Healing Hands . My journey as a volunteer Therapist in 2006
Sarajevo’s name derives from the Turkish word “saray” meaning palace. It’s a beautiful and special place. It lies in the Sarajevo valley in the middle of the Dinaric Alps. It is surrounded by forests, hills and mountains. The Miljaka river flows through the city. An estimated hundred thousand people died and two million were displaced in the Bosnian war of independence some fourteen thousand of those where killed during the siege of Sarajevo. Under constant bombardment from snipers and armed forces the people of Sarajevo struggled to survive with blackouts and rationing becoming a part of every day. People risked their lives just to go out for food and provisions. The supply chain was black market and through a secret tunnel and the only source of water was the fountains outside. It still prides itself today on religious and cultural diversity despite the reasons behind the Bosnian war. Some of the scars on the buildings caused by bullets and mortar shells have been filled with resin leaving floral patterns which left them dubbed “Sarajevo Roses”.
Visiting Sarajevo as a volunteer for HHN in 2006 changed the way I looked at life. I felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to meet people from a different country and culture and background with a different history to my own. Ordinary people just trying to get by as best they could after the devastation of a war of such inhuman treatment. The siege in Sarajevo lasted 1,425 days between 1992 and 1995 when half a million were trapped with little or no communication with the outside world. Much of this beautiful city was destroyed by the gun fire and grenades. Concentration camps were set up around the outskirts where many women were brutally raped.
The charity HHN (Healing hands Network) set up a clinic in Sarajevo in 1996 and two out reach places in Vagosca and Llidza to give people hope and comfort after the emotional, mental and physical effects of war. Offering complimentary therapies, counselling, food and clothing. Clients report back that they are sleeping better and feel relief from their aches and pains. Connecting and sharing and supporting each other they have found increased optimism and improved wellbeing that has encouraged the charity to continue it’s work to this day in both Bosnia and the outreach areas. The charity has also expanded and is now treating returning service and ex-service personnel in the UK suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD.
You may say but surely that war was 20 years ago and what with these diaries being 12 years old….? Well I have come to realise that wars don’t end the moment the treaty is made or the white flag is flown. Wars leave scars that last for generations. Children and adults living through these wars will still live a lifetime of memories with either physical and mental damage or both. Homes lost or fled from may never be rebuilt or replaced leaving people displaced , vulnerable and lost. The ground literally removed from under their feet. Traumas that may take years to heal if ever.
I sometimes wonder that this trip was MY own way of dealing with my own post traumatic stress disorder and was a selfish rather than selfless act after my failure to break away from my troubled marriage and start a new life with someone who’d asked me to leave my husband. Did I like to think people would think better of me if I went on a selfless mission. Isn’t she righteous or is she just searching for her own answers…… I do know I felt compelled to find a way to help others and by helping them I saw how I had so very very much to be grateful for. We shared a journey (the survivors of war and me) during my two weeks helping as a Massage Therapist at the Healing Hands Headquarters in Sarajevo and at the outreach centres of . I’m not sure I trusted in anything much at the time except having a strong belief that I needed to go and do SOMETHING. Although things took time to change they did from the moment I returned from Sarayevo I began to trust in the universe again and believe I could overcome my own trials.
I had felt before that I had plenty to feel sorry for myself about. I had had my own battles to fight and survive. A Heroine addict as a husband who’d wrecked our family business and finances. After dealing with the ups and downs of that for some 10 years of rehab and falling back and suffering I’d then foolishly and had an affair gone wrong with an Australian who asked me to leave my family and move to the other side of the world with him. He then decided it was all too much and made a turn around back to his wife. I was devastated that it had all gone wrong and I felt a victim again. He was right but I didn’t want to believe it. Unfortunately for me I was left feeling like my first husband didn’t love me or our children enough to give up heroine and the Australian didn’t love me enough to leave his wife.
Earlier in 1999 I had had a tumour behind my ear resulting in a 5 hour operation to remove it as it was growing and would apparently eventually hit my jugular then caput. The surgeon couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t end up looking like a stroke victim with a down slanting mouth and eye brow due to damaged nerves. Also many years back aged 18 my family home had been struck by lightening and the roof then subsequently the rest of the house was either burnt or water damaged and took two months to rebuild Within days my father died of an unrelated heart attack. He fortunately never knew of the house burning down but myself , sister and Mother were left devastated having lost all of our belonging.
I can’t evaluate how much pain that is in a lifetime when I know we all expect to have some suffering. I’m not trying to compare the suffering but I can say I do feel I have had some situations that have left me feeling hurt and abandoned and unloved . The one defining difference…..I don’t think anyone intended to deliberately harm me.
I think we can all be so self involved sometimes and I was feeling very much that way at the time of my journey. My experiences in Bosnia helped me to get away from being a victim and it taught me to love myself the way I am. It taught me that there is an external side to life that is sometimes out of our hands. I realised my ordeals where not self-inflicted and that my fear had been debilitating and I needed to pick my self up and get on with life. What also happened after my trip to Bosnia was a realisation that my trials were NOTHING in comparison and that I had to forgive to move on. It taught me that the internal self CAN find quality from inner peace, joy and freedom even in the face of tragedy. The people from Bosnia showed me. I have since learnt that even after terrible things happen in our lives we must keep expanding and growing from within and nourish our souls by finding purpose and meaning and keeping focused on living in the moment and moving forward gently. HHN gave me that purpose. So although this diary is about my experience of Bosnia and the wonderful people who taught me that in giving we receive , I also write as a reminder that as life moves on after tragedy we can gently heal the wounds of suffering by giving ourselves time to be kind and caring to each other.
I think I can spot givers and takers now and although I still have to work at trusting people I put time and effort into nurturing myself and knowing that by looking after myself I can look after others.
SUNDAY 16th July 2006
I want to feel positive but I don’t.
An airport hotel is not for me. It’s not that the service isn’t good but to me the clinical, efficient modern idea is soulless and does absolutely nothing to warm the heart. The evening meal last night a £12 dinner consisting of a serve yourself packet minestrone soup and a serve yourself salad with so much mayonnaise it left a layer of fat on the roof of my mouth. Finish that with a dreadful nights sleep due to the lack of fresh air (I always sleep with a window open). I wonder that they worry that people will try to jump out of the gap or that their insurance policy does not allow for windows with openers? I’m tired and weary before my journey has even started so dragging myself out of bed I decide to leave out breakfast after last nights culinary adventure.
I pay up and go straight to the shuttle bus. I have been advised that it is a ten minute journey to terminal number two with a bus every ten minutes.Twenty minutes later I am still waiting for a bus. When it eventually shows up I ask the driver how long it will take to get to the airport? He explains that although it is a Sunday the schools have broken up for the summer holidays so it is particularly busy. I tell him my check in closes at 8.30am and he ponders the possibility that he might not get me there on time. I am renowned for my close shaves with what I like to think of as precise time keeping but some might say a case of my not allowing ENOUGH time! I phone Chris my companion and colleague throughout the two week trip and tell her I am on my way. Not wanting to alarm her with the possibles I now know about. I explain that I may be cutting it a bit fine. She has already turned up checked in and is waiting for me. With concern that I might ACTUALLY miss my flight and the consequences I calm myself and decide to dismiss the worry as there seems little point in stressing over something I can do nothing about.
I arrive with 10 minutes to spare and before I know it I’m checked in, passport control and purchased a duty free facial moisturising treat. We are off to Vienna care of Healing Hands Network and all of those who donated or helped with my fund raising. Austrian Airlines will take us to Sarajevo via Vienna. I’m happy to be away from the piano teaching and the Yamaha Music school. Running a centre with 2 other teachers and some 100 or more students is fun but what with exams and concerts my life is constantly busy. I also take on private students too and with 2 children to sort my life is very full. We also usually have 2 lodgers who are foreign students from the local language school just to help with the bills but I’ve said no to students in the house whilst I’m away.
Chris and I first met when I decided to go to a HHN (Healing hands network) workshop to find out more about the charity back in February. I’d been thinking of ways to use my new found skill as a massage therapist and found the charity on a complimentary therapy website. HHN had formed a charity some 10 years ago after the war that devastated Bosnia and Herzegovina. Various associations and groups have since started up in the country as a lifeline for victims.
The Concentration Camp Victims Association. The Rape victims Association amongst others who support sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. HHN started as two women going to Sarajevo in the aftermath of the war to help by offering their skills. Each year the charity has taken on new member. Occupational therapists, Acupuncturists, Holistic Therapists and the like and It has now developed into a clinic in the heart of the Turkish quarter that opens 5 days a week from 9am until 5pm April to October. There are also three outreach centres set up in villages outside of the city centre in disused buildings. This enables those living in more remote parts to access the services of the charity.
Chris has already been on a trip here last year but I am a first timer. Once i’d committed to two weeks as a volunteer I’d met with Chris a couple of times in Chichester. She lives in Brighton and I live in Bournemouth so Chichester seemed a nice half way point and I’d lived there back in the 80’s but that’s another story. We’d managed to take this small amount of time together out of our busy lives in order to get to know each other seeing as we would be spending two weeks in a foreign country in close quarters.
The flight lands in Vienna giving us forty minutes transfer time to find our connection flight to Sarajevo. Sat further down the plane this time with a view over the wing, I watch and endure another take off and inevitable landing. The usual sweaty palms aching feet and uncontrollable desperate feeling of wanting to run up and down the aisle of the plane shouting “let me out….let me out!” It’s not that I don’t like flying i’m just overwhelmed by the power. Once we are up i’m fine it’s just the take off and landing.
Collected by Salih the taxi service provided by HHN but also a city taxi driver by day he drives us to the clinic. They are located in the back streets of the Turkish quarter and up a steep hill. He pulls up outside a set of large red wooden doors which disguise whats behind. He hands me some keys and we enter into a cobbled stone court yard. There are towels and sheets drying in the Sunday sun and Meryl and Jane greet us with smiles. “You haven’t brought any decent bloody tea with you by any chance?!”.
The house is somehow as you would expect. It’s basic but there is everything that you need. Concrete steps lead to the entrance then there’s a reception room to the right, treatment rooms to the left and a kitchen and bathroom to the rear. Upstairs there are 4 bedrooms and a bathroom all clean and tidy even if the decor is dated.There as a lovely feeling of calm as the cream shutters and floral curtains flap in the afternoon breeze. We choose our rooms and unpack then go back downstairs and sit in the enclosed courtyard sipping tea and talking. Chris and I then decide to head out and get a feel of the place. She takes me straight up to the local view point that gives you a fantastic panoramic view into the valley and the city the lies within.
“That’s the road to Istanbul”, says Chris. Then she points to the clinic near to the brown minarets. Then we look across to a huge expanse of graves marked by an ocean of white crosses and I realise the fact that so so many lost their lives here during the civil war. As we walk back towards the city we pass through another grave yard of white crosses and we stop to look at some of the marked graves. Many have died aged only in their twenties and thirties and many more who would have been the same age as us we are now if they had lived. Most of the graves are men.
We need to find a bank but none seem to want our cards or maybe as Chris suggested they are out of money. Eventually we find one that seems to work and we withdraw convertible marks. It’s very bland looking money and we aren’t sure what it’s worth. We need provisions so we find out it’s value and it’s about three to the pound. I buy a quarter piece of watermelon the size of a boat for 25p! Jane and Meryl are back at the clinic preparing dinner so we purchase bread and wine and something for all of our breakfasts as our contribution. The streets are now humming with locals taking an evening stroll or stopping for a drink or an ice cream. Apparently a promenade at dusk is a national pastime and the atmosphere is lovely and calm and pleasant to take in. There are cafes and restaurants and lots of tiny shops selling handmade gifts. Fruit and veg stalls and shops with provisions of all kinds as well as bakers and newspaper kiosks. How nice not to see a single chain store just local people running their own businesses. There is a mixed air to it of East meets West which is not surprising I suppose because that’s exactly where it is!
We arrive back at the house in perfect time for dinner. Chatting more and getting to know each other from family lives to our career histories to how we’ve come to be here. After some laughs and a feeling of good vibes we all prepare for the morning ahead then decide on a reasonably early night. Meryl and Jane are off to one of the outreach places and Chris and I have day one in the clinic. I’m already starting to feel a shift as I settle in to being away from home. I’m not one to worry too much about what’s ahead of me but I feel I’m excited to find out.
Monday 17th July 2006
Waking to daylight after my first nights sleep in a new environment is a good sign. It means iv’e slept all the way through which is unusual in an unfamiliar bed. Being able to make my own eggs on toast with a cuppa is also a comfortable familiarity. None of it tastes quite the same and I’m reminded that it’s going to be a couple of weeks before I taste my favourite English tea again. I make a quick call home just to let them know i’m here and I catch Dan my eldest son half asleep .I’m able to let him know alls well and vice versa for peace of mind. I will miss my boys and love them very much.
