I watched you do it twenty years ago.
You destroy libraries, schools, museums, hospitals;
I saw them burn.
You cut off water, food and electricity to more than a million people;
I was one of the many thirsty and hungry city folk.
You use snipers to police civilian movement;
I know how you do this, I carried my friend’s skin, brains and bone fragments in my hair.
You kill and wound civilians, women and children and you call them a collateral damage;
I was that child.
Your version of humanity is very selective and this makes you look the other way;
War tought me to recognize this defeaning silence of approval.
You fight the war for land and resources under the guise of righteousness;
I refused to leave my home and go away.
You are in Gaza today;
I was in Sarajevo yesterday.
“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.” Ray Bradbury
Each day I work hard on forgetting and every minute I fail miserably. I stay away from writing even though I feel the story is an important one to tell. I sit down ready to craft the mess of emotions into a linear telling, but the panic overwhelms and makes me a coward.
Stop and run away, I tell myself each day, knowing well that the escape is impossible. Fight back, I scream out, knowing that I can do this. Be coward, be brave, be anyone else but the one who is not. A decision is to be made and it must be truly mine, made of a desperate need for love and clarity. To destroy my soul daily is not an easy choice to make and I am not looking forward to doing so, but it is the right one for me, Today.
I’ve been silent for a while now, the fact not of my choosing but rather the one of a necessity. Writing about the War is a process rather than an event and as such the rhythm of the written word varies, stops and starts, gushes and restrains. And so my mind and my heart, overwhelmed and in a need of a reprieve, stopped for a while waiting for the healing process to begin.
I weighed the need to tell my story for a long time and I have finally decided to tell it in a form of a book. Not because I feel that it bares more importance and gives a solemn quality to my experience. Rather, I feel that the book is the most natural form to my writing voice and as such it will truly immerse me in the process of authentication.
Today, my introduction was finalized and I will share it with you, my readers, so that my connection with each one of you serves as a reminder of humanity that we all share. So here it is:
While I wait for the pain of lost time to subside, life is quietly slipping through my fingers, just like a handful of water on my palm disappears, first soaked up by the pores of my skin and then the earth itself. Each time I look over the landscape of my memories I become overwhelmed with the sheer size and depth of emotions they bring along, and unable to let myself feel and possibly drown, I retreat. I choose to run away and not look back, nor forward either. Somehow, I fashion myself in a world in which I exist suspended in between moments, not committing to any of them for the possibility of the pain they bring is too great of a burden for me to bear. Instead, I choose to wait until I cannot wait any longer; until the silence offering the seductive solace and protection begins to suffocate and slowly destroy any trace of my soul.
I feel myself a coward, unwilling to confront the war and fear in order to heal myself.
During the random attempts to capture the truths of my past, I begin to wonder if those of us, survivors of Wars, are forever connected with a strong and malleable thread woven out of avoidance of all that might define us as alive. Is it possible that while our stories differ, the complete loss of oneself in fear and pain is an outcome that we all share?
For almost a decade I believed myself to be one of those rare people for whom the war left no traces other than handful of survival stories chosen at random and recycled at family gatherings. I convinced myself that I moved beyond the status of “just functioning” to the one of “successfully healed” war survivor. I cloaked myself in detachment from all that surrounds me in hopes of creating an ideal hiding place, a new universe so deep and uncharted that not even I would dare to enter.
I hope that collecting the displaced pieces of my life into a narrative of war experiences will allow me to reconcile with the destruction of “Me” and begin anew, building on blocks of the past now revealed and demystified. Perhaps I am overreaching and this process of stripping myself pass the skin, muscles and bones all the way to the core of who I am, may leave me broken beyond the repair. No matter what comes out of this process, it is the path that I must take in order to prevent my certain death. This book is my journey towards the truth of my experience, one which I worked so hard on forgetting.
Tags: Ana Turck, Balkans, Bosnia, Bosnian War, culture, Fibromyalgia, history, Identity, international, Love, Posttraumatic stress disorder, Sarajevo, Sarajevo 1992, Siege of Sarajevo, war, While I Wait:A Journey of Recovery
I remember sitting on a log in front of one of the camp sites as a child, waiting to begin our climb to one of the magnificent peaks of Bjelasnica, one of the many beloved mountains overlooking Sarajevo. Stretching from Sarajevo to Konjic, this 43 km long mountain, is a part of Dinaric Alps, the fifth most rugged areas of Europe, stretching over 645km across central and Southern Europe. To many outsiders, this is an exotic and challenging Mountain, with its highest peak rising at 6781 ft. To me, this is a home.
