”I had a dream about my Nermin…”, says a Srebrenica mother, Saliha Osmanović, while we are sitting in her dead children’s room, which has not changed a bit.
The village Dobrak is located an hour’s drive away from Srebrenica and the trip to the village takes quite some time. The car is crawling on worn roads, passing through green hills, surrounded by the smell of freshly dried hay. We drive slowly and wish that clouds would cover the sun at least for a moment. But they do not. Our trip obviously has to be troublesome, just as any attempt to face the past. Part of the trip to Srebrenica passes somewhat faster and easier and it seems as if the car has already covered those kilometers and that it is much readier for them, just as we, too. We arrive to Srebrenica around noon. I am surprised by the fact that it seems quite alive and busy, and the sun chooses only beautiful traits of its architecture and trees, which defy the predominant asphalt, just like life defies death. We stop and make an audio clip of children playing at the park.
We continue driving and, since we do not know how to get to Dobrak, we stop by a house, where mother Ajša meets us. Her doors are always open and she has Bosnian pie and hot coffee ready to offer them to all hungry and tired passers-by. ”You must be going to Saliha’s place?”, Ajša asks. After we confirm, she adds that she will make us a pumpkin pie by the time we come back. We have to stop once again to ask for directions, and a mysterious man in a suit and with a briefcase gives us detailed instructions. He looks like a benevolent math teacher. ”You need to go right and then turn left at the mosque. You will recognise the house with the white facade and pink ornaments”, he says.
We immediately recognise the beautiful house described by the man with the briefcase. We park in front of the house and go to the garden. Since we were late for almost an hour, Saliha decided to take a nap, but she left her door open as a sign of welcome.
She immediately greets us as if we were her family, and she asks me a question she probably asks any male passer-by: ”When were you born?” ”I was born in 1986”, I say. ”My son Nermin was born in 1976”, she says, while she excitedly walks around the kitchen and warms up stuffed peppers, cuts watermelon, takes out cake and makes coffee.
”After everything I’ve survived, I am fine… I live my life”, says Saliha while she starts her story. After a brief phone call to her neighbour Safija, she continues: ”I have never been afraid to talk. I went to the Hague, London, France, I went twice to Belgrade. I talk openly everywhere. That is how it happened. I like to have visitors and be able to talk about it. They would have killed you as well if you had been Muslims. Am I afraid of being killed? No, not at all, they already killed everyone I had. You are married, you have children, you love them, well, you know what a child means. They did it… Mladić told us in Potočari that we could stay, that we could disappear. He was walking and looking at us… he really was.”
Saliha stops talking for a moment and goes to the kitchen to take the peppers she warmed up and to put the coffeepot on the plate in order for coffee to rise once more. While she is doing this, she is telling us that she lived well before the war, that her husband Ramo worked at a company in Belgrade and that they created a small heaven in this small place that is now empty, that they had a small home, garage, their car, tractor, a small vegetable garden and two beautiful and smart sons.
Saliha’s memories of her old life are suddenly interrupted by menacing thunderstorms. A strong pain in her old joints predicts the long awaited rain. Saliha invites us to go over to the garden, where it is more comfortable and where we will have a view of her vegetable garden. Somewhere between stuffed peppers and coffee, she starts a monologue about her vegetable garden, the best potatoes in the whole Dobrak, about corn cobs that become up to 20 cm long, accompanied by a detailed description and explanation about the various vegetables that were planted and their location. She then goes on to tell about the house she herself ”resurrected from the ashes”, about the ruin she found after she had come back, about her neighbor Dušan, who helped her close a septic tank, and about the new life she started on her own.
I only knew that Saliha Osmanović was the spouse of the late Ramo, whose memorial is now located at Veliki park in Sarajevo, depicting him as he calls for his son: ”Nermin, come”. It is the exhausted, worn out and frightened man who can be seen in a footage, calling for his son Nermin to surrender, which resulted in his death. However, when we learn about something through the media, it usually stays only on the surface of our rational cognition. Only after personally meeting a man and learning about his destiny are we able to recognise it as real. This also applies to the story about Ramo and to genocide. While listening to Saliha’s story, I understood for the first time that there was a man who was forced to call his son to surrender, which resulted in his son’s death.
