The videotape I mentioned in my last blog has been the topic of the vast majority of conversations in the past days. It turns out the young man shot on the videotape is the son of a woman here at Bosfam. The woman’s sister saw the tape on TV and called to let her know what she had seen. The young man had fled into the woods to try to make it to Tuzla as Srebrenica was falling, but was captured and murdered. The woman’s other son died in the youth day May 1995 bombing here in Tuzla. Her husband was also murdered as he tried to flee from Srebrenica. The young man in the video was found in a mass grave and reburied last year at Potocari in the commemoration and reburial ceremony.
The video is played over and over on TV. I have seen it 3 times now. I never wanted to see it, but it was on the TV when we were in Srebrenica, and then replayed for us as we visited a teacher in Srebrenica. I didn’t feel like I could leave the room, so I stayed put. The image of the young man, without shoes, laying on the ground then being made to stand up and walk to his execution have awoken me at night. There was one portion of the video that showed an Orthodox priest giving some type of rites or absolution to the Serbian soldiers during this whole event. The video tape now rankles in my mind and the images are burned into my brain.
I went to Srebrenica, driving past Potocari and the graveyard there last week. The town of Srebrenica is nearly a ghost town. The majority of the homes are uninhabitable due to shelling and bombing. Between the current school buildings in town stands the shell of the old school that was bombed out and burned during the war.
It was cold and raining while I was in Srebrenica. The water went out a few hours after we arrived. When it rains too much, the water system can’t handle it and shuts down. If the rain continues for many days, the town could go days without water. A decade after the war and this basic utility is at the mercy of the weather. This town seems to have been frozen in time about 3 years after the war ended, frozen in time with the heavy damage to the buildings and complete devastation of the economy. Every conversation revolves around the war somehow.
The next morning we stated early to go to the small villages in the hills surrounding Srebrenica. The car was packed with soccer balls and shoes that had been donated for the school kids we were going to visit. We drove on a paved road for about 20 kilometers before we moved onto a dirt road for 8 kilometers. While I say the first 20 KM were paved, its not quite smooth riding, there are still random potholes, areas that are unpaved and rocks that have fallen from the mountainside. The 8KM unpaved was filled with large puddles of unknown depth, crossing sheep and their herder, a cow, and many other obstacles. I was seriously doubtful we would find a school at the end of all this. We passed small villages that had been completely destroyed and had nothing but shells of old homes remaining. Finally, a school came into view. 2 young teachers live in the school from Monday to Friday then return to their homes for the weekend. There are 2 classrooms for children in grades 1 to 5. After grade 5 they have to walk the 8Km to the paved road to pick up the bus that will take them the 20KM down the mountain to the middle school. The entire school had about 20 students. Before the war the school had over 100 children. We passed out soccer balls and sweets to the children, much to their delight. We gave the teachers armfuls of shoes to give the children later, as they needed them. The children are all of refugees that have returned to Srebrenica since the war ended. None of their parents are able to get work, they have small gardens or raise some farm animals to live off of. The economy, once thriving is desolated. Before the war, there were mines and engineering companies in the area that employed thousands, now those plants and mines are al closed, and there is hardly any work to be found.
We went to another small school, off another and even more difficult path. This school has only one teacher who lives in an apartment above the 1 classroom. There are 11 students in this school, grades 1 to 5. None of the children had a ball to play with, so they were ecstatic when we pulled the soccer balls out of the car and handed those out. We also left shoes and sweets behind here as well. In this small village, only 2 people have jobs- the teacher and the woman who cleans the school. The teacher is from a neighboring area and returned after the war. The cleaning girl worked in the school before the war, but was expelled from the town. The Dayton Accords signed in 1995 mandate jobs be retuned to people who held them prior to the war (when possible), but the woman was just able to get her job back 2 years ago…8 years after the mandate.
Despite so much despair and trouble, the country is beautiful with rolling green hills and peaceful, bucolic scenes. The people are gracious and gentle. Magbula (Bula), one of the weavers going to the US for 10 days, calls me her little chicken and has offered to have me come to her home for a weekend, so she can cook for me. All the women want to marry me to a nice Bosnian boy, but this is a not a possibility as I can neither cook nor make coffee, not to mention I have the best American boyfriend in the world. But, it has been pointed out to me, they wouldn’t even make the gesture if they didn’t care for me, so I smile and laugh with them and I know that they have beautiful hearts and souls, and I amazed that they are still so willing to love and give to others despite having lost so much of themselves.
Posted By MacKenzie Frady Arbogust (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Posted Jun 14th, 2005