For several years the war was storming through the country and the city I lived
in. I could not leave the place for the whole time. Sometimes it felt like in
huge prison. I wondered if it is going to get boring and how long it would take
until it does. The years went by but it hardly ever got boring. When I think
of it now, those years were everything but boring.
Unlike ordinary prison, the people in this prison were shot at. They were shot at from all kinds of weapons. Starting with ordinary machine guns, then various rocket launchers, all the way to anti-aircraft guns and cannons. To this prison the food was delivered occasionally and in white humanitarian trucks. Or in airplanes when the airport was open. But I remember it was closed for almost a year in one turn, and it was closed every time there was shooting anywhere along the line on which the airplanes flew. The electricity was turned occasionally as well, so was the water.
Every day the survived ones were happy knowing that they had survived one more day. Every day there were less people in that prison. For a long time noone could exit and noone could enter. Nobody knew for how long the punishment would last. It became a philosophical question - what if it lasts forever? For many people that thought was terrifying, but still it was true for some. Not because it lasted for that long, but because they lived for that short.
On the other hand, there was something totally opposite. There was the other
side of the coin, too. In certain moments I could be really relaxed and happy.
Like in the morning, when I would wake up. I would see the sunlight outside.
There was silence. The birds were singing. I could really think to myself: "What
a wonderful day." I simply enjoyed the current moment. It might be the
last one. I was glad to be alive.
Then I would think what to do and realize that there was really nothing I had to do. No school. No obligations. And, besides, it was even better not to go anywhere because of constant shelling across the city. That way I could really do whatever I wanted. So I went on reading. Many people were throwing the books out of the apartments they were moving into. It was enough just to walk around and pick very good books from the heaps that were spread around the buildings. The garbage was not being taken away, so everything that was out on the streets was there to stay. I never understood the people who dumped the books out the place they came into but, anyway, I was somehow glad because I felt as if the books were growing around like fruit and I could pick them up if I liked them.
The next thing was the former American Center. It used to be the largest library of science fiction in former Yugoslavia. The books were still there and I used it as a regular library throughout the time. I never before read so much science fiction in my life. I literally had all the time for myself. Not even eating was a problem, since we ate about twice a day. The meals were quite small so that I got used not to eat. It was just like fasting for a long period of time.
I felt the freedom. It was not like anything I could imagine. I always thought that the complete freedom would be boring but in reality it was not. Although there were no obligations, there was always something to be done. I started enjoying little things. There were so many books to read, so many places to see, so many people to talk to. I could just lie on the floor of my room and enjoy the view outside.
Once I found a "Unisex Yoga" book. Before the war I played soccer. Actually, I was a goalkeeper and I got used to physical training. Now I could hardly do any kind of exercise outdoors and I did not want to waste too much energy anyway. So I started practicing from the book. It was amazing! I discovered breathing. It was so natural, yet I hardly ever paid attention to it. Doing certain asana, yoga exercises, I discovered some muscles in my body that I did not know I have. The asana consisted of making certain position with a body and then keeping it for several breaths. My awareness was flowing through different parts of my body and I could relax any tension I would find. Then, I would simply exist, lying down on the floor, not having any stress in my body. I enjoyed it very much.
I remember those first days of war. Once my mother and I were watching out
the window. An armored vehicle was cruising around the buildings and shooting
at the shops windows. The windows just broke to pieces. The vehicle made such
a noise moving but the sound of machine-gun shooting was even louder. Nothing
else could be heard. Nobody else could be seen outside. In the same time we
were listening to the radio, where guy from defending forces was speaking on
the phone from his basement and threatening the armored vehicle crew. What an
Soon after that, the neighbors prepared Molotov's cocktails in case the armored vehicle comes by next time. They would fill some petroleum into glass bottles, leaving some cloth at the top. I was watching. Later, we would distribute near doors and windows so that they would be at hand if needed. The situation was so real. I have seen things like that in action movies, but this was REAL. There was totally different feeling inside my body. I think it was fear. I felt tense. I was ready to die throwing the burning cocktail out onto the moving armored vehicle, shooting all around. Only if it would come close enough...
