SCHOOLA class lasted for 15 minutes only. And shells were falling all around us.
CULTUREIt was easy to figure out the meaning of life and death. Alcestis is a play about exactly that. Alcestis is a woman willing to sacrifice herself and die instead of her husband. We’ve all been in similar situations: shall I go to get some water and let my husband stay at home this time, or my children, or whoever. In a way we were all willing to sacrifice ourselves.
GARDENSI improvised a windowsill-sized garden, literally on m windowsill. I had 27 kinds of vegetables. Zucchini flowers hanging from my window never failed to thrill passers-by. I had various types of peppers, including hot cow-horn peppers.
INVENTIONSWe went to bed as early as possible and got up as late as possible – that way we skipped at least one meal.
WEDDINGI got married during the war. My husband’s friends paid for a (two-day) honeymoon trip at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn. It was awesome and I will never forget it.
WATERI made a shower on my balcony. I tied a bucket to a beam so that the rain would fall into it. I soap myself and pull the rope, the bucket tips and I rinse myself with rainwater.
CIGARETTESI smoked chamomile wrapped in newspaper, and from time to time I smoked lime leaves.
HOSPITALCan you imagine that we assisted births by candlelight? There was only one candle in the entire maternity ward. One candle for two deliveries at the same time, one candle for three babies born at the same time.
HEALTHPeople were desperate, there was shooting all over the place, but I was the happiest person in the world because I was pregnant!
WATERI was always waiting in line for water, as I could not carry more than 70 liters at once.
FOODI attended a dozen lunches and dinners organized under the motto ‘Pick your lunch, catch your dinner’.
TIPSI isolated myself from the media and the news in order to maintain high motivation.
RECIPESI used to make rice popcorn. You put oil in the pan and wait for it to heat up. Then you put the rice in and wait for it to swell and become golden. This is good both as a meal and as a snack, for entertainment.
COMMUNICATIONSWe communicated with the outside world via satellite phones, humanitarian organizations, radio amateurs, foreign journalists, the UN, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Caritas.
COMMUNICATIONSDuring the war, radio amateurs passed on more than 20 million messages.
MARKETPLACEMarket rules were: you exchange what you’ve got for what you haven’t got. For example, you barter 3 kg of tobacco for 1 kg of powdered milk, or cigarettes for flour and sugar.
LIGHTINGWe made small oil lamps by inserting a ribbon or cord wick through a cork.
FOODIn the beginning people had nothing to cook on. They had no firewood, no electricity, no water.
FOODI planted Japanese tomato seeds in a flowerpot on my balcony. I was eating sweet Japanese tomatoes the whole summer long.
PETSDespite the shelling, exhibitors brought their dogs; some poodles even had bows, like in the best of times. People were amazed when I told them to feed their dogs brewer’s yeast as a supplement. They thought the yeast would make the dogs swell. A dog is not bread, the yeast cannot make it swell.
HEALTHDuring the siege, I lost 15 kilograms, but I was healthy.
INVENTIONSI made shoe polish.
TRANSPORTA lot of times I was faced with a situation where it would be crazy enough to pass certain city parts by plane, let alone on my bike, as they were regularly under sniper fire.
BASEMENTDuring heavy shelling we stayed in the stairway, just outside my apartment. All the neighbors from our floor and the floor above were there. We were lucky: we never had a direct hit.
HOSPITALImagine a man on the operating table in a room where the temperature is -5°C. We practically worked in what medicine considers a kind of hibernation. Maybe that’s why our patients were able to stand long and difficult surgical procedures. Hot meals were prepared in cauldrons over a fire. Laundry was done in the same way, an average of two tons of laundry was washed by hand every day.
LIGHTINGI made countless varieties of lamps to help me to move around the apartment when there was night shelling.
TRANSPORTWe used to ride by bicycle - we moved faster, but still had to pass the so-called dangerous points, where everybody was exposed to the sniper fire of the invisible enemy. In those moments you believed you had an advantage, since bikes passed those points faster than pedestrians. However, cyclists were often hurt as well.
FOODI made an alfalfa salad – believe me, I have never had a tastier salad in my life. Two or three days after people realized it could be used as human food, alfalfa was no longer to be found anywhere in Sarajevo.
HEATINGAs there was no electricity or gas, we had to cut branches or gather paper to survive. A pension was worth two eggs.
SNIPERI stand between the buildings and watch the clock. After the first shot, I count the seconds to the next. Approximately 15 to 20 seconds. When I feel I’m ready, I wait for the next shot and start running across the avenue: had to cross it in 15 seconds. Fear is fantastic: you stop feeling your legs, your muscles stop working, there is no air in your lungs.
ESCAPEI did a lot of things, anything that promised distraction from the harshness of everyday life.