The clinic books 7 clients for each therapist per day so it’s full on. Each person gets an hour of our time which make for a long hard day for someone like me who doesn’t do this for a day job. It takes a while for the reality of being here to sink in. After months of deciding followed by the workshop then fundraising which involved treatments for donations to raise money. Also weekends spent doing holistic fairs for more contributions as well as getting my piano students to do practic-a-thons (sponsor forms taken home by the children who then get their family and friends to donate 50p per practice). This turned out to be a great way to get them to play more as well as raising more funds for my trip. So here I am doing what I planned and I wonder how I will manage. I did try for publicity through our local paper but they didn’t seem interested in the story. “Holistic therapist flies to Sarajevo to help Muslim victims of genocide”.
Each person comes with a case history compiled by HHN from hospital or other documentation. We must read this before treatment to check any contraindicatons. It covers their lifestyle, history, personal details and health. Then you sit and chat through an interpreter and discuss their needs.Some people want to talk in length about what has happened to them and some are more closed. Some of the physical suffering is of course clear to see. They then request what massage they want. Once Nadia the clinic receptionist and interpreter has completed consultation information and client requirements we are left alone. Realising the inability to verbally communicate is not uncomfortable but seems quite natural and relaxed. There is a CD player for music if wanted.
A women comes into the treatment room of slight build looking about 30 years of age but the records say she is 51. I can’t believe it because her skin looks so young and fresh. It reads that she was held under house arrest for 4 years and repeatedly raped during that period. She says she would like a body massage but when Nadia leaves the room she gets up onto the couch looking stiff and tangled and completely unrelaxed. I gently maneuver her into a more comfortable position. She is reluctant and I feel unsure she is enjoying this but I must keep going. She is a new client so the whole experience of massage is something alien. To be touched by a stranger is clearly something very alien to her. By the time I get to her face I begin to feel that she is a little more comfortable. I start to wonder about who she is, her personality, character, but of course I can’t ask her as she speaks no English and I know no Bosnian. I can’t make any assumptions or pass any judgement just give her the treatment and hope that it offers her some relief and maybe some benefit and hopefully some relaxation. She sees Nadia after the treatment and books for another so I’m happy she plans to come again.
Next comes a man not much older than me who’s lost one leg from the knee down. We’d been spoken to in the workshop about having to massage the wounded. I still believe you can’t ever be sure how you’ll feel about actually having to manoeuvre stumps of arms and legs. Sometimes when faced with reality it’s a different case but thankfully for me it isn’t. Here’s another person finding hard to relax. A grenade has left this dearest man an invalid for life. He struggles with his balance as he undresses and removes the prosthetic leg. He doesn’t want any help and although physically damaged it’s all to clear that he has a strong mental determination to deal with his disability.
On with another and then it’s our lunch break. A sandwich in the courtyard with Nadia’s Turkish (sorry Bosnian) coffee. A waft of Marlborough cigarettes passes as she tells us of her memories of the war and the associations set up afterwards to provide help for the many that suffered.
In no time it is the afternoon shift and being a cool day I put the heat on to warm the room up a little. Once i’m prepared in comes the dearest sweet young lady. Clearly her face has been badly scarred so I read her notes to find out what happened. A grenade has damaged her right cheek and she has been blinded in one eye so she’s unable to close it. There’s obvious scarring and protrusions on her face and neck but they are old so it’s okay to massage. She has shrapnel wounds so I need to know that there is no left over debris inside of her. She’s given the all clear and undresses then climbs on the massage table. She is such a pretty lady with wavy dark hair that I feel emotional (and not for the first time). She is the first person able to speak a small amount of English. She says she has picked it up from watching films. She lives at home with her parents and eight year old son. She is new to the clinic as are many of the younger people. It seems a lot of older residents discovered HHN charity a lot sooner. Maybe some didn’t know they were entitled or maybe have only just joined one of the associations that use HHN. Some must have only been children during the war but ten years on are now adults.
Two more to go today and two more victims from the CC. After the treatment the last man tells Nadia he has waited to feel this good for the whole of his life. Quite a compliment and I’ll take all the praise I can get. I am feeling pretty new to all of this and want to be sure I am getting it right. His wife is in with Chris next door but she’s fallen to sleep. We send her husband in to wake her up. The pleasure on their faces as she wakes is a joy to watch.
Work finished for the day we dash around clearing couches and getting the washing machine going then getting changed so that we can get into town for the evening. Meryl and Jane arrive back from the outreach centre in Vagosca and we decide to rendezvous in Pigeon Square (the famous landmark in the centre of the Turkish Quarter). Chris and I set off ahead of them to gather more provisions for the house. Sarajevo must have more corner shop than anywhere in the world. We go into 4, nosing around and getting ideas whilst picking up a few bits here and there. Everything is so cheap. A beautiful loaf of bread for 15p. We meet with the girls and head for a restaurant that has been recommended. Bill Clinton has apparently been here (not that that was the deciding factor) and we’ve been told it has traditional Bosnian food. Sure enough there is proof of Mr Clintons visit with a picture of the said man shaking hands with the proud proprietor. The food reminds me of a Russian restaurant we’d recently taken my Mother to for her 70th birthday in London. Stuffed vine leaves, Veal on skewers, peppers filled with rice covered in stock served with a glass of red wine and something similar to focaccia all for £3. We leave satisfied and go off to mooch and get a bit touristy.
I decide to buy a pair of hand knitted socks and Jane buys the most beautiful necklace. Jane and Meryl go back to the clinic whilst Chris and I don’t feel ready to end the day. We go for a hot chocolate and the waiter recognises us as English which is pleasant as most assume us to be German which leads us to think there aren’t so many Brits visiting these parts. As we sit by the fountain in a cafe near the square a procession starts. The Music and Arts festival in Sarajevo has begun with a procession to the river. Folk dancers from many countries dressed in their national costumes parade past us on their way to the performance stage that has been set up next to the bombed out library. Polish, Czech, Italian, Bosnian and more. We follow them stopping for Chris to buy and ice-cream . She relishes the delight of a taste she’s been waiting for all year. We watch the dancing for a while but we are getting cold so we stroll back to the clinic.
It’s been a long day but I am still wide awake. Two mugs of honey and lemon and hoping for another good nights sleep I hit the sack. Chris is in her room next to the bathroom so I feel very aware of the noises she must be able to hear. I brush my teeth with my electric toothbrush then pass by her room and say “It’s not a vibrator…honest!” We laugh out loud.
Tuesday 18th July 2006
We decide on a quick morning walk up to the view point before breakfast. I haven’t slept so well so I’m hoping it will wake me up! It is a beautiful sunny warm day and the view over the city is becoming a more familiar and comforting sight. We head back for breakfast and a shower before the clinic opens at 9am.
When we arrive the first woman has turned up and it’s only 8.20am. She’s with a young girl about 10 years of age. They’ve had a very long bus journey and then walked to make it here from the outskirts of the city so I give them a drink whilst they wait for us to prepare. Nadia arrives at 8.50am and Chris and I read through the case notes and decide on which client to take. We decide that the woman with the child will come with me. She is a fairly large lady and has asked for a full body massage. She is happy to strip off no qualms. I read the notes once more before starting as she hasn’t said much and I’m not sure if it’s because she has her grand-daughter in tow. She has been repeatedly raped and beaten. The notes read that two soldiers beat her in the head with a riffle butt whilst taking it in turns to rape her.
She is very hard work because she is big and i’m not. I put in all of my efforts and she is so very grateful. The grand-daughter speaks a little English and proudly tells me she is on her school holidays. She works out how to say her age in English. I attempt to ask a question but she doesn’t understand me. She smile a big sunny grin. My Bosnian is still limited to about 10 words so the communication soon ends. After the Grand mothers treatment Nadia gives them some clothes and food donations to take.
The second lady I treat has lost her husband in the war and suffered a length of time in a concentration camp ( CC ) . She is a big lady with mobility problems and water retention. She wants her legs massaged and her back neck and shoulders. Half way through the treatment she takes my hand “dobra, dobra, hvala” (good,good,thank you) she kisses my hand. Afterwards I try to help her dress but she is determined to do it herself. She hugs and kisses me good bye. The next lady is middle aged and has lost her husband and two sons in the war. She suffers depression but is generally in good physical health. You can sense all of these people seems so grateful for an hour of your time given up to help them.
We relax in the courtyard over a lunch of salad and watermelon. I have mentioned to Chris about a hike at the weekend so I take the opportunity to make calls and phone Green Visions. Chris and I are both keen walkers but we’ve been warned not to go into the mountains in Bosnia without a guide as there are still a considerable amount of land mines.
I phone and speak to a very helpful lady with good English who tells me they have no hiking or rafting on the coming weekend. Rafting….I hadn’t thought of that. She says she knows another company that is taking out rafts and says she will call them for me. She rings back later to say Europe Rafting will contact me and she explains about the bus and how to find them. How refreshingly pleasant that she’s so keen to help us out. Chris is keen on the rafting idea and I am too.
My next client has had to cancel so Nadia asks if I will give her an Indian Head massage. It isn’t an ideal setting for relaxation because she insists she must stay by her desk. HHN ask that we try to give interpreters a treatment so this is a good chance to do so. Within 10 minutes the phone rings then someone puts their head around the office door. She deals with it all and then we continue. I can at least make it an invigorating treatment. I have been gentle some of the people so far but I don’t feel any need to be fragile with Nadia. She looks and says she feels better for it and bounces back to work as soon as we’ve finished.
The next woman is about the same age as me. She’s been under house arrest during the war. She shows no visible signs of trauma or injury and there is very little written in her notes. I’d been told that some people don’t or can’t bring themselves to tell what has happened to them. It’s not for me to measure her or give any thought to what might or might not have happened. She may or may not be emotionally damaged but unless she wants to open up and speak we are told not to ask questions. There are so many so far who clearly and obviously hold a lot of tension particularly in their faces so I try to help with massage. I notice her wiping away a tear but she doesn’t want to address it. I ask her if she is a dancer because her feet point out like a ballerina. “No” she says “but I do love to dance”. She flinches and giggles as I try to massage her feet. I’ve discovered I love massaging feet but some people find it too sensitive an area. She leaves grateful as they all have been. There’s someone I would love to get to know more but there isn’t time and it’s on with the next.
The day doesn’t end until the usual tidying up, washing and showers as routine. We have a strange plumbing system that has taken a bit of getting used to. Basically you can’t shower at the same time as using the washing machine so it’s just a matter of organising. Also the hot water bath tap drips to the extent that you can fill about 5 bucket loads a day. We have a rota for waiting for a full bucket then swapping for an empty one, leaving the full one to cool then watering the plants in the courtyard.
Cooking needs to be done and it’s Chris and my turn. She makes omelettes whilst I make Bruschetta, fried aubergine with olives and a fruit salad with yogurt. (Wine of course).
We set the table for our Bosnian clinic dining with table cloth (sheet) , candles and a vase of flowers, perfect. We need a good nights sleep as it’s off to one of the outreach centres tomorrow.
I take a quick look at my emails then call home to find my son Dan at the end of the phone. He’s full of cold and swollen glands. He so often suffers and it’s awful not being there for him. The doctors have debated removing his tonsils but I’m pretty reluctant. I manage a quick word with Sean my youngest son before my Mobile annoyingly runs out of credit. I love and miss my boys. Home life isn’t ideal and I worry about them.
I go to bed with many thoughts galloping through my mind.I had deliberated taking this trip over a year ago and nearly opted out of the chance . I wonder what my children think of me being here? My marriage was nearly over then thrown back together and i’m not sure for the right reasons. I reflect on the precious lives we have that are so often taken for granted by ourselves and others. Making a mental list I begin: need postcards, need to top up phone……need sleep!
Wednesday 19th July 2006
Thankfully i’ve had a good sleep. Any thoughts of what to do about the situation back at home will have to wait until I return. Chris is showering so I go and make us some sandwiches for our lunch. Our bags are packed and ready and Salih arrives to pick us up at 8am to go to Vagosca. It’s a village about a half hours drive outside of Sarajevo. We pass through the down town city centre and for the first time we I see the ruins of war. Mixed buildings both old and new but the past devastation is obvious. It’s a city trying to rebuild itself after such wreckage. There are many lovely parts then you’ll see a derelict building with signs of mortar fire and or bomb damage. The pitted holes left by the gun fire is chilling. Then there’s a market bustling with early morning shoppers then a fancy boutique. You are briefly lulled away from the thoughts of carnage that took place in this fascinating city.
We pick up Anisa who will come with us as our receptionist and interpreter for the day. We set up clinic in a disused building. We prepare the rooms as best we can. It’s a small town with a lot of rebuilding going on so the sound of workmen is never far away. The temperature is getting hotter each day and the conditions we are in leave us little fresh air. I can see it’s going to be hard work.
