In your everyday life, how often do you realise the value of friends? The topic isn’t sexy, I know. And when life’s full of kids, work, dinner cookings, and car repairs friends aren’t always at the top of the list. But really, the fact that it can be so, is part of the beauty of it!
Six months ago I wrote a piece about finding my tribe – it was a time I was really starting to dive deep into the culture shock of living in Bosnia, and I felt isolated and lonely. All the while I was diving, I knew it was an important part of the process of settling here. It was an elemental period where I would be forced to realise I’ve moved yet again, and I am to form new friendships, find my tribe yet again.
It felt hard. I had left Finland, where I had great friends, and I had left Slovenia, where I had great new friends, relationships that had just begun to bloom. I didn’t really want to go on to find new friends. While I love having new friends, realising that a huge part of the quality of life and happiness depends on finding new friends, felt tiring.
I wrote: “Relationships change when you go. Dynamics, daily routines, the physical contact matter. Trying to stay in each others lives merely via Facebook, phones, emails and Skype simply doesn’t work for me in the long haul. I miss being in the same space with my friends“. So I knew I had to find my people here, in this space, in Bosnia.
I like the idea of a tribe. By that I mean people that are committed to supporting and standing by you, and vice versa. I mean people that you don’t just like, but feel connected to, want to learn from them or with them, and feel interested in knowing their families, their history, their dreams – people you really wish to share your life with. Furthermore a tribe is a bunch of people that tend not to judge you, and that let you be you, in all the different and evolving ways you are. A tribe member, in my view, doesn’t tell you: “Oh, don’t do that, you’re scared of hights”, when you want to try on climbing. They don’t stop you from growing and moving towards the real you.
Your oldest, closest friends might not be your (only) tribe. This was the thought I was hanging on to last autumn. And as the months went by, I started to see friends and tribe members around me.
Some friends ‘came back’ from the past. Friends that I had slowly lost connection with, but with whom it was easy to connect again. Some of them came to visit us in Bosnia. With some we’re just more in touch via Facebook. This life change of mine – and the changes in their lives – have made us feel closer again. With a few there is a unique feeling of camaraderie, having taken leaps of faith and surviving, even thriving. To some our move has revealed something about me they didn’t know before, and we’ve become close because of this, because of seeing another side of me, perhaps.
They’ve sent me postcards, they’ve shared secrets and delicate thoughts, they’ve brought us greetings, books, and chocolate. They’ve made an effort to be in touch. I hope I’ve managed to give them my time and attention, if nothing else.
When we’d just moved, I wrote a piece about my closest friends in Slovenia. I said: “I see us as girls – more than mothers or career women – and I see us being silly, drinking champagne and talking about boys and lipstick when we’re in our seventies. And just the thought makes me giggle. In one way, I can’t wait to get there! On the other, I’m really looking forward to sharing the years in between with them“. I can’t begin to tell you how these friends make me happy! As Slovenia isn’t very far, I get to visit every few months, and most of them have visited us. Despite the distance, I feel very much a part of their lives in Slovenia. And by this time, it’s not just us: our kids are friends, too!
But then: New people, new friends. What I did to invite more people in my life was basically just that: I invited people in. And I have to say I didn’t feel welcoming, I didn’t feel like I’d have much to give. But I sent messages to people I thought we might have something in common with. Thanks to modern times and Facebook etc. the people were fairly easy to find. I invited them over the our guesthouse, I tried to open the door to our life. And they came!
There are expats living in Bosnia and there are people born and raised in Bosnia.
There is the one who moved here just a few months ago, a young woman whose courage I admire and who is so full of life and beauty it makes me smile. The way she feels about this country makes me see it her way, too.
There is a man who came here during the war and made it his home. He is so welcoming of life and its oddities, it inspires me. And he was the first one to say: “You’re doing well, just keep at it, just keep shining” – at a time I really didn’t feel I was shining. He is wise and funny and open-minded.
There is a woman, and her husband, and their gorgeus daughter. They are so wonderfully kind and open that it amazes me. We don’t know each other all that well, but their praise and acceptance of us have made us feel really welcome.
There is a fellow Finn, a woman who is continually showing support and finding ways to help, even when I don’t know to ask. She is the type of person you thank greatly after achieving your goal, because without her it would’ve been that much harder. She is kind and caring, and though her career keeps her busy, she always finds time.
There are the odd guests at the inn, that come again, and again. And after a while, we realise we’ve become friends. They bring their friends and family. They root for us and honestly hope all will work out. As it will, with a little help from our friends.
There is also a group of people online that in part helped me through the worst of times last autumn. They are from all over the world, nature loving, wilderness-hearted people, and some of them have actually become my friends. From posting photos and sharing weather and wildlife information, we’ve moved on to participating in each others personal lives, paying attention to one another, showing acceptance and support, and, in some cases, even planning to meet in real life. This group is still important to me, but during September-October last year, it was fundamental. And it just goes to show that sometimes friends and support and feeling of belonging happens in a place you really never expected. (Their fb-page here, the actual fb-group is a closed one.)
We all know kids make friends easily. They do so, because, by and large, they don’t have preconcieved ideas about the other person. They don’t worry about whether they will be liked or not (not until a bit later, that is), they don’t mind what the other person thinks of their clothes, their looks, their family, their intelligence, their background. They make friends because that’s the way people are built, to be in contact with each other, it’s our life-line.
We make friends easy when we’re kids, but if we kept even a small piece of that open-mindedness and fearlesness as adults, we might end up with much more extraordinary people in our lives than we’d ever expect.
I’ve been blessed with long standing friendships as well as the new ones. I’ve really been reminded of the value of friends, especially on the occasion of moving to a new country. Perhaps I don’t have my own tribe just yet, but I no longer feel alone and isolated. I feel there is a group of people, besides my family, that does care and will support me.
How do I give back? Do I give back? I hope so. Really. I try to make it felt that I’ve got time. That our doors are open. I hope I’m able to give space to my friends, so they feel they’re loved and accepted for who they are.
Earlier in this post I said there is beauty to friendships not being always on the top of the list. With my lifestyle and how and where we live, it’s relieving and soothing to know friends exist and love and care even when we’re far apart. The way things are now, my family is my top priority. But I could not do this, this Bosnia, this lifestyle, if it weren’t for friends and tribe members. The people I value the most are the ones who don’t judge – our way of life, the seemingly non-stop moving around, and all the emotions and reactions that are results of it – and on my behalf, I’ll try to return the favour, constantly. I salute you.