Skip to content

While I Wait: A Journey of Recovery

Memories of Life in a Besieged City

…. Mama opened the front door and disappeared in the crowd of neighbors that were streaming into Chima’s

Copyright W.C.Turck 1993

Sarajevo 1993

apartment. There, the kitchen and living room picture windows offered the perfect panoramic view of the city and Hum. Several neighbors elbowed each other as they battled for a perfect place, kneeling on the back rest of an oversized sofa covered in brown and beige flowers. The air in the room was still, charged with an unspoken worry and fear that we all  shared.

Someone’s hand grabbed my elbow. Jasmin, my neighbor and a close family friend motioned for me to join him and a group of neighbors standing near the window.  Though his apartment was next to Chima’s and he could have seen the same events from his window, he chose to join the crowd of spectators. Somehow, chaos and confusion seemed to bring us closer together. We all began to gravitate toward each other, either for the sake of orientation in an unknown situation or for the comfort and assurance of shared experience.

Standing next to each other, Jasmin, Olja and I watched as the Yugoslav army jets circled around Hum, dropping large bombs from their bellies. Hum’s woods were on fire and several houses crumbled as the bombs reached them, leaving large craters filled with the debris. Because of their size and the destruction they left, we called these airborne bombs “Krmace” or “Pigs.” While our building complex sat on a hill opposite to Hum offering us a safe distance from the events that were happening just a mile away, we still felt the earth shake. At the bottom of the hill, just to the left of the TV relay now engulfed in flames, stood the Sarajevo Tobacco Factory. With its entrance hugging the railroad tracks, this hundred and some year old building represented one of the essential pieces of infrastructure, employing hundreds of workers and generating a significant income for the city and the state. Now, the building bore a brunt of a fire assault.

 We watched as incendiary rounds traced a straight line across the city towards the factory. One red bullet at the time, in a row of twelve or so slammed into the building, causing fire where they landed.

Suddenly, the same kind of  bullet rows intersected the one aiming at the factory, and followed a downward  trajectory towards the Presidential Building, the Electrical Distribution Building and the towers housing the Unis insurance company. Within a few minutes the city was on fire. We watched in awe, mesmerized by the beautiful symmetry of deadly bullets darting towards the heart of the city. I felt as if we had stepped into some war video game, overloaded with visual and sound effects. My city was burning and all I could do is stand and watch as it slowly disappeared in the fast approaching night. Pressing my face to the window to  escape the glare of my reflection I continued to watch the dance of bullets, now creating a surreal road map on the landscape of air, feeling the cold spring breeze on my forehead through the glass. Every so often, the picture blurred as my silent, unsolicited tears accumulated after the choking grip of the heavy sadness that washed through my body, ebbing and flowing in the rhythm of the fire.

I am not sure how long we stood there, silent and stunned. The sound of sirens brought us back to reality, signaling that we had to turn the lights off for the mandatory blackout of the city. We left a few remaining neighbors at Chima’s and returned to our hallway in silence. After a brief negotiation with Mama, Olja and I retrieved to our bedroom where we pushed our beds together in hopes of falling asleep quickly. Soon Mama joined us and in hushed voices we recounted the events of the day until late into the night. Comforted by each others’ presence and giggles, we slowly drifted into sleep as we created a list of all possible ways to do everyday chores without standing up. Mama was the captain of the ship and we were to move only on her orders.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: