I will be leaving in a few days and before I do, I wanted to make sure everyone knew who I interacted with on a daily basis when I was at Bosfam. These women have amazing backgrounds and stories, and are still so jovial even though they have been through times I could never imagine surviving. A big thanks goes to Alison Morse who compiled some of the background information during her internship here.
Beba, or Mala Beba (i.e. “Small Beba”) as we all call her since the founder of the organization is also Beba, is one of the women who keeps Bosfam alive and happy. When she laughs, you can be two or three rooms away but still hear her throwing her head back, clapping her hand, and having a good hearty laugh – at least once a day. She has a great sense of humor and thoroughly enjoys pulling my leg. A very patient woman, Beba always takes time to repeat herself, in another language nonetheless, until I understand what she is saying…or else, she smiles, shakes her head and says “nema vezi” (never mind, or its okay).
She was born in Srebrenica in 1969 and got married when she was 21. She had a son, Allen, in 1993 when she was 23. He was one of the first people I met here (besides my host, Beba) who could speak English. We both like ice-cream as well which added to me enjoying his company. In July 1995, Beba was forced to leave Srebrenica and she came to Tuzla. This was when she was separated from her husband. He was identified in 2004 and buried on the July 11th anniversary of the following year.
Now, when she finishes her work at Bosfam, she darkens her eyeliner and goes off to work for the piece-meal jobs she finds, such as cleaning. She returns home 2-3 hours later and does this every day. I ask her how she manages and she says she doesn’t know. She is one of the loveliest people I have met here and my stay in Bosnia would not have been the same without her.
Everyone has a phrase they say over and over again; for Sajma (pronounced Sa-i-ma) its chuk-a chuk-a…which basically means hold on or just a minute. She’s got one of the kindest faces here at Bosfam and her personality fits the mold. We just visited her house yesterday – she lives with her two children, her mother and a few relatives in her brother-in-laws home that is currently being constructed. We visited her garden which was the size of a tennis court – and filled with strawberries, maize, paprika (peppers) and potatoes. I remembered Zambia when I saw the strawberry patch since we used to visit my friend’s house every day after kindergarten and pick strawberries while we waited for our parents to come get us. Beba translated the story to her and she made sure I ate and took as many strawberries as I could. She also filled a bag with paprika and told Beba and I to take it home. This wasn’t the end of the hospitality – we were fed plenty in the 20 minutes we stayed at her house before returning to Tuzla (she commutes an hour everyday to Tuzla from Srebrenik on a bus that leaves at 6.30am).
Sajma was born in 1962 in Pobuđe, which is in Northeastern Bosnia. She got married very young, at the age of 18 and had a son and a daughter soon after. Unfortunately, her husband died in a work accident in 1990. When the war started, Sajma left Bosnia and took refuge in Slovenia with her two children. In 1996, Sajma returned to Srebrenik with her children. Her daughter is currently in university, studying Pharmacy, and her son just got a job in Srebrenik.
Sadeta is one of the comical characters at Bosfam. She is always cracking jokes and has a very authoritative air about her, which makes her all the more respected. Her life at Bosfam, which she began in 1995, is very different from that at home – she has two daughters, who are both married and have children, but live in different countries. One lives in Germany and the other in the Netherlands (who she is actually visiting right now). Bosnian culture is definitely one of joint families where everyone lives in the same building, if you can afford it, each family on a separate floor. So, going home to an empty house is definitely a trying experience each time she returns home after work. She was one of the first ladies I saw crying right before July 11th, which really hit me as she is a person who tries to show that she is happy all the time.
Sadeta was born in 1956, in Luka, a town in the Srebrenica Municipality. She went to school for only four years. She moved to Stedra later when she got married, and had one son and two daughters. Her husband was killed in 1993 (and Sadeta and the children managed to take his body out of the besieged area and give him a respectable burial) and she fled to Tuzla with her daughters, while her son tried to get to safety through the forest. He is still missing.
Is by far, the best baker I have come across! She makes these delicious apple and custard/biscuit cakes, that are heavenly. She lives with her daughter in a home she was given by the municipality. Her younger daughter is on scholarship and studying in Sarajevo, and her oldest child, a boy, is working in Srebrenica. His story is fascinating. He was shot twice, and was wounded on his foot – he still, managed to stay alive and was brought to Tuzla by the only other person who survived the shooting. When I visited their home, her older daughter showed me a huge picture in a frame – it was Tima’s son standing beside Bill Clinton. Because of his experience and first-hand information, he was a crucial link for the criminal tribunal in the Hague.
Her husband, Alija, was killed while escaping through the woods from Srebrenica. He was identified and buried in Potocari in 2004.
She is such a loving person and absolutely adores children.
Is such a great character! I have learned quite a bit about her – she does not like George Bush, she makes everyone laugh with her witty comments, she is a very direct person who won’t hesitate to tell you what she thinks, she hates the dentist, she can weave like a machine (!) and she loves to sleep. She has three children, all of whom she made sure finished their education, and they all have jobs right now. This is extremely commendable in a time of chaos and lack of money. She has worked at Bosfam since 1995 and this has been her only source of income since then.
Before she came to Tuzla, in 1996, she lived in a small village in the Srebrenica Municipality. She moved within collective centers in Dubrave, Sicki, and Simin Han for a year. Many other members of her family did not make it out of Srebrenica and are still missing. She still has no news of her husband, Bajro, who was working in Serbia when the war began.