Once I was looking through the window. Nobody was on the streets. Occasionally a car would pass by in a hurry. Across the road in front of building I lived in there were basketball and football fields and behind them the main road. On the main road there was a gas station. Everything was peaceful. Suddenly a police van came by the station. It stopped in front of it. A couple of police officers came out with machine-guns as if chasing someone around the station. They held their weapons on their shoulders as if aiming, ready to shoot. They walked around the gas station a little bit and then went into the van and left. I finally took a breath. Again, it was just like watching the movie, only much more intense. I wondered what was happening. I didn't know. I felt weird. It wasn't like in the movies.
I lived at the front line. From one side of my apartment I could see the building where the armed people were. They had the weapons and they were shooting at us sometimes. Nobody went past the building. It was no-man's land there. Neighbors were sitting in front of the entrance to the building. We all made and had our meals together. In fact, the women prepared meals. We, the kids, were sitting in front, playing chess or something alike. One morning a mini-bus came down the street, but from the wrong side! We were confused. It felt as if seeing a man walking on his head. "What the ...", we thought. I just stood there and looked. There were some old people on the bus and some uniformed guys with them. The uniformed guys wore strange signs on their caps. So, those were "the aggressors", I thought. The bus went about a hundred meters forward and then a van came from the other side. The people went out the both vehicles and changed places. Those from a bus went into the van and those from the van entered the bus. Then the vehicles went back where they came from. We were puzzled. It was an exchange of people, we finally understood. But why so far away into "our" territory? What is our settlement considered to be? A no-man's land? We felt left out.
Usually we, the kids, would stay outside walking around or playing volleyball. We would look around what was damaged from the last-night shooting. Everyone would shout "Here! One grenade exploded here." "And here's another one", someone else would find a star in the tarmac, and we would go on like that. The playing ground was full of children playing. The kids were running all around. There were so many people just walking around together. The kids were screaming and yelling. We would hang around like that till afternoon. At that time it was just as if someone had switched off the noise. Everybody would disappear and the silence became oppressing. Then the shooting would start. Its noise moved slowly from a distance and became louder and louder. We moved towards home. A shooting now came from all the nearby houses on the opposite side. Soon there would be shelling. At that time we were either in the basement or on the top floor, talking or playing some social games, talking to ghosts or whatever we were interested at the moment. The day was over. Tomorrow it would all start over again.
One day a friend of mine and I were going to a nearby building for some silly reason, probably visiting a friend or something similar. We went around the buildings so that snipers could not see us. Then we came to the point where we needed to run across the street where snipers shoot. We did not want to go all around that building and then have to run only a short portion of the way but we decided to take the shorter way, on the open side of the building. In this case we had to run more and were visible to a sniper for a longer time. But the sniper did not shoot at the time we came by and we were comfortable. As we approached the place we needed to run across, some people were pushing a bus on a street between the sniper site and us. They were making a cover so that the sniper could not see people moving behind the cover. But the reason they were pushing a cover to the street just pissed him off. We start running across the street. First slowly and then accelerating. The sniper starts shooting all around. The bullets pierce the bus the people are pushing on the street and fly all around us. We hear that hissing sound above our heads, in front of us, everywhere. Suddenly I don't feel my legs anymore. I just can see that I'm still moving fast and I know I have to go as fast as I can. I cannot move either faster or slower. I do not control my own body anymore. Somehow we make it to the cover on the other side and I rush into a nearby entrance. I hit the wall and the life was slowly slipping back into my body. I was shaking. After we finished what we came for, I think we went to visit another friend, we took the safer way back home. I was shaking the whole day after that. I was wondering why I could not control my body at the time and why I could not stop that shaking. All I could do was to lay down onto my bed and watch what was going on in my body and mind. Sometimes we cannot control even our own bodies, no matter how much we want to. That was an enlightening experience.
