How a Canadian veteran reconnected with the boy he befriended during the Bosnian war
A Canadian veteran of the Bosnian war who reconnected with a local boy he met during the conflict says their friendship has "come full circle."
Justin Frye first met Amir Bajramovic in the Bosnian city of Visoko in 1994. Frye was a young soldier posted in the war-torn area with the United Nations, and Amir was a Muslim refugee child from a nearby village.
Frye's job was to provide armed security for UN helicopters landing at the military base.
"The children were fascinated not only with the helicopters, of course, but to see the soldiers. And Amir would come to the fence," Frye, who is now a police officer in Barrie, Ont., told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"When you see the children, there is a personal side to the conflict there. I felt bad for them and I knew they didn't have a lot of things, so I started to bring candies for Amir. And soon he started to recognize me."
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Although they didn't speak the same language, the pair developed a friendship.
"I was a young soldier during that tour and I didn't have kids, but it's nice to step away from the uniform aspect of that job sometimes," he said.
"So I found myself gravitating toward Amir and looking forward to spending time with him."
Gifts and smiles
Frye would bring him candies at first, and later had his mother send over other items for the boy — pencil crayons, paper and a blue Indiglo Timex watch.
Sometimes Amir's sister would be on hand to translate for them.
"But even if you don't speak the same language, you can read someone's body language — so a smile can go a long way," Frye said.
After the war ended, Frye often thought of Amir and wondered what became of him.
"I don't have a lot of tangible things from my time in Bosnia, but I always kept Amir's picture with me," he said.
Then last week, that photo popped up on his laptop screensaver and he vowed to look for his long-lost friend.
All he had was the picture, his first name and the location of Amir's family's home in 1994.
Finding each other again
"With the passage of time, I feared it would be very difficult to find him,' Frye said.
He reached out to a reporter in Visoko, who was able to learn that Amir's sister still lived in the area.
Within five hours, Frye had Amir's contact information.
The boy was now a 34-year-old man living in Sweden, studying to be a taxi driver, and married with a baby girl of his own.
Frye sent him a simple Facebook message — the photo and the word "Visoko."
"Right away, he responded back with, 'Yes, this is me,'" Frye said.
"It was a wonderful feeling and it was a feeling that I've been looking forward to experiencing for 24 years now."
'Same side of the fence'
Bajramovic still struggles with his English, but the two have been chatting and catching up. They are making plans to meet in person.
"It's funny how some of the memories are fragmented and they come back at different times. I remember now — and I didn't remember at the start of this process of finding him — that he was nervous to take this picture because he didn't want to look like a prisoner of war standing behind the barbed wire fence," Frye said.
"We've spoken about reuniting and I assured him this time that we'll be standing on the same side of the fence."
— With files from Canadian Press