Zifa, a truly talented woman, is one of the very best weaver’s Bosfam has. She was away for a large portion of the time I was there but definitely made an impression. Her son was buried in Potocari last year and she was one of the only women who was curious to know what I felt when I had gone to see a mass grave. Besides the inability on my part to speak with her in Bosnian, and although Tima’s daughter was there to translate, it was difficult for me to explain that once you go to a mass grave with people whose aim is to systematically excavate remains and objectively tend to their task in order to do a thorough job, it is difficult to think of how all this happened. It was even more difficult to explain to her as she started to cry. Before I went to the mass grave, I was telling a friend who works with the ICMP and who was there that day at the excavation site that although I understand quite a bit of what happened theoretically, it would only sink in when I saw something so devastating…even when I visited the mass grave, understanding the events wasn’t any clearer – it was all very surreal. Maybe it is because I had seen pictures of mass graves beforehand, but I was still unable to fathom how people had the motivation to do such things – especially the fact that this was a secondary mass grave and had been exhumed and transported from a primary site – and still live with themselves years later. While at the site, I wondered briefly about how all this happened and what it must have been like more than a decade ago when all this was happening, but my thoughts were quickly replaced with how the ICMP staff were carefully removing the soil off the bones, digging the earth with their hand shovels, and piecing together bones in a very systematic manner.
Zifa was born in 1952 and lived near a lake when she was young. She married in 1971 and lived in Pec with her husband and two children – a girl and a boy. In July 1995, with the fall of Srebrenica, Zifa fled with her daughter and grandchild to Tuzla. Her son fled through the woods. Her husband was working in Serbia but went to Tuzla when the war broke out. Zifa and her husband met in Tuzla and waited for their son to arrive. Since her arrival in Tuzla, Zifa spends her spare time in Bosfam as it helps her cope.
Raiza is one of the women I spent the most time with, and who fed me so much, during my stay at Bosfam. She made a great effort to communicate with me, through all these hand signals and sounds that helped a whole lot! Funnily enough, we understood each other very well a few weeks into my internship, her speaking Bosnian (and adding to this with her animated character) and me speaking in English. She is one of the women who does not weave carpets, but knits, makes the carpets presentable and labeled once they are off the loom, sews surnames onto the Memorial Quilt Project, and helps keep Bosfam in order. She is 42, single, lives with her mother and both of them live on her mother’s pension and Raiza’s income from Bosfam. Before the war, she worked in Croatia, and went through several hardships during the war, until she came to Tuzla. She also has health problems, medication for which needs to be covered in the combined income of her mother and herself.
Rasema was initially near Vlasenica, in a town called Novacasaba, and when the war started, she moved to Tuzla. She married her husband in Tuzla and has two children, one boy and a girl, who are both quite young. Her husband works in Tuzla. She is also a very talented woman and weaves beautiful designs, one of which I tried copying and made several mistakes in the process. She left Bosfam a few weeks before I left, and it was really sad to see her go. She was one of the women who began the goodbye’s and made it real to me that my time in Bosnia was ending very soon.
A very hardworking and independent woman, Magbula lives a few hundred meters away from the Potocari Memorial Cemetery. Until recently, because she lost her fifteen year old son and her husband due to the Srebrenica massacre, she lived alone in her home that was renovated by an EU-funded project. Twice a day, she trekked over the hill behind her home to meet her parents. She also took care of her chickens and vegetables when she wasn’t with her parents. Both her parents died of old age last year and she is now completely alone in Potocari. She has a son in Tuzla who has a family of his own, a wife and a daughter, but because of finances they are unable to support Magbula as well. Living alone, and near the main road has several effects on her mental well-being. Not only is she lonely, but recently, as a result of Karadzic’s arrest, a few young people drove by waving the three finger sign that’s representative of Karadzic. Things like this make it difficult for her to feel like she belongs there and that she is safe in a place that once used to be her home.
Originally from Bijeljina, Behija is extremely creative and makes sure her work is done in an impeccable and swift manner. She lives with her daughter and husband in Tuzla. She is also one of the few women I have met who can read coffee grinds to tell your future. At different times, after one of our two daily coffee sessions, one of the women would finish her coffee, flip over her coffee cup and wait for it to dry before asking Behija what their future said. Apparently there was a picture of a dog in my coffee grinds one day…I couldn’t see it. She’s a lovely person, very kind and was truly a pleasure to be around.
Although I didn’t spend too much time with Hanija, the few times I met her, she was very patient with me. We communicated through making signs a few times. She has a limp in her walk which she got in an accident before the war. She used to live in Srebrenica until it fell in 1995 and now she lives outside of Tuzla with her husband. She lost many male relatives in the Srebrenica massacre and came to Tuzla as she was forced to leave her home in Srebrenica in 1995. Her income is a big portion of the families total earnings.
None of these ladies would have been here without Beba. She has taught me a lot in the little time I have been here. She is a person who will stick by her principles and the ones she loves at all times, and it has been extremely refreshing to meet her. She handles everything in Bosfam by herself, i.e. admin, sales, PR, etc., and is always willing to try new things to bring more success to the organization and its beneficiaries. A very laid back person, who’s favorite lines in English are “that’s life” and “what’s goin’ on”, Beba really showed me that however hard it is, giving is so important. She has supported these women through the hardest of times and knows them in and out – so much so that she creates work where necessary if she knows that it’ll benefit their emotional wellbeing. This benefits them immensely, especially as the characters and personalities at Bosfam are so diverse, and if you’re there, it is difficult not to get distracted. She is definitely a person who has made me realize things about myself as well. She was chased from Srebrenica herself, in house slippers, and had nothing when she left. From her entire life, she has 6 photos. If she were able to get anything back, it would be her pictures. Through all this, she tells me it’s important to be flexible, because we never know what will happen to us. War was the last thing she expected, and it happened, and now, she says anything’s possible. At the end of the day, she always repeated, we need to be able to live with ourselves.
I am very grateful for having spent time with each one of these women. I know I will remember them and the kindness and acceptance they showed me wherever I go.
Posted By Shweta Dewan
Posted Aug 21st, 2008