One day there was a lot of shooting around. We were in front of our building,
ready to move to the entrance if the shooting gets close, while still being
outside and watching what was going on. The bullets were flying everywhere.
It was impossible to move anywhere further, since there was shooting on all
the streets around. Some people from the defending squads were telling us that
once they would approach the front line they would notice that they were shot
from the back, from their own building! That was a terrifying fact. They did
not feel safe since nobody knew where the shooting was coming from. We were
terrified since we could not move more than a few meters away from the entrance
to our building. Later we found that shooting came from the building like ours.
There were snipers in them! Some of the people who lived there received the
guns and now were shooting at everyone who was out on the streets.
A wounded man came by. We were just watching. Older people were looking for a car to take the man to a hospital. He was shot, but could walk. A neighbor, a Serb whose family left few days ago, came out of the next entrance, sat in his car that was nearby and drove the wounded man away. "How kind", we thought. Several days later, special unit of police came to our building and took all the people down into the basement. We were all taken into one room in the basement for some time. We were told that they are checking the apartments above. After that they took the older people out, one by one, to talk to them. Some time later, the tension passed away and they seemed pleased with us. One guy from the police unit told us the reason why they came here. The other day they were in action nearby. They were shot at from the other side of the front line and they shot back. All of a sudden the bullets came from the side. They could not find out the source of fire and had to withdraw. The only conclusion, after they thought of their position at that moment, was that the shooting came from our building. Now they found that it was likely nobody from our entrance and no weapons were found here. Then a word came that they found some parts of sniper equipment in the next entrance. They could not find a rifle, though. Some parts were left at the top of the building, just above the roof, and some parts were in one of the apartments below. The apartment belonged to the neighbor who drove the wounded man away. The police took him away.
There is another story about snipers, which I heard of. In those days every open space was considered dangerous. There was shooting everywhere, but not at all times. That way nobody knew if it was dangerous to walk or not. The people were running between buildings. They had to go wherever. Mostly to get some food, or cigarettes, or who-knows-what. There was some open space in the front of the elementary school near the building where I lived. The people always ran while going that way. Since the shooting did not take place all the time, some people would not run. Sometimes they would simply walk by; sometimes they would get shot in the head. One of the people who were running across that open space noticed some children playing on the ground in the front of the school. He came by and told them:
"Come on children. Don't hang out there. The sniper shoots this way often and its better for you to go in the cover somewhere."
"Oh, but don't worry! Daddy will not be shooting today till after the lunch," one of the girls answered.
The man went to get the police. They came and said to the girl: "All right, honey. We need to talk to your daddy. Would you be so kind to show us where your daddy is?"
The small girl took them home.
I remember the first cold. All until the first autumn, I wanted to join the
defense forces and to be there, protecting the place where I lived. But that
first autumn cold buried all of my wishes. Deep inside I was grateful to my
father for not letting me do that. In fact, there was more to it. For some strange
set of coincidences I could not join the defending forces. They would not accept
me because of age, unless the parents would sign their agreement. My father
happened to be a military officer his whole life and he would never let me anywhere
near the military. That's why I never joined the military school, although I
wanted to be a pilot. My workaround plan then was to go to Grammar school and
after that to military academy.
During that first rainy and cold season we ran out of food. All the meat and groceries and basically anything that could be eaten was eaten. The meals became the same and we actually had nothing to eat at home. So I was volunteering at the radio club. We were working with people who wanted to make contact with their families. Thousands of messages were passed into the world and back. I have witnessed many conversations. I have heard many life stories while sitting there and repeating: "Now you go. Now you just listen while they talk." Often, after hearing of losses those people had in their lives I felt lucky to be where I was. I ate there. Although the food was disgusting, it was all I had. It was the same for months - rice with some stinky liquid, the same liquid with macaroni. I tried it in all combinations. If there was more liquid then it was like a soup, if there was more dry stuff, which was either rice or macaroni, it looked like common meal. Both, the rice and the macaroni were equally white and tasting. Actually, not tasting at all, and all the taste there was was from that brown liquid. After some time I felt my stomach would turn upside down at the very smell of it.
