He stood in the street, hunched and poking his wood cane at some weeds growing between the cracks in the asphalt. He was wearing a black beret and a heavy blue blazer, clearly not bothered by the warmth of the afternoon sun. “Is that him?” Yes. The car eased into a nearby parking space.
I traveled to Srebrenica with Beba, the director of BOSFAM, and her friend, Ulrike, to deliver yarn to some of the weavers who are unable to make the two hour drive to Tuzla and to deliver food to several elderly men and women who have few means to support themselves. We planned to make five stops: Mr. Kahriman was our first.
I wrestled with the box of food tucked neatly into the trunk of the car – one kilo of coffee, two of rice, a few bottles of olive oil, tomato sauce, pasta – enough food to last about a month.
Without regard for my puny muscles I was assigned to carrying this box up five flights of stairs to Mr. Kahriman’s apartment; I was, after all, the youngest of the group. I followed behind as Beba and Ulrike climbed stair after seemingly endless stair. We arrived at the door and I flung off my shoes before entering, unable to juggle the both the box and my sandal straps.
A lamp with no shade sat on the table in the entryway. Mr. Kahriman, breathing heavily from the climb and sporting a toothless smile, invited us into the kitchen.
I happily deposited the box beside the sink and took my place on the couch in between Beba and Ulrike. In true Bosnian tradition Mr. Kahriman asked if we would like coffee. As I looked at the rusted pot on the stove and the antique sink, I was secretly relieved when Beba declined the offer.
Beba proceeded to explain that he had two foreigners in his kitchen, bringing a curious smile to his face. And then his eyes began to fill with tears.
He looked down at his hands, which were yellowed between his index and middle finger from years of smoking. He drew in a long breath before beginning to speak, calming his emotions.
As more tears welled in his tired, sagging eyes Beba turned to give me a brief translation. Mr. Kahriman is 82. He lives alone, his wife passed away, and his children moved away during the war. He receives a pension, but barely enough to buy food or medicine. He returned to this apartment after the war, but has lost so many friends and neighbors that it is not the same. He has nothing, no one. I stared at the floor as Beba explained this to me, feeling an ache at the back of my throat that only comes when I am about to cry.
Beba, in her gifted way, shifted the topic of conversation to our plans for the day, things she noticed on the drive, updates on the neighbors in town. She turned and gestured that it was time for us to leave.
Mr. Kahriman stood to see us out and Beba joked that he needed to get a lampshade, which again brought a smile to Mr. Kahriman’s face. As we descended the five flights of stairs, I was able to take in more than on the way up – plastic donated from UNHCR covering the windows, graffiti on the walls, the remnants of a mailbox now gutted and filled with trash.
Having worked with the elderly and with refugee populations in the past I am not unfamiliar with these stories of loneliness and loss, yet there was something so tragic about Mr. Kahriman’s life.
There he was, an elderly man standing on the balcony of a dilapidated cement building in this town destroyed by war. He supported his weight by resting one arm on the railing and used the other to alternate between waving good-bye and wiping his eyes. There was no BINGO game to attend, no social worker to assess his trauma, no hopes of a holiday dinner or an annual visit from the grandchildren. He was alone.
Posted By Alison Morse
Posted Jun 15th, 2007