FOODThe lunch packs we would get through humanitarian aid seemed magical at the time. We could make a lunch for five people from one savory ready-made meal wrapped in foil. So the whole family would have a good lunch, relatively speaking.
SCHOOLWhen I couldn’t go to school (we had classes only when there was no shelling), I had oral tests over the phone; teachers would call from their house, I would answer their questions on the phone.
MOVING AROUNDI used to walk hiding behind the containers and buildings.
FOODThere was only one oven in the whole neighborhood, so we all baked our bread there, we had to wait in line for 4-5 hours.
BASEMENTWe didn’t have a real basement; when there was shelling we sat in the staircase. I even slept there a few times, seated on a stair.
TIPSPick your lunch, catch your dinner!
RECIPESTo make sarma you can use any kind of leaves, which you roll around a filling usually based on meat, but if there is no meat then you do it without meat; if you have no pepper, then without pepper.
SCHOOLIt was extremely cold. Students would bring bags of firewood, one log at a time, and we’d collect enough for two or three fires – enough to take the edge off the cold air in the classroom, as otherwise it wasn’t possible to work in there. Students would come to school between shelling.
GARDENSI had chard in my garden, and potatoes, and pumpkins, tomatoes, onions.
CHILDRENEvery time I passed a test at school, the paper from which I had studied was passed on to my mom for lighting a fire, and while the fire was on I’d sit by it to read and learn the next lesson, while there was still light.
RECIPESI would invent recipes. One of them was for bean pie. Boil the beans well, add some onion and pepper if you’ve got any, and mash all that together and spread it over filo pastry sheets. Then you bake it; it’s a real specialty.
COFFEEI used to make grain coffee; usually from barley, but once I used lentils. I also tried rice and acorns.
TRANSPORTIt is an extraordinary experience! To ride a bike at night in a city full of holes, with opponents who also drive with no lights – on the other side.
FEARIf someone was afraid, they said they were afraid. If someone loved someone, they immediately said it, they showed it clearly. If we wanted to give each other a hand, that’s what we did.
WATERI used to bring water in jerry cans and barrels; the spring was about a 10-15 minute walk away from home. Food was mostly from humanitarian aid and what little could be found on the market and in our own garden. There weren’t enough cigarettes. We had no electricity so it was either candlelight or darkness.
INVENTIONSI made a small cooking stove. I took a big tin can, and in it I placed a smaller one filled with water. I lit some paper in the larger can and the flame heated the water and food in the smaller can.
INVENTIONSI didn’t invent anything, but I used to make hair shampoos from different plants.
HOSPITALIt was so cold that sometimes patients slept together under several blankets, wearing their coats, and scarves, woolly hats, gloves.
EXCHANGE OF GOODSFor a pair of boots you could get a kilo or two of sugar. There was a new market value system: a car cost 2 DM and a kilogram of sugar 100 DM.
MARKETPLACEOut of three old bikes I made one decent one and sold it for good money.
TRADEWith the help of a manual, I made a chicken incubator. Now I sell chickens.
PARTIESThere was no electricity at the time, so we guys from school pedaled a bike all day to fill up an accumulator. The girls made cookies, and one of them brought a bottle of champagne her father had been saving for her graduation ceremony.
GOLFGolf auto could run on cooking oil, and if we could spare some cooking oil we’d add it to diesel, a Golf would run on anything! It never broke down. It jumped up, drove downhill, uphill. I think that the Golf saved Sarajevo.
WATEROnce the water pump was set up, if there was a sniper threat we’d stay on watch during the day to make sure that only two persons at a time approached the pump, while the others waited behind a building or any other object that offered protection from snipers and shells.
WATERSo once I got a fever in the evening, which meant I could not go to fetch water. But during the night I wrapped my feet in cold vinegar packs and the fever was gone. My wife said “I’m afraid to go on my own” and so, with vinegar packs and all, I put my children’s big shoes on and went with her to fetch water.
MOUSETRAPI made a mousetrap out of a cardboard box. I caught 23 mice.
INVENTIONSI made little stoves using tin cans and pieces of tin. They were good only for brewing coffee or tea.
BARTERI made a flower-shaped hair ornament, something unusual, and exchanged it for a pack of diapers, which was something I couldn’t afford at the time.
HEATINGIn ‘92 we put our winter clothes on and didn’t take them off the whole winter. We slept in our clothes because of the night shelling - we often had to get up and go to the basement.
HEATINGI spent one whole winter without heating; then I obtained a stove and next winter kept the fire lit with anything that could burn: plastic, rubber, textiles, shoes. Later on we got gas, but only from time to time.
SCHOOLAt the end of each class our teachers would tell us: ‘Be careful.’ We greeted them with ‘How are you?’ There was no ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ any more. Even greetings totally changed. We didn’t all have to rise when the teachers entered the classroom, because they respected us as much as we respected them; we all lived in the same hell, and there was no need to be too formal.