While I was in the radio club, there was a young couple that walked by, every day. No matter what, whether there was shelling or not, they would pass by, hand in hand, walking slowly. I heard a man saying: "See that couple. They walk by every day. It doesn't matter what happens around. They walk somewhere, stay awhile, and we see them walking back the same way. Love must be blind." I wondered whether the Love was blind. Or was it stronger and more courageous than anything else? And what is the difference, anyway?
One day, at the very beginning of the war, the people from the building decided
that we should burn the garbage that was in the containers across the streets.
The containers were full and nobody knew if or when they would be taken away.
They decided to empty them to a nearby field and burn it. That was interesting
for me. Nobody does such a thing in the city. This was the first time I saw
what the people do with the garbage. Until then, I would only see a garbage
truck comes by, a few uniformed workers empty the containers into the truck
and they go further. The empty containers stay and we fill them again. That
day we were garbage collectors. Groups of several people took one container
each and pushed it to a field. The containers were overloaded and heavy and
it took about six of us to push it, even though it was on wheels. A neighbor,
who is a professor at the Faculty of Economics and also one of the directors
of the Faculty, made an interesting remark. He said:
"Look at the elite garbage-collecting unit of the city! Just look at us: professors, engineers, students, military officers Did you ever see such a team, emptying garbage container?"
We took our container and emptied it near the others. When we emptied it, the worms were all over the heap. We burned it.
Since there was almost nothing to buy, everything was so expensive. The smokers
needed cigarettes really bad. They gave a fortune for a pack of cigarettes.
Simple things were sold for astronomical sums of money. An egg was almost as
valuable as gold. The gold was not valuable at all, in fact. It is all relative.
During the winter there was no central heating anywhere in the city. People had to make a way to boil the food and to warm themselves. A very few people had a furnace in the apartment, so everyone had to get one. Some people were making small metal furnaces. Some people bought them from those who knew how to make one. But, after getting a furnace, what was to be burned inside? The wood, of course. The mass hysteria started. All the trees were cut down in only a few days. Some people came after and dug the roots out. The roots could burn as well as the parts of the tree that were above the earth. After trees, it was time to burn the things from apartments that were left out. Tables, doors, closets, pictures and all the wooden objects were burned. Later it was books, old clothes, shoes All those books that were only taking space on the shelves finally found its use. Everything that could burn disappeared from the face of the earth. In only a couple of months, the city looked as if a horde of termites passed through it and ate everything on their way. I heard a story of a cafe bar downtown. It used to have a heavy white wooden bar that had cost a fortune at the time it was bought. Now, it was chopped in pieces and took away by the people who needed it for the fire in their homes. The young people often thought:
"See, all these people earned throughout their lives - their expensive Persian mats, expensive shelves, paintings and clothes. They are burning it all now, just as if it was a junk. I'm never going to invest in material things. All their cars are now destroyed or taken away, or useless without fuel. Their things are burned to warm some food. They may be driven from their apartments any day. They may get killed any moment. I will never be as stupid as them. I will live my life to the fullest. All you have when you die are your memories and experiences. Therefore, live."
As the war progressed, the parts of the city slowly fell into aggressor hands. The front line was coming closer from the other side. The part of the city across the front line in our neighborhood we called the Village, because it was built up of private houses and it resembled a common village. We were never afraid that that line would be moved. Somehow, only the small weapons were involved in fighting there and we were not really concerned about our neighborhood falling into aggressor hands. But there were tanks coming from the other side. Part by part was simply overrun. Otes was bombarded for days before tanks and infantry came in. Next, Azici were bombarded for more than a week. There were no more houses to defend, only ruins. The tanks only passed through it. The fighting was coming closer to our neighborhood. In the night when Azici were overrun, everybody in the neighborhood had his or her things packed. We picked some basic things and prepared them into a bag or two that we could carry with us. We were sitting in the front of our entrance without a word. Some people were making a plan of escape. In case of heavy fire, the neighbors from the next entrance would have to go across the roof to get to our staircase. Then they would come down and we would all together run into a next entrance, that was only a few meters away. From there, we would pass through an apartment on the ground floor and come out on the balcony on the other side. From there we would run across the open space towards the next building and then further on towards the town. Wherever we would end, we would at least have some of our most basic stuff, like some clothes and stuff for personal hygiene. No other thing mattered.
