, the economic conditions of Bosnia and Herzegovina compel young people to leave and seek job opportunities outside of the country. For me, it is not about finding an extremely high paid, influential, or prestigious position, it is simply about finding a respectable job that enables me to earn enough to support a fulfilling life. I would prefer to be able to do that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but I do not believe this is realistic. Many people say that they see the light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel; I am not that optimistic.
The pandemic has really highlighted the lack of care and concern that the government and its leadership has for the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The people are not provided for in the ways which we are entitled, in the ways that the Yugoslav system provided. To me, the Yugoslav system represents a normalcy I have not yet experienced. My grandmother, with whom I grew up, used to say, “Tito, get up…I will take your spot.” That possibility seems more realistic than any real changes being made to improve the conditions in the country. The type of pervasive nationalism upon which current local politics thrives is criminal. The political system benefits those in power and ensures the continued fragmentation of the population. In the end, all humans need the same basic conditions for a quality life. All citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of identity, should have equal access to education, employment with fair compensation, healthcare, housing, and public facilities. A system is not successful if it only benefits and serves a minority of the population.