His eyes are closed. A smile forms in the corner of his mouth as he lies there motionless in the summer sun; the warm air cascading gently across his face and rustling his hair in tender strokes. He is in his favourite place on earth, home.
It is the middle of summer and he is in his garden with his back against the oak tree that he has adored since he was a boy. He knows every bump and curve on the tree as he has climbed it almost daily over the past 18 years, often in a game where the tree gave him a lofty advantage over the hapless Indians below or a safe place to hide when Nanny was displeased with him for some misdemeanour or another.
Just recently he has taken to just lying at the base of the tree, with his back to the trunk, that cradles him like a nursing mother comforts a child against her bosom. He loves this tree, he always has. He cannot imagine a more perfect afternoon than this, lying in the garden, on his own in quiet serenity, the only sound being that of his sister’s children playing somewhere out the back. And when he gets hungry, after a few hours that would feel like an eternity, he would amble back to the house and enjoy a long and carefree lunch that would send him even deeper into a state of idle relaxation. Not a care in the world; he feels so at peace with the world and with himself. He breathes in deeply and fills his lungs with warm sweet smelling air. His mother’s orchard is heavily laden with fruit and is ripe for
He breathes in deeply and fills his lungs with warm sweet smelling air. His mother’s orchard is heavily laden with fruit and is ripe for picking. The fruit is casting abroad its aroma inviting everyone to come and take hold of the soft luscious harvest that waits. He can also make out the perfume of the lavender bushes that adorn the border. If he opened his eyes he would see the tall stalks of purple soldiers waving in the breeze like a tranquil sea, gently moving backwards and forward in uniformed harmony.
The children’s voices in the distance are becoming a little too animated for his liking and their childish screaming is enough to disturb his peace. Some voices are louder than others and he chuckles to himself as he pictures his younger brother George getting far too agitated as he bosses whatever game he is part of. Sometimes father would have to intervene and ask George to calm down as he became increasingly frustrated that the house servants were not playing the game in the way that he wanted. He stretches his legs and turns to get comfortable; he could lie here forever and is determined that nothing will make him get up. Not that he could anyway, tiredness has taken hold of his body and he is a dead-weight; nothing more than another piece of the landscape into which he is melting.
He wishes that George would pipe down now. His loud screeching is beginning to disrupt his slumber. If he has to get up and march over to the house he will be very angry and won’t be afraid to show it. Although he loves George to bits, he can be a most infuriating chap. Once, he ran off to tell a large group of travellers to get off of his father’s land or else he would beat them all severely – he was only eight years old and he was lucky to be found by our groundsman before they taught him some well-deserved manners. Also, the carefree way he skipped to the recruiting office when the Germans started to cause a nuisance in Belgium, even against the advice of our father… George was always ready to step in and say his piece without thinking through the consequences.
After a few more minutes, and another twist and turn to get comfortable against the tree, he realises that his peaceful slumber has indeed been interrupted. He tried to push it to the back of his mind, but the noise has now become intolerable and he is irked by the mindless shouting. Also, the refreshing cool breeze has disappeared and he is starting to suffocate in this oppressive heat. The air is no longer clean and fresh, and he coughs as he struggles to gulp down any air. This just won’t do…he needs to get up and head to the house. “Curse you George” he mutters under his breath, “will you stop that shouting! Enough is enough. “
Instantly the bright sunlight has turned into a thick choking smoke that obscures the natural light, and instead of soft grass, he is sitting waist-deep in mud and grease. He thrashes around completely disorientated, looking for the safety of his house but it is not there…where is he? Nothing looks familiar, he is not in his garden at all, he has no recollection of this place. Then he notices that the shouting is not coming from his brother George in the distance, it is himself. In fact, as he sits upright against the tree, he realises that he is screaming uncontrollably. Why? Why is he screaming? What is wrong?
Another explosion sends a cloud of earth and stone against his face and he flinches from it, trying to curl into the loving arms of the stump behind him for protection. The tree is rejecting him. There is no safety here; there is no reassurance, no love. He is frightened and alone as he shakes in terror at what is happening. His ears ring to the point that he cannot focus on anything around him, he shakes his head but his senses are totally disoriented and all he can hear is his own muffled screaming and the loud thud of explosions.