PETSOne day there was no way I could make my dog leave the building, which made me angry and annoyed. But there was a good reason for his behavior, which became obvious when the shelling started a few seconds afterwards. From then on, none of my neighbors went out without previously checking if my dog was willing to go.
BREADWhen the French president Mitterrand arrived in Sarajevo, he brought a plastic bag with 2-3 kg of yeast, and he promised to the French peacekeeping forces that France would send us larger amounts of dry yeast at the earliest opportunity. Seven days later the first delivery of dry yeast arrived in Sarajevo.
TRAMWhat happened was, as everyone knows, that they were shooting, shelling or sniper targeting passengers in trams. The trams could not drive along so-called ‘sniper alley’, but we insisted on carrying on with all the regular activities of life as much as possible, to make people feel that they were alive despite it all, and not locked up in a cage.
RECIPESWe were very careful with bread, making sure that everyone got at least the minimum needed to deceive hunger; but if we didn’t eat all the bread we had during the day, we’d use the leftovers to prepare a specialty: cevapcici made of bread crumbs. All Bosnians love cevapcici.
FOODI saw a fish, a trout, and didn’t dare tell my fellow fishermen. I went home, even though snipers were shooting along the river. I got my equipment, but I had no bait so I had to find an earthworm… and I caught the trout with it! What a joy it was!
TRAMWe, the city transport managers, tried to protect trams any way we could. We set containers and buses as sniper protection, and later on even pieces of cloth, to prevent snipers from seeing when a tram was passing.
HEATINGAll gas installations were beyond the siege lines. The aggressor cut all gas supply to the city, they simply closed all gas valves.
RADIOI made a radio and connected it to my bicycle dynamo with a piece of wire. I pedaled - producing electricity and listening to the radio.
SPORTIt was the 800 meter race. Children were warming up in the channel on the north side of the stadium, which was protected from shots from the outside. After the warm up, we gathered the children in a place different from where races usually start, because the actual 800 meter starting point was on the other side, the one that was not safe. The children started off right at the moment when no one knew whether it was day or night, with just enough light for the young athletes to see where to run, but staying in a sort of shadow so that they couldn’t be seen by snipers. We asked them to wear maroon jerseys – maroon being the color of the race track.
HOSPITALWhen we came on duty, we used to bring some water, or a log - everyone brought whatever they could. That was the only way; we would put those logs in the oven to dry a little bit, but also to warm them up so that we could hold them to warm our hands; we didn’t want to touch patients with such cold hands, especially the young children.
MOVING AROUNDI moved around the city in order to find food and water. There was no place where you could be safe from shelling and sniper fire.
CITY TRAINWe made a ‘city train’ pulled by a truck, and named it UNILOK 1000. This was a special vehicle that could move along both tram lines and roads. We constructed small railway axles so that the vehicle wouldn’t jump off the rails, and attached three small railway carriages that used to be parts of local trains. There was a technical problem - braking control - as this little train had to stop at makeshift stops. A truck is not equipped with a braking system that could be operated on tram lines, but there were handbrakes in the railway carriages. So our train operators manually stopped this train when needed.
NATIONAL LIBRARYOvernight about 200 shells fell either near or on the building of the City Hall, the National Library. We couldn’t get inside, where the library archives were stored, to put out the fire.
RECIPESI used to bake rice bread. Boil the rice well and mash it. Then add a little bit of grain flour and mix it together. This bread won’t get hard even after three or four days.
FEARI did my best to hide my fear of death but it was noticeable, nevertheless. I was aware that everybody who knew me noticed it, but whatever happened - gunfire and the war – in every possible way I tried not to show my fear of dying.
LIGHTINGI made a lamp. I inserted an IV tube into a gas hose, and put an empty cartridge from a ballpoint pen in its other end; it created enough light to illuminate the room.
HOME FOR ELDERLY PEOPLEYou can imagine the problems and the difficulty of providing water when you needed two thousand liters a day. Regardless of the shortages, the patients were never left without a meal, and no one got any disease. The staff, those of us who found themselves in this job, did everything possible for these people to feel safe, because we were there for them.
GARDENSAnd when we got some spring greens it was a great joy, a cabbage leaf on our dining table was a real feast at the time.
Work was the law of mental and physical survival. Working towards resilience kept people’s minds occupied – work eliminated thoughts that could challenge their motivation.
It was necessary to establish a balance in the extreme urban conditions of life. This was done by creating peaceful, simple, normal situations, according to one's personal needs.
During the siege, the continuation of normal life in the city, the continuation of creativity, was as important as bread or medicine or water for all citizens of Sarajevo.
Ahead of Fear
THE ART OF SURVIVAL
Extreme Conditions and
The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996
We are not necessarily living in a Risky World, as much as we are facing the World at Risk!
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