I still don't believe it will end

As Serb and Nato shells have shaken Sarajevo, Kasema Telelagic, a doctor at one of the city's hospitals, has been writing this diary for the Independent
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Kasema Telelagic lives in the Old Town with her son, Hamza, 14, and daughter, Dzenana (Dzeni), five, and her mother-in-law, Zehra. Her husband, Dino, is away in the army; she is a doctor at Kosevo hospital, where she has recently begun to specialise in ophthalmology. She first kept a diary for the Independent in June this year. Here she writes of the past two weeks in Sarajevo, beginning with the shelling of the main shopping street.

Monday 28 August

I hear the sound of cars arriving at the hospital. I look at my watch, it is 11.15. They stop at the morgue. People's bodies loaded in trucks. How many - 33, 35? A shelling near the marketplace. Five shells, one right by the entrance to the Markale market: the Chetniks promised last year there would be another "Markale" [a reference to the massacre in February 1994 when 68 were killed by a shell at the outdoor market nearby].

We admitted the wounded. My colleague feared for her son. She tried to call him but the phones were blocked. I thought of my mother, who was due to visit her doctor that morning. Had she finished the examination by 11? She was planning to visit my children: that means she would pass very near the site on her way. Did my father or my brother go to market that day?

I must keep a cool head. I know that my children are safe at home. My friend's sister called to say they were all OK, her son too. After that she was incapable of doing anything, no feeling in her hands or legs after all that tension. But we must work.

We did not receive many wounded in ophthalmology - unhappily, most of those with eye injuries died or were sent to neurosurgery, because fragments of explosive shells tend to pass through eyes and into the brain. Many, many wounded in the emergency room, traumatology, orthopaedics - 90 people were hurt.

On my way home it was a terribly quiet, nobody outside. I found my children with my mother-in-law, Zehra, in the cellar. I tried to phone my mother but the lines were blocked - everybody was calling to find out how everyone else was. At last I reached her - they are all right. Thank God. A big stone fell from my heart. How many times will I feel like this? Until my heart stops. I feel sometimes how it beats, irregularly.

This town has become a big slaughter-house. I think about the man who created all this killing, who knows nothing of natural order.

We spent all day and night in the cellar. I'm sick of it.

Tuesday 29 August

Before I left for the hospital, I ordered the children not to leave the house. It was a day of sadness. Quiet in the clinic, not many patients. People must not go out. There is a sadness in each of us. Names and numbers, and after each one, tears. Have we no soul, no right to live?

After lunch I passed the time reading and teaching Dzeni to write. We got electricity, so I was able to watch television and see what had happened in front of the Markale. Everyone must be shocked, watching that. We slept in the cellar.

Wednesday 30 August

Dzeni woke me at about 2am, as she was not feeling well, and was sick. But I heard the sound of planes, and strange, unfamiliar noises - it seemed to me they were dropping bombs far away. But I could not believe that. We turned on the radio. I was right. Maybe it means an end to our suffering.

At the hospital everyone was talking about Nato and the jets. Everyone was happy. As if that was the end. One older doctor reminisced about the days after World War II. It seemed the same, to her. But I am a sceptic. I cannot believe that it will finish. We were wrong last year.

I made lunch using vegetables from the garden. This summer the weather has been very bad, a lot of rain, cold. The tomatoes are still green, the potatoes start to putrefy. We expected a lot from our garden, but were disappointed.

Friday 1 September

I visited my cousins, and told them I don't believe the war is ending. I long for it so, for my dreams to come true, but I am sick of false hope. Dino returned from military duty, after three days in the trenches in the cold and rain. We built a fire to warm water for a bath, each piece of wood carefully hoarded.

What peace is this? We still don't have water, electricity or gas.

Saturday 2 September

No work today, so I spent the time cleaning the house, washing clothes by hand. I very rarely use the machine: we get electricity maybe twice a week, and we're allowed to use 3kw for four or five hours, usually at night. We got water the other day, but I could not do everything I wanted. It upsets me; Hamza and Zehra fetch water from a natural spring nearby.

The problem comes if you must fetch it from the 13th floor of an apartment building with no lift, every day. Can you visualise a doctor with a hand- cart filled with water containers, pushing it from the hospital to his house? The tanker brings water to the clinic every day, so most staff collect gallons there and take them home.

Before the war we drove to work. Now we wear out shoes, which cost 100Dm [pounds 44] to buy. We get paid 50Dm a month, but it did not stop us treating 90 wounded in one day.

Sunday 3 September

I have never slept so late during wartime. It was 9.30 when I awoke. We were all together around the table for breakfast. I asked Dino if he thought the war was over. I think the bombing was to satisfy the demands the public made on their governments that they do something in Bosnia. I am afraid after that they will just wash their hands. He said the Chetniks [rebel Serbs] will not retreat because they are still fortifying positions. We spend all the time discussing our situation; it permeates every aspect of our lives.

Tuesday 5 September

A work day. I knocked at the door when I got home, but there was no answer. They were in the shelter. I had not heard the sirens wailing from the hospital. The Serbs did not move the heavy weapons [beyond the 20km exclusion zone around Sarajevo, as demanded by the UN and Nato]. I knew it would be like this. I made spaghetti very quickly, we had lunch and stayed at home until the siren sounded again. We moved back to the shelter. I was expecting the electricity to come on, so I made apple pie and pumpkin pie - but it didn't come. So I had to build a fire to bake them.

Wednesday 6 September

I hurried to work today, I had to take my mother for an examination after the morning rounds. She has a kidney problem. On my way back, I bought some food. We all had lunch together: it was very festive. I always try to cook something delicious and nutritious when Dino is home. I prepared food for tomorrow, and waited for electricity. It came on at about 11pm, so I cooked and bathed. The children watched TV and videos till about 2am. I tried to make them go to bed, but it was difficult. Being at home and living normally is a time for celebration.

Thursday 7 September

My mother visited me at the clinic today - she felt a little better - and went for another examination, which was normal. As I was looking down the microscope, the building suddenly shook. I thought a shell had hit the hospital, and moved away from the windows. It was a huge explosion. We were not sure if it was Nato bombing or the Serbs. When I got home, they had the same experience, so we realised it was an air strike, people said on Lukavica barracks. My batteries are weak, so I don't listen to the radio news often and we don't know what is happening.

On my way home, I passed the town centre. I wanted to buy shoes for myself, but they are very expensive and very bad quality: plastic, not leather. Some shops were open, and I met more people than before. Prices these days have gone down since the opening of the "blue routes" [for commercial traffic across the airport] to trucks.

Friday 8 September

Zehra told me, during morning coffee, that she slept very badly. The sound of sirens and of planes frightened her. I replied that the only sound I liked during this war was of Nato planes overhead. I was late and hurried to work, feeling dizzy.

Today we had a patient wounded by broken glass when a sniper shot at his car. He was lucky, his eye was not badly damaged.

We discussed the aggressors' defiance. The fact that they are now at war with the whole world motivates them and makes them think they are the most powerful. Sometimes I think that the international community will be satisfied simply with the opening of the "blue routes" and with shooting back if the Serbs attack civilians. But in each attack, someone will suffer, will be wounded or killed. Even if the Serbs stop shelling, the snipers are still at work.

Comments