He looks around with glazed eyes unable to focus on anything until he looks down at his body. He realises that he is soaked to the skin and his strange torn and bloodied clothes are stuck to him. The material looks like wet paper that could easily be rubbed away if you touched it. He adjusts his gaze and continues to look down to his legs and realises that they are not there, instead, he sees two mangled stumps where his legs used to be. He screams again, this time, it is more fierce and chilling and he vomits onto the ground as the sight of his torn body registers in his brain. Where is he? What is going on? Where is his family?
Through the fear comes a strong resolution to take control, he needs answers. There…over there, look it’s George. He would recognise George’s blonde curly hair anywhere. It’s as golden as the sun and always looks so beautiful, even against the foul mud that clings to him. He finds he can form words in his throat and manages to shout to his brother…”George? George? What the hell is going on? George!” His brother is not answering. He is kneeling only a few feet away from him, with his back turned. “Blast him”, he thought, “what is he doing now?” He grasps the earth beneath him and shuffles nearer to his brother…”George, damn you”…he shuffles nearer and nearer, the thick choking air almost making him faint as he moves across the ground. He grabs his shoulder…”George, what the hell is …” The body of his younger brother falls backwards and sprawls on the earth. The screaming starts again. George’s face is not there. Half of his head is missing and his body is lifeless and limp… “George!!!!” he screams, but no one can hear him. Another explosion, another cloud of earth sprays against him and fills his eyes and mouth with rancid mud that smells of burning. He is immediately sick and slumps onto his side.
What is going on? Why is he not home? He sees a man running towards him! “help” he whimpers…”help me”. He reaches out his arms to be picked up like a young baby desperately in need of love and comforting. He doesn’t know if it is sweat or tears in his eyes, but he knows that he needs to get out of here. The man stops in front of him, kneels down, and unfastens something from his belt. ”A drink! Oh yes please,” he mumbles to himself, barely above a whisper. He reaches out to the man in front of him grasping at the buttons on his coat, tenderly entreating him to save him from the unnatural and godless scene that he finds himself part of. But no drink is offered, no warm voice meets his ears, no reassuring hand comforts his own cold and bloodied.
And then he sees it. Not the soft rounded edges of a flask, but the cold gleam of a blade. Slowly he looks up with fear raging through his body, and for the first time, he is able to make out the face of his ‘rescuer’. The man towering over him is young and rugged but stares back expressionlessly with cold empty eyes that betray no human emotion. Their faces are inches apart. The stranger has not stopped to offer salvation, he is not reaching out to help him, but with brutal gentleness, he slips the blade deep into his chest and twists it as it pierces his heart. His body spasms and immediately his eyes begin to mist over.
All around him becomes calm and the only sound he can hear is the soft speech of his companion who is now whispering something in an unfamiliar tongue. Although slipping towards unconsciousness, he feels that he recognises the pattern of words being uttered; confused and afraid, to his disbelief it sounds like the Lord’s Prayer although it has never sounded as empty as it does now. The stranger’s voice quietens to an echo and all else turns silent. With the knife still protruding from his tunic, he falls back and his eyes finally blacken and he comes to rest with his head touching the golden locks of his brother.
Together they gaze heavenwards with unseeing eyes as the mud continues to swallow their bodies and entomb them in a land that is far from home. Two brothers lost forever in Northern France.
First of all, if you don’t know my story yet, I advise you to first watch the short documentary above. I want to give credit to my good friends Shauyan Saki and Joe Winkenwerder for taking the initiative to do this documentary during probably the busiest year of their college careers. They were both in their senior year at The University of Georgia, not only were they great producers, they’re my close friends and did a phenomenal job for a subject that I don’t really like to talk about.