The first person I meet is a lady in her 50’s. She’s lost her husband in the war and three sons were caught in a bomb blast. She was the one who found them after it had happened. One son died instantly and the other two sons have since died from their injuries. She has also lost the best part of one of her arms in a blast.. Then a beautiful lady in her 30’s who has been hit 3 times by grenades. She has lost most of one leg and has many many scars on her body that I can’t begin to tell you. The pain she must have suffered is unimaginable yet here she is all lively and cheerful and full of conversation. She says to Anisa that she has pain from the strain her body has to take from the extra work that her other limbs have to endure. She seems emotionally sound considering. Her records read that she is married with two children and she chats away about her life and her family.
A lot of the people that I’ve treated so far battle away with optimism. I speak to Meryl later and she tells me statistically those who suffer random injury have a better recovery rate. It’s somehow regardless of how inhumane, less personal even if the physical inflictions are more obvious. She tells me she’d treated someone who had been told to take a knife and slit her husbands throat. The emotional scars from that are incomprehensible. Then the next woman I meet has been severely raped and beaten and is very emotional and depressed. You can see the scars across her back that look like whip marks. This is a tough day but it keeps motoring by. Each person has a different history and each person must be seeking a little peace.
We stop for lunch and Anisa wants to prepare some Bosnian coffee. I’m getting used to this nations obsession with this muddy drink. The ritual of freshly ground coffee with no filtering into these decorative metal jugs is so very different to ours. Straight from the pot sludge and all. It’s served on a tray into handle-less miniature cups with sugar lumps and turkish delight to accompany. Many dunk the sugar cubes then eat them. Do Bosnians have good teeth? Not many of the people that i’ve met so far! We go for a stroll to take in some air and get away from it all then it’s back to work.
A lovely lady arrives who is the same age as myself in her mid 40’s. She has no physical scars but has been a victim of the CC’s and appears VERY troubled. I feel that I am not making much progress. Then a lady comes in with terrible shoulder pain who it seems what ever I do she is not happy. By now i’ve stripped down to a white sleeveless vest because the heat is exhausting me. She is perspiring too and the sweaty mix of her body heat and mine and the oils feels all very unpleasant. I stop and ask Anisa to come and speak with her. “Is she okay?”. Anissa says she wants me to carry on so I do. Before she leaves Anisa chats with her and she’s laughing and smiling so I give a thumbs up although not convinced. It isn’t until later on that someone suggests she may have been offended by my appearance. Sleeveless top, no bra? We can’t be sure but I will remember not to do that again. I guess I can’t get it right every time.
As quick as we set up we are packing down and back in the taxi running through the streets of Sarajevo. I’m glad to be back in the Turkish Quarter and what is for now our temporary home.
On our first day here I’d spotted a swimming pool from the viewpoint over the city. As yet no one from the clinic had used it as they’d tried to work out where on earth you entered the building but had been able to. Meryl says she’ll venture out with me to try and find a way in. We go in the direction of the said building with our swimmers under our clothes. After 15 minutes we find it with little problem. You buy a three Mark ticket from a man in a tiny kiosk that’s hidden away at the far side of the building. You then walk about 5 feet straight ahead where another man takes the ticket and rips it in two. “A trait from communist years” says Meryl. A job for jobs sake. The changing cubicle is like climbing into a rusty baked bean can but when we get to the pool it’s fantastic. It’s a bit old fashioned and was most likely abandoned during the siege but the water is clean and clear and the view are stunning. On one side there’s a shear rock face then on the other a hillside with houses dotted all over. I dive in and my swim bottoms shoot off! I treat water to put them back on. We swim a few lengths chatting and relaxing. She has been to Sarajevo three times now and has since set up funding for young Bosnians to travel to England. Her family has had a particularly good relationship with one young boy. They are hoping to get grants to improve his family home that was so badly damaged during the conflict. We sit out in the late sun talking. I look down and realise I’ve been sat like a nana with my bottoms on back to front!
Back at the clinic the girls are glad to hear about finding the pool. Jane delights in my story about the swimmer bottoms. There’s already a bit of banter about the vibrator, my bra less massaging and now losing my swimmers. “I’m just a hussy Jane, I can’t help myself”. On more familiar terms we chat in the tranquil courtyard about our lives. Divorce, affairs, illness, relationships with family and friends. We draw many parallels as 4 women of similar ages would. “It sounds like a competition”, I say. You’ve had three husbands…well i’ve had an affair and so it goes on…..
We decide to go into town for dinner and some how get encouraged by a very good sales pitch to stop at a restaurant with a menu showing huge plates of food on it’s menu. Not surprisingly it turns out to be a bad choice because apart from some nice stuffed aubergine the rest is greasy, salty and really bad quality.
By now we are used to the early birds and the others head home whilst Chris and I take a walk along the river. A real heart to heart conversation leaves a long day mellow and comfortable. We met for a reason and a good one I think. We chat on and have a nightcap in a cafe by the rive bank. We seem to have gone outside of our beloved Turkish Quarter into a rather posh part of town. Wine at one pound fifty a glass….extortion! As we walk back to the clinic I savour the moment. There have been so many many moments in such a short space of time and I’m sure there will be many more before this trip is over.
Thursday 20th July 2006
Although Bosnia receives grants and aid I have been told that progress is slow. When Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) decided to try and declare independence from Yugoslavia the Serbians declared war on it. Thousands took to the streets in peaceful protest. A Serbian sniper shot dead a Serbian girl from Sarajevo and a Muslim girl from Dubrovnik. This began a brutal war between the Bosnian (Non Serbian) population. By 1992 70% of BiH was occupied by Serbians and over a million Bosnians and Croatians had fled the country. Confirmation of rape, killing ,CC’s became apparent. After the French prime minister visited the Bosnians believed the war would end but instead the UN were moved in as a protection force. By necessity the UN being a protection force only had to remain indifferent and were no protection as they could look but do nothing to help. Serbia and Croatia then had secret talks to divide Bih between them. Muslims would have to agree to live under one wing or another or be killed. Then came about the bloody battle of Mostar. Thousands of Muslims were killed up until 1994.
Meanwhile Sarajevo became a valley prison locked in by the Serbian army (except for one small area in the mountains). Food and ammunition and supplies were sent through a 700m tunnel dug under the airport and was their only means of communication with the outside world. Meanwhile the Serbians were turning on the UN. Europe and America intervened by attempting to damage Serbian networks. This only gave Croatia opportunity to retake land as by now their agreement with Serbia had fallen apart. The Dayton Accord was the final agreement that ended the war and to this day governs BiH.
What materialised and stood out was the courage of the Bosnian people who remained in the city of Sarajevo. Under siege and through relentless hail of gunfire they walked the streets determined to try and live life as normally as possible. With little food, ammunition or supplies they drew their strength from creativity. Putting on plays at the theatre and continuing to print the newspaper “Oslobododenje” meaning freedom. The attempt to erase al trace of history may have been successful in the torching of libraries and raising of Mosques but the spirit of this multi ethnic community never died. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims, Serbians and Croatians lost their lives in some of the most horrific ways. From the attempted ethnic purification to the besieged city’s. After all of this madness Bosnians today are determined to live a life together again as they always have.
THIS INFORMATION IS TAKEN MAINLY FROM THE BRADTS GUIDE on BiH.
Since the Dayton Accord was signed in 1995 in 1995 they have embarked on a long and slow process to stabilise their economy. The guide reads that the nationalist governments are corrupt and inefficient and are obstructing reform. From 1990 to 1995 production fell by 80% and unemployment plagued the country. The world Bank, IMF and OHR along with government are working to reduce government spending, promote tourism, attract foreign investors and speed up privatisation as well as overhauling the tax system and weeding out corruption. It’s reliance on aid is declining so the time has come to begin repayment on it’s World Bank debts. It is trying to introduce EU standards in the hope of being admitted in 2010.
Today I spoke with Nadia and her family. She remembers the war and says her family were fortunate to have all survived. Her son is coming to visit from where he works in Vienna and her daughter is returning from America where she has been for the past 10 years. Her husband is a diplomat and they feel they have been very lucky.
I meet a lady less fortunate. She has lost her husband and two sons in the war. She weeps when I ask Nadia to interpret her feelings “I wish I could have gone with them” she says. She is a lovely lady but with so much tension and grief in her. She has only just started coming to the clinic. She suffers nightmares and poor sleep patterns and has been wounded by shrapnel. I so want to see her relax. I give her a face neck and shoulder massage. Chris says that often with very stressed clients it’s good to just stand for 5 minutes with your hands on their shoulders. I get her to do some deep breathing. “In through the nose and out through the mouth”. I direct her by action then put up my fingers to show her three times. She does it once, twice and each time she’s smiling a little more and then eventually she’s giggling. Her eyes light up as she keeps going, four, five, “okay. okay” I say but she’s still doing it. There’s nothing like a bit of good old oxygen to lighten the mind. Afterwards she’s chatting to Nadia. “I take air in through the nose and out through the mouth and it’s wonderful. (She’s telling Nadia) It makes me heady but it feels so good”. Seems she really has forgotten how to breath.! With hugs and more tears and blessings she leaves.
We are introduced to Bosnian pie for our lunch. It’s a traditional food here and you can get it with various fillings. Spinach, Cheese, Pumpkin and such and they come in an 8 inch or so long tube. A serving is about half and comes with a glass of yogurt. A meat filled Bosnian pie comes in the shape of a Cumberland sausage. Today we try Cheese and Potato. It’s lovely but disgracefully calorific and I’m putting on weight I can tell.
After work we go to the pool to unwind then I cook us pasta with salad and a glass of beer followed by banana and their lovely local honey and yogurt. Chris shows me a book she has on sound therapy. It involves the use of sound forks similar in look to a standard tuning fork. There are various forks with different pitches of sound to be used at certain chakra points in the body. The highest is used on the crown chakra and the lowest on the base and so on. She has a base chakra fork on her and shows me how to use it. Then Jane asks her to try it out on her back as she’s been suffering with it. The base being at the coccyx, Jane drops her trousers and Chris strikes the fork then try to place it in the appropriate area but she keeps missing and dropping the fork. It’s hard for her to hold it in the right place to allow the vibration to do it’s job because you have to hold just the tip end of the fork and it’s quite heavy. She eventually gets it right and i’m giggling because from the angle i’m sitting at it looks as though the tuning fork is sticking out of her arse! I sidle off and get my camera. Touche. Jane had previously taken a sneaky shot of me looking a state in my dressing gown ironing my whites. I’ve managed a whole lifetime convincing family I don’t do ironing because I’m left handed and find it awkward. She’s threatened to take bribes so a picture of her with her skirt hitched up displaying her knickers hanging down and someone crouched by her backside holding a metal object on her buttocks is a result.
As the sun goes down we get our equipment together for another outreach trip tomorrow. Texting England I think of home and family and friends that I love.
Friday 21st July 2006
“Greetings from Bosnia”. At last i’ve sent postcards. A day to get cards, a day to get stamps and a day to write and address then post them. I can’t remember the last time that I went on a trip and sent postcards. This being a less usual place to go some had asked me to write so I oblige. The trouble is that once you start, like invites to a party or wedding, it’s knowing when to stop.
Today we are heading to the outreach centre in Ilidza. The building is cooler and set out far more clinic like than Vagosca (thank goodness). It’s more or less up and ready to go bar preparing our massage tables with towels and couch roll and oils. The clinic sits in a disused row of shops below a block of flats some 10 stories high. There are many such similar buildings to see all over Bosnia. They aren’t the most attractive from the outside, especially as so many now have the scars of mortar fire. Bosnia has some stunning scenery and to me these blocks stick out like sore thumbs. I take a fifteen minute breather before we start work and wander up hillside away from the town to try and capture a photo snap shot. I notice a large old burt out iron works, some re building and a half finished new Mosque.
Back at the clinic I ask Anisa about the factory and she tells me that after the war so many men had been killed that there weren’t enough to run the factory so production has gone to another country. She says they will never rebuild now. The towns existence relied heavily on the iron works for employment but so many here now are displaced refugees or people who travel out daily to find work elsewhere. She tells me she is very lucky to have this job. She was a primary school teacher before the war. Her husband being a diplomat they had the opportunity to take their children to live and work in Australia for a couple of years. Her husbands work there was not permanent so they had to eventually return to Bosnia. They have two children the same age as mine. An older daughter aged 19 who is studying medicine in Sarajevo and a 15 year old son who is still at school. She recalls her beloved country during the rule of Tito. She remembers the decline in the mid 80’s then of course the rest I am beginning to have just a little understanding of. She despairs at the slow recovery and wonders that her country will ever heal. I tell her I see a beautiful country with signs of growth with people of great strength but i’m not sure she’s convinced.
