Tuesday, 16 February 2010

On Tour with Valida.

We had a wonderful morning with Valida, who runs Halvat with her husband Mumo. She gave us a walking tour and told us hundreds of stories about her lives (and there have been many) in Sarajevo. We looked in the Mosque - with beautiful carpets made by hand, the Cathedral where the Pope delivered a sermon at the end of the siege, the Synagogue, which has been here since the Jews were exiled from Spain in the fifteenth century and the Orthodox church whose icons were protected throughout the war. Finally she took us to her favourite coffee shop in Bascarsija. Mumo was sitting in a corner sipping coffee and reading the newspaper, but he quietly slipped out when Valida began attacking the owner for buying a plasma screen TV.

'What do you want? Lots of gorilla men in here staring at football and not talking?' The owner shrugged, smiled and brought over a small plate of Turkish delight by way of appeasement. Settled and happy Valida began again.

'In the war my brother used to try and catch pigeons in this square - he made a box from discarded cardboard, a stick and some string. He'd put a seed under the propped box, pull the string and trap the pigeon underneath. He was only fifteen - but on a good day he could catch five. I would never eat them because I heard they gave you TB. He set up a business with my cousin who was twelve. They became the pigeon catchers of old town - available for all your dining or party needs. The next day h went back to the square and a man came up to him and shouted at him for taking pigeons - didn't he realise other people needed to eat? My brother offered him a reasonable price and was physically kicked all the way home and warned not to show his face for a week. He was sobbing so much.

It was about this time I met Mumo - he was a soldier but I didn't like him so much. He was so boring - always asking me to dance, always telling me he could steal electricity from the police station so we could watch a movie or something. Eventually I agreed to have a coffee. Four days later he asked me to marry him. I said 'yes' and then hoped we could laugh it off. We saw each other for two months without mentioning it and then he said 'you know we agreed to marry? Well I was serious!' I think I was too proud because I said 'so was I.' So we got married.

My grandmother always told the story of watching my grandfather standing out her window in the old town. Men were not supposed to see women and the window had downwards slats so that she could see him. Sometimes she would put a handkerchief out of the window and he would hold the other end like they were touching. His father was a tailor around the corner from here, she always told me how beautiful he looked and that one day, when he'd given up hope of having her - he'd heard she was marrying somebody else or some story - she saw a single tear trickle onto and down his grey suit. That was when she fell in love. I always said - 'grandma are you sure? Maybe it was raining?'

I'd always dreamed of being some princess for my wedding, but the only thing that was glamorous was my figure. I was 48 kg by this time. We were all so hungry and thin you see. It was the only time I ever saw Mumo's adam's apple, now I can't even see his neck. We managed to get enough food together for ten people - our parents and a couple of friends and stole some electricity from the police station. I used a beautiful dress that my grandmother had somehow managed to protect. Mumo found two litres of whisky - I think he drank it all. Now when we have a row and I threaten to leave he says - 'Fine but also leave the twenty kilogrammes you've added since we were married!' He's been a great friend. I still don't think I married for romantic love, but he's wonderful. I think you should maybe always just start something, not be afraid, love will come later. Now he doesn't say he loves me, but he always puts a blanket over me when I fall asleep. I would never do that for him. I'm such an idiot. You know what? Stone, diamonds, jewellery; there is nothing stronger than the human spirit.'

And with that she went back to work.

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