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At the frontline

At the frontline

We drove to Sirokaca – a neighbourhood in the south-eastern part of Sarajevo – with Nijaz Memiç and Ci Handiç. From here, it's an easy 20 minute walk to the Bazaar's lively streets. We stopped on a narrow road and got out of the car. We walked up to the house of the person we were supposed to interview.

The garden was surrounded by a wall. We knocked on the gate, and it was opened by an older man. Ci translated what he said: The frontline between the Serbs, who besieged Sarajevo, and those who defended the city, ran right here through this garden. His wife had an accident with an anti-vehicle mine on May 5th, 1996, just a few months after the war ended – it happened while she was cleaning up this garden. No, No! She survived, but she was badly injured. She lost both legs. And one arm. And most of the fingers of her left hand. It was peacetime – it was a beautiful spring day, and she had just begun to put our damaged house back in order.

He told us everything in a friendly, calm voice, while he pointed to the spot at the back of the garden where the accident took place.

Nijaz asked him whether I could take a few photographs of the house and garden. He discussed it with his wife, who was sitting behind a barred window looking onto the garden, in a dark room. We could hardly see her, for a mosquito netting had been stretched out behind the bars. "Yes! Yes!" she answered. But she doesn't want to be photographed.

We listened to her voice emanating from the dark, while Nijaz translated: She used to sell newspapers in Sarajevo's markets. She survived both of the artillery attacks on the markets, unscathed. The first attack was on the Green Market on May 5th, 1994 – 67 people were killed. The second was at the Market Place on August 28th, 1995, and 43 people died. No, it was in her very own garden that she stepped on a mine. The mine lay in-waiting for her. It was her fate.

Ci asked her if she would describe the events leading up to the accident, its location, and afterwards, if she would have her portrait taken. "Oh no!" – she was resolute. She had told her story so many times to journalists and relief organisations. And everybody had promised her things – not that she had asked for them – but things had been promised: clothes, money, supplies, prostheses. Then, they all left, and she never heard from them again. Once again, she was all alone with her story. Her photo had been published in newspapers, photos from the hospital and afterwards. Yet she didn't seem bitter. Her voice, emanating from behind the bars, was still clear and bold.

Nijaz sat with Asija's husband at a table under the window. Together, they sketched out a map of the house and the surrounding area, trying to reconstruct the situation there during the war: the front line ran right through the garden. Just to the north, on the hillside, was a Serb position. No one lived in their homes then – it was too dangerous. All the houses had been deserted. Their own house wasn't completely built, they only finished it after the war. There might still be mines and duds on the hillside, just like there are in the wasteland across the road. Here, it was cleared – four years after Asijas' accident. But you never know.

I photographed the garden, where Asija had her accident. There were a couple of apple trees, brimming with ripe apples. Underneath, a table and a gas stove – something was simmering. There were a lot of flowers. It was lush and green, a small idyllic scene. And in the background: the hillside, which still might contain mines.