The Pencil Sharpener

Story: Melina, 1990 / Interviewed by Julian

I don’t remember the start of the war or my escape journey from the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which lasted from 1992 to 1995. My earliest childhood memories are from a refugee camp in Germany where we were living in crowded aluminium containers in groups of nine people per container, which was very difficult, but it was still better than being in the war. We had to leave  Germany and go back only four months after the war had ended.

I was always dreaming about a completely grey place full of ruins and landmines. Then when I came to the capital, Sarajevo, it was really like that. It was a miracle to see a building with windows, so when the health ministry was rebuilt soon after the war had ended, we walked about two kilometers every day just to look at this building.

We had to leave Germany and go back only four months after the war had ended.

I started going to school in an old abandoned retirement home where three students were sharing one table and two students were sitting on one chair. It took forever to get to the garbage bin if you wanted to sharpen your pencil, for example.

One day in a donation from Canada we got little shoe boxes with toys and school supplies. In my shoebox, there was a pencil sharpener with a little box around it, so you can sharpen while you’re sitting.

And it sounds so dumb these days, but for me it was life-changing! Now I had a pencil sharpener with a box! Therefore, I could just sharpen my pencil and then keep writing. I didn’t have to miss so much of the teachers explaining. I was so proud when I opened this shoebox at home and saw this. I brought it to school the next day and I was like ‘Look, I have this small pencil sharpener!’ and all the other kids were amazed. I was really the queen of the school that day!

For me that’s such an important thing. I think about it much more than I should. It’s probably a bit embarrassing. But I still remember it to this day.

Melina, 1990