Rubija

I'm Rubija.

From Kljuc, that's my county, village of Gornji Biljani. That's where I lived. Then they started shooting, not much, I kept thinking, it won't come to that, no it won't, that war will blow over, hey I didn't even know what war was, I didn't even remember the last war.

My sons worked for the railway, in Slovenia, they came home for our Bairam1, they stayed with me and when they headed back the roads were closed already. That was June, I don't remember exactly when, but around that time.

Then our Serbian neighbors said, don't you go, we won't hurt you. But we didn't listen, we went to an orchard of ours for a month, near some woods of ours. All the women, children and men, we slept there. And they came, looted the village, saw we weren't there, they were all neighbors, nobody from outside.

And then, just before Friday, it was Thursday evening, I know exactly, they came and told us don't any of you run away, we won't hurt you. And we spent that night in the house, they said don't run away and we went into the house and didn't budge that night.

At five-thirty the next morning they banged on our door, get up, I unlocked the door and opened it, soldiers were swarming all over our village. They were all our neighbors, I knew each and every one of them. Go wake up your boys, your husband, we want them for a test at the mosque, we'll have them back soon, we just want to need to arrange something with them. They'll be back, they said. My three sons and husband were there. So they got up and got ready and were lined up in the middle of the village. My youngest, he was eighteen, they took him back and forth three times but the fourth time they returned him to me.

They took my husband and two sons to the mosque, and my brother-in-law's two sons too. While they were being taken away, I heard gunfire, I've got no idea what was going on, I couldn't see. You could hear it, that's all. That was 1992, July, the 9th. There was shooting that day, fighting. From that day on, I've had no word of them.

Us women, we went over there, but the army and police wouldn't let us get near. If we could've, I'd have recognized the kids by their clothes if not by their faces. But they didn't let us, so we went back home. They were there for three days, they wouldn't let us nowhere near the dead, and overnight they gathered them all up and carted them off, but we don't know where. Who knows, maybe somebody survived. Nine villages had their men taken away like that, from sixteen to sixty-five years old, Botonjici, Donja Sanica, Gornja Sanica, Osmanovici, Jabukovac, Cerici, Domazeti, Brkici, Gornji Bi1jani, but they returned me my youngest one. On the fourth day we managed to get to the mosque, but all we found there were pools of blood in the marshes. That's how they took two of my sons and my husband. The three of them. And when we left at the end of the summer everthing'd been torched, not even this much wood was left, it was all burned down. Everything went.

And I had a new house, I had a barn, I had everything I needed. I built the new house with my husband; the children helped me from Slovenia. I had a barn, I had a shed for hay for the cows, I had four cows, I had a shed for the wood, I had a crib for the corn, I had everything I needed.

We couldn't have lived better with them, they were at our house all the time. There's our Serbian neighbor's house there, they had three houses. Here's the main road, here are their houses, my land runs below the main road, I got twenty- four dunums of land2 at the foot of their houses. Whenever I'd go onto my land they'd roast some coffee and bring it out to me in the field. We'd have a good talk. We were all like one family. I don't know what this is now, who thought up that war. But things turned out like they did.

We didn't notice much before, they said they'd started shooting in Krajina. Our kids set off down the road and their kids, a seven-year-old kid in uniform, said this is the border, don't cross over to our houses anymore, that's the border, or I'll be waiting for you with a knife. Then their women stopped talking to us as much as before, stopped getting together with us as much, stopped being as good as they were before. They changed. There you have it.

When they took my kids away, my boys, and my husband, the youngest one that was left to me, he was at a Serb's, I mean he was his prisoner. He did whatever the Serb ordered, he went to cut and gather the hay, if the man looted something my boy had to load it into the car and get it home. He was like a servant, like a slave. Hungry, thirsty, the whole day, the man worked him so hard he was just another skeleton. The man would come by at night and tell me, this is what I'm doing tomorrow, the boy'll come with me. I didn't dare tell him that I wouldn't let the boy go. And I needed the boy, I had work to be done, I was still counting on staying. It was like that all summer, but the power was on their side. He was my closest neighbor, my land ran alongside his house. He used to come every evening when we got together, every day, he was with us all the time. He was a good man. Before the war.

