When Valentina Duvnjak lost her job as a journalist in Banja Luka two years ago, she took her life savings – 20 Konvertible Marks (10 euros) - and bought a one-way ticket to the small town of Kupres in western Herzegovina where she inherited a piece of land and an old house with a barn from her grandfather.
In a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, where even the most educated are struggling to get by and dream of a new life abroad, Duvnjak found a new life on the land her family left when they moved to the big city before she was born.
She settled in the ruin in the abandoned village wild animals had taken over years ago and in the next few days started picking berries too close to a mine field – a leftover from Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
“Dear God, what will happen to me when I make the next step,” she remembered asking herself as she told her story to N1.“Will I survive this?”
She earned the first money from selling the berries. At the same time Duvnjak started pulling bricks and beams from grandpa’s old house and using them to reconstruct the little barn.She taught herself to lay the bricks, carve the stones and eventually – she did it. She constructed her own house.
“Snowflakes were coming down on me while I was placing the final bricks,” Duvnjak said.
“I climb the ladder and my mother passes me the bricks and the plaster in a small one-kilogram bucket,” she explained. “It was impossible for me to lift a larger bucket.”
Now, Duvnjak is making a decent income from selling organic carrots, beets, cabbage and onions she grows on her 1.200 altitude farm. She advertises them on social media and delivers them personally to her customers.
“What would this carrot be worth, even if it would be a two kilogram one, if it is not healthy?” Duvnjak asked.
“Who cares if the vegetables are smaller, it is important that they are healthy,” she said.
Although she starts her hard-working day before sunrise, Duvnjak does not long for the big city, where she said she was under constant stress working several jobs: reporter, actress, artist.
She is also not renting an apartment anymore. All she had when she arrived in Kupres was the 5.00 KM change she got back when she paid the 15 KM one-way ticket.
That was two years ago. Duvnjak now lives in her own house, has her own business and drives her own car. She made it, on her own.