We work though the morning as the day gets hotter and hotter. We’ve heard they are having a heat wave back at home. It feel like they are here too but apparently this is the norm. I suggest we go outside and take chairs and sit under the shade of a near by tree to have our lunch. By the time we get our bits and pieces together we look ahead and two women are in the spot we were planning to sit. They beckon us over so we decide to join them. They have prepared Bosnia coffee and biscuits . We take the coffee and thank them and Anisa interprets. She thinks they have spotted us earlier and planned this (how lovely). One lady has come from Montenegro to be with her children. She moved here before the war so was rounded up into a CC for some of the time. She is impish faced and I’m sure could tell a tale or two. The other lady has been here since after the war. Neither have husbands now but we don’t ask why. They ask about our families then the younger woman asks if we will come to her home for some pumpkin pie. We say we have no time today but will be back next Thursday and would love to come. We ask Anisa if we should bring anything and she suggests coffee and sugar. She then tells me she has cancellation this afternoon and could ask the older lady from the CC if she would like to use the clinic? Yes of course we both say.
Back in work and sure enough come 3pm this lady appears with her daughter who helps her to fill out the paperwork. She seems to have dressed up in her best clothes and she keeps smiling and grabbing my hand. “I think she’s yours”, says Chris. We finish taking her details then begin treatment. If you can imagine there is a divide between me and Chris and her client similar to a hospital ward separated with a curtain. I’m not sure what my woman is spouting on about but the lady in with Chris is laughing away at whatever she is saying. It’s contagious and we join in too without even knowing what on earth it’s all about. She stares into my eyes every time she catches my attention, grinning, grabbing my hand and patting it affectionately. By the end of the session we are in fits of laughter but with no idea why.
The day ends with the usual swift pack away then get away. It’s a Friday so Salih must want to get back into the city for his taxi work. Anissa says she will see us on Monday and we drop her off in the city centre. We grab us swimmers again and dash from the clinic for another refreshing dip before dinner. I love to swim so this pool has been a great find.
It’s Jane and Meryl’s last night tonight so we make even more effort than usual. I’ve been trying to be a bit more girlie as it’s not in my nature to dress up. I consciously brought a couple of skirts with me. I put one on, splash on the expensive foundation and perfume from the airport so i’m feeling dressed up and made up. I feel a little out of place as we all stroll down town in our glad rags. I tell them it’s not like me to dress up but I have to say it feels good. After all the hard graft in uniform it’s a nice contrast to be back in the city as a tourist on a night out.
We head to Pigeon Square and “Oscars” restaurant as suggested by Chris. She’d remembered it from last year as the owners were so obliging. I ask for olives then we realise the waiter has been sent off to buy some. He obviously wants to be sure we have a good experience. I ask what the pizza surprise is and he says”It’s a surprise!” so I order one. He’s so pleased when he serves a Calzone style pizza filled with eggs, spinach, pepperoni, cheese and some….I wade through determined to finish it all but can’t quite manage.
After photo’s and exchange of addresses Meryl and Jane go back to pack. Chris needs her ice cream as much as Anisa needs her Bosnian coffee and I my English Tea so we stay on a while. Tomorrow we have to be up at 6am to be at the bus station for an 8am ride into the mountains for rafting.
Saturday 22nd July 2006
I think I hear the girls leaving for the airport. It’s 5 a.m and I can’t get back to sleep. I decide to get up and tidy the kitchen to ease myself into the day. Just as I sit down with a cuppa and a book Chris comes down and says that in her letter from HHN sent to us just before leaving England it says the new girls Minty and Maureen (Lovely sounding duo I shall mention as M and M) are not arriving at the usual 10pm but at 3pm. Realising we won’t be there to greet them we set up a tray of biscuits and tea with a note explaining. I dash to the shop for bread and milk and a few other goodies for their arrival. We decide we’ll call Sandra the HHN secretary in the UK just to explain. When Salih arrives to take us to the bus station he says he’s scheduled to pick the others up at 10pm. We try to explain that we think the time has changed but he doesn’t seem to comprehend. Salih helps us to buy tickets. Not that we couldn’t manage really he’s just being a gentleman. Off we go heading towards the Mostar to Konij and the famous Neretva River. Not only known for it’s beautiful canyon and white water rafting but it is also the place where Tito built his hide away. I had thought we might go to visit Mostar but realising now how little time we have as tourists it will have to wait for another trip.
I call home to get Sandra’s number to see if we can sort out the mix up and explain to Salih. I speak to my husband. It’s the first time I’ve spoken to him properly although we’ve communicated by text. I don’t want to talk too long anyway as after my chat with Dan the other day I have discovered it’s not cheap calling home from here and I’ve always disliked talking on the phone other than for necessity . I eventually get through to Sandra and begin to explain our concerns then we go through a tunnel and I’m cut off. I redial but seem to be put through to my top up then a message comes through in Bosnian then we go through another tunnel. Aah! I eventually get back through but I can only hear Sandra but she clearly can’t hear me. She explains that she does not have Salih’s number to tell him that the time is early. We get cut off again as I run out of credit. We can only assume Salih will hopefully check flight times now we have flagged it up and he should be able to let the girls into the clinic if he gets a key from Nadia.
As promised by Green Visions, Samir from Europe Rafting did call me back and arranged for our collection from the bus station to take us to the restaurant and the rafting start point. His Father is looking out for us but I don’t get a chance to talk as I’m faffing around trying to top up my mobile. We won’t enjoy the day if we are worrying about not informing the girls. “Eventually Sandra gets through and tells us not to worry she will sort things”.
We start to relax and realise what a beautiful place we are in. I’m not one for spending time wondering what an experience will be like until i’m there in the moment but you can sense the excitement. Not so enamoured by the presentation of good old Bosnian pie as breakfast we tuck in anyway. We discover that meat pie and yogurt actually IS a pretty sustaining meal to start a long physically demanding day as it happens. The excursion includes our breakfast and an eating meal and we will need all the energy we ca get. We force it all down and I feel as though we’ve just eaten for England. We then have wet suits, socks and shoes to get into before we board the mini bus to head further up the mountain.
We follow the jeep with three rafts attached to it’s roof as we wind slowly up this narrow road with it’s shear drops to the right. The of course drive on the right so god is it close to the edge! As we pass Boracko Lake wedged between Prenj, Bjelasnica and the Visocica mountains the view are spectacular. The’ve taken our cameras and put them into dry bags for safety so we can’t capture a picture. We jump out keenly at the start point and after a quick safety run down using me as a dummy (I fake passing out as Samir pulls tight around the waist on the life jacket just for a cheap laugh). Paddles in hand we are off. Dino is the man in charge of our raft and journey through the canyons and rapids. I’m so excited.
We really didn’t envision how very special this was going to be. I really can’t begin to describe it. Each rapid is different, some easy some difficult but all exhilarating with each new corner of this mighty river showing us a new beauty. We take short stops every now and then just for a rest, drink, cigarette break (for some). I’m not used to this much physical exertion. Four hours is a long time paddling and Dino works hard with us all to keep the boat from capsizing. He says it’s a good experience to flip over but we’d prefer to stay up the right way! As we approach each rapid his cue is “Let’s go” then you paddle like crazy looking out for rocks and keeping on board by pushing your feet under a rope tied to the bottom of the dingy.
On one of the breaks I chat with Samir this large charismatic figure of a man who runs the business. He is a PE teacher but has 3 months school holidays each in the summer. They come here and raft every day whilst his wife prepares the breakfasts and evening meals back at the restaurant. As we continue down the river Samir’s boat passes us and he flicks water at me with his paddle and catches me full on in the face. Everyone laughs so I try to get him back but fail miserably. I can’t seem to get the knack of it. We pass them this time and he gets me again! A fight ensues involving the two boats . We constantly pass each other with bursts of energy. Sometimes we take the lead sometimes ending at the back as the third boat joins in. It’s not a race as such just little challenges and water fights but I never manage to get Samir back. We stop at a very deep area of reasonably still waters and are offered the chance to swim. I whip off my life jacket and helmet and I’m straight in. It’s very cold but wow does it feel good. You have to fight the current to stay with the boat but Samir has harnesses and equipment ready in an emergency. Some people are diving off the rocks but i’m not impressed with that idea. Samir says they wouldn’t let them do it if it wasn’t safe but I’m not interested. I saw a really bad diving accident when I was a child so diving head first into the unknown isn’t for me. Back in the boats we head off to some waterfalls cascading down the sides of the mountain. They are only small but numerous. Dino stops to let us shower under them and drink the fresh water. The next rapid is very deep and we are warned that many boats upturn here. “Let’s go!” yells Dino and we paddle again like crazy. We make it without capsizing and then stop after the rapid to rest.
They ask us if we’d like to jump in and run a rapid…wow…i’m tempted. It’s a once in a lifetime chance so I decide to go for it. I clamber back over rocks to the start of the rapid. Samir says to hold your nose, relax and don’t fight anything just jump and go with it. It’s fantastic. You think your legs would hit the rocks but they don’t. The speed and adrenaline rush is brilliant you just have to be careful at the end to draw yourself in to the banks of the river. I float a bit to far down before realising how quickly i’m being carried so I deliberately run into the rocks to stop myself. It doesn’t hurt but i’m now on the wrong side of the river. I’m just strong enough to fight my way across to the other side to scramble back up to the others. I perch myself on a ledge and sit for a while alone enjoying watching people take the plunge before stumbling back across the rocks to the boats.
As we pass through the Rakitnica canyon Dino tells us in Bosnian (translated by a lovely girl in our boat who is keen to improve her English) the history of Konij “little horse”. We pass a massive white building right by the river bank and are told it’s the place Tito’s men built his hideaway. I don’t know that much about the history of his rule but by all accounts many praised his running of the country. However apparently his Department of Protection of the People was reportedly his “secret army” who arrested and severely punished anyone who apposed his “brotherhood and unity” (as I said…..apparently?).
Tito had secured communist victory at the end of world war two and had formed a Socialist Federation Republic of Yugoslavia. The country had prospered during his time in power but hey you have to wonder who needs to build a secret hide away unless they are in fear of something?
Dino tells us that the house has a labyrinth of tunnels below and that the plan was that it would be able to house 5000 people for 3 years including food and drink and all supplies and provisions. Dino says he lived near here as a child but they were all banned from fishing here at the time as it was patrolled by armed guards. He and a friend would sneak down under cover of darkness and fish anyway.
We stop for one last swim before arriving back at the restaurant. Fish from the river is served with lots of garlic and salt. It tastes divine and every mouthful feels so well earned. It’s the perfect meal and knowing it’s been freshly caught from the river we’ve just spent all day in is wonderful.
I’ve been talking a lot to this student from Mostar who is staying in Konij with his family but their children are too young for rafting so he’s come alone. He also wants to improve his English and I want to help. He has lived in Sweden since the war and comes to visit his Mother in Mostar. He has no plans to return to his homeland as he feels he has a much better standard of living than here. There is also a group of young guys from Rotterdam. They are old school friends 2 of whom are originally from Bosnia but were shipped out by their parents during the war. They have come on a trip with their Dutch friends to see the country and also visit some of their relatives. By the time Samir gets the mini bus together to take us all back to the bus station we have started to realise just how exhausted we are. We chat more with the Dutch guys who are also heading back into Sarajevo. They have two cars and are planning to go to Dubrovnik for a bit of time by the sea before taking the route through Croatia and Austria then Germany and home before Uni starts again.
The bus to Sarajevo is local so it pulls in at every stop. We have noticed locals selling honey by the road side next to their homes so we are watching and debating if we can manage to ask the driver to stop for us to buy some. As lucky as we seem to have been so far the next stop is right by a house with an old lady sat next to a table full of jars of honey. I point and and the driver seems to understand. There are various shapes and sizes of jars but I go for the biggest which she tells me are six marks each. They are huge and filled with honey comb. I only have a 10 and 5 note so I tell her to keep the change which makes her smile. Jumping back on board I see a bus full of grinning passengers. Every one we’ve met here seems so happy and always keen to help. They can’t do enough and seem pleased we are here in their country. It’s a refreshing change as I often feel the English aren’t generally so well liked abroad. We realise they must use recycled pots on their honey as the lids appear a bit dodgy so I hope we manage to get them back without a rucksack full of sticky goo!