I also want to give credit to The University of Georgia, an unbelievable academic institution. Furthermore, I want to give credit to the entire University of Georgia Academic Faculty, maybe more specifically to my professors and, of course, the UGA Athletic Training Staff. Finally, I want to give credit to my Dawg Coach Mark Fox and his amazing staff for giving an opportunity to a kid from Switzerland to live his dream and be part of an amazing basketball program.
I could write a book about what I have experienced and what I would like to say to the entire Wish Dish Community. However I will keep it short and like we say in Switzerland, quality over quantity.
Long story short, in May 2012, I graduated from Furtah Preparatory High School in Woodstock, GA. A few months later, you could find me in the Swiss Armed Forces on duty.
In Switzerland, military service is mandatory. I personally chose to do my military commitment after High School rather than after college because I just wanted to be done with it and move on to the next chapter of my life at The University of Georgia. During the 6th month of service, I got a call from my mother that my only cousin Zeljko Langura had comitted suicide. He was a soldier in the Serbian Military.
2 months later, on a very hot day, I was injured while I was on duty at an undisclosed location. (Due to security and confidential reasons I cannot disclose where).
I had so many injuries and so many terrible memories building up. I can’t even remember all of them on top of my head including but not limited to severe skull fractures, torn ACL, PCL, Meniscus, name it…
The doctors told me that I should call it a career…I told myself:
Shortly after my injury, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I would still be welcome on UGA’s Basketball Team or if I should stop my basketball dream and just be a regular student.
After talking to the UGA Basketball Staff and explaining my situation, they still honored their commitment and welcomed me to the team. However, what should have been the most exciting summer of my life (Yes, the summer before my freshman year of college) turned out to be my worst nightmare
I was supposed to start my first college basketball workouts right off the bat but instead I was out of shape, injured, limping around, not playing basketball, struggling with classes and getting lost through campus.
To make things worse, my injury story got out on national media. Everywhere on Twitter and Facebook people would send me nice messages of support.
Some national media outlets wanted to do a documentary on my story however I kindly refused simply because it had nothing to do with basketball. Although, my story is inspiring, soldiers never get the credit they deserve and I told Coach Fox our basketball team is bigger than a story.
During my freshman year, with the help of the UGA Athletic Trainers and God, I was working toward slowly coming back to basketball although a couple times I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel. I watched every practice on the sideline; I was wearing a suit and sitting on the bench at every home game, powerless.
During those tough times, I discovered the two most important words in my vocabulary today, persistence and resilience. Persistence is the quality that allows someone to continue doing something even though it is difficult and resilience is the ability to become strong after something bad happens.
I continued rehab for 14 straight months.
While my team was traveling and playing on the road, I would go into our practice gym in Stegman Coliseum with my friend Fariz (arguably one of the biggest UGA basketball fans). He would time me on sprints or rebound the ball for me. It didn’t feel the same but it didn’t matter anymore because I knew that both persistence and resilience were here to push me through.
I found joy in trying and I was content with my effort although I might not have been happy with the results. It was frustrating at times, thankfully one of my best friends who also grew up in Cherokee County and ironically happened to wear the same #20 as me but on the Football Team. His name is Quincy Mauger and he would tell me to keep going and that tough things never last and that there is always sunshine after the rain.
Thanks to Quincy and my teammate Nemi Djurisic who are like my brothers, pushed me the most throughout the process.
During my 2nd semester of my freshman year, I happened to meet a guy named Shauyan Saki, sports expert, who shared an international affairs class with me. With Shauyan we would talk about everything ranging from sports cars, sports to politics and business.
Shauyan and me had a lot in common and although he had a busy schedule building his business and covering sports around the area, he one day asked me if he should take in charge and tell the story the way it had to be told without having the usual big time media outlets involved.
Once I got back on campus for my sophomore year of college, I was fully healthy, but most importantly happier than ever. I started writing and here I am today. I hope you all enjoyed learning my story.
You’re in Prague. You have no access to money. Your debit card was stolen in Barcelona and your credit card has decided to deplete your credit line down to zero. You’re sitting in your hostel with the few crowns you have left trying to figure out your next move.
