A City's Nightmarish Pall In Sarajevo, Signs Of Life Are Mixed With Fear.

Posted: March 06, 1994

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — In the bomb shelter on Logavina Street, they keep a book next to the bed to interpret their dreams.

Often, though, their dreams are easy enough to figure out.

Mirza Kapic, 13, often dreams he is back at his family farm in northern Bosnia, swimming in the river. He dreams about shooting the Bosnian Serbs who chased all the Muslims out of his home in northern Bosnia.

His cousin, Delila Lacevic, 19, has recurring flashbacks about the day last year when her parents were decapitated by a shell as the family fetched water.

Her younger brother, Bermin, 13, who was evacuated to the United States three months ago, used to wake up screaming after a dream in which he opened the bathroom door and saw his father standing in front of the sink without his head.

The collective psyche of this city is filled with dread. Even as Sarajevo shows unmistakable signs of resurrection - a few buses are running again and every day another store reopens - the people remain profoundly scarred.

The indications range from stress-related ailments such as ulcers, to insomnia, to utter madness.

Superstition is rampant.

People spit three times on the sidewalk if they see a black cat; they read their fortunes from the muddy residue at the bottom of their coffee cups.

"We are all a little weird here," says Miladin Markovic, a 32-year-old soldier in the Bosnian army. "A phone rings and we jump. When people come back here who didn't live through this, or if we go somewhere else, everybody is going to think we're nuts."

Despite the cease-fire, there are several sniper attacks daily, and three or four mortar explosions. Although the casualties have been minimal, the psychic toll on the shell-shocked city is immeasurable.

Delila and her relatives tried sleeping at home in mid-February, after the cease-fire began. But she had such bad insomnia that after a few nights the family returned to the bomb shelter.

So now, every night after dinner, Delila, Mirza, their aunt, Sacira Kapic Lacevic, and her daughters, Masa and Lana, along with another uncle, leave their 200-year-old family home with its cozy, gas stove and Oriental rugs.

In the pitch darkness, they walk up Logavina Street to the former orphanage, a turn-of-the-century building as creepy as anything in a Dickens novel. The crumbling walls exude a faint odor of urine and wet laundry.

Delila has lived next to the orphanage all her life, but never dreamed of setting foot inside before the war.

"Now, I love to sleep here. I feel safe. . . . I don't care if people think I'm crazy. Even if Bill Clinton called me personally, and said the war is over, I would still sleep here."

"I'm embarrassed that we're here. I would never tell my colleagues where I sleep," says Sacira, 49, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Kosevo Hospital. ''But you've got to take care of yourself. You only have one life to live."

The Lacevics have been sleeping in the shelter on and off since the war began in April 1992. They've brought their television set to watch the 7:30 news on nights that the electrical generator is working.

Delila brought her romance novels; her cousin, Lana, 20, a medical student, brought her anatomy textbooks. Of course, everybody reads the dream book.

The kids converted a vacant room into a clubroom, painting over its walls with "Devil Girls" and "Cool Girls" graffiti, naming two of the gangs that children in the neighborhood formed. They have spent the past two New Year's Eves in the clubroom, dancing to a portable radio and drinking coffee.

"It's really fun here," says Mirza.

Now, nobody else from Logavina sleeps in the shelter, other than a few refugees who have no place else to go. The family has frequent discussions about trying again to sleep at home.

"Like NATO, we've actually passed a couple of resolutions to go back, but we never do anything," Lana says.

Some of the neighbors think the Lacevics are a bit eccentric.

"The Lacevics have that huge place. It's got to be a crazy house, if they're still sleeping in the shelter," says Jela Dzino, 54, a distant cousin.

But Ekrem Kaljanac disagrees: "If the shelter had electricity and a bathroom, hell, I'd sleep there too. I might never go out.

"I'm still afraid. When I have a bad dream, I won't go out all day," he says.

Adds his wife, Minka: "My stomach is still a nervous wreck. Every time you think you can relax, you hear a shell. I don't cross the street these days without praying."