Back at the bus station we really are flagging. We’ve planned to make it the rest of the way by tram and drag our feet for ten minutes or so like zombies until we see the tram number one which will take us in the right direction. We attempt to shuffle towards it as running is impossible. We watch it pull away and shrug with indifference. We decide to opt for a taxi. The driver speaks a little English but we can’t remember how to pronounce the name of the street the clinic is in. All we can say is Pigeon Square which is our own made up name for that part of town. “The Turkish Quarter?” which turns out means absolutely nothing to him. We say we’ll point when we spot something familiar. He seems to understand as we attempt to make conversation but fail abysmally. It’s pathetic but we really are incapable of conversation with each other let alone to someone who doesn’t speak much of our language. “You are very happy?” he says laughing. We still can’t manage to string a sentence together as we try to explain our day as we weave into the city pointing at what seems familiar. God knows how we manage to find our way back but when he eventually reaches Pigeon Square we cheer and point our way back. Hadzikajmakova Broj (Had-gee-kee-mack-ova Broy) I will never forget……
The phone rings as soon as we open up the house. It’s Sandra from England. M and M are late anyway because they ended up missing their connection flight in Vienna. Feeling good that at least they hadn’t ended up wandering the streets of down town Sarajevo with suitcases we drum up just enough enthusiasm to greet them in style. Out comes our makeshift table cloth, wine, olives, cheese. We sit reading our faithful Bradt’s guide to each other just to keep awake. When they arrive they are so grateful for our efforts. They’ve had a six hour wait in Vienna so they are tired too. We’ve all met at the workshop all be it briefly. We knew we’d be meeting on our second week away but i’d spoken more to Minty than Maureen. We’ll have time to get to know each other better this week I’m sure.
Sunday 23rd July 2006
I fall asleep with the sound of the minaret and i’m woken by the Catholic church bells. I lay in bed reading the Bradt’s guide again. I have tried getting into the book my friend Claudine has lent to me about an English family living in Spain. It’s the writers third book on his life in Andalusia. I’ve loved the first two “Driving over lemons” and “A Parrot in the pepper tree”, but somehow I can’t get into this third book right now. Maybe there’s too much going on here to try to absorb anything else. The guide is my constant read and I find it a wealth of inspiration. Each time I learn a little more about this fascinating country. They have skiing up on the Igman and Bjelasnica mountains and apparently it’s a lot more reasonable than european equivalent . Of course I know they staged the 1984 Winter Olympics here, the peak of Bjelasnica being over 2000 meters high. Inman was the mountain access route into Sarajevo that the Serbians failed to occupy. The French UN peace keeping force were stationed at the Ski centre for most part of the conflict. We are hoping to take a trip out to Igman next Tuesday after work in Hadzici up to a village high in the mountains.
We laze about for most of the morning then Chris and I go to the market and plan to meet M and M for lunch at 1pm by the cafe selling rugs. The market is an array of fresh fruit and vegetables clearly from local farms and not mass produced. You can tell it’s home grown with wobbly carrots and no uniform shapes. Big bunches of parsley and coriander hand bound. We point out any rude shaped produce then get carried away buying because it all looks too good to pass up. Raspberries, plums, lemons, tomatoes. Remembering we now have to carry it all home we decide it’s worth the effort. We drop the shopping back before returning to town to meet the others. On the way back Chris spots a sign for a youth hostel which prompts me to think of Dan. He’s keen to travel so I pop my head inside to ask for a phone number or website. The fellow in the building packs away his lunch as I enter. He shakes my hand and begins reeling off a list of what to see, where to go, and what to do whilst in Bosnia. In the end I have to interrupt him and tell him we have a lunch date we are going to be late for. He’s still talking as we walk away but we have to go. He has at least managed to give me the card for the hostel to pass on to Dan.
Lunch is in wicker chairs sat in a cobbled stone courtyard surrounding a fountain. There are trees and Persian rugs all over. The ambiance is tranquil and calm with a distinct feel of being in Morocco or Istanbul? We tuck into mushrooms with sour cream and a glass of homemade lemonade. We had asked for wine but as in a lot of places they only serve soft drinks. I’m glad because the lemonade is thirst quenching and delicious. We decide to look around the various denominations but find the Mosque won’t let you in on a Sunday. We go into a shop in the grounds selling books of the Koran and such like. I decide to buy some prayer beads for Dan and Sean. Daniel might like to pray for money to travel and Sean to pass his GCSE’s next year! We find the Catholic church is closed on Sunday which seems odd but the Greek Orthodox is open so we go in. It all helps us make a little sense of this diverse city.
It’s getting hot and humid so we sit in the shade and have a coffee. We have come to do shopping for gifts so it must be done. I’ve already worked out where I need to go and I want a swift execution because I hate shopping. I have an action plan and I want to take an hour at the most. A bullet pen for Sean, a pepper grinder for Mum, a poster of the Cellist in the Library for Dan and a Bosnian coffee set for husband and I. Finally 4 boxes of Turkish delight for whoever……
Back at the clinic I relax in the afternoon sun. I fancy a little me time in the dying heat of the day. I plan to phone home and when I do I speak to Paul. It’s been easy to lose sight of what is happening at home. There is a busy life there too but in such a different way. I reflect on things of the past and thoughts of the future then come back to the now and remember it is here I must savour as week one draws to an end.
Chris and I cook a chicken risotto and lay out our familiar spread. My stomach is bulging again but I LOVE my food. We walk to our familiar viewpoint to shed some calories. The week has fled and has been such an adventure. I somehow feel there is going to be more still to come.
Monday 24th July 2006
I wake at about 4 a.m and can’t get back to sleep again. Chris and I take a morning walk as it seems our sleep patterns are the same. Either that or we are both being woken by something in the night. I wonder that perhaps we have so much adrenalin rushing through that we are living on that.
Salih picks us up to go to Hadzici. It’s another outreach centre about half an hour into the hills going west from the city. It’s another ramshackle building but it’s the best so far and at least it’s cool.The walls are bright orange and some of the therapists have brought in plants and pictures to make it more homey. The view out of the window up the hill side is pleasing and it’s clearly going to be an easy place to work in than Vagoshca.
We set up as swiftly as possible because our routine now seems to include time to sit with Anisa and drink Bosnian coffee. I’m getting used to this ritual although if I had a choice it would be TEA. Now i’ve bought a coffee set I can sit with family and reminisce when I’m home.
Most of the people who come today are from the CC association. Many of those in the countryside who weren’t killed or didn’t manage to flee were either rounded up in the concentration camps or put under house arrest. The signs of invasion are clear and it would appear that many people were slaughtered.
Whilst waiting for the first clients to arrive I read an article from the HHN members booklet written by one of the founders of HHN:-
On our first visit to Bosnia the devastation was very apparent even before we got off the plane. We drove into the centre of Sarajevo with open-mouthed silence. There wasn’t a single building that had not been damaged. If it hadn’t been raised from the ground it was certainly well marked by the ravages of war.
The place was without any gas for cooking or any heating. The electricity was only switched on for a short while on odd occasions which made for very challenging winters.The water would flow for about 15 minutes twice a day so unless one of us happened to be there at the time to run about with buckets, bowls, bottles or any containers which came to hand we were just unlucky and went without.
It was an education working in the hospital moving from patient to patient armed with just tea tree. We would dream of a shower or a hair wash. Our accommodation was in a bombed out flat most of which was in ruins. The doors, lifts, post boxes , lower stairs and much else had been destroyed. After dark it was pitch black so without candles or torches or a supply of batteries it could be difficult to see anything inside and hopeless outside.
In peoples homes and the makeshift clinics amenities were minimal and getting them was a story in itself. You could be woken in the morning by gunfire or get home to find troupes patrolling expecting trouble. On occasion we were told by the friendly bomb disposal unit not to look out of the building or venture out alone. Wherever we went there was a possible danger of land mines which became only too apparent when we had to attend the funeral of the husband of one of the interpreters.
The conditions in Sarajevo are different now. Buildings have been repaired , social services and amenities have been restored and Healing Hands has moved forwards. We now have reasonable accommodation with a few home comforts. Thanks to the volunteers we have structures in place and are now a charitable limited company with audited accounts and insurance cover to make sure our members do not incur debts. Workshops are held to give new members information and guidance to determine whether or not they are suitable to work abroad under the HHN flag.
From the original band of therapists there has been a continual flow of wonderful people who have taken the original idea of HHN to their hearts and come forward to help it grow and survive. Some have given time to work on the management committee or many other ways people have given their time and expertise. We only have 3 part time paid helpers being the interpreters and admin ladies here and the secretary Sandra in the UK who some how manages to fit a full time job into part time hours. We are no big organisation like the Red Cross or VSO just a small group of people willing to give other people their time.
We have no government funding or fairy god mother and no way of conjuring up any extra money so part of the funds you raise go into a general fund or it would be impossible to have the structure we have in place to support you the members.
You are – we all are the force that makes up HHN. We are a unique organisation that has achieved unique things and I hope we can strive together to keep it that way.
Some people had asked me why Bosnia? You know, the charity begins at home kind of question so I ask myself….I do support a local charity that sets up projects to raise awareness about children who live on the street. I support as a member of the Soil association and Dorset Wild life trust by donation and purchase of magazines. I have belonged to fund raising groups from my children school PTA as secretary for two years as well as the pier to pier annual swim raising funds for the British Heart Foundation.
Could I find a charity to volunteer for in the UK? Yes. Could I use my therapy skills as a volunteer? No. Or at least I haven’t found anywhere as of yet. It’s the being hands on that feels worthwhile. Not just giving or raising money but actually doing and being with people who want help. Am I pleased that in the present climate of much stirring up by the media of our view of Muslim people I am helping predominantly Muslims? Yes i’m very happy. Do I wonder what people think of massaging as a means of help? Yes I feel our society sees therapy as a luxury for pampering or on the other hand something seedy so the concept is maybe a little un orthodox?
Chatting in the evening we wonder how the charity will progress in Sarajevo. Minty is back here for the 5th time so she’s seen a lot of changes. She recognises new clients and those who have been coming for longer. Some of these people do have minor ailments but are clearly receiving a service they would never be able to afford. They come with gifts, fruit or flowers from their gardens, chocolate or sweets. Some have travelled long and hard in the summer heat just to have a few hours attention. It’s good to see new younger clients who may have only just heard about the service finding the confidence to come. Some have the most dreadful physical or emotional scars that I cannot begin to describe and you wonder they will ever recover from. This may not be cutting edge humanitarianism but it certainly feel a worthwhile charity to me. Time does to some extent heal things but I’m sure knowing that you haven’t been forgotten and that a wider world knows your plight hopefully helps with the healing process.
To take a glimpse into these peoples lives and to try and appreciate the enormity of what happened and what has been taken away from so many innocent people may take me more than a lifetime to understand. Maybe what we are doing does not even begin to touch the sides but being a part of trying to see and being a part of knowing these people appreciate us is a privilege. To think of the sad negectful attitude the world took to this war is disgraceful and shameful. Sadly you do feel it has been brushed under the carpet and preferred to be forgotten. All of it’s atrocities are an ignominious display of inhumanity and a disorganised military mess dare I suggest!
Jane phones the clinic to see how our week is going. I have a chat with her about home. She’d met up with her husband at the airport and he’d booked a hotel so as she put it “I could get my kit off” only to discover the hotel doubled as a knocking shop. Not comfortable with staying and much to his disappointment she phoned her daughter and they went to stay there for the night instead. Her daughter having just married a Rastafarian and living in a tiny newly acquired flat in Leyton was in need of help to decorate. So the intended night of passion ended up a working evening to paint someone else love nest! I hand over the Chris who had to tell Jane how I’d managed to forget to take any underwear to change into after the rafting having gone there with swimmers on. Re-establishing the banter that I really am a floozy having stood trying to dress knicker and bra less whilst chatting to Samir, and Dino and the guy from Mostar. After the bikini incident and the bra less in the clinic and the complete loss of swimmer bottoms in the pool and not forgetting the mention of wearing of my sequinned bra in the down town Turkish Quarter my reputation is again in question. They’ve been laughing at my skimpy underwear that’s been clocked hanging on the washing line too.
M and M make dinner and we chat more about HHN and their future. The AGM is in November in London and they’ve invited the interpreters but they aren’t sure if Salih has been asked. We decide to find out if it will be possible for him to come too. I suggest to the girls that I will offer for him to come and stay with us on the coast. He has often mentioned that he loves the sea although I seem to remember him saying he is not keen on dogs and we have one BIG black one.
Conversation turns back to what is happening here. What people have suffered and what time it it takes to recover personally and as a nation. Chris’s husband was a Commander in the Royal Navy and she says he just isn’t able to talk of some of the things he has seen and he’s been through the Falklands and the Gulf War amongst others. All he can say is that he’s seen things that should never been seen and never been allowed to happen. Without becoming morbid or wallowing in the misery of it it does leave you questioning the emotional detachment war brings.
We’ve now sat and discussed the different weapons and means of destruction from a small bullet to a tank and despaired at those capable of making such weapons and being part of such evil creation. We have now seen the results hands on and believe me it ruins lives. If there is anything that can be taken from these ashes is that after such callous, ruthless brutality follows an overwhelming need to balance it with compassion and humanity. The need to reach out to people and care and realise that good comes from letting people know they are not abandoned.
Tuesday 25th July 2006
This week is flying by and it’s back to Hadzici and the usual picking up Anisa in the city centre…..