After the first year it all was getting too common. People get used to anything. Just like in that story about a frog. Like, if the frog is put into the water and then boiled slowly, it would eventually cook. But if the frog would be put into already hot water, it would immediately jump out. So did the people. During the first winter there was a moment when nothing was sacred to me. I had worn everything I could wear. I had several pairs of socks on my legs and my winter boots. I had my pajamas and thermo-trousers for winter. I wore several shirts and fathers thick winter coat that was used in the former Army. I had two pairs of gloves and a furred hat that came along with the coat. Yet, standing in the queue to get two cans of water, I could feel the cold wind blowing through my bones. I was freezing. I did not feel my fingers or toes. Taking that water and climbing the stairs to the fifth floor I was swearing everything I could think of. and the water was spilling out which made me swear even more. I did not say a word because I knew it was useless, but within I was yelling. And then, the moment of realization. I was laughing at myself and said: "The people are cattle. They will get used to anything."
I never thought the concrete could burn. But I was wrong. A friend told me about that. Older guys from the neighborhood were all now in the defending unit. They had their positions in the building closest to the front line. The front line was the street in front of it. Across the street there was a school. In the school building were the enemies. Usually, they would throw hand grenades across the street, and into each other's positions. They were that close. One day there was heavy shooting. Ammunition with inflammable stuff inside was used. Some apartments were caught in fire. There was no water anywhere. The building was burning. The guys inside it tried to do something about the fire, but they could not reach it because of the heat and the bullets that were constantly shot from the other side. The whole building was caught in fire. This neighbor told me that there was such a heat that the walls were orange. They were glowing. They were burning. He also had never thought that the walls could burn, but they could. Oh, they could. With the temperature high enough, everything will burn.
One morning I was awaken by shouting from the outside. I stood up and went to the window. There were some people in the bushes nearby and a woman standing in a place where she was not supposed to. Beside the building I live in there are playing grounds. There are some bushes and then the fence, some more open space and then the printing house. These guys were standing at the farthest bush, yelling at the woman that stood in the open space between them and the fence. "She is not supposed to stand there," I thought. I wondered how she was still alive. She stood in the place where she could be seen from the sniper site from which there was shooting over the main street every day. Nobody was shooting that morning. There was only yelling. The woman just stood there. She was not going to move. Somebody brought a rifle. One man was only a few meters from the woman, but nobody of those beside him was willing to risk a life and come out of the bushes to take a woman into the cover. She was not moving. It was a stalemate. Then the rifle was given to the man who was closest to the woman. He shot a bullet into the ground in front of her. She moved a step back. One more shot. She shook again and then, as if awaken, took her case of the ground and walked very slowly towards the people in the bushes. When she was close enough, they stepped out, grabbed her and rushed back along the bushes and toward the building. They took the woman past us. We thought they went to "the headquarters" apartment little further away, but still in the same building. After some time one neighbor came back and told us a story about the woman. She somehow managed to get on a UN flight to Sarajevo. Then she went from the airport into a nearby neighborhood and asked for directions. She was explained but she did not know that part of the town very well and she did not know what was going on in the town after all. According to what she had said to the guys who talked to her, she walked along the sidewalk of the street that was the front line itself! She walked several hundred meters over the front line. Just in between the building in which were local guards and the school in which the aggressor guards were. After that she probably walked over the open space and over the minefield and came near the fence. Then she was noticed and these people came towards her and started yelling at her. She had an apartment and a husband living in it, little further downtown. She did not believe what these guys told her. She was afraid, but calm. She was taken to her apartment by some of the guys from the local headquarters. They knocked the door and when her husband opened it, she lost her conscious. When they brought her back, she told them she had not believed a word they said until she saw her husband. She was so happy. We thought she was lucky, too. Not a bird could fly the way she had walked that morning. She could have been killed a thousand times, in a thousand different ways. Yet she wasn't.