”Ramo refused to allow Nermin to go to school on that day. I think that he was about to graduate from the first grade of secondary school, in maybe five or ten days. However, shots were fired in the evening. From Serbia, from that direction. When the gunfire started, we had no idea what to do or where to go. They were shooting from there, shots whistled… We escape to the woods… in the clothes we wore… We stopped somewhere up there in Skejići. And then we crossed to Osat. We spent a month there. We later on went to Srebrenica, a protected zone. But it was far from it, it was a disaster… My younger son, Edin, he was killed by a shell at the training ground. He was buried at Kazani at night. Back then, there was no memorial centre. It was on July 6, and Srebrenica fell on July 11. We said goodbye at the petrol station in Kazani. My Ramo and Nermin, they did not go down to the memorial centre, they went into the woods, following other people, hoping they would be able to cross. There were thousands of them, it is almost impossible to describe it. They were drained, lost, exhausted, they had no idea what to do or where to go. And then Mladić was yelling, asking who had things on them… What were we supposed to have on us? We spent the night there, we looked around, people were crying, it was a disaster. I decided to follow the people, I did not know what else to do. We climbed on a lorry. I was reading street signs through the tarpaulin and was thinking, if they take us to Bratunac, it is over. We got out at Tišće, and then we had to walk to Kladanj. They would stop us, and the poor driver would get out and say: Why are you harassing innocent people, you should be ashamed of yourselves… I was crazy, I really was crazy. Later on, I woke up at a kindergarten, and I just saw that I had a drip. I had no idea where I was, what had happened, I just saw the colours on the ceiling… I had no idea what had happened… I was crazy, indeed, traumatized, stressed. Then I was in Solina, later in Jasenica, one of my brothers-in-law survived, the other was killed, and my mother-in-law was there. They had their room, and I had mine… One morning, I was looking at a newspaper… I did not even have a plate, I did not have anything… When I took the newspaper, I saw Ramo. I thought that he was alive. Well, how was it possible? He was not there. And then I saw Ramo on TV, calling for Nermin. I again thought that he was alive. And then I told myself, how is it even possible. And how that Serb told him: Nermin, come down, how he cursed… Then I knew. Day after day, there was nobody. I was waiting, thinking they might come, but they were gone.”
While I was listening to Saliha’s story, I could see the man from the YouTube footage, and the sculpture from Veliki park gradually got a voice. My talk to Saliha stopped the sound of rain, the drops of which mixed with an almost inaudible call for prayer coming from the distance. Saliha told me that she would pray later on, but she went out for a moment to bring the clothes she had washed. I had enough time to think about everything. She soon invited us to the old part of the house in order to show us all details, which she prepared herself, and I knew that she wanted to show us the untouched rooms of her children. When we were alone, she told me about her dream:
”I was dreaming about my Nermin… Hoping to hear from him tomorrow. I was at the house, when none of this had been finished. There was a garage here. In my dream, I went up, and, oh my God. I went to that board there and sat down, I don’t know what time it was. I could clearly see him. I could see him like this. And he told me, mom, don’t cry. I saw his jeans. Or maybe I saw them in my thoughts, I don’t know. He had black hair. And on the next day, I got the news. And my dream was almost identical. I have had this dream several times… especially when I want to go to bed, and start thinking, it is like when the wind blows and makes wheat sway, or when Drina flows, and I think, oh my God, now I could have grandchildren.”
The rain gradually abated, and Saliha used the occasion to get spring potatoes in order for us to take them home. We took pictures, said goodbye, promised that we would come back. And in my head, I could hear a voice listing names all over again: Srebrenica, Bratunac, Foča, Prijedor, Ključ, Sanski Most, Vlasenica, Zvornik… Srebrenica, Bratunac, Foča, Prijedor, Ključ, Sanski Most, Vlasenica, Zvornik… Srebrenica, Bratunac, Foča, Prijedor, Ključ, Sanski Most, Vlasenica, Zvornik… As never before, I became aware of the fact that genocide has been committed against my people and in the country in which I planned to live and create. The silence, in which this brave woman remains after we leave her garden, also becomes my silence, and Ramo’s scream from the footage becomes my scream from the past.
It is also possible to listen to a radio document ”A day in the life of Saliha Osmanović”: http://www.bhrt.ba/radio-dokument-jedan-dan-u-zivotu-salihe-osmanovic/
Mirza Skenderagić (1986) published a large number of texts, studies, essays, film, literary and theatre reviews, recensions, interviews and short stories. He is currently a member of the editorial board of the drama and documentary programme of the Radio of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also received a scholarship from the Karim Zaimović Foundation for his drama ”Wake me up when it ends” in 2014. He also received the Heartefact Award for the best regional modern social drama text in 2016. His documentary ”I can speak” got the Golden Apple Award at the 13th Bosnian and Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York and an award at the Pravo Ljudski Film Festival in 2016.