Thanks to Selma and Sabin Zahirovic for sharing their story with me for the Good Weekend (published 25 October 2014).
Hairdresser Selma Zahirovic, 25, and her husband, geologist Sabin, 28, were childhood friends in Bosnia. When war broke out in the early 1990s, their families were separated and they ended up on opposite sides of the world. They reunited in 2009 and married in Sydney in 2012.
My first memory of Selma is of us as children playing in the streets in Brezovo Polje in Bosnia, where our parents knew one another.
The paramilitaries came to our little town on the morning of June 17, 1992. They went from door to door and collected all the teenage boys and men on trucks and buses. A few hours later the same buses came back for the women and children and the very elderly. That’s when Selma and I went different ways.
In late 1995, my family managed to escape to Germany. We had an aunty in Australia, and within three months we were granted a visa to come to Australia.
Selma contacted me in 2007 through this Facebook group I’d set up to reconnect people.
My dad and my mum were extremely happy to hear what happened to Selma and her family, and that they had ended up in Canada.
We were exchanging messages as friends. Eventually I called Selma because there are some things you just can’t type. In 2009 she came to Sydney: she was wearing a thick red jacket, coming straight from the Canadian winter, and I was in my shorts. She was really bubbly and I just gave her a hug. It was an instant kind of connection and we just talked and talked through the night.
We went bushwalking through the Royal National Park [south of Sydney], and I happened to cut myself on a rock. I was bleeding from my foot and it was the one time I didn’t have a first-aid kit – my friends call me Safety Boy. We went to the medical centre for stitches and she was holding my hand. We were just looking at each other there and I felt so at ease.
I asked her if she would consider being my girlfriend. It turned out to be a magical summer. We got to know each other as friends, and travelled around Sydney and up north through NSW.
After Selma returned to Canada, we decided to remain in a long-distance relationship. We only had a window of an hour or two each day when we could actually talk. There were times when Selma had had a long day at work, she’d be super tired, wanting to go to sleep, and I’d be like, “Am I bothering you?”
Selma came to Australia for another visit, and I proposed to her on a dinner cruise on Sydney Harbour. I didn’t want to be too adventurous with the ring. To me diamonds are very special – they come from very deep earth, from very extreme pressures and temperatures, and we create something extravagantly beautiful from it.
Planning our wedding day [in January 2012] was difficult. We had the stress of waiting for Selma’s residency visa to come through, but at the same time we didn’t really have much time to waste. I’d go through a venue and take photos and send it to Selma in Canada. It was coming up to November 2011 and we still had no news of the visa. It came through in the last moment.
She’s very thoughtful and very patient. She’ll give me time to do my work, but then she’s also very good at reminding me of when I need to take a break. There’s not too many things we differ on.
But if I say, “Let’s get ready at three,” I’ll be ready by three and Selma’s still getting the make-up on.
We want to bring children into our lives when they can have a really stable lifestyle. At the same time, the one lesson from our lives is that you can’t plan a day ahead, let alone years ahead.
I remember him coming over to my parents’ house. I was about four years old and he was six. I was very loud and he was very shy. When the war started my father was taken away to a concentration camp for about five months, so my mother and I hid in a school for a couple of months.
I messaged him on Facebook: I remembered the surname and, seeing his face, his smile. I said, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I remember you and your family.” When we started talking on Skype, my dad would be like, “Is your dad around? I want to talk to him.” Sabin would text me saying, “Should we talk on the mobile phone?” I would go to my room and we would talk on our mobiles instead.
I was very nervous [when I first came to see him] because I’m going to Australia for a month and a half to see this guy I hadn’t seen in almost 18 years. At the airport he was holding a dolphin balloon, because he knows I love dolphins.
I would send him things from Canada. He has this obsession with squirrels, so I sent him a stuffed squirrel. He sent me this huge cardboard box. It was just like Australia in a box: a stuffed kangaroo, a towel, thongs. There was a photo of us in Seal Rocks, from when we did our road trip along the NSW north coast. We drove for hours and talked and talked. We laughed and listened to old tunes we used to hear when we were kids. That was a really bonding time for us.
He goes on a lot of field trips and has a huge rock collection, and he sent me this desert rose [a type of crystal that looks like a rose]. He described what it was and how it was formed, and it gave me an insight into what he does and how beautiful these things are and how much they mean to him.
Sabin picked our reception hall and he contacted our celebrant, so my only thing was to find my wedding dress, do the kind of girly things like choose flowers and bridesmaids’ dresses – and get to Australia!
In the Bosnian tradition, the groom goes to the house where the bride is getting ready. He drove me to his parents’ house – close friends and family came to this barbecue before the ceremony. Our dads were hugging each other, saying, “This is the happiest day.”
I say to Sabin, “You are too nice.” He says, “Don’t say that, there’s no such thing as too nice.” When we went to Bosnia last year, we would walk down the street and there would be people obviously not as well off. They would ask for money, and every single person, Sabin would go: “Here’s one euro, here’s two euro.”
Our No. 1 priority is for him to accomplish what he’s wanted to accomplish for so many years: finish his PhD. He pushes me to be more adventurous. He wants me to open my own salon. On my own, I wouldn’t say, “Oh yeah, I’ll open up my own salon.”
Last year, when we went back to my house in Bosnia, there was my mum, my dad, my uncle and my grandma, Sabin and his uncle, and we’re all sitting there, on the patio overlooking the river. We just sat there saying, “I can’t believe we’re here.”