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  • Marcia Jacobs

04 | Sarajevo Training | Fall 1993 | Part 4 – An Angel

Photo: Adnan Šahbaz // With no petrol and hence no cars, citizens used every means possible, including bicycles and wheelbarrows, to haul home the essentials - wood, water and food.

I sleep deeply and wake, to prepare for our first day of training in Sarajevo, to the sound of rain; torrents of rain, rivers of rain, pouring out of a spiritless gray sky. Not good weather in Sarajevo. For here, once wet, no way to get dry. No electric or gas heat, no fires, no fuel at all. The sun, one's only hope for warmth, after making a splendid showing yesterday, has receded today into the damp chill of autumn. My mind races ahead to winter. They say it comes early here. Last winter was mild, and even without power most survived it. But there's no reason to think this coming one will be anything less than brutal in this area, famed for its ski slopes, with reserves of wood and fuel long gone. The war must, must end before winter. At the very least, power must be restored before then. I crawl out of bed, shivering, to survey the scene from my perch on this hillside. Across the courtyard are patios and hallways covered with graffiti, mostly of the adolescent type, and smudged black from the briquet fires used by families camping here. They have been driven in from the surrounding countryside, which are now the front lines. With 60,000 refugees from outlying areas having entered Sarajevo in the past year and a half, this is no longer a rare sight. No more luxury neighborhoods; the war has effectively leveled such distinctions to a wasted battlefield. Below me, the ruins of Sarajevo lie shrouded in the bleak drizzle. Mud covering squares; parks long ago denuded for firewood or turned into makeshift graveyards for the endless supply of newly dead. At this hour only a few souls have ventured forth, struggling to make their way under umbrellas battered by the wind-whipped water. Umbrellas, oh damn. We have none, no rain jackets either, having foolishly come prepared for the summer's dry heat. It's a 30-minute walk to the town center, where today we begin our 5 day training. Last night, when he dropped us off, we assured Damir that we would walk today in preference to being driven. The warm weather, as well as a lull in shelling, possibly the result of the current peace negotiations in Geneva and the US threatened air strikes, have resulted in people moving a bit more freely along the streets of their beloved city, a sight rarely seen in the past year in Sarajevo. The solidarity in our hearts makes us long to be out there in the streets with them, in preference to roaring past the crowds in a UN car with driver. Well, no question that our intentions were good. Still, we now face the uncomfortable situation of being unprepared for the elements. Amazing how vulnerable we are to the forces of weather. While in the comfort zone we don't even notice it, but move just one iota out of the zone, with no fuel in the cold wet months for instance, and we may suffer, or fear suffering, greatly. No option to pick up a phone and call our friends to come and get us; no phones. Or go into the street and hail a taxi, or even hitch a ride; no cars. Or run to the closest store and purchase an umbrella; no stores. Well, we don't have to leave for half an hour. Maybe the rain will stop, is the gloomy if somewhat hopeful thought still lingering in my mind when we’re interrupted by a knock at the door. I’m startled. No one knows we're here except Damir and his colleagues, who have a car. If it was them, we would have seen the car, heard it pull up outside our window. Fear arises, as there is no context to contain this unexpected intrusion. I take a deep breath, exhale, walk to the door, open it. In the doorway stands a middle-aged woman, lovely, with wispy, shoulder length, blonde hair. She offers me an oblong silver tray, highly polished and gleaming. On either end of the tray sit white china cups and saucers, filled with steaming hot tea. In the center is a platter cradling what looks to be a loaf of homemade bread, covered with a white linen napkin. The bearer of the tray and I lock eyes in an eternal moment. In my startled confusion I reach out my hand to the bread, and, finding it warm to the touch, smile. She smiles simultaneously and utters, "Guten Morgen." Her words, so unexpected, jolt me out of my reverie. She must know who we are, as she has addressed us in German, Claudia’s language. We invite her in, motioning to put the tray on the table. Me in my English, and Claudia in her German, stumble over ourselves asking questions; who are you, where have you come from, how did you know we were here, how did you manage to prepare this feast? She laughs at our exuberance, shaking her head no, making it clear she speaks neither of our languages. With our limited knowledge of Bosnian, “hvala puna, hvala puna,” we thank her profusely. As she backs out the door I have a flash of intelligence - umbrellas! Pointing outside at the rain I ask her, in gestures, whether she might have such a contraption. She nods "da, da" vigorously and beckons to me to follow her home, which turns out be the next door flat. There she introduces me to her husband, and they provide two exquisitely huge umbrellas to use for the duration of our stay in her city. Later, I find that Adriana has told this woman, her friend and neighbor, about our stay in the flat. Just some neighbourly hospitality. But hot tea, silver, china, and warm bread wrapped in white linen in the war zone? No, not a mere neighbor, this. To me she would always remain the vision I beheld when I opened the door; truly, an angel.

Photo: Adnan Šahbaz // An elderly woman gathers wood for fuel as winter approaches.


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