I grew up in a family of avid hikers, and many of my weekends were occupied by hiking and skiing. It was during these trips that I learned to appreciate and respect nature and experience myself as a part of a larger energy with a purpose of my own. My parents and my grandfather taught me to view the trees as a part of my heart and the peaks and valleys of the Mountains as a landscape of my soul. In the folds of the forests I learned the lessons of endurance, strength and, above all else, humility.
My love affair with nature began early and slowly,and as years passed the affair turned into a long-term committed relationship; a kind locked in a bond of need and spiritual awakening that nourishes and heals.
Slowly bringing myself around to the present, descending from the Mountain peaks of beautiful Bjelasnica, in a country so far away, I opened my eyes centering my anchor to the vast expanse of Lake Superior and the heavy Sun that rose slightly above the branches of elderly pine trees.
“May the energy of this moment expand and protect you,” I whispered to Mountains of Bosnia who are at this exact moment engulfed in an uncontrollable fire. Brought on by the unprecedented heat wave that has engulfed the Balkans for months, small forest fires have ignited and activated many of the millions of land mines laid out during the Bosnian War. In turn, the explosions help fuel the fire.This small country with an economy and infrastructure in shambles is unable to fight this annihilation alone,and the help is slow in coming. While the world is not watching, Bosnia’s pristine nature is disappearing in a whirlwind of fire and neglect. For those of us who possess a deep understanding of the intimate and life affirming relationship between humans and Nature, this is a tragedy and a loss of one’s soul.
“We saw them, they passed the Zetra and the Stadium and they are coming this way,” he informed us, “The Sarajevo police joined by the few local gangs and volunteers are trying to push them back, but they are outnumbered.”
Olja and I looked at each other, knowing the streets leading to the Stadium all too well. We made that same trip on a weekly basis, many times in a group with our friends. In the summer we would play on the running tracks and the soccer fields behind the Stadium and in the winter we ice-skated each weekend- night at the Zetra, the indoor and outdoor skating ring built for the 1984 Olympic games.
“Fifteen minutes tops,” Olja and I said in unison, expertly estimating the time it would take for someone to make the trip at a leisurely pace. Already hearing reports and first- hand accounts of atrocities that included rape and murder in the fallen territories, the new information created a chaos and overall panic within the building. Fear became visceral, a physical manifestation of desperation and hoplesness that could be touched, smelled and tasted.
For some, screaming and crying came naturally, others stood silently, their faces pale and sweaty under the flickering of the candlelight. I stood by the doorway looking at Mama and Olja. The air became thick, almost solid and pressure rose making breathing difficult. My head felt heavy and I began to swim inside my body. I tugged at my arms and legs from the inside, trying to get them to move, to do something. The noise stopped, replaced by the humming sound of blood pumping in my ears and in my forehead. I stood motionless for a moment, my gaze locking in on my sister. I watched but I saw nothing. I disappeared.
Suddenly, I was jolted from this state of silent panic by Olja who grabbed my hand and was pulling me towards the stairway.
“Fuck this shit,” she yelled dragging me behind her as she began to climb towards our apartment .Following her lead I began to run up-stairs. We ran together, skipping three stairs at the time, a ritual we never gave up on since we were little girls.
“Let go of me, I can run by myself” I said, finally escaping my temporary paralysis. ”Where are we going? We shouldn’t be here! Don’t you hear the grenades?” I frantically yelled after Olja, who waived me off as she stormed in the house.
“I am not going to sit in the basement like a fucking lamb right before a slaughter. Fuck the war and fuck them. I’lll not let them decide how to kill me. I will do that myself before they can get to me.”
She was screaming now. Red faced and hurried she violently opened the medicine cabinet in the kitchen, shaking out each bottle of pills that she found in a large plastic bag. Her actions spoke of her plan wordlessly. My fourteen year old, tough-as-nails sister was planning for us to kill ourselves.
She pilfered through drawers collecting all of the steak knives, a meat cleaver and a meat tenderizer. “Here, hold this,” she showed the pill bag in my hands, ”collect what you can find. I think that there is some stuff in the bathroom too.”
