126 pages to make a cup of coffee
I am trying to stay away from this computer center. (Blasting techno music, 12 year old boys speaking loudly as they are doing sex chats in German on the net, someone singing the Titanic theme song out of key to his girlfriend on the net, cell phones going off- not good conditions for concentrated writing.) However, last night I had trouble falling asleep because of a conversation I had with a young Bosnian couple and I need to write down my thoughts.
Traveling outside of the “first world” has always been an excellent way for us spoiled first worlders to realize how lucky we are to have our passports, jobs and most importantly our freedom. However, these past four months in Bosnia, I have been humbled to appreciate not only my material possessions, education, travel opportunities, and cultural upbringing. but the very fact that I am alive.
This week, I went to the hospital with my landlady, who is a doctor. On our way, she told me about how she went to the hospital every day during the war for four years by foot. It is a long walk from our house to the hospital and during the war; the buses and trams were not functioning, so everyone got around by foot. Snipers killed people in front of her and behind her as she walked to the hospital. Miraculously, she is still alive.
We often forget how lucky we are to be able to see, hear and walk. Maybe during wartime it is better to be blind and deaf, to not see destruction and death and not hear shell attacks and cries. However, our gift of sight is precious. (Read Pulitzer Prize winning Jose Saramago’s book Blindness, and you will know what I mean.) I walk around listening to music on my walkman and don’t know how lucky I am to be able to hear. I have not been crippled by having walked on a land mine and I rarely realize how fortunate I am to have to legs to walk on. (Though my weak ankles give way every so often and put me on crutches, I can still walk.)
Yesterday, I was sitting in a cafe speaking to a young Bosnian couple about life. I asked them how they were able to organize their wedding celebration during the war and they explained the great hardships they went through to do it. What pierced me for the rest of the day was their explanation of what they had to do to cook without gas or electricity. To make a cup of coffee, they had to burn exactly 126 pages of a book. The number 126 has been stuck in my head ever since they pronounced it yesterday afternoon. When I saw the
movie Welcome to Sarajevo about three years ago, the scene that stayed with me the most was when the Bosnian translator told his girlfriend that he choose his favorite books first when he needed to cook. “You might as well enjoy what you are burning,” he said. Yesterday, I came home and looked at my books and tried to figure out how long I would last if I had to burn them to eat. I don’t think I would survive for more than two weeks. Not only did people burn their books, they burned everything which could be burned: furniture, clothes, shoes, linen, everything.
In response to my September email: “Life is Beautiful, even in Sarajevo”, I got a response from someone asking me how I can be so happy inside even though I am living in a place ravaged by war. Well, the fact that I do not have to sacrifice my treasured books, clothes or shoes just to have hot water is enough reason to be happy.
I am not trying to be melodramatic and I hope it does not come across that way. However, we are so fortunate and spoiled and we don’t even see how lucky we are.
One hundred and twenty six pages to burn just to have a coffee, think about it next time you have a tea or coffee. You could have had to sacrifice your favorite novel to have