La version française est en cours de traduction. Merci de votre patience.
After passing not one but many hollow villages in the Bosnian countryside, intertwined with ones that are half rebuilt but still giving the impression of being stuck in time, we stop.
We need a break.
I want to say: a break from being a part of humanity.
How can we do this to each other?
How does it feel to have so much hatred in you?
Can you ever feel justified?
What I am seeing gets mixed up with all the stories I have read. Armed forces against unarmed civilians. War on women. Rape as a systematic and organized weapon: soldiers punished if they refuse to obey orders. I find myself looking differently at every woman between 35 and 55. I have a hard time breathing. These people who smile at us, who offer us raki and enjoy our attempt to speak their language, these people: what is their story? What have they seen? What have they done? What have they been subjected to?
I want to speak to someone.
I want to know.
That is the precise instant when Milena comes out of her house. I know she is checking us out. How often do tourists stop here, practically abandoning their vehicle on the road? How often do they even travel on this tiny two-lane road? We must be a peculiar sight to her. Since we got off the bike deep down I had been feeling a presence in that dormant house “over there,” Milena’s house. So, even though the surrounding makes her presence surreal, I am not surprised. I walk towards her with a smile; her apprehension immediately melts away.
We grab each other’s hands over her fence. Kava? Yes kava of course. Happily she motions us to follow her inside. I make myself comfortable removing my jacket and backpack and sitting down. I can tell she likes that. She busies herself with making kava. But that’s only AFTER she offers us raki of course – it is already 11 a.m. after all!
We spent over an hour with her. We had not a speck of a language in common, and yet, we got a huge story. She is Serb. Her husband died fifteen years ago and she has two daughters: one who lives in Australia with her husband and two kids. She visited them. And one who lives in Serbia with her family. In the early 70’s she lived in Austria for three years and in Australia for a year and came back. Then the war broke out.
What shocked me is how she mimed it for us to understand: she pretended to hold a gun and paw paw paw very loud right in our faces. It felt so personal. So close. A human being in front of another. Not some lofty concept of targeted warfare. It reminded me of all the bullet holes on the houses we saw. Then she grabbed my rucksack, put it on, and extended her hands towards the floor on each side of her body, showing that she grabbed her daughters’ hands and she walked around the room twice laufen laufen laufen. That’s how she escaped. Ahh Krieg pfff pffff pretending to spit.
As we are preparing to leave she runs to her room and comes back with a pair of hand knitted slippers that she puts in my hands. I am deeply touched. Here is a woman who has lost everything, gets a 200 euro pension a month at best, can hardly afford to eat but she wants to make me a gift. I have the perfect way to honor her gesture: my sketchbook. So, for the second time today I make a portrait. It’s getting easier already. There may be many portraits in my near future, I’d better be ready!
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