Slowly, I took the bag and turned towards the cabinet. I looked at the bottles that she already emptied. There was a bottle of aspirin, some antibiotics, few small bottles of homeopathic calming medicine and a vial of ear-drops. “There is no way this will kills us,” I yelled as I turned around, only to find that she was gone.
I followed the sound of banging and crashing into the bathroom, where Olja stood on the toilet trying to reach for nail-polish remover and a bottle of swabbing alcohol.
“Where is Dad when we need him,” I said, thinking wistfully of his medicine chest that would ensure our quick death.
“Yeah, no shit,” Olja responded. “His blood pressure medicine, the immune-suppressants and god knows what other kidney disease crap he has in there would be so good right now,” she said.
“Alright, let’s see what we can do,” Olja mumbled as she ran towards the hallway with armful of “weapons.” We sat on the cold tiled floor lighted by the flashlight and began to sort through our bounty. We collected all the pills in one bag and began to crush them with the meat tenderizer.
“These pills will just make us ill, but they won’t kill us,” I repeated to Olja as I watched her crush the pills with short and stubborn jerks of her hand. “That’s fine, we’ll mix the nail-polish remover and alcohol and drink them with that,” she responded.
I began to laugh in panic, realizing that everything was out of our control, even the ability to control our own death. As I laughed and cried, she still spoke of her plan to defend us with knives if dying was a bit slower than anticipated. I watched her, this bony, small framed girl, whose feistiness was legendary in the neighborhood. She was so focused on the task in front of her that she failed to understand the futility and comedy of her endeavor. I loved her so much in that moment that even the possibility of a gruesome torture and death could not spoil the pristine honesty of love and devotion, illuminated by her protectiveness.
Our first night in the bomb shelter was one of the most emotionally charged ones. The stories of confusion and disbelief were written on most of the faces. While many of the neighbors retreated deeper into the bunker, Mama, Olja and I along with several of our closest neighbors sat in a windowless, tiny office that led into the shelter. Save for a make shift bed of a mattress propped on several beer crates, and a few dilapidated, wooden chairs, most of us sat on the stairs or on the floor.
Every so often, the ground shook from powerful detonations near by. Electricity was cut off a few days before, and a few taper candles,dug up in neighbors’ forgotten, “emergency ” kitchen drawers, provided soft light, which under any other circumstances might have been interpreted as romantic and sentimental.
Mr. Halil’s, battery-powered mini transistor provided our only connection with the outside. There was only one channel and the newscaster updated the listeners continuously. Each minute we learned of another monument, historic building, a museum, a building block, all in flames. Hand to hand battle on the streets of Sarajevo played out in real time, neighborhood by neighborhood falling to Yugoslav Army Forces and Serbian Paramilitary.
The lucky ones were allowed to pick up their belongings in plastic grocery bags and sent out on a deadly march, under sniper and bomb fire towards the Center of the city that still held its ground. Many were murdered or taken away to unknown destinations, including women and girls. Refugees in their own city, people trudged through debris, trying to get to homes of family and friends ,often living just a several blocks away.
Around seven pm, a loud rattle of our barricaded building door invaded the complete silence, overpowering the radio, jolting us from our thoughts. A couple of my friends and some older male neighbors armed with steel rods and one gun slowly approached the door. A muffled exchange occurred followed by a loud women’s voice. She was sobbing.
Within a few minutes the woman returned up with her husband and two children asking for our neighbor who lived on the second floor. disheveled, sweaty and exhausted they told us they had escaped Grbavica, one of the first neighborhoods to fall. Savka, a Serb and her husband Sakib, a muslim, ran as the neighborhood was falling, knowing that if they’d stayed that their safety could not be guaranteed.
Savka’s sister, our neighbor, cried as she approached them. “Come in here and rest. We’ll figure it out,” she said as she hugged the children, steering them towards the interior of the shelter.
Solemn and quiet, we all hunched around the transistor radio, as if additional information would ensure our safety. Within an hour, the main building door rattled again, and men’s panicked voice reverberated through the building. Yet again, the army of neighbors armed with basically nothing, gingerly approached the door which was locked and barricaded with heavy furniture and a large steel rod.
“They are coming, they are coming…open the damn door,” deep voice was yelling, trying to speak over the background noise of an artillery barrage, detonations, rain of shrapnels and individual fire that seemed to come closer and closer.