During one period of war I used to hang around with Ogi, a friend of mine who
played bass guitar. We wanted to form a band and then we met some young people
from the neighborhood. Some of them could play and we spend the time playing.
We had some space in the basement of a nearby building and we brought instruments
there. Others came to be there, listen, and just be together. One day, a girl
from the company was called to be the guest in a radio show and she called us
to go with her. She played classic guitar and that was the reason why she was
called to the show. So we picked up a couple of acoustic guitars and went to
the studio with her. We were in a radio show singing and playing for a couple
of hours. While we were returning home, Ogi said to me: "You see, it all
happens some day."
One more occasion that I remember was couple of years after. I was playing drums in another small band. We played at the concerts that were held in the town. The young people always came and the concert hall was always full. Yet, many people found it was inappropriate to play and sing and dance while "the others were dying." As if we were somehow protected from death. What if I get killed the next day? Or the next moment? I wanted to live my life the way I wanted and nobody was going to tell me how. I wanted to play and sing rather than to celebrate the Death by keeping quiet and dying silently. No! Not me. Many young people felt the same.
I did not want to die not experiencing anything. I felt the freedom to do anything since tomorrow could be too late. Yet, the freedom itself was quite an obligation. I could not simply do whatever. Since I was the only one deciding what to do, I did only what I thought was right. This was the moment of enlightenment that I did not even realize till now. The real freedom is not freedom, and that is absurd. The real freedom is not easy as I used to imagine.
The point I wanted to make was something else, actually. After some period of playing and practicing, we were frustrated by the lack of possibility to really do anything. We could not find a place to practice. Nobody was interested and ready to help. I was still thinking like before, always waiting for someone else to do the thing and I grew up frustrated because nobody did anything. I was frustrated more and more and that lasted for a couple of months. One day I was thinking about it and wondering "why?" and the next moment I felt as if I have suddenly awaken. I knew there are people who think in a different way. I knew how those people think. I felt as if I spent my whole life among them. Their way of life, that used to be totally strange for me, now was completely known to me. I wondered if it is possible that there used to be the time when it was not so obvious to me. But I felt as if I passed into a new dimension. As if I awoke from a dream. Some call it enlightenment. At that time I had no idea what that was.
From the days I studied at a Faculty of Economics I remember a couple of scenes.
One happened on a sunny day. I just exited the faculty building and a strange
looking guy stopped me. He showed me some books. I remembered I saw people dressed
like him selling books around. He was one of Hare Krishna members. But, this
one was a little different. He had an approach different to other people who
did the same thing. He did not try to sell me the books. Although I did not
mean to stand there and wanted to show him that I do not intend to buy any books,
he must have said a something that caught my attention. So I stayed and listened
to him for a moment. I remember he mentioned vegetarianism. He said: "See
that man in the burger store? And people go and buy those burgers. But they
do not think what they eat. All his thoughts of boredom, desires for women that
passed by or anything at all that was in his mind, were brought into the meat
he was putting into burgers. And people eat that." After that I left. Although
the idea seemed strange at first, it made thoughts flying through my mind. What
if everything is really so interrelated? How would we know? Do we know?
I always rode my bicycle to the faculty and back. I was so eager to study that I rarely missed the classes. Neither the weather nor shelling stopped me. Still, as the time passed, I was less and less happy with studying. I did not expect miracles or anything. I only wanted to be treated like a human. But students were treated like a cattle in barn. We had to pay for library although it never had books we needed. It did not matter how much somebody knows, nor anyone cared that the students learn anything. One day I was riding my bicycle on a way home from the faculty. It was raining and I was all wet. I was cold. The touch of cold steel of a bicycle made me feel even colder. Cars that passed by gave me a shower every time they rushed through a water gathered on the street. I thought "I don't need this." After I would come home I was often nervous and tired. I thought "I don't need this." On the other side, I had my family waiting for me, loving me and caring for me. I did not want to be nervous and tired when I was at home. I left the faculty.
