In Sarajevo, each day of peace is a bonus

Kasema Telalagic describes her feelings of euphoria at seeing the long, bloody war in former Yugoslavia come to an end, and the simple joys of normal, everyday life
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Kasema Telalagic wrote two diaries for the 'Independent' last year, when Sarajevo was under siege. Since then, her husband, Dino, has been demobilised from the Bosnian army and has returned to running his car workshop. The couple's son, Hamza, is 14; their daughter, Dzeni ,is five. Kasema, a GP, works at Kosovo hospital, where she is retraining to be a specialist in ophthalmology.

When I wrote in the past, it was always the same: an expression of my depression, apathy, hopelessness, my lack of desire for anything save an end to the war. But since the peace agreement, time has passed quickly and many things that I had never believed would happen have come to pass.

On the day the agreement was signed [last December in Paris], I was filled with doubts about the possibility of a final peace. We waited, expectantly, for the three presidents to appear on television. My heart beat nervously. I wanted that ceremony so much, but all I had was a strange feeling - it wasn't happiness. When I long for something so much, for such a long time, and then it finally happens, all I feel is emptiness.

I imagined that the war would end with fireworks as an expression of freedom and victory. But instead I saw that the architect of the war, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, celebrated his victory with a firework display in Belgrade. Did victory for him mean that a sufficient number of people had been killed? Our victory was in surviving.

The three presidents shook hands, and a thrill went through me. I dreamt of the war's end in another way. In my imagination, I saw the enemies of Bosnia defeated, on their knees, begging for forgiveness. I'm frightened this will all be repeated in the future. It would be hard indeed to suffer again what we have suffered already.

Nevertheless, my life has changed so much for the better. We have returned to live in our own apartment. I can do the housework at any time, without having to wait for gas, electricity or water to come. I can cook special dishes using gas or electricity, and we can take baths at any time. There are occasional cuts in the water supply, so we fill containers. In case of need, we have bought wood and bottled gas, and built up a supply of food. We should never have been so unprepared.

You have seen the pictures of wounded Sarajevo - now I can describe the recovery of the city. It's not only the reconstruction of ruined buildings, it's the revival of our lives, the streets full of people, heavy traffic, everything in motion, the shop windows full of goods, the happiness on people's faces.

Dino drives me to work at the hospital, but I come home on foot. I take every chance I can to walk through the main streets, seeing people I know, my friends, my patients. They are glad to see me alive. I'm glad, too. Living as prisoners in our own houses, it seemed that everyone had gone somewhere else, but now I'm happy to see that my friends are still here.

I enjoy shopping, happy to find everything that I could imagine is available. There are flowers for sale on the streets and other things: perfume and make-up. I enjoy seeing so many young people dressed up, looking festive and very modern, in high spirits.

Last month, when we celebrated Bajram [the holiday at the end of Ramadan], I spent some time window-shopping, then made a list of things to buy and found everything I needed. This year we could afford presents for everyone, as we have a little more money now. My husband is working full-time now in his car shop, as he has now been demobilised.

Without all the worry about survival, without the fear for our lives, the silence instead of the shelling, I am starting to relax - and I'm getting fat. I told Hamza I will have to go on a diet soon. He laughed and said the best way to lose weight was to live through two months' of shelling. I would rather starve than go through that again.

We all enjoy eating during the month of Ramadan, the special festival atmosphere and the dishes prepared with such attention and care. I remember that last year, on the holiday, the Chetniks were shelling us and we had to finish lunch in the bomb shelter. I shall never forget that, nor forgive it.

The night before the holiday, Dzeni helped me to prepare the gifts - she likes to wrap them in decorative paper. I bathed her before bed. Everything was in its place, clean and tidy. I picked out the new clothes the children would wear the next day. It reminded me of my childhood, when my mother laid out my party clothes for me. I was tired, but I couldn't sleep for hours.

On the day itself it was raining and then snowing, although we had expected sun after the wind the night before. But it could not spoil the festive spirit - we all looked beautiful in our new clothes. My children have grown so much in these past four years. I remember the war beginning on Bajram in 1992 - Dzeni was just a baby, and she was ill with a fever and diarrhoea. That night I have never forgotten.

I'm pleased that now I can go anywhere at any time, without fear of going outside. I no longer think about the danger of crossing the bridge to visit my mother, or of being out in the open. But I'm not thinking about travelling yet because I don't feel that secure. I still worry that some criminals could raise barricades to stop me returning to the city.

And I'm scared of confronting the reality of seeing the destruction elsewhere in the country. I have heard that so much of Bosnia is in ruins - it is not only Sarajevo.

I think at last people are sick of war. That's the only hope. But we still live in the moment, from moment to moment, happy for the moment, safe for the moment, but not forever.

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