Christmas seems a strange day to turn to a book about war.
But in War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, journalist Chris Hedges tells this story about new life and a lowly cow and an old man who sacrificed so that the light shine for someone else. I read the passage months ago and instantly thought: Christmas…
“I sat one afternoon with a Bosnain Serb couple, Rosa and Drago Sorak, outside of the Muslim enclave of Goražde where they had once lived. They poured out the usual scorn on the Muslims, but then stopped at the end of the rant and told me that not all Muslims were bad. This, they said, was their duty to admit.
During the fighting in the bleak, bombed-out shell of a city that was Goražde, where bands of children had become street urchins and hundreds of war-dead lay in hastily dug graves, a glimmer of humanity arrived for the Soraks in the shape of Fadil Fejzić’s cow. The cow forged an unusual bond between Fejzić, a Muslim and his Serbian neighbors, the Soraks.”
Hedges goes on to describe the internecine fighting. Muslim police took the Soraks oldest son, Zoran, away for questioning. Zoran never returned. Their next eldest son was struck by a car and killed.
“Five months after Zoran’s disappearance, his wife gave birth to a girl. The mother was unable to nurse the child. The city was being shelled continuously. There were severe food shortages. Infants, like the infirm and elderly, were dying in droves. The family gave the baby tea for five days, but she began to fade.
‘She was dying’ Rosa Sorak said. ‘It was breaking our hearts’…
‘On the fifth day, just before dawn, we heard someone at the door,’ said Rosa Sorak. ‘It was Fadil Fejzić in his black rubber boots. He handed up half a liter of milk. He came the next morning, and the morning after that, and after that. Other families on the street began to insult him. They told him to give his milk to Muslims, to let the Chetnik children die. He never said a word. He refused our money. He came for 442 days, until my daughter-in-law and granddaughter left Gorazde for Serbia.’
The Soraks eventually left and took over a house that once belonged to a Muslim family in the Serbian-held town of Kopaci, two miles to the east. They could no longer communicate with Fejzić.
The couple said they grieved daily for their sons. They missed their home. They said they could never forgive those who took Zoran from them. But they also said that despite their anger and loss, they could not listen to other Serbs talking about Muslims, or even recite their own sufferings, without telling of Fejzić and his cow. Here was the power of love. What this illiterate farmer did would color the life of another human being, who might never meet him, long after he was gone. In his act lay an ocean of hope.
‘It is our duty to always tell this story,’ Drago Sorak said. ‘Salt, in those days, cost $80 a kilo. The milk he had was precious, all the more so because it was hard to keep animals. He gave us 221 liters. And every year at this time, when it is cold and dark, when we close our eyes, we can hear the boom of the heavy guns and the sound of Fadil Fejzić’s footsteps on the stairs.’
Fejzić fell on hard times after the war. I found him selling small piles of worm-eaten apples picked from abandoned orchards outside the shattered remains of an apartment block. His apartment block had been destroyed by artillery shells, leaving him to share the floor of an unheated room with several other men. His great brown-and-white milk cow, the one the Soraks told me about, did not survive the war. It was slaughtered for the meat more than a year before as the Serbian forces tightened the siege. He had only a thin, worn coat to protect him from the winter cold. When we spoke he sat huddled in the corner of a dank, concrete-walled room rubbing his pathetic collection of small apples, many with brown holes in them, against his sleeve.
When I told him I had seen the Soraks, his eyes brightened.
‘And the baby’ he asked. ‘How is she?’ ”
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!! THANK YOU FOR THE YEAR-LONG GIFT OF YOUR PRESENCE AND READERSHIP. AND TO ALL A GOOD MORNING, DAY, AND NIGHT….