I first met Danica and Milic over 13 years ago. They were already affectionately known as “the grandparents on the mountain,” because the name of the small village where they live, Suhodol, means “dry hill.” To reach it, you have to drive on a steep trail, and during harsh winters, there’s no way to get there by vehicle. They don’t have running water or indoor plumbing, and like many people in the area of Croatia bordering Bosnia, they have a sad story of fleeing from war and destruction, living in refugee camps, and finally returning home to their village and their burned-down house and having to start building a life again at an age when people usually retire.
In spite of hardships, their spirits are always high; and of course, they look forward to our visits, as these days very few people live in this isolated village. Once, we came across them washing their clothes in a freezing stream and gave them a ride back home. When they entered our van, we jokingly asked: “Where would you like to go? We can take you anywhere” “To Suhodol,” they proudly answered, “the best place in the world!”
Danica is feisty, Milic is meek, and together they are a funny, entertaining, eccentric and lively couple. Despite being in their eighties, whether there be rain, sunshine, or snow, they’re busy tending to their land and sheep. I visited them countless times with other friends and volunteers, bringing them food and other necessities, but always leaving with more than what we brought in terms of priceless lessons and values.
A young girl was profoundly impressed by them and shared: “I hope that one day I can build something as valuable as they have.” At first, I was a bit puzzled at this comment, as Danica and Milic have hardly anything of any value, as much of what they owned was irredeemably lost. I wondered if she really understood their condition, and if so, what she meant.
She explained that what mostly impressed her was the love she saw in their eyes after so many years of being married and facing together all kinds of hardships and difficulties.
In a world where relationships are so volatile and commitments are easily broken, she considered that a most valuable accomplishment, and how could I not agree?