One day I had heard that there was supposed to be a large ceremony with singing
and playing performed by Hare Krishna members. Some people came from abroad
to attend. I was happy that something like that was going to happen in the city.
The next day I heard that the people in a ceremony were passing through the
town and there happened to be the end of a noon-ceremony in the largest mosque
in the country. So the two groups of supposedly religious people met together
on the street and someone started a fight. It was a large fight on the street,
with few people stabbed with knives. By hearing that, I felt odd. "Nothing
is sacred", one koan says.
On one occasion, while I was still in the army, I had the opportunity to get a beautiful copy of Qur'an for free. So I took it, since I was interested in reading it. In one place it was stated that it is not necessary to wash the hands and feet before prayer if it not possible. Sometimes it is just enough to gently touch the earth and the effect was the same. I was amazed after reading that. Although everything is so relative, the truth is always the same.
During the war there was a couple of times a film about Jesus Christ shown on Christmas night. I watched it twice. The most amazing thing that I remember from that film is the scene when Peter betrays Jesus. Peter swore to Jesus that no matter what happens, he would never leave Jesus. And Jesus then told him that he is going to do that very thing, and not once but three times during that same night! I believed that friendship is not so easy to break. Peter was the one who loved Jesus the most. Yet, before the dawn, Peter went through three difficult situations, and before he knew it he betrayed Jesus three times that night. I saw that no matter how much we want to, there are some things we can not cause to happen and there are some things we can not stop from happening.
I enjoyed marching during military training. Not thinking about anything and
just moving one leg in front of the other, feeling every stone I would step
on. It was beautiful. Muscles would not get tired so easily like when walking
on pavements. I thought the people made pavements because it was better than
earth, but this felt much better.
One day the Dayton Agreement was signed and the shooting ended. At that time I was already in the army for a month. I was so happy serving in the signals unit, often thinking of friends in infantry units going through the front lines all over the country. During the basic training, everyone was being prepared for infantry units. Therefore, everyone could only imagine themselves in infantry unit. Only a few percent were sent into other type of units. When I was sent to signals unit in area headquarters nothing could remove my smile for a month. I think I was the happiest man on Earth.
After the war was over many of my friends, who were in the military too, rushed
to leave the Army in order to return to "normal life". But what normal
life??? For example, I wanted to sign to Faculty of Electrotechnics but they
did not even have its building any more. Many professors left the country. The
ones who stayed could be counted with fingers of one hand. The educational plans
were way too old and I wanted to study Computer Science or anything similar
to that. I knew that there was no way to do that in existing environment.
Basically everything was changed. Destroyed would be too strong a word, but everything was changed. And for the worse.
Anyway, I had my plan. After everything I've seen I decided to do the things my way.
I stayed with the Army for several reasons. There was nothing better I could do, I thought. I was there in case the fighting continues. Plus I had the time to read and examine things at work. I worked with computers and I knew that knowledge comes from practice rather than from theory. At school I learned almost nothing about computers and I had a gut feeling that the same thing would happen no matter which faculty I go to. On the other hand I learned very much from the people in my unit. They were quite innovative if compared with most of the others.
I decided to stay in the Army, learn something on my own, spend some time with
computers, practicing, and save to buy my own computer. The salary was only
140 DEM, but eventually I would save enough one-day.
On duty, sometimes in 1995 - browsing through newsgroups located in only network system in Bosnia I came over a message asking if there was anyone interested in Buddhism. I was interested in it since I knew nothing other than what people always say - that there's wisdom in those Eastern beliefs. I replied to the email message immediately. I had nothing to loose. I had no idea what I started
The person replied soon enough and we started to talk to each other. I was writing about myself and the other person was kind enough to listen. Only occasionally he would say how things should or should not be done, which was a little strange at first. We exchanged emails so often. I wrote almost every other day, whenever I was on duty and he replied as fast. The man's name was David.
