One of the strongest memories of the days I spent as a refugee during the wars
in ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, is one of a red ribbon which I and my sister had
tied around a kitten’s neck. That’s it. I don’t remember where it happened,
what happened with the kitten, where our family was at that moment, nor
what the other refugees were doing, nothing of the sort…
It often goes like that. Big events we are faced with and cannot influence,
come and go just as they begun, leaving consequences on lives of many
people. The one thing that continues to live after those events pass, are the
the simple details that somehow stay in our minds. For me and my sister, it
wasn’t important whether we would manage to cross over the bridge before
Croatian army destroys it, whether the planes would bomb our convoy,
whether our grandfather would be arrested, leaving our mother as the only
person able to drive our tractor. For us the most important thing was that
ribbon and that kitten.
This last New Year’s Eve I spent in Preševo, small town on the south border of
Serbia. Almost 600.000 refugees from Middle East and North Africa passed
through that town during 2015, on their way to Western and Northern Europe.
They are coming every day, if there are buses and trains and when there are
none, whether it is raining, snowing or not… I wonder what will be the
memory they will keep from Preševo?
Most of them will probably remember the commitment of young volunteers
bringing them hot tea, blankets, mittens… Maybe, some will remember their
injuries being taken care of, or being given a medicine they needed. Some of
them will remember friendly train station worker who let them get on the train
even though he knew they had no money for the ticket. Most certainly, some
will remember nervous assistance workers telling them: „Hurry up, no
stalling“. One young Syrian woman will remember for sure Serbian police
officer who took her around the camp to help her find a suitable winter jacket
for her daughter. „They killed her husband in the war. She showed me his
picture. Who will take care of that child now?“, he told me.
I will remember balloons. They are probably the most powerful small thing in
Preševo. No matter how much a child is weary or sad or in tears, a balloon will,
for a price of just a few cents, make all of that child’s despair disappear. I will
remember a dog chasing a balloon around the camp, followed by laughter of
refugees, policemen, humanitarians. I will remember a Christmas tree being
clumsily decorated by ten aid workers. I will remember a night in one of the
tents where hot tea had been served, while we were listening to Frank Sinatra
on the radio. Refugees were mixed with volunteers; people were talking in
Arab, Persian, German, English, Albanian, Bosnian, Serbian language; everyone
in that stifling warm tent looked the same.
I will remember a man watching a distant fireworks shining over the camp in
the New Year’s Eve, while streams of refugees where passing by him in silence.
Text Mirko Rudić, photos Milovan Milenković © Kamerades. Any use of the photos without written permission from the author is strictly forbidden!