So much has happened since we finished work last Friday that it’s hard to recall. I do remember reading a client history to find out I am treating the President of the Victims of CC’s Association today. He is such a great guy and a journalist now. During the war he spent the most part held in a camp and beaten to the extent that one leg and one arm were broken. Two sons went missing and have never since been found. He is clearly a very active and involved man. I work really hard and manage to send him off to sleep. I leave him for a little while before gently waking him. It’s a pleasure. The man after him is a dear sweet old chap wearing a French beret and smiling. He hands me a bar of chocolate and says he wants just his legs and feet massaged. I oblige and spend as long as possible really working to give him a good treatment. He dozes off too so I’m clearly having the magic touch today. After i’ve finished he hands me another bar of chocolate grinning from ear to ear. He tells Anisa he feels he could run forever. I ask if I can take a picture of us all together with his wife who has just been with Chris. Anissa tells us they are VIP’s as they are the President of the CC’s Associations parents. I feel honoured and proud to have this morning such a family affair.
After lunching on a revolting fish in a bap from the local baker (the fish has clearly not seen water for a while) i’m gratefull for a break because i’m feeling a bit gaga. It’s been a long and hard session so I walk out for a breather. I wander over the road to a loo i’ve spotted. It’s a dank cubicle with so much wet of some disgusting kind on the floor. I have to hitch up my trousers in the dim light in hope of them not soaking up whatever it is. I crouch not wanting to sit so it’s hit or miss! I then stroll on in no particular direction and come across a well maintained shrine . It’s a double wall of brass plaques with names and birth/death dates. The same surname as the President of the CC’s comes up 4 times on the wall of 200 or more plaques. I wonder; Brothers, Sister, Uncles, Aunts maybe?
The last lady of the day is huge and stressed. She wants an all over vigorous massage and she doesn’t want or know how to communicate. Short of getting up on the couch and walking all over her I’m not even going to scratch the surface. I’ve used every last ounce of energy and i’m sure I haven’t even touched the sides. I’m completely knackered.
My back aches as do all of my fingers. I smother my hands in moisturising cream and look at what they have been through. I thought with all of my piano playing I had strong fingers but mine are crying out for a rest. I’ve started to double up my hands sometimes just to feel I am creating pressure when massaging.
We get changed out of our whites and pack up as promptly as ever but this time Anisa takes a separate taxi as we’ve planned a trip into the mountains with Salih to the remote village of Lukomir.
My faithful Bradt’s Guide reads:-
Lukomir is the finest example of highland villages. It is the highest most isolated in the country standing 4,500ft above sea level. The traditional architecture has been deemed by the Historical Architecture society of the UK as the last remaining functional self sufficient village in all of Europe.
The villagers live for sale of sheep and milk. Access is impossible from December until April and sometimes later in the year unless using skis or on foot. It sits on a ridge over the Rakitnica Canyon which drops some 800m below. Being the least explored canyon in southern europe it feeds the Neretva and Konjic rivers.
We have to drive past the old burt out Olympic Ski centre. Salih points it out. Fire bombed and a mere shell although there is a lot of rebuilding going on in the area. I wonder to ask to stop and take a photo but it some how seems morbid so I don’t. Salih was in the Bosnian army and this area was the scene of a battle he had taken part in. I ask him what happened. He says that for the most of the time he was in Sarajevo but the Serbians had tried to take hold of the area around the Igman Mountain in order to have control over the city. Salih had been called through the secret tunnel with other troops of the Bosnian army to attack the Serbians by taking higher ground. It was a battle he now has the bullet wound to prove and he’s very proud that the Serbians didn’t succeed in their mission. He adds that his memory of wounded and dying , especially children is something he doesn’t talk about and prefers to think ahead and to the future.
We turn off the tarmac road onto gravel. It’s now a rocky road that which winds up past Bjelasnica and one or two small settlements then onwards up and up……There are stone walls separating lands but no sign of livestock. Salih says the land was rich in farming and livestock but all fled during the war and many were reluctant or unable to go back. Their villages had been destroyed or abandoned for so long that to return was impossible. Paddy Ashdown had come to Lukomir to try to reestablish links for the farmers but it apparently proved of little effect.
Hawk eye Chris calls Salih to an abrupt halt. She jumps out of the car and returns promptly with a handful of wild strawberries. Seems she’s a bit of a bod with her knowledge of wild plants. The scenery has turned from dense pine forest to limestone rock and the clouds make a thin looking mist. My intellectual contribution is to try and teach Salih “I spy”. I give an example by a practice run with Chris “I spy with my little eye something beginning with R”. Chris responds with “Road?”. I ask if he gets the idea? “Okay Salih, I spy with my little eye something beginning with F”. Salih replies “Jennifer Lopez?”. “Not your imaginary eye and besides Jennifer doesn’t begin with an F!”.
I think he’s missing the gist. I try yodelling out of the window but i decide you need lederhosen and an alpine horn for it to work.
Another bend in the road and we are hoping to see the village appear before our eyes but still there’s no sign. We come across some hikers camped up on the road side and wave a we pass. They wave and laugh as we pass. We realise that although Salih drives for HHN his car is intact a Sarajevo Taxi. With illuminated yellow cab for hire sign on the top of his vehicle and his passengers with sunglasses on their heads like american tourists in shorts and T shirts. They must wonder what on earth the fare will be! It’s nearly night fall and we are literally in the middle of absolutely no where. We go back to the campers and Salih chats to them. They’ve told him it’s not much further. Another bend no….another….we see some more people and they say keep going so we do. We reach another bend and it’s a mud pool.
There is no way the car is going to get through. This must be the end of the journey and we get out to take a look at the impassable road ahead. A farmer approaches and chats to Salih then before we know it they are throwing logs and anything solid they can find to create a bridge over the mud. It seems Salih is determined we are going all the way to the village. He’s told us that his Grandfather lived around here. We aren’t sure if he knew but it turns out he actually lived at Lukomir.
By now it’s getting cold and we haven’t come prepared. We’ve trampled through the muddy section of road in our open toed sandals to lighten the load for the car and our feet are filthy and cold. A couple of attempts and Salih manages to get the taxi across and we jump back in damp and weary. Around the next bend there it is. This tiny village perched on a cliff edge. Sheep are heading down the hill back home and the farmer and his cows have caught up with Salih who stops to chat again. A woman beckons me over but I don’t know what she wants. She calls us to her house so we follow. It’s no more than an “A” frame shed with wooden slat sides and a corrugated iron roof but inside it’s warm and cosy and beautifully kept. She invites us in and starts to show me socks that she has made. She wants me to buy them and I’m only too happy to get me feet warmed up. We obviously aren’t the only tourists to have ever bothered coming this far!
This smart lady has cottoned on to a good thing. I go outside and ask Salih to help me. The woman is chatting away then Salih says she knows of his Grandfather. She wants us to stay and have Bosnian coffee and chat. She shows us her garden with a cart wheel for a table and pallets for a fence. She sits and chats away as Salih translates. She tells us they have had electricity for a couple of years now and that last year the snow was as high as the cables. They had to tunnel out of their homes like eskimos in igloos. They survived as they do every winter with provisions stored through the summer. She says they have too much produce and she wishes the government would improve the road so they could sell more of their goods and have more visitors come. They have a village truck which makes it to the city once a month and there has recently been a hiking lodge built near to attract more tourists. She tells of one of the villagers who fell ill and needed to be air lifted to hospital during the bad weather. We gaze out like zoo animals as locals pass by to see what is going on. We listen and watch the old lady who is wearing the most amazing clothes. She explains how it’s all hand made and from the wool of her own sheep.
A few more locals pass by tending to their sheep or putting their cows to bed for the night. They glance at the strangers that have come to town. Salih is introduced to a distant relative. You can tell he is overwhelmed by all of this. He says he would like to go to the house of the relative because they want to give him their milk,, cheese and cream. We ask if we can buy some to take back with us. The whole event takes at least half an hour finding containers and going to the cow shed. It’s such an unusual sight it’s our turn to gaze as we are fixed on watching the process. A mother comes out with her son to feed their lamb. so I point to my camera and put a thumb up? She’s happy to allow me to photograph them. An elderly couple come by and speak to Salih who also knew his family. They want us to go with them for refreshments. Each house is the size of a small garden shaded the whole village has maybe 50 people in it. The area is no bigger than an average school playing field so it doesn’t take long to go from one house to the next.
We are invited by the old couple to stay for dinner and of course we love the idea. Salih points out the time it has taken to get here and he recognises it foolish to be too late leaving. Reluctantly we head back to the car followed by a trail of locals bidding us farewell and waving good bye.
Back over the muddy bridge the rocky road home somehow feels a little more familiar. We pass the hikers who have now set up a campfire. The laugh and clap and wave as we pass by. We smile and give a royal wave. Stopping for a starlit wee we look up in gratitude for what we have seen tonight. Salih is a little worried if anything should happen to the car we will be stuck but I assure him we can always make a massage table tent with sheets for sides. We have candles and matches enough to make fire and enough cream and cheese to eat and butter to rub all over and keep out the cold. Clearly a joke yet we imagine the reality and laugh. There is a storm over Sarajevo and in the dark we watch the fork lightening below us.
The tarmac re appears and we wind our way back to the city. By the time we arrive at the clinic it’s nearly midnight but we are wide awake and buzzing. We decide we can’t wait to tuck into the dairy produce so it’s Lukomir butter and cheese on Sarajevo bread. We’ll save the cream for breakfast with the raspberries we bought at the market on Sunday, yum.
I go to bed but can’t sleep for all that’s happened today. I can’t understand why these people we visited tonight would want their village to be more accessible to the outside world. Part of me wishes it could stay exactly the same forever. I stay up and read until my eyes tire.
Wednesday 26th July 2006
I wake at 6 a.m feeling as though I’ve had no sleep. 7 clients a day back to back with one hour for lunch and the work load is starting to take effect. After the lengthy day yesterday I’m pleased I have will and stamina. All these people with different needs , different stories and interpreters giving time and showing care. Time to tap into their needs and to give them support and care takes a lot of energy. The first lady I met today has a stinking cold. I’m half of a mind to tell her to go home and get to bed but she insists she wants to stay. Laying on her front with her head so full of cold her nose is streaming into the couch roll and towels. I decide to turn her over and give her a good face massage to clear those sinuses. In reception i’m told this lady knitted Chris a jumper on her last visit and she’s saying she wants to knit one for me too. I don’t have time right now so I ask if she minds returning on Friday late afternoon when we have finished for the day? She agrees. She is a very strong character and she wants me to know more about her life. She tells us her Grandfather used to own the house next door to the clinic and she remembers playing there as a child. She grew up to become and Architect in the city but lost heart after the war when her job became deciding which buildings to save and which to pull down. Her Grandfather had sold his house to a Serbian before the war but said man fled after the war as did many Serbians in fear of reprisal. Apparently the same had happened here at 5 Hadzikajmakova Broj the HHN clinic.
I’ve prepared soup out of the lovely carrots and herbs from the market. I offer some to Melissa. She’s here in place of Nadia who has gone on holiday. It’s actually Melissa’s boyfriend who is meant to be working but he’s had a last minute call t do some training for his engineering degree course so she’s stepped in. She’s just finished training as a doctor so it’s maybe better anyway and she’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable. She tells me I look like Meg Ryan. I laugh but I’m sold…..I’m happy to be told I look like a famous attractive actress!
We sit in the courtyard eating more Lukomir cheese and butter with our bread. My appointment is late so I sit chatting with Melissa and said boyfriend. My appointment turns up flustered and rushed her bus having been delayed. She says her journey has taken an hour longer than usual so I get her to sit and have a drink first to calm down. She is disabled and has lost one arm. She sits whilst I read her notes. Her husband has been an invalid since the war and she has many recorded injuries on file from shrapnel to the grenade that took her arm. She looks after her 33 year old autistic daughter as well as the husband. I work on her tired legs and stiff neck and shoulders. A gentle face massage and I can tell she is relaxing. I can sense her ease and it feels good to know I am helping. She’s so graceful and engaging now she’s been soothed and I lose track of time. Lunch has decided to gurgle in my stomach which is amusing. I want her to rest before she leaves on her long journey home but I realise I am running late so I get her to sit in the office with Melissa.
The next man seems in pretty good physical health. I go swiftly though the usual procedure as there is nothing specific that he’s asked me to work on. I put in a CD and off I go. I’m trying to get into the session but my stomach is gurgling and the CD is jumping. I burst out laughing and he sees the humour too. It somehow still turns out to be a good session…I think? I’m getting so much more confident now. Lots of people have asked for me a second time and lots asking if I will be back next year. I’m sure they say it to everyone but more compliments is really helping me.
Over dinner we look at some of the pictures we’ve taken and had developed. There’s some great ones of some of the rafting day and Lukomir and the outreach centres. I make a call home and for the first time it dawns on me that our time here is drawing to an end. Chris asks if I will come again next year but i’m not sure. It’s not that iv’e not enjoyed it and the second time there’s less money to raise but there’s other things coming up in life that may have to take priority.
