My friends used to tell me I had an easy job...just show up at the event, write a story, go home. Fashion shows, school meetings, grand openings It worked out that way at first, then I got bored. I hooked onto freelancing and stringing for assorted networks and news agencies.
I became an expert at traveling at a moments notice, finding a translator when needed. I learned that bribes sometimes open doors as well as mouths afraid to speak. I never gave names, I kept my promise to keep them anonymous. Names can be dangerous things in dangerous times.
The thought of danger never really entered my mind. A vest with PRESS in big letters was my ticket to safe passage. It kept the world divided into US and THEM. The world could be falling apart, but I was safe and secure in my magic vest. We were not the enemy, we were the means of getting their stories out, letting truth be told in places where it was not possible for the average person to speak out.
Sure there were incidents nearby, but nothing directed at us, at me. It was the general discord of revolution. Nothing personal. Just part of the daily routine.
Riots, coups, war, famine....all part of the daily routine. You stayed neutral, you stayed alive a colleague reminded me in a tiny little bar. The guys with the machine guns loved to voice their cause for the world, most would talk for hours, even more if I was picking up the tab.
It all changed in Sarajevo. Suddenly, anything that said press, our cars, vans, vests and hats were bullseyes. Snipers were everywhere. You didn't walk in Sarajevo, you ran. Even for something as basic as getting water.
Stefan, my interpreter and guide, invited me to his neighbourhood to see first hand what daily living was like.
The UN had dropped off water a few days before and it was now running low. We took the empty containers and made our way to a building that had a running water tap. As we walked, he and his wife spoke of the hardships and losses. His sister voiced concerns for their neighbours, many elderly and unable to fend for themselves in this war zone.
"We are neighbours, there is no war in our neighbourhood, except the war of trying to live day to day in this hell." she explained. "People come through with guns, shooting anyone."
Our little group of eight neighbours, some Christian, some Muslim, some of no particular religion at all made our way to the main road.
"It has been quiet, but we will run, to be sure." said Stefan. We ran to the building, filled the jugs, talked quietly amongst ourselves in the small alcove containing the tap.
"Ok, now we go back, very quiet." said Jorge. "On the big street, we run again."
We made it one city block when snipers opened fire on us. It rained bullets, blood and water. Stefan put his hand over my mouth. "Don't move! " he whispered. Stefan's wife and sister had been closer to the street, their lifeless bodies protected me from the deadly storm.
We lay there for hours that seemed like weeks. I talked to myseld in my head, an insane chant of "Just play dead, and Frankie Vally's Big girls don't cry" I don't remember breathing.
Jorge poked my leg.
"They are gone, we have to run now." he said quietly as he and Stefan rolled the womens bodies off me.
"No time for tears, run!" said Stefan as he grabbed my hand.
"But your wife, your sister we can't leave them!" I protested.
"We go now or we die like them when next asshole comes to shoot," he spat as he pulled me to my feet. "Welcome to Sarajevo."
The run back to the house was hard, the men had salvaged what water they could. I had a strange burning feeling in my hip, my leg felt numb, but I ran.
When we returned to the house, Jorges wife screamed at me. I thought she was mad, so I turned to leave.
"She' says you are hurt. Look at all that blood."
My pants were shredded and soaked with water, blood, dirt, battery acid from my phone. I had a strange pain in my groin. Something was wrong, but all I could think of was where the hell is my sat phone.
Kira led me into a small bedroom, she lit candles and a lantern, laid a piece of plastic on the bed and motioned me to lay down. She cut off the remainder of my khakis and bloody underwear.
"Drink" she said, handing me a cup. Some kind of whiskey, and two white pills. She took off her head scarf and placed it over me.
"No moving" she said and left the room. The whiskey and the pills took effect. I could hear Stefan sobbing in the next room. Families coming in and out of the house to find out what had happened and who was still alive. A strange chorus of cries and prayers. Prayers from the Bible, the Koran and the Torah. A combination of prayers for the dead, and prayers for my recovery. People crammed into one small house, praying from three majour religions, in the middle of a holy war, a war of ethnic cleansing.
Kira returned with a needle and thread. She scrubbed my wounds with with precious water we salvaged. She dug around and pulled out a chunk of metal. Then sewed me back together with clean white thread.
I spent the days in a haze of alcohol, white pills and hot soup. Kira scrounged up some clothes for me, then told me to go home. Not just back to the hotel, but home where it is safe. She asked me to pray for her and the others.
Stefan drove me back to the hotel in a borrowed car riddled with bullet holes.
We hugged and said our goodbyes. I limped into the hotel and hit the bar in search of a phone. A very kind veteran reporter let me use his.