You’re in Vienna at a deserted train station trying to get to your hostel. You can’t get the single machine to function properly so you can’t buy your ticket. You’re stuck in a foreign place unable to reach your destination.
You’re hiking to see a waterfall by the remote Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. It’s getting dark and excessively cold. You’ve been hiking for over two hours along a winding road and haven’t seen a soul. You’ve already come too far to turn back now.
It’s completely dark outside and you’ve woken with a panic. You’re due to catch an early flight to Germany. You’ve missed all your alarms, your pre-paid bus to the airport has already come and gone, and your European adventure looks to be off to a shaky start.
Feeling a little stressed imagining these scenarios? Well this was my trip. These were some of the few escapades that occurred over my month-and-a-half adventure by myself around Europe.
Yet, looking back on my time spent abroad, through all the misfortunes and times spent in suspense, I only see all of the light through the dark.
Because picture this
You go and spend the last of your money on a beer at the hostel bar. You decide to forgo your woes and strike up a conversation with some nice Jersey boys at the bar. Together you view Prague from a lovely rooftop bar, get treated to traditional Czech food, and go to one of the local’s houses to play games. You explored a beautiful city amidst new friends and a flurry of snow.
A nice man sees you have been struggling with the machine and purchases your ticket for you. He sends you on your way with a wave as you mutter a grateful danke schoen. You catch the train just in time.
You finally make it to the base of the waterfall after a tiring trek uphill. You run into a Slovenian family. Together you hike up to the top only to find that all that you had hoped to see was frozen into a trickling stream. You sit for a moment to take in the view and laugh in each other’s presence. The family then takes you to dinner and beer, teaches you how to dance like a Slovene, and finally gives you a ride back to your hostel where they bid you good night.
You’re staying with a friend whom you’ve made during your time studying in England. It’s four in the morning and your late for your plane. Her parents get up and drive you an hour to get you to the airport on time. Never a complaint. You run yourself sweaty, get advanced through the security lines and make it to your terminal with time to spare.
When I had left for studying abroad last year, I had thought that this life-changing trip would be all about “finding myself”. About becoming who I wanted to be. And it was. It did. But that was not what I found truly changing.
What I found on that trip was my faith in humanity. My faith in other people. My faith that people might actually be good at heart.
I have never encountered such generosity, warmth, and care as I did when I was traveling Europe. Such love for a stranger who had done nothing to receive as much.
And you know what I attribute it to? Some may call it youth. Some may call it luck. I call it going about life with open eyes and an open heart. I call it putting yourself out there, going on adventures, and marching full steam ahead and hoping for the best.
I call it living frugally, taking in your surroundings, and pushing yourself to befriend those that you normally wouldn’t. To me that’s one of the great benefits of traveling alone.
When you travel alone, the whole outcome of the journey is in your hands. Whether you push to connect with people or see the most sights, that’s all up to you. When you reach out to the world, you’ll find the world already has it palm outstretched, waiting to take hold.
So that journey abroad wasn’t about finding myself—it was about learning how to reconnect with others. It was about letting people in again and sharing this joy and love that life provides. And it was this generosity and warmth that led me to be more generous in return. To let my ambitions and impulses guide me. To be less afraid.
Sometimes we get so incredibly caught up with the life we’re living that we don’t look beyond the everyday. That is why traveling is good for the soul. It pushes you to be more. To live beyond the ups and downs and make your journey exactly what you want it to be.
It is with this thought that I leave for Europe again in the next few days. This trip will be different. I have friends to meet along the way whom I have made through my past adventures. Smiles and laughs to revisit. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with that—as long as you still leave a little room for spontaneity.
I remember back when I was on my initial flight to England, sitting next to a woman with whom I had barely spoken a word. Before we were due to land I told her about my journey studying abroad; my hopes, my fears. She gave me a warm smile and wrote out her name and number. Said to give her a call if I ever needed any help. I still have her number. Whether she knew it or not, she made a difference in my journey.
So thank you. Thank you to all those who helped me along the way and who will help me further in the future. I can’t wait to share this crazy life with you.