That summer I was still pulling in the harvest. Food for the winter, I thought. They were shooting and I was shaking down the plum trees, I wasn't afraid, I didn't know how it was going to turn out, so I put the plums aside to make the brandy, I dried everything, cooked the Jam, made the salads, I kept thinking this war would blow over. I thought it'd be done with, so I said to myself, I'll stay.

Then one day Milan Andrejic's sons came by and said what are you waiting for, why don't you go, and I said why should I go, I'm on my land not yours, and they said that's Just it, if you knew what was in store for you and the boy you'd go, this is all our Serbian land now. They'd go from house to house in the night, killing, taking money and gold, looting. They'd take everything you had in the house, you'd be left standing there, watching, you didn't dare say a word. They'd take away the bread right in front of you. When they started taking that away I said to the boy, we got to go, son, if only for you to survive, we got to go. So we made for Kljuc, and in Kljuc I got my papers and we came to Slovenia, we arrived early around five in the afternoon, it was summer, late summer early fall, the days were still long, the sun was warm and they signed us up in their books and gave us two iron tables and two ordinary blankets for the night.

There were no outsiders. Mladjo Despot, my first neighbor, he was the one who took my sons and husband away. Marko Samardzija, my kids' teacher in Gornja Sanica, they finished school in his class, he came and brought the army. He gave the order for what they did to the Sanica Valley, all those villages, those were all his orders, he was Mr. Big. It was the teachers more than anybody who did what they shouldn't lave. I went to him that summer, to his headquarters in Gornja Sanica, the army and police were there, I went ten times on foot, it's three kilometers from my house, I went to ask about my kids. Where did you take those people to , is anybody alive or did you kill them all? He'd Just turn his head away, sometimes he'd say I don't know, sometimes he'd say nothing, he'd just turn his head away and say nothing. What could I do?

There's nothing left in our village, nothing. But I'm thinking of returning. The land is still there, nobody can set that on fire, nobody can carry it away, it's mine and it will stay mine. I want to go back there. I don't know how I'll live, I don't have anything, I don't know what I'll eat or how I'll manage, I don't know anything. Life is hard, more than hard.

But God save them if I ever run into the people who took away my children, I'm not afraid of God or man anymore. As for the others, the good people, they can stay. My sister-in- law stayed in Kljuc, there's a village up farther up from the bank, it's called Hanilovici, not a single man was taken away from there or killed, their village was protected by their neighbors, by their Serbs, they were good neighbors, they didn't let anybody expel, or rape or kill. And it's still like that to this day in that village. Their Serb neighbors have protected them. Everything's normal, they work the land. Nobody's touched them, nobody's raped them, nobody's expelled them, nobody's suffered, nothing.

But there was only one good man in our village. He'd come to us in secret, if he got a pack of cigarettes he'd sneak over, he didn't dare visit us that summer because of the other Serbs, they weren't allowed to come, he'd come in secret and divide up the cigarettes between my brother-in-law and my youngest boy and they'd light up, or he'd bring some coffee for us to roast. He was here alone with his wife, his kids were in Slovenia. When the army came to our village, he said don't do anything to them over there, they're good kids, they're nice, good-looking boys, but they said get back in the house or we'll slit your throat like a lamb. Of all our Serbs around, he really stood by us. Kojo ToIjagic. I don't know where he is now.

If I went back to Bosnia tomorrow, I'd protect him, he did so much for all of us. As long as the person is good, it doesn't matter whether he's one of theirs or one of ours. just so long as he's good. It doesn't matter what nation you come from, so long as you've got a good heart. And he really was a good man so why shouldn't I stand up for him.

And I'd protect him.
I wouldn't turn him over to anybody.
Or let them expel him.
For beat him up. Or let him go hungry.

"How's life over there? You work?"

"Yes, I work," I said.

"What do you do?"

"I sell dolls."

"Here, Take these apples, so you don't go hungry. So you're not hungry when you go back there."

1 Bairam - Muslim holiday

2 (obsolete) measure of land: 1 dunum = approximately 900 square meters.

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