Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dinner and War Stories

A reporter who grew up in Sarajevo told us a sad story at dinner tonight that tells a lot about what's happened here.

She is Muslim but as kids everyone all just ran around together, including during school hours when they should have been in classes. One day playing hooky they broke into the minaret of the mosque near the old National Library and replaced the recording of the call to prayer with a Mick Jagger standard.

Then they sat around waiting for the right hour. And then it happened, out across the Bacarsija, up into the hills of the city, rang the wail of "AAAAANNGIE!!"

She and her classmates also delighted in waiting for people to go into the mosque during winter to pray and then filling their shoes with water. "You'd watch everyone running home in the snow barefoot because it would freeze, of course," she said laughing at the old memories.

But things are different now, she added. She has an 18-year-old son and cannot tell him her stories out of fear he's be inspired to copy her antics.

Today such things would be an ethnic insult enough to set off violence.

This reporter, a skilled storyteller, had this great wartime tale as well. She was in charge of supplying a large international reporting bureau and food was difficult to find. There was little to be had of any kind, but at one point she found a farmer who sold them meat. He had a cow. But there was no reliable refrigeration at this time so he went to a doctor at Kosovo hospital and asked if she'd be willing to amputate one of the animal's legs. Then he could feed the journalists and the cow could continue to graze in his backyard until he needed to sell off another piece of it. The doctor was, of course, horrified. The farmer told her he didn't see the big deal since she amputated limbs of humans. That's to save lives, she protested. Here, I'd just be helping you to kill the animal slowly. The cow, the farmer told her levelly, is going to die anyway. It didn't happen, by the way.

The reporter offered us a ride home that night in her SUV saving us cab fare. She missed a turn, however, and as she tried to correct the error she realized that the road she needed was one-way -- in the opposite direction to what we needed. "Oh well," she said, steering into the street anyway, "what was this war all about anyway but freedom of motion!"

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