Thursday 27th July 2006
I’ve seen some of the strangest underwear. People in nylon in searing heat. People wit THE baggiest worn our pants, vest and bras. People with lost limbs, shrapnel and grenade wounds like you could never imagine. People blinded, beaten, raped and emotionally scarred. They come and we help. I really think we do. They bring gifts. So many gifts. Chocolates, coffee, Turkish delight. Homemade pies, fruit and veg and flowers grown in their own gardens. They can’t offer enough and we take it and keep it or pass it on to others less fortunate who have nothing to afford or offer. For someone who doesn’t usually eat sweets or drink coffee I’ve had a lifetimes worth.
Today is our last day in Llidzas. Salih picks us up and delights when we show him the Lukomir pictures. We arrive and the electric is out. No electric no coffee for Anisa and Anisa NEEDS coffee to start her day. She’s even talking about coffee and says she will take me to the shop later and show me the best to buy and take home. She tells me again (for at least the third time) how to make it and believe me it’s simple. Not that she’s obsessive about her coffee or anything……
The first people to arrive are a couple. Anissa has called her husband to come and try to fix the electric. He seems to know what is wrong but doesn’t know how to fix it. During treatment someone arrives that Anisa has called and they traipse through as if there’s no one else there. They fiddle here and there then disappear without acknowledging us. After the couple leave anise tells us the electrician didn’t speak to her either so we’ve no idea what’s going on. The only difference for us is that there’s no CD player and it’s a bit dark but then we have our candles to warm the place with some lights. Anissa is now gagging so I suggest she goes to the cafe as I look on a cloud of dust remains where she last stood.
I’m less tired today after a good nights sleep and the thought of only one more days work.
The lady from the flats last week comes in with Pumpkin pie and gives us details of her address. We are to meet her there at 1.30pm. I’ve had my fair share of Bosnian pie by now but this lunch I have the best i’ve tasted. It’s home made and delicious. Anissa then show us the way to the flat. It’s only just above the clinic and it’s pretty dire. The front door looks as though it’s been smashed in at some point and there is a plaque with “Dr” preceding the occupants name. (As it turns out previous occupant). We are greeted with hand shakes and kisses.
Inside the flat is very shabby and poor but clean and tidy. The plaque on the front door names a Dr (somebody) but he and his family apparently fled during the conflict. The wall paper inside is faded and stained . Clearly many years have passed since any decorating has been done here although you get the feeling this was once a lovely place to live. She sits us down by a coffee table with fruit, sweets and of course Bosnian coffee. I ask if I can look out from the balcony so she shows me the stunning views at the back of the flat looking up to the hills. We ask her how long she has been here. She explains that she was put here after the war and pays rent from her widows pension. The flat belonged to a doctor and his family but they were all killed in the war. She offers us the refreshments and although already full of pie we can’t refuse her generosity. She goes to find photos and shows us her family. Her two sons survived the war but her husband was killed. She fled her home but the pension and a small grant has enabled her to begin repairs. The problem is she does not have enough to complete the work and being displaced the family home now seems alien. She doesn’t say what she will do or maybe she doesn’t know. Her sons no longer live with her but she proudly shows us pictures of them.
I go with Anisa to buy my precious coffee. We chat about her coming to England in November and she says she will come alone. She works hard for her family and says she will be glad of the break. I never really gauge how much I work for my family but I have a husband who’s situation leaves me feeling like a single parent most of the time. I’m lucky to have a good Mother and Father-in-law thank god. I work full time as a teacher both privately and running a Yamaha Music School and I have one or two full time students renting in our spare rooms at home. I’m usually feeding 6 people regularly. During that time i’ve managed to take two diplomas try to manage a husband with addiction problems (and failing) and had an affair with an Australian that backfired and ended in a mess. The children have had to deal with so much that I can’t begin to understand their pains. One chance of moving on and trying to cope is to have come here and help others. I needed to do this for the good of my soul. I’ve made some big mistakes recently and I can certainly say a good way to get over lack of self worth is to help others and stop beating yourself up. That’s not to say running away but putting energy into doing good instead of sitting in your mistakes.
Anisa considers herself lucky that she and her husband have work. She has had to support not only her children but her in-laws and parents whilst her husband has had to often go abroad. She loves to shop so I tell her about Harrods and the places she might like to go and see in London. I tell her I’m a regular visitor there as I sing with the London Philharmonic choir and I’m feeling privileged that I can go and sing in some of the Capital cities most famous concert halls. It seems a world away right now though.
I’ve met so many people here who see our country and us as this privileged world where the streets are paved with gold. It would seem wrong to talk of any of the problems I see within our UK society without it seeming trivial. It’s inappropriate to compare but then in my world it’s a reality and there ARE problems they are just different problems. Another side of this trip that reestablishes my belief that if we can endure whatever level of suffering with a resilience and positive attitude then all of our experiences no matter how good or bad will be better and happier.
As we finish for the day the lady from the flat comes to the clinic to say good bye. She’s dressed up in her very best clothes and seems so proud that I ask for a picture. We say our goodbyes to her and Anisa as we will be dropping her in the city for the last time. She’s been fantastic and such a helpful caring person to us and all of the people she meets. We’ve spent time in some personal situations and down compassion and understanding in moments that I will never forget.
As Salih drives us back into Sarajevo we hear the sound of thunder clap and the beginning of a storm. The city sits in a valley so stormy weather is usual and by the time we arrive back in the clinic it’s been raining quite heavily. We’ve been lucky that we’ve missed being caught in the rain every time. As we drive past the American Embassy I go to take a shot with my camera. The outside of the building is white colonial looking with surrounding high back metal fencing and armed police with bullet proof vests at every entrance. Salih tells me in a serious tone to put the camera down. The tension is obvious and I sink in a feeling of dread.
Chris decides to go to the shops and gets out at Pigeon Square. As Salih takes me back I ask him about the possibility of coming to England. He wonders that it won’t be easy with visas and all. I wonder why but I don’t ask.
Back home I quickly change, sort out the outreach bags and then go to take some picture of the city. On the way back I pick up a bottle of the local hooch similar to schnaaps. We sit for a final courtyard dinner with candle light and wine listening to Elgar’s piano concerto. I’ve brought along some classical music to enjoy whilst we relax. The minaret calls to prayer and that mix combination of west meets middle east.
We decide to go into town. We take a walk by the river and past the bridges to the point where Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia were assassinated in 1914 there marking the beginning of world war one. We find ourselves further down town than usual and in a completely different part of the city. It’s more similar to many European cities with bars and disco’s and people out being seen and heard partying. It’s not really the place we want to be so we double back to our beloved Turkish Quarter and it’s comfortable familiar environment. We stop for a glass of wine at Oscars (the Pizza place) . I ask for olives then remember they don’t have them. The fellow heads off to buy them again before I can stop him. I can’t believe it but he insists and returns with a huge plateful sprinkled with olive oil and parsley.
Friday 28th July 2006
Knowing it’s the last day I want to work even harder with each treatment. I’m presented with a beautiful bunch of flowers. The lady who gives them to me has come a long way by bus and it’s a hot day. I can’t believe it when she apologies for a couple of squashed blooms! Another lady calls in just to wish me well and to ask if I will be back.
Chris’s client wants to take us for lunch. Bosnian Pie. Just when you thought you’d had enough. I’m hesitant as it’s baking hot and we have little time but he’s insisting and it seems rude not to. Melissa comes with us to interpret and we wander down to the cafe he wants us to go to that apparently seems the best Bosnian Pie in town. Four huge platefuls arrive with four glasses of yogurt and we’ve got about 5 minutes to eat it. It is very good though even if not quite as good as the homemade one from the other day. This elderly chap is SO pleased to have taken us to lunch ad he refuses to let us contribute to the bill.
There’s not enough time to get to know him better and we have to get back to work. We ask the cafe owner for doggy bags as we just don’t have the time or stomach room to finish our meal. We stop at the fountain in Pigeon Square to take a drink from it’s water. The belief is that to do so means you will return to Sarajevo? We say our thanks and farewells to another lovely person then leg it full bellied up the hill to the clinic. Red faced and out of breath we find the next clients waiting at the large red wooden doors of the entrance.
The last lady I treat has had her husband and one son killed and a second missing. She is very frightened and timid. Although she has been here before she is clearly unsure of the environment and strangers. By the time she leaves she is smiling and hugging me. I ponder again at what help I hope to have been whilst here over the last two weeks.
Without any time to think the lady who wants to make me something to wear has turned up. She’s come with pattern books and cake in hand so we make coffee and set up a table. We sip coffee and browse and decide which style and colours suit. I try asking for a hat as that’s what I’d really like but she’s determined it will be a top. She says she wants to make me a proper article of clothing. She talks through Melissa about her life our lives and here we are again with delightful strangers sharing thoughts. Nothing she has brought with her is really my style but eventually I come across a style and colour I like.
The others return from outreach and join our gathering. After my choice is made she takes my measurements and address as she will send the jumper on to me. We recall some of our clients. The peculiarities, the strange clothes, the cheesy feet, the wounded the fragile but most of all the warm of ALL of these people. I feel eternally grateful for being so enriched.
We’ve booked “To be or not to be” and I’m not talking about the play. We dress up again to eat at this restaurant famous for it’s fish. We’ve not splashed out more than a few pounds every time we’ve eaten out but this place will cost a bit. Apparently the Sea Bass is superb so I choose that with white wine. It’s delicious. God I love my food and here’s another memorable meal to reminisce over. We’ve had a good time together all of us and Chris and I raise our glasses and say thanks for sharing our lives. We are clearly like minded and i’m grateful to have been lucky enough to share all of this experience with someone I get on with so well. This evening is definitely about savouring every last moment. By tomorrow we will be back home. We walk the streets for a farewell mooch going no where in particular stopping in a cafe for an hour for wine then another for ice cream.
By tourist standards this has also been a fantastic cultural experience. We walk the cobbled streets lined with quaint shops and cafes, mosque, synagogue, catholic church, protestant church a stones throw from each other. Buildings damaged by war then new and beautifully designed buildings with a style of their own i’ve seen no where else in Europe. As we sit and soak up the city I sit and think of the other side of what we’ve seen. I recall when my Father was ill .There had been a storm the night before and our house had been ruined by fire damage after being struck by lightening. The next day my father died of a heart attack. He knew nothing of the disaster of the previous day. I was 18 years old at the time and I remember only 3 years ago being able to talk about it without overwhelming emotions taking charge. I have no physical scars to see but I’m now 43 years old. That’s over 20 years to feel I have some (just some) resolve. I sit and look and think about Bosnia. It’s historical richness and it’s courageous people and think I maybe have a very small idea of how the people here must feel. Grief stirred in me a desire to make the most of life. From losing my father when he was only 54 to having a tumour behind my ear which I had removed in 1999. It was the size of a kidney bean and growing with a threat of hitting my jugular. I endured a 5 hour operation with my ear being removed not knowing if the tumour was benign or not and being told I may loss the use of the nerves on the right side of my face giving me the look of a stroke victim. The lump was successfully removed the nerves in my face returned eventually after bruising and the tumour was benign. The ear was returned to it’s rightful place! I felt SO lucky and again that desire to live life to the full was rekindled. Does threat of death and illness always bring this reaction? I don’t know but I think it might and although I would not wish these things that happened to me or anyone but I have to say they are very much a reminder of my determination in life.
Back in Sarajevo things here have moved on in leaps since the war ended. If anything good is to be taken from such a terrible time then it’s to have to accept whatever life throws at you because you really don’t know what is around the next corner. It’s not a fearful thing but intact keeps you happy in the knowledge that change is inevitable and grief can help us grow. Of course so often when devastation hits humanity has a great way of drawing together.
We say good bye to Pigeon Square the slowly walk away absorbing every last second before leaving. We set the alarm for 5 a.m . I sit and read an article from a manual given to practitioners before they make the decision to come here.
DEALING WITH POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
by Joy Buchanan HHN member
How long does it take for a wound to heal? It’s fairly easy to predict a small graze a burst blister, an operation. It’s easy to spot a delay in healing by inflammation or infection. It can be measured it can be seen but a wound to the spirit, emotions or mental health is not so easy to be seen or predict it’s route to recovery. At the moment of trauma or during the slow chill of applied fear the damage cannot be assessed and will be different for every person. Whilst gun shot wounds bring a large but relatively predictable wound , intense fear, shock , horrors are all wild cards. It may take years before their effects are understood.
My first HHN tour was in September 1997. Sarajevo was stunned and reeling in the initial shock of what had just happened. A year later there was agitation which seems to match the arousal of negative feelings that often come straight after fear and shock. This was followed by disbelief in the sense that a measure of what had happened could not be made. It was too big and too unbearable. Then recognition of just how much recovery there is to be made. The process will go one even now.
