2 Sarajevo Women Build a House in Air
By CHUCK SUDETIC,
Published: Wednesday, September 8, 1993
This summer, a 30-year-old translator named Aida and her best friend, Anja, a 29-year-old doctor, began paging through a coffee-table book of model houses and fantasizing about the future.
"We fantasized about what kind of house we'd build and live in together with our future husbands and children," said Aida, a divorced Muslim whose mother and 3-year-old son, who is half Serbian, escaped the Sarajevo siege last December. "We picked out a duplex, a pair of A-frames connected by garages."
"We want fireplaces for romance in peacetime and for practicality in case of another war," Aida said. "We also want a good basement, sturdy walls and maybe windows the size of envelopes to keep the shrapnel out."
Anja, the daughter of a Croat and a Serb, picked up the description.
"There's enough room for a couple of kids," she said. "Well, maybe 10 if we squeezed them together. The house has a yard so the children can play and enough room for a big garden and lots of flowers." But Where to Build
But it was not long, Aida said, before they were brought back to earth. "We had to decide where we'd build it," she said.
The first candidate, Anja said, was Metkovic, a town in a lush valley on the Croatian-Bosnian border. "It's got a wonderful climate," she said, "and we could put screens over the windows to keep the mosquitoes out."
"But the Croats would keep us out," Aida said, "because I'm Muslim."
Then Anja proposed the Montenegrin coast, in the Serbian-dominated rump Yugoslavia.
"Aida was the problem again," she said. "They don't like taking Muslims in Montenegro now."
"Maybe we could put it in Stolac," Anja said, thinking that peace might come to that front-line town, from which the Croats have expelled thousands of Muslims over the last two weeks. "We'd survive, but we'd have to fight first."
"But my boyfriend, Neven, is a Serb on his father's side and a Muslim on his mother's," Anja said with a frown. "No, there's no way we'd make it in Stolac." 'No Chance for This Place'
Aida, whose boyfriend, Boris, is a Croat serving in the Bosnian Army, said: "I can't even stay in Sarajevo because there is no chance for this place. You won't even be able to drive for five minutes in one direction without smacking into a border."
Anja added, "I don't think the Serbs and Croats will even accept me after two years of staying here with Muslims they consider mujahedeen."
"According to Lord Owen, we are nothing at all," she said, referring to the British co-chairman of the international negotiating team that in May abandoned a plan for preserving a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic Bosnian state and adopted a Serbian and Croatian plan for its partition into three ethnic ministates. "We're neither Muslim, nor Croat, nor Serb."
"We want our dream house to be in a neutral republic," Anja said. "We thought the negotiators should come up with a fourth republic where all the normal and mixed-marriage people could live."
Aida said: "A normal person in this situation is one who has an identity that goes beyond his or her nationality. Imagine asking people who they are and the only thing they can come up with is 'I'm a Croat' or 'I'm a Serb' or whatever. Imagine, these people were born that way and they haven't made any progress since."
Aida said they finally decided they would have to build the dream house abroad, though she added: "I'm not sure we're welcome in any European state. They are all national states, too."
"Boris has already gone off," she said. "I gave him orders to scout out the terrain and report back. Right now he's in Germany, planning to go to Belgium. I heard there's a lot of immigrants in Belgium. Maybe we'll build a new Sarajevo there."
1996: Apartment buildings in the Grbavica district, overrun by Serb forces.
Some interesting points.
Viewed as something romantic and to relax during good times, but also as means of cooking and staying warm if there’s war again.
During the Bosnia war and Sarajevo Siege, people would use any piece of wood they could come by to stay warm, floors, doors and frames form abandoned houses and buildings, shelves from abandoned or bombed buildings, even useless communist books. Anything that burned.
In many cases they had to improvise and build fireplaces where there were none before. That’s why these women include it in their dream home.
Having said that, a cooking stove is a FAR better investment in all senses, since it makes the most of less wood, allowing you to safe a lot of fuel. A small cooking stove can heat a small home and be used for cooking as well. No need to have just one, you can have both, but the iron stove have much greater fuel economy.
Another interesting point and one that unfortunately I can identify with: An enclosed yard where kids can play safely.
The American concept of the open yard is just too dangerous under complicated circumstances. You need a place, walled, where kids can play safely. This is where the courtyard house starts looking very nice. A chain fence still allows outsiders to see inside, and it wont stop bullets like a brick wall would.
Also, she mentions flowers, but I sure she has some small orchard in mind as well, since during the siege they even grew vegetables in apartments in flowerpots.
This concept of a small, well controlled yard is important. Even if you have lots of acres, as things deteriorate into worse crime, and government control ( or war like these women saw) a small plot of land within the boundaries and protection of the house becomes precious. You can grow food to supplement the diet, but its also where kids can play safely, breathe fresh air and spend some time in the sun.
Kids playing around and running around the neighborhood is something that may still be common in USA and something I enjoyed myself here in Argentina as a kid. Now, 20 years later, it’s simply not safe. Some kids still do it, but no parent with an ounce of responsibility lets his kids do so anymore. It’s just not safe.
This is one of the “must have” in my opinion as well. Doesn’t take much to go a step further and make a NBC (nuclear biological chemical) shelter as well. Its not hard to add a ventilation system with HEPA filters, and make a reinforced concrete box that can withstand storms, hurricanes, bombings, and God knows what else. I love the idea of an underground shelter in the house.
A must. Here its not a problem since homes are mostly made of brick and mortar, but some American homes offer no bullet, shrapnel of flying debris protection.
-Envelope size windows
She’s worried about shrapnel, I’m worried about stray shots from the street as well as burglars. Big windows may look great but small ones are safer, easier to secure, and offer much less heat loss, so carefully plan your lighting and ventilation.