|Femmes en Noir - Frauen im Schwarz - Women in Black - Mujeres de Negro - Donne in Nero - Zene u Crnom|
Text and Photos:Lieve Snellings, November 1994
From October 26 till November 8, 1994, I was one of the V.A.K. ( Vrouwen Aktie Kollektief ) members who went with a women’s convoy to Tuzla. On request of the women of Tuzla we brought them hygienic products detergents, cleaning products, pantyhose , beauty products , make-up up… We left from Belgium with one truck , the drivers were Moniek and Bert , and one car with four women : Jenny, Dimphna, Aldegonde and I.
More and more I realize this multicultural and multi-ethnic society is very proper to the people of Tuzla. I saw many testifies of this many times. I want to share some examples to illustrate this :
In spite of this strength for life, you can feel how war ruins people. Life and death is always and everywhere present here.
Regularly the women told us “we are used to take care for ourselves, it isn’t fun to depend on others help…” It is as it takes away part of their dignity. When we take away their dignity, what mean has assistance than, unless for our self to feel powerful and strong ?
When we were driving the convoy into Bosnia, I saw some trucks before ours, they were throwing beer and chocolates out to the people who begged for it… I felt ashamed, though I remembered my mother saying they were happy with the chocolate American soldiers through to them at the end of WW2. I wished they gave this at a different way…
We had an opposite experience when we were unpacking the our truck of the convoy en they saw there was make-up in, they were so. We couldn’t give them greater pleasure. “As long as we make us pretty, we keep our dignity” they told us. When I ever doubt whether this request for make-up is part of necessity war aid, now I am absolute convinced it is a top.
Various times we were asked “what do you think about us?” And the men asked “what do you think about the women of Tuzla ?” First we didn’t understand what they meant. But then they said “don’t we look like European ? We are not Muslims like in Iran or Saoudi Arabia… we are modern women, not veiled women, and we don’t want to become that.
My guest family is Mussulman. We have discussed about this a lot. “We are Muzelmans , have a Muslim culture” they said “that are our roots, our origin. But most don’t practice. It is so wrong the West always suggest and visualize Muslims with a veil. In Sweden, at the announcement poster for a meeting about the situation in Tuzla, they put a picture with a veiled woman. This makes us furious We are against fundamentalism , also against Muslim fundamentalism. For us our Muslim culture means we are open and tolerant, we are multicultural and and want to go on living multi etnic…”.
In the streets of Tuzla you hardly see a woman with a shador, I haven’t seen 1 veiled woman. The population of Tuzla is about double since the refugees came, and there are differences of cultural between refugees and citizen of Tuzla. These refugees have gone through so much, lost everything, live now so close in small places… and you see these women more and more wearing a shador. In fact they are driven into the arms of fundamentalism. “You, the West has to support usd, if only for your own selfdefence” we were told. “If here, after so many ages, multicultural society will be destroyed,than it looks really bad for the world. Nationalism will grow bigger everywhere.
In Former Yugoslavia there is more than nationalist groups , there are also people who believe in multi culture… “Isn’t it hypocritical the West support multicultural life with words, but doesn’t allow the people who want to live in a multicultural society defend themselves, they even don’t want to talk with us” they said.
My working visit at the University Clinic of Tuzla made me feel really bad. I needed to get a clearer view about the mammography machine the Women Association of Tuzla wanted.
There are about 1.000.000 residents in the canton of Tuzla. It is an area heavy industry , where cancer has a high number. The University Clinic is a huge complex, scattered over different buildings, it has 1.800 beds and 2.500 people working , ( somehow like the University Clinic where I work in Leuven). All the discipline of a modern clinic are present : surgery, orthopedy, oncology, radiology, hematology , internal medicine, neurology , psychiatry and a polyclinic. They don’t have an Emergency Room . They planned to start building, but than it stopped till the end of war.
I couldn’t take pictures from outside the building of the clinic (because this is a war target). Everywhere you can see the grenades (shell) input. The windows are broken and replaced by plastic. “Now everything is covered up” said Dina and Suada. “Last year we had the worst winter out of history and all the window were shot”.
Dr. Filipovic lead us around at the unit orthopedy – surgery . He is working for 2,5 years without having one single day free. He has done about 2.500 complicated operations, the simple ones are not cunted anymore. There still are 15 surgeons working in 3 operating operation rooms. 90 to 95 % of the number of patients are war victims. As well soldiers as civilians as refugees. Most are men, but also women and children.
Even in the clinic water is restricted disposable, and only every other day there is electricity. Of course there are special SOS producers, but they can only use them when there are really emergent operations or for people in Intensive Care…
It’s really a mystery for me how these people can go on working in circumstances. I feel respect and admiration for them, request myself how long they can maintain.
About the mammography machine :
They got a mammography machine from Italy,BUT it was broken., and so old they couldn’t find pieces to replace and fix the machine anymore. “Nevertheless we need this mammography machine so much, explains the director of the clinic. We had this on our priority list, but than came war and now we don’t have the money anymore.
We need the mammography as well for prevention , diagnosis as treatments of cancer in an early stadium. Dr. Suada Kapidzic told me that 3 months ago she appointed a swelling/tumor in her breast. Because Tuzla doesn’t have a mammography machine, she had to go to Llublijana. Lucky for her, the diagnosis was negative. “But” she says “if it was cancer, the treatment in Llublijana would have cost me 20.000 D.M. Most women can’t pay that. If we have our own mammography machine, we could diagnostic and intervene so much faster”. The explanation of the director and Dr. Kapidzic story are so close to what the Women Association of Tuzla request. The disillusion was great because Italy gave a machine that didn’t work and we didn’t have another with us.
Before war, cancer was of the most important reasons why people died. But now, during war, dieing from cancer… this is too much. This is what I understand listening to what the doctors tell me. I really hope we will succeed to help them. Our friends in Austria and Greece also want to see what they can do to help. Together we have to succeed.
I’m so angry with this “own folk first” war.