I see post traumatic stress syndrome as a consequence of an individual having had an experience that has damaged or removed all bearings with which they have so far lived their lives including a basic belief in human decency – both in ones own and in others.
When something happens that shocks us beyond our bearing we have to find a way to cope and compute. If that means bundling the experience into the physical or banishing it to a remote part of our minds whilst we deal with life, then that is what we do. It doesn’t mean that it’s gone away. It waits to be healed and will set it’s own agenda for recovery according to how much each individual can manage. From the edges of extreme fear disorientation and loss with no predictable route to recovery. From a moment of horror, weeks, years of depravity ,separation, death, defeat and endless flow of dismay and lack of resolve can manifest in an infinite range of ways that people will continue to suffer. No one can or should ever force this pace or decide on what should be a reasonable recovery rate. If things are withheld there is a reason.
Most if not all of HHN practitioners who have worked in Sarajevo have heard personal accounts of agony that clients are able to express. They have at least begun to heal themselves and as practitioners we can ensure that we listen with enough care and attention so that they know and feel that they are listened and heard.
Others are not yet ready to do this. They may even present themselves as glib or more focused on the needs of others. Others will hide their deepest needs behind trivial symptoms and may even appear to be unappreciative or selfish. They require the greatest of sensitivity and willingness of the practitioner to extend their listening.
Saturday 29th July 2006
I wake 5 minutes before the alarm clock rings and I take a last look out of my bedroom window over the terracotta roof tops. I mooch around the house to say my last goodbyes to the other rooms then Salih arrives. He’s in Black Mercedes No 2 and is very proud of his car. We mentioned how he’d used his best car to bring the others from the airport so he’s honouring us with the same. It’s very plush with leather interior and we depart like VIP diplomats. He zips though the traffic as I glance through the back window over the city that has shown me so much. At some traffic lights we pull up next to a land rover with Mine Disposal logo on the sides.
As we enter the airport the security seems especially high. We are scanned and searched at the entrance before we even get to the check in. When we do get to the baggage control desk my suitcase is over weight. They allow Chris and I to double up as she is under weight. The plane is a small old jalopy and i’m not used to seeing propellers. We have seats at the back which is not my favourite place and the thought of two ascents and two decents dawns on me. The sweaty palms and uncontrollable aching feet again.
Vienna seems equally if not more security conscious with passport spot checks going on as we wait for the connecting flight. Sitting in transit trying to do a crossword from the Herald Tribune we realise we aren’t getting anywhere with it. We can hardly answer any of the questions and feel brain dead.
The last leg is two and a half hours long and we’ve already been held up waiting for the runway bus to transfer us to the plane. Whilst cuing I’m chatting with this American and Australian just to pass the time of day. They ask us where we have been.
It’s always hard to explain in a nutshell what HHN is about so I say “helping victims from the civil war” and it seems to satisfy. The Australian is on a business trip but lives in the UK and the American is returning from a holiday in Croatia. He’s heading back to Chicago.
They eventually find transport to the plane and as we take off I settle into a newspaper that’s writing about the troubles in Lebanon and Israel. I was lucky enough to have visited Israel back in 1997 so I picture the city there and all the places I remember visiting but that’s another story. I read of 5 civilians from each country and their stories of loss and injury. There are pictures of innocent victims and there I am again reminded of Bosnia. I read another article written by a journalist holidaying in Italy. He comments on this new conflict which seems far away from the olive groves where he is sitting relaxing in the sun. He wonders how the the west will react with Tony Blair already being described as Bushes poodle. He ponders as to whether they will send in the UN and will they make the same mistakes as Bosnia….can you believe it! I think of Salih and the trip back down the mountain and the tragic words he used when I asked what sense he made of any of it.
“War is business”. That cold fact will remain in my mind forever.
The delay in Vienna has caused a holding pattern at Heathrow. My nightmare end to a flight as we circle the skies of London with other planes looking way too close for comfort. It at least means we get some great views of the city and the Thames and we take the chance for a farewell thank you for each others company. “I’ll miss you”, I tell Chris. She’s been great and I hope she feels the same way too. “I will miss you too”’ she says. “You’ve been great ”, I tell her.
It’s as if we know that once we get into the hustle bustle of the airport there will be no time for fond farewells and this precious moment would have been lost. Walking though customs I notice a poster with a list of prohibited items. HONEY….… oops……I hope the lids have stayed on. At the luggage collection we bump into the American again and I’m reminded that some people know nothing about Bosnia. “So where is it you said you girls have been…..SALAREEVO? “
Says it all doesn’t it.
It reminds me now in 2018 as it did then that as time goes by people forget or perhaps in the case of the American NEVER KNEW! Life goes on and in our own little worlds that we can sometimes be so involved in what we consider so BIG and important sometimes we need to be prompted to be humble and remember there is huge world out there with so many life challenging situations. To understand what happened between 1992 and 1995 is complex as with all wars. The innocent who suffer the consequences of any violence wherever it might be should not be forgotten. Hatred that can only be brought about by misguided truth and detachment from humanity itself. I felt lucky that although I was feeling bad about myself at the time I realised how fortunate I was. I was truly blessed to be able to help and care about others instead of worry about myself . Redeemed by the reactions of individuals who’s suffering had been far greater than any of my own. I had come to a stage in life where I didn’t like myself very much for some of my own actions but by being useful and giving love to others I rekindled a love within myself. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for these people who having seen the worst of humanity could still manage to face the world and move forward. I am privileged to have been a part of giving respite and a little comfort and care as the people of Bosnia rebuild their shattered lives. Now you’ve read my diary I hope you will feel uplifted encouraged and motivated.
I found a purpose in being in Sarajevo in 2006. My soul was nourished and enriched by the two weeks I spent with strangers. From the girls in the clinic to the clients. the interpreters, the taxi driver the people on the rafting day, the people on the streets of Sarajevo and the towns of Vagosca, llidzas Hadzici . Thanks to all of them for what they have given to me.
It’s not always easy to feel in a position to have the capacity, time or inclination to give to others. If you can find that space in your life you open up the opportunity to feel nourished and warmed by humanity. All to often we seem to be reminded of the selfishness and negative side to human beings but isn’t it a better world if we celebrate our good side our caring and giving side. We have such strength and resilience and are better focusing on these qualities. Give thanks and praise whether we regard it as either a force of nature the universe or our god that has given us these gifts.
After 10 years I can reflect that all suffering and the way it’s dealt can be changed. With FORGIVENESS and GRACE. Once we have this capacity three things remain “faith , hope, and love” and the greatest of these is LOVE. All of the people I met on my 2 week journey in Bosnia no matter how traumatised by their past had determination and had triumphed over adversity and were still able to love mankind. Their grit and tenacity their strength of will. Admiration is too small a word to describe it. Yes they were grateful for what we were doing but it’s not their gratitude for our help that warms me but the way they’ve learnt to live on despite their trials. They have learned to be grateful for whatever is left and have forgiven and moved on and that is the greatest lesson in life. They gave me the purpose I needed at the time and showed me that my efforts were worth while. From the fundraising to the two weeks working in beautiful Bosnia. I started my journey with all the stresses of leaving a family, job and home. The pressures of MY life of being on time and making things happen ….busy …busy ….were taken away. I understand so much more since Sarajevo and the most memorable summer of 2006.
This diary became a reminder that no matter what situation you are in, GIVING is the most rewarding of life’s gifts. It has prompted me to remember we are all brothers and sisters made of the same. We are bombarded with press releases by the media that could easily taint our opinions of people as a nation or as a race. It can make us callous and bias and judgmental and detach us from the realities of our own existence. Distorting our comprehension of others. We are simply people who interact best by caring and sharing. Perhaps this modern world of access via internet will help provide more truth. I hope so. I often hear sweeping statements made to justify our perception of others. We end up either rendered helpless by what we hear from the media as we look on unable to give in any tangible way or with our judgements we condemn and pass sentence without actually knowing anything real about the lives others are leading.
I recall when I was fund raising I contacted the local new paper to ask for publicity. Did anyone want to be reminded of what happened in Bosnia. Is there a story in a Brit going to help Bosniaks…. What makes something of interest…. What makes it mainstream. …? Since Sarajevo I have discovered that knowing that it’s MY journey is the most important. It’s lovely to see that since 2006 more people are interested in being morally conscious of what we are doing to our universe. Nurturing community is becoming more of a prevalent issue. So my goal is to stay true to what I’ve always believed in and continued to further my interest in Mindful Ecology, avoiding mainstream media and focusing on reading Positive News, and supporting such organisations as the Soil Association and Triodes banking and local charities such as HHN and Child of Hope.
Things did not run smoothly for me after Sarajevo and I went through 4 years of personal craziness before emerging. I do truly believe that Sarajevo was the catalyst and the beginning of a new journey for me and that I had to go through more of my own personal tragedy to get to a point of realisation. I now know that I am the master of my destiny. I continue furthering my experiences through workshops in communal music and meditation, writing and arranging with a hope that what little I do does make a difference .
I have since Sarajevo and only very recently had someone personally try to hurt me but I feel equip now to deal with it so much better. To have met the people of Bosnia who had been deliberately harmed was a lesson in forgiveness. To see the toughest unimaginable struggle to find peace within after so many atrocities is humbling. I know that I am stronger and wiser today for ALL of my experiences and a big part of that is thanks to the brave survivors of Bosnia Herzegovina.
I previously had two businesses one in reclaimed furniture and the other a bistro (through my first marriage) but that’s another story! After Sarajevo I eventually divorced my first husband but not until after quite a few tumultuous years. Sarajevo was however the tipping point. The point where things had to change.
Having started out in a career in music , I stopped piano teaching in December 2015 to travel with my second husband and to move on with my journey as a therapist. With a combination of love of reading and listening to spiritual philosophy, mediation and now training in Qi Gong movement instruction I have shaped a new world. After travelling and researching and studying and with my knowledge of teaching and love of community work I now take part in community projects. With the present online world during Covid 19 I have been keeping people engaged with Zoom sessions in Qi Gong and Meditation for Parks In Mind ( a charity promoting good mental health and the outdoors) and Wessex Cancer Trust Talks and Meditations. I also cook for the Homeless through the Salvation Army. See:
I auditioned and became a member of the London Philharmonic Choir and have toured in Europe and America and have been privileged to have sung in the most amazing venues with famous conductors and musicians. I have been involved in the broadcast and recordings of concerts both locally and with the BBC including live performances at the BBC Proms and singing at Abbey Road.
I often reflect on how this has all effected my children. I was always rushing around fitting everything in. feeling sorry for myself having to do it all, keep it all going. Striving to provide food on the table ,clothes, bills paid. Feeling rushed and pressured and stressed and never having enough time for them. Them having had a Father as a heroin addict and then seeing my reactions and the way I dealt with it, they suffered too. I can only hope they will not let that suffering shape them with bitterness or resentment. I hope when they read this they will know me better and forgive me for taking so long to find strength and recognise that you can’t protect, save or hide away problems and that addicts, even if you love them, are the only ones who can help themselves. I also hope they will learn that you CAN help people without sacrificing your own life and that COURAGE and FORGIVENESS equals freedom.
I am still a member of www.healinghandsnetwork.org.uk who continue to provide therapies in Sarajevo as well as a project for UK armed forces set up in 2011 to help those suffering the mental,physical and emotional after effects of war.
Therapists are very lucky people. To be able to provide relief from physical and sometimes mental trials is a wonderful thing. Often they are seen as the healer and the one who might just give some relief.
Even in our modern world where people have many privileges there is still much pain and suffering both physical and spiritual. When I left the UK to help as a therapist working in a country where such privileges was VERY limited it was an honour to give time and energy to people who paid with their gratitude. Bosnia was humbling and reminded me of how thankful I am for all that I have and the skills I have been lucky enough to have learnt.
I kept a diary as I felt compelled to remember every precious moment of the two weeks spent in and around Sarajevo using my skills as a therapist to help others. Healing Hands Network organisation is dedicated to GIVING relief to those suffering from the emotional, mental and physical stresses of war by offering complimentary and holistic therapy. This diary is about my work their as a volunteer therapist and how it transformed my life.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
I can’t find another book that writes the diary of a holistic therapist or any book named Healing Hands. With regard to Its aim, it is the observations and reflections of a therapist helping victims of post traumatic stress disorder. I want to let people know how it changed my life and by GIVING life changes. By supporting our community we become engaged in something greater than ourselves.
I have never written a diary/book before.
Correspondence with Bradts and Healing Hands about quotes used. They are happy for my quotes but would want a finished copy before publication. I can provide emails of their consent. I am not sure of the law regarding the names of those who served with me or who are mentioned in the script. Namely, Chris, Minty, Maureen, Meryl, Jane, Salih, Nadia, Anisa, Samir, Dino and Sandra the HHN secretary but I assume their names can be changed if this is sufficient or removed if necessary.