"Hi Daddy, how are you?" I said as cheerfully as I could.
"I'm fine, you haven't called in days. We have been watching the news. Bjorney tapes it. I saw a girl with redhair shot. Where are you? I thought you were dead."
"I'm fine, Daddy, the phone is broken, I'm borrowing a phone. I'm in the bar with the other reporters."
"I could have sworn that was you. I rewound and played it again and looked with a magnifying glass, I thought you were dead."
"Daddy, I'm not dead, I'm fine. I'm heading back to London in a few days then I will be home. I love you, I got to go." and hung up.
"Thanks," I said handing the phone back.
"Don't lie to your Dad, Soley. He knows something is wrong. Call it parental instinct. Any fool can see you are hurt and running a fever. When did you get shot?"
"A week or so ago."
"Go lay down, I'll scrounge up something for your fever."
The black market antibiotics did their job. I bummed a ride from the BBC in their new fancy armoured car back to the airport.
"Goodbye, Sarajevo" I said looking out of the transport plane. "I can't say I'll miss you"
Dad picked me up at the airport a week later.
"Lets go get your bags and have supper," he said hugging me.
"No bags, just this pack. I gave a lot of stuff away." I said as we walked to the truck.
"You're limping, what's wrong?"
"Just a sprain, Daddy, I fell down. No worries"
The infection came back, the pain was intense. Dad took me to hospital.
An xray showed a scrap of metal left inside. The doctor shook his head. Another inch would have hit an artery. I was lucky, he told me. Yes I was. A picture of the shooting flashed in my head. Marina's dead eyes staring at me as the snipers fired on and on.
Dad demanded more information. I told him it was just a piece of metal I must have fallen on that made an infection.
Bjorney figured out how to zoom in on the video he taped.
"That's you Soley, with those people getting water, look, see the red pony tail. That's you, those are 66 north khakis, that is my Sigur Ros concert shirt under your vest! What the hell, Soley. Don't tell me there are tons of red headed reporters in Sara-fucking-jevo!"
"Let's go to the hut, Bjorney...just take me up the glacier and I'll tell you all about it."
The Jeep made creaking and grinding noises as we drove up the lava fields. At the snowline, the ice is thin, there's always a risk of falling through a crevice. There are always cracks to fall through. Life is like that sometimes. Little cracks, big cracks, hidden cracks that sneak up on you when you are not looking.
Hot pools are a good place for talking about anything and everything from business to confessions. Rumour has it that most of our constitution was written in a hot pool.
I stripped off my clothes and tossed them on a rock and turned to face Bjorney.
"Yeah, that was me. Check this scar out, some souvenir," I said pointing to my groin. "A lot is from battery acid, the phone took the worst hit. Then it got infected twice. Pretty ugly, looks like a snake, kind of. At least my intestines didnt fall out"
I looked up and Bjorney was crying.
"I'm fine, I'm home and I'm thinking of a new career already." I said slipping into the warm pool. "Career number three, since number two didn't work out the way I wanted."
Bjorney jumped in next to me, hugged me and said, "Please let it be something safe and quiet. Please don't say bomb squad or police or French Foreign Legion. No oil rigs, no space shuttles. Just stay safe."
"I was thinking more about working at the veterinary office. kitties, puppies, farm calls, tagging sheep, giving shots."
"Better than getting shot at," said Bjorney splashing me.
The war in Sarajevo went on for years, ending with war tribunal charges of crimes against humanity. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed or disappeared. Mass graves dot the countryside.
Jorge and Kira moved to England. They have three children.
Stefan stayed behind with the memories of his wife tying him to his homeland.
Copies of videos and photos were sent to the War Tribunal as evidence. I do not know if they were ever used. I will not post them here, as I prefer to remember my friends in a less violent manner. They will remain locked in a box until my death.
Bjorney still worries about me, to the point of being annoying. Childhood friends can be just as worried as family, in some ways they are family.
Dad found out about the gunshot wound when my sat phone turned up in the post office. Some one found it and dropped it at the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo, where it made the rounds of being carried like a fallen soldier back home to Iceland. I fessed up, showed him the enhanced video and got the lecture of a lifetime. Basically, it's his job to worry. I get it Dad.
I never gave up writing. I just changed my focus.
Career number three, lead to career number four. I still give shots, only to people now. I am still an advocate for non violence and religous freedom. I continued to go to disaster areas as part of a medical team.
This story is dedicated to the kind people of Sarajevo who taught me how to survive, how to love and care and have hope in the middle of hell on earth.
To those who are gone, may you rest in peace.
To those who remain, may you sleep peacefully.
To those yet to come, may you always know peace.
@s. robertsdottir 2011.