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While I Wait: A Journey of Recovery

Memories of Life in a Besieged City


Copyright W.C.Turck1993

Sarajevo sniper alley

   We wove our souls out of the constraining thread of war. Using its unrefined strands, we built our armors that suffocated and liberated at once. We began to understand life only within the context of war. Unannounced humanitarian aid shipments were a source of joy and happiness. Hearing about the deaths of those we knew coated our lives with a heavy and dull sheen of permanent sadness. Daily trips to fetch water under constant sniper and grenade fire made us afraid.  Days became all the same, a litany of chores and fears and worries interrupted seldom by moments of joy. And then, in the second year of war, a miraculous transformation happened to Olja and I. If only I could say that the change was a result of an awe inspiring moment, a moment of profound spiritual awakening that made the rest of the war years easier and less tragic. No, to say that would be a lie, as it took 16 years for me to see and understand that the transformation came gradually.

 Building on each moment of our agony, we drank from its murky well. Taking big, thirsty gulps, we saturated our bodies with sorrow and self pity. We thought of our youth and mourned its death, teetering on the edge of victimhood, ready to plunge in the protective harbor it offered. But the life carried on, and on the background of war we began to create our narrative of normalcy.

Schools began to work again, and our days began before dawn with a mad rush for water, running through sniper alleys and no-man’s land to stand for six or seven hours in long queues. Then, we were off to waiting at another line for bread. Sustained for one more day, we hastily changed our “work” clothes and dressed nicely for our daunting run to school.

 Navigating the city, careful to avoid sniper corners as much as possible, we ran often reciting the last pieces of information needed for the upcoming exams. Powered by a constant adrenaline rush, for scarcity of food could not sustain this pace, we ran the whole time.

In a rush to avoid death, we somehow accepted its certainty and with it we found clarity and stopped fearing. Instead, we became angry and rebellious. We began to fight for our dignity, refusing to be reduced to our animal denominator. We wanted more than just to survive. And we fought everywhere we could. We strengthened personal bonds and looked after the weakest and oldest in the neighborhood. We dressed up and accessorized each day and despite the scarcity of water we washed daily, albeit in the dark. We produced art, we wrote and we competed in ballroom dancing competitions.

Living was our rebellion and we fought by preserving our culture and our way of life as much as we could. We fought the war with the only weapon available to us, civilians. We refused to be silenced. And fifteen year-old Olja was the loudest, running across sniper alleys with both of her middle fingers high up in the air, yelling ”Fuck You!”


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