A memory. I am in Sarajevo, w Justin Kennedy to interview and film for a short we had been planning around our trip to Bosnia. I came to see people close to me and also to bear witness. The war had ended the year before. I had messages to deliver to refugee families in Sarajevo from their relatives, who I worked with in the US.
In this picture we are in the Grbavica neighborhood, a grouping of apartments that were on the front lines and endlessly shelled during the siege. In these apartments was someone who was waiting for us, but because of an address mix up we didn’t find them there – in equally squalid temporary housing for refugees down the street.
As we were filming, this woman come out of one of the buildings. She literally glowed, so elegant and poised – as if she had come out of a magazine or casually exiting the Ritz hotel.
She was beautiful and so alive in all that dirty dreariness. Dressed simply, with coiffed hair and red lipstick she looked perfect. I asked if she would allow me to take her picture and we ended up chatting. As it turned out she was somehow distantly related to the person we were looking for, which often happened at this time in Bosnia. After a brief exchange she bid us farewell. She was on her way to the town center to have a coffee.
I was so moved by her. I could see she was a survivor, that she was weary with a broken heart but I saw no defeat, no anger. She reminded me of the women in my own family – survivors, like her. The picture represents the tireless spirit of so many women I met who came up through war, who were caught in the middle. Who subject to torture and to rape. Women, mothers, sisters who survived the death of their dearest dear children, loved ones long gone and missing. There were the hidden psychological mutilations too, from demanding and jealous men, fathers, brothers, husbands – all too much, too much to bear. And still, here she stood – one like all the others – splendid and perfect in the light, strong and warm like the sun, indeed – the sun herself!
The women, they pick up and carry on, because they must. They choose to make the world whole the best they can, choosing love more often than hate. They move through the pain so as not to drown from it. The Bosnian woman in the picture, like my mother and grandmother, like my sisters the world over is a symbol of hope and strength to me which is why I keep this picture on my wall. It reminds me every day of the beauty and the beast in each of us.