Says Ekrem: "I think there are a lot of people here who went insane out of fear. I can't entirely blame them. I think if I didn't have to hold it together for the kids, I might be that way too."

Sarajevans have strangely ambivalent feelings about the apparent success of the cease-fire. More people are walking the streets, sitting in cafes and visiting friends. But many fear the quiet almost as much as the shelling, if only because of the uncertainty of what will come next.

The cease-fire also seems to have brought more complaints of depression to the surface, as people pause to tally up their losses.

"In war, you have to keep on fighting just to stay alive, but when people relax and let their guard down, that's when you feel it the worst," says Markovic.

His wife, Veronika, has been living in Germany for almost two years with his 4-year-old son, and he has no idea when the family will be reunited.

His upstairs neighbor at 66 Logavina is Desa Stanic, a sad and quiet woman who lost her husband last year and whose 13-year-old son has shrapnel in his forehead.

"I am depressed most of the time," Stanic says. "I feel like I have an ulcer. The doctor says it's all in my head. That might be, but I have to feel that I'm lucky that I'm not downright insane."

Almost everyone on Logavina complains of some stress-related disorder. Buba Hajric, a nurse, says she hasn't been able to sleep more than a few hours a night since the gruesome days she spent treating patients from the Feb. 5 shelling of the downtown market that killed more than 60.

Suada Causevic, six months pregnant, continues to smoke as many cigarettes as she can, even though she knows they are one reason she remains dangerously underweight.

"The doctors haven't told me to stop smoking, I think because they know if they did, I wouldn't listen," says Causevic.

Many on Logavina, even children, say they started smoking in wartime.

"I had my first cigarette 20 days after my father died," says Marijana Stanic, Desa's daughter, who is now 15.

In the Razija Omanovic public school, 43 children have lost at least one parent. Aida Muminovic, the dean of students at the school, says that

adolescents have had the most difficulty dealing with the deaths.

Muminovic says that in some parts of Sarajevo where the shelling was particularly brutal, children as young as 7 are starting to get gray hair. More common among the children, though, are depression and aggressiveness.

"You see a lot more violent behavior in the kids. Even preschool children will be playing war games, trying to act out their aggressions," says Muminovic.

Certainly, though, the people of Logavina have processed the stress in dramatically different ways.

"There are people who have lost their nerves," says Ekrem Kaljanac, using a popular Sarajevo turn of phrase. "You can tell; they'll burst out laughing at strange times, or else start crying."

Sead Vranic and his wife, Vetka, who are unemployed and live in a house with little heat or electricity, say they have made it their personal mission to try to stay sane in wartime.

"Out of spite, we want to show that we are tougher than they (the Serbs) are," says Vranic.

The randomness of the violence that has engulfed this city for so long has left many Sarajevans obsessed with fate and luck. When foreigners visit Sarajevo, they tend to tell one another, "Be careful." Resident Sarajevans are more likely to say, "Be lucky."

Kaljanak and his wife keep a horseshoe in the entry to their apartment. Ekrem has a lucky necklace that his grandmother gave him after he lost two fingers of his left hand from antiaircraft fire.

Delila, Lana and Masa all wear the same earrings for good luck: dangling golden dice in one ear and a lily, the Bosnian symbol, in the other.

Nermin Dzino, the 23-year-old son of Jela and his wife, Ziho, has an inlaid wood-and-silver charm that his father carved. He wears it whenever he reports to duty on the front lines and puts it in his mouth when the Bosnian Serbs open fire.

"People here are becoming more superstitious. They believe in fate, for lack of anything else," says Nermin.

Even the most sensible Sarajevans have come to believe their premonitions. Suad Kasumagic, a jeweler, recalls that last year he got a sudden impulse to move his daughters' piano out of their bedroom.

Within hours, the room was shelled.

Delila says she dreamed the night before her mother and father were killed that the entire family was at a funeral, but that she looked around and couldn't figure out why her parents weren't there.

"My grandmother said later it was a bad omen. I blame myself sometimes for what happened and fall into crisis, but I know I will never again not listen to the warnings."

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