David was a Buddhist monk, a writer, a therapist, a social worker and a founder of a small charity named Amida Trust. Amida is the name of the Buddha of Infinite Light and the Trust does charity work in Zambia, Europe, North America and Bangalore, India. As he said, he had adopted Buddhism because it worked for him. The people who influenced him in his life happened to be Buddhists. The same way, he was there to give me the answers when I needed them, at the moment when I needed them. That mattered a lot.
One day David told me that there are two members of Amida Trust coming from Great Britain to Bosnia! He was founder of a small trust and they had different sections. So the two of their members decided to come to Bosnia and see how they could help the people around here. They wished to do some therapy with children. I was excited. I send them my telephone number and they called me when they came to Sarajevo. And one day they called me! They stayed at the BBC house and I went to see them and talk to them. After a couple of hours of talking they told me that I could really write a book about the same things I was talking to them. I answered: "It is probably common in the culture from which you come from. Here, people do not read books that much, less often write them." And I wondered how things happen around here. They happen so fast that there's no point in writing them down. And, besides, it's enough to come here and experience them first-hand. Books can never describe the Reality.
David sent me one book written by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk living in France. He was leading retreats worldwide and even nominated for Nobel's Peace Prize. I loved the book. It was so easy and I could read it over and over. It was simple and flowing... He wrote about simple things. About the way he binds books, how the small girl, who lives with him, plays outside with friends and so on.
While I was exchanging emails with David, I had no idea what meditation was. In that book I got from David I noticed that meditation includes sitting still. I found it strange. How were people supposed to do so many things if they are to sit still? I asked David, and he gave the answer. The meditation is not about sitting, it is about calming and controlling the mind, the self. Meditation can be performed at any time. Then I noticed that all those things in the book, like washing the dishes or sowing the grass, are a kind of meditation. And the other thing was - how long can somebody sit still? I could not sit still for more that a dozen seconds only! I decided to practice sitting meditation for some time.
For a long time, in the back of my mind I had a notion that there is Good in the world. Although it was a difficult time around, I often read messages in Amida Trust's newsgroups on the Internet. They were always polite to each other, always kind and loving. I had a vision of a better world. And that better world was within our reach. That gave me the strength to go on.
One day a friend of mine told me: "Why are you still in the army? The
army is not good for you. Uniforms, commands, barracks. That is not life."
These ideas resonated within me, so I wrote David about that. He generally agreed
with that. The idea of leaving the faculty came to my mind because I never regretted
it. I left the army. I never regretted it, either.
In the same time I was wishing to leave the country. I thought that if I already had to make a beginning, it better happen somewhere where there were more opportunities. Here nobody cared. I was working for a publishing company. At a times I would watch the atmosphere there, and one man who was just a couple of months away for retirement. He was always saying: "You do whatever you want. I will leave this Hell soon, anyway", and I imagined myself doing the same thing. I did not want that. I did not want to be waiting for a pension in a place I did not like. One day I thought I could not take it any longer. I was making plans with a friend of mine. I decided to apply for job in all organizations that I knew of. I just needed the money to apply for immigrant visa to Canada. After only two weeks I was called for an interview to OSCE and SFOR. SFOR CPO (Civilian Personnel Office) was faster and I took the job there. I left the publishing company. I was happy.
Latest meeting with David took place at the end of spring 2001. David gave
a talk at the Faculty of Philosophy, and it was on Buddhist psychology. As usual,
he talked charismatically for an hour and a half and answered the questions
of visitors. Just before the talk, in the hall of the faculty building I had
seen posters on Bosnian history done by students from History division. The
one titled "The Twentieth Century" was left blank, with only a small
sign in the lower right corner "It is the best this way."
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Copyright � 2004 Alen Šiljak