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While I Wait: A Journey of Recovery

Memories of Life in a Besieged City

Copyright W.C.Turck 1994Our 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.

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