I’M AFRAID OF AMERICANS

Attention, attention. Air raid. Go to a bomb shelter immediately. Open the windows, lower the shutters, turn off the power supply, turn off the gas, and take only the bare necessities with you. If you are in a vehicle, park it on the side of the road and head to the nearest underground shelter. Air raid, please follow the instructions provided by the Information Center. Over.

On March 24, 1999 at 7:45 PM CET, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) launched air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), composed of Serbia and Montenegro, during the Kosovo War, with the bombing of Serbian military positions in its southern province of Kosovo. An uninterrupted 60 second signal tone denoted a state of emergency that lasted until 5.30 AM the next day. We heard bombs rumbling in the distance. I remember the panic, the terror, limbs going numb, heart racing, squatting in the middle of the living room and holding each other tight. An ‘imminent threat of war against Yugoslavia by NATO’ was declared on national television right after the fist bombs hit, along with a list of instructions on what to do when air raid sirens go off, followed by a huge mobilization of troops and resources. As of day one, the creepy music of penetrating warning sounds was played on a regular basis, giving us chills every fucking time.

The following day, the sirens start wailing at 1.30 PM. Once again, we switch off the lights and electrical appliances, open the windows wide, and lower the shutters, blocking out the sun, rain, wind, life. Wrapped in a blanked the color of veins, I’m kneeling on the floor in the dark half of the hall in the central part of my parents’ house, listening to the indistinct voices of the street, the voice of a mother, a grandfather, a brother, a husband, a toddler, whimpering dogs, and bewildered roosters. In the night between Mar 25 and 26, I heard the deafening noise of swarming planes for the first time. Deadly mosquitoes buzzing endlessly in the skies above made our blood run cold and caused us to develop an arrhythmia on the spot and chronic insomnia and noise phobia with time. The sound produced by warplanes, especially when flying low at high speeds and perceived as danger, is hard to describe. Your body reacts without conscious thought, seeking cover, and you feel its intensity in your nostrils and your throat, it chokes you, it makes your knees tremble, it vibrates in your stomach, turning your bowels upside down, it incapacitates your legs, paralyzes your spine and tongue, blurs your vision and messes with your brain. The lights have gone out, candles being a rare commodity these days. We have only one left which we decide to keep for a rainy day. I close my eyes for a few seconds and feel a wave of claustrophobic darkness wash over me.

Three days after the bombing had started, the wise men of our small tribal community decided we should start hiding in the basement of a shaggy old house at the end of the street. Most towns didn’t have a proper underground bomb shelter so that people were mainly hiding in house/apartment building basements. The decision to leave your house and join a bunch of strangers isn’t the one you’ll make lightly. However, the elderly think it’s necessary when the unthinkable occurs. Choosing your emergency shelter supplies is not easy either as you have no idea how long the air raid could last and what might come out of it. Most importantly, you need something to keep you comfortable and well-fed during the time you’ll spend there. A sandwich, enough drinking water and blankets were a must. But, as no one could imagine a temporary visit to the shelter would turn into a prolonged stay, a couple days’ worth of non-perishable food, let alone the first aid kit, wasn’t on our mind. Everyone thought about how to make it that very day. Tomorrow was too far away.

Our new temporary shelter was a centenarian, which made it the oldest fella in the neighborhood. Stone, and blocks made of mud and straw were protruding everywhere. In today’s world of advanced architecture, such a home would be considered healthy and safe for a living after some additional renovations, but no house can be safe enough to protect you from bombs unless it’s a proper fallout shelter. In spite of this, at the time being, we find comfort in sharing our plight with others, although we don’t really know each other. Ironically, a couple of decades later, I’ll read about a video game, the war and post-war world of the underground nuclear fallout shelter that will prove to be massively popular on mobile phones and PCs, which will be downloaded by millions and earn staggering $5m in its first two weeks on sale. It’ll be described as ‘a highly addictive building and management game in which you construct your own vault and carefully manage the people and resources to create a thriving sun-free community.’ They suggest stockpiling granola, as well as salt, pepper and other spices. Oh boy! If the game makers had known half of what we did about the shelter, they would have never come up with such a dull pastime because it’s impossible to turn an apocalyptic hell into a home.

