The Common Good
November-December 1999

Why Did You Come Here?

by Rose Marie Berger | November-December 1999

Camp Rakovica, Sarajevo—There were 1,500 Kosovar refugees in this camp on the
dusty outskirts of Sarajevo. They had come by bus, car, and on foot.

Camp Rakovica, Sarajevo—There were 1,500 Kosovar refugees in this camp on the dusty outskirts of Sarajevo. They had come by bus, car, and on foot. First held in the expansive bottling rooms at the Coca Cola factory, the refugees now live in an old cattle barn, in tents, and on an open field.

We were invited into the barn’s converted milking room and given the best of the plastic seats around a plywood table. Forty families live here in 6-by-8 foot cubicles separated by curtains. The men tell us that Serb soldiers herded them out of their homes. One asks us to find information about his brother, who he presumed was dead in Kosovo. Adem, the oldest man in the camp at 80, wears a blue wool beret and his weatherworn face glistens with tears. Thirty members of his family were killed by Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo.

The women stand around the ring of conversation holding children on their hips. They serve us coffee in chipped red cups. Harija, in her mid-30s, shot her words at us like fire. "How can I live with this pain that my neighbor—my husband shoveled snow from her walk before he even cleared our own—stood in our yard while I was hanging laundry and spoke aloud how she was going to kill me and my children? She was trying to decide between mortar or sniper."

Harija looked at us. "Did you come here just to stir up pain, or are you going to help us?" she said. Then she wept.

There is no doctor in this camp. The outhouses are overflowing. The only food available is bread and canned vegetables. The graffiti on the wall shows a young man with a gun to his head.

We deliver watermelons to a few of the families. One man leads me down a shoe-strewn hall. He opens the curtain and there, on the bunk bed, lies a 2-day-old baby boy wrapped in clean linens and a rough army blanket. The mother looks worn and happy in her torn T-shirt and dusty skirt. I pray over the child, making the sign of the cross on his forehead. No one seems to mind the mix of religious symbols.

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