Premier League WAG and reality star haunted by child shot dead in front of her
I might be married to a footballer (Dutchman Erik Pieters, who plays left back for Burnley FC) and live in a nice house in Cheshire, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.
I was born in Sarajevo, but when I was a year old, my mother, who taught languages at university, and my father, a mechanic, were offered good jobs in Russia, so we moved to Moscow.
We returned to Bosnia for my grandfather’s funeral, but during those few days war broke out and we couldn’t leave.
We lived in my grandmother’s small two-bedroomed house, keeping to the basement for safety – though we had to go upstairs to use the bathroom and kitchen.
There was no phone, no lights at night, no freedom. We were constantly under threat from bullets and bombs from the Serbian Army.
My father was conscripted to the Bosnian army, so he was on the frontline defending the city.
Meanwhile, my mother had to find work to support us. She got a job as a translator at a radio station on the other side of the city, which meant she risked her life whenever she went there – there was gunfire everywhere.
She would hug me so hard before she left because she didn’t know if she’d ever see me again.
Much of Sarajevo was reduced to rubble – homes were destroyed. But people still had to live among the ruins as there was nowhere else to go.
My parents tell a story about when they were meeting a friend, but were held up because they bumped into someone and got chatting.
They arrived where they were meant to be only to discover there’d been a big bomb explosion. Their friend was killed. If they’d been on time, they’d have died too.
I was very little and didn’t understand what was going on.
And my parents and grandmother tried to make everything as normal and fun as possible, to shield me from the horrors.
I remember my dad made a game out of learning how to recognise different gun sounds, which was obviously to keep me safe.
Once, I was upstairs in the house while my grandmother boiled some water to purify it and the bullets suddenly got close. She rushed me to the bathroom and lay on top of me to protect me until they faded.
Another time my mother was in the sitting room and a bullet whizzed through the window, just missing her head.
There were no sweets – the best thing would be when my mother would occasionally come home with a banana.
Though we did have a lovely neighbour who’d show me magazines filled with pictures of food and we’d imagine what it tasted like until we were ‘full’.
But I was a rebellious child. I hated being shut up in the house so would sneak out to play.
My poor grandmother, who looked after me while my mum was working and my dad fighting, had a terrible time trying to contain me.
One day, when I was around five, I disappeared to hang out with two young sisters from the neighbourhood.
I was leaning against a wall at the back of a house, while they were a metre or so away. They were both shot by a sniper in front of me.
Though one survived, the other died instantly. I screamed and screamed, and Mum came rushing out of our house to pull me inside.
This is the kind of experience you can never, ever forget. I’m still claustrophobic and hate the dark and small places.
And it took me a long time not to be terrified by a plane flying over, or fireworks.
When my mum got pregnant with my little brother, she and my father made the decision to escape Bosnia.
They thought that even if the war stopped tomorrow, we were living in a country that was in pieces – they couldn’t have a future there.
But leaving Sarajevo was very hard and very dangerous.
We had to pay cash to be smuggled across the mountains to the border with Croatia by bus, in the middle of the night, praying the Serbian soldiers didn’t spot us.
At the border, we walked along a secret underground tunnel for 20 minutes to take us to Zagreb.
There we were met by a driver who we paid to take us to the Netherlands. It was a four-day trip.
You have to remember that, though they’d been through so much, my parents were still young.
Mum was the age I am now. We stayed in a couple of refugee centres – my brother was born in one – until, after seven and a half months, we got our Dutch papers and were given a little rental house in a small town.
My parents could finally breathe a sigh of relief. They had to start all over again.
Not only could they not speak the language, but none of their qualifications counted in the Netherlands. It was so hard for them.
They went to school to learn Dutch, while my mum worked as a cleaner and my dad a labourer.
My mother even went on to get an economics degree. I’m so proud of them. They gave my brother and I a future.
We were lucky. We survived when so many friends and family didn’t.
My childhood in Sarajevo has shaped who I am – it has kept me grounded.
My parents have always been tough on me, saying, ‘Don’t be lazy. People are going through much more difficult times than you are. Work hard and anything is possible’.
They’re right. I actually have a law degree.
My Bosnian heritage is important to me. I go back all the time to see family – and people like the neighbour who showed me those magazines.
Two of my four dogs are rescues from Bosnia. I’ve grown up in two different cultures.
In some ways I’m very Dutch – straightforward and laid-back. But I also have the Bosnian temperament and pride. I can be very fiery!
I met Erik at a party in the Netherlands seven years ago.
We talk about when we have kids and how important it is that, even though we’ll be in England, and Erik and I speak Dutch, they’ll learn Bosnian and appreciate where I’m from.
I might seem to have it all, but people don’t see the person beneath the glitz and glamour.
I’m privileged to be in the position I am now. My family is proud of me, but they taught me never to take anything for granted.
I know how quickly it can change. I also know how horrible it is to have nothing and how lovely it is to have everything.
I have a very realistic view of the world. I don’t live in a bubble…
– Nermina's new single, Too Deep, is out now on Spotify and Apple Music
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