I walk into a dungeon I’ll be sharing with my neighbors, cramped in a matchbox with wooden benches on the side, waving hello to wrinkled faces of the elderly, kids chit-chatting, serving tea and sweet coffee, sleeping, acting out, a two-year old girl who can’t stop crying, and her older sister who has a hard time being called by her nickname (Nato), preschool and elementary school children with their parents who cling to the hope that this frenzy will soon come to an end and a charismatic guy in his late 60s apparently skilled at making everyone feel better. I’m trying to avoid close encounters, unnecessary remarks and compulsory smiles, turning my head not to feel bad breath coming from teeth they haven’t brushed in days. It’s terribly cold and smells of mold. I’m wearing a T-shirt, an undershirt, a sweatshirt, a woolen sweater, a warm hoodie, a winter jacket, thick tights, two pairs of woolen socks pulled over my knees, and sport shoes. I take a seat on a bench without backrest, feeling cushions underneath, and cover my shoulders with a blanket. After a few hours of uncertainty, the sirens blare the end of danger and we all go home only to head back to the improvised bomb shelter as soon as the ear-piercing screech goes off again. We’re back to black: drowsy kids, worried parents and toothless old women in PJs who hurried back, obviously forgetting their teeth at home. They don’t feel like prattling any more, and place their hands over their mouths when laughing wholeheartedly. Leaning against the wall, I’m closing my eyes to catch up on some sleep but wake up at the slightest sound. From a heavy sleeper, I turned into a light one. A pin dropping two rooms away behind a closed door would startle me awake, let alone a truck driving by or honking.

I’ve been dreaming a lot lately. I had a dream that all people were created equal…

 

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* Originally published at Morality Park

JOURNAL OF A MOM – UNBIASED LAWLESSNESS

Outdoor play areas for kids, when large and well designed, are pretty cool places when you think of it because children can jump and hide, shout and make a mess there without being prevented or criticized, because they are unbound and can unrestrictedly learn and flourish. But, there’s more to this than meets the eye.

Watching my son play in the playground made me realize his miniature world is nothing but a society as we know it, with its group of small people though sharing common territory, interacting and identifying with one another. In the world of adults, economic hardship creates feelings of powerlessness that more often than not draw people toward dominant and decisive (however morally questionable) leaders, instead of respected and knowledgeable ones. Although some parents fail to see or hate to admit it, our and their worlds are alike, both populated by a wide variety of individuals: superior and inferior, generous and selfish, shy, modest, undemanding and sharing, creative and original, self-proclaimed gods, populist, egotistic, authoritarian leaders, common people, followers, servants (obeying only those of the upper echelon), those who play by the book or by ear, those who enjoy being in the spotlight, those who like to keep up with the Joneses or tend to keep a low profile.

Furthermore, the family with children is a form of government in which all power is vested in a single ruler, or two sovereigns, depending on whether it consists of two bad cops or a good and a bad one. Be that as it may, their authority is supreme and unquestionable so there’s no point in wondering if we are absolutists (with little patience for shades of grey), always telling our kids what to do and what not to, who to listen to, what and how to eat, when to talk, what to say, where to go and where to poo. I know the answer already.

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On the other hand, it’s hard to be too giving and forgiving for many reasons. I like that my kid is bold, decisive, strong-willed and determined. B. generally likes company and it doesn’t mean that when he shows up, all present better disappear. However, his über-confident, overdramatic behavior and forceful personality can at times be quite embarrassing. He can be pretty assertive and assaultive on the swings or the seesaw or the slide for that matter where (I thought) rules of democracy abide. One thing I’ve learned in the meantime is there’s no government by the people where kids play. Consequently, just as we teach our little ones to take turns in conversation, we also need to show them how to share and how the whole turn-taking thing in the playground works. Sadly, some don’t since they obviously don’t believe in a fairer, more egalitarian society and, as someone has to, it’ll often be you if you want pushing down the slide, pulling hair, biting, and kicking to stop, whether it’s done to or by your kid. It’s not always easy to reach a truce, let alone a genuine one, but let’s say I’m more or less satisfied when it becomes bearable for all concerned or the ceasefire holds at least a few minutes…or seconds, to be more precise.

Luckily for small kids, they don’t know yet that language barriers can separate societies. By contrast, this microcosm of society is not restricted by them, among other things, because of how understanding, perceptive and compassionate children may be. They communicate on a whole different level than adults, verbalizing their displeasure both when it comes to them and their playmates, regardless of whether they know each other or have just met. Not only do they express deep awareness of the suffering of another but they also wish to relieve it, wiping their tears, hugging them or asking them or their parents what’s wrong.

Another good thing I’ve noticed spending plenty of time in the sandpit with toddles is the presence and acceptance of all the colors of the rainbow, that is an utter and complete absence of racism and xenophobia in their world. While there’s possessiveness and envy of another kid’s bigger and shinier toy, there’s no discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality, religion, appearance or disability. The society has yet to teach them hatred and prejudice, giving rise to inequality and aggression. Once they know how to properly inflict harm on each other, social integration, oftentimes achieved without a dialogue or the will to maintain peaceful social relations, will be complete. As opposed to sport and play areas, foul play is not always sanctioned in real life. Not that I blame the players. When the referee doesn’t send you off with a red card (preferably in the first half), you go on playing, with or without rules.