Siege mentality
March 3, 2011 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Sarajevo Survival Tools is a virtual exhibition of the objects created and used by the citizens of Sarajevo during the three and half years the city was under siege. Highlights include a home-made gun, watering can and water cart. Intro in the Guardian - Welcome to Sarajevo's designs for survival
posted by fearfulsymmetry (17 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
paging Dee Xtrovert
posted by LMGM at 8:32 AM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

I read a long-form article in some magazine in the early 90s about two guys' tricks for making due during the Balkan wars and it was absolutely fascinating. It was useful, too. Like the "Survival" section of Steal This Book but practical.

One tip that I learned-- you can recharge non-alkaline batteries by boiling them in salt water. I used to do it in college, and it works decently the first few times.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:39 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

paging Dee Xtrovert

I was about to say the same thing. Dee's a treasure trove of insight on the matter.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:47 AM on March 3, 2011

I frequently still think about Dee's comment on survival in Sarajevo when resisting my embarrassing hoarding impulses. It was a wonderful insight.
posted by theredpen at 8:57 AM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Dee's a treasure trove of insight on the matter.

The experiences she has described are important, and even valuable, but something tells me that they might not be treasured.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:23 AM on March 3, 2011

I wish the podcast would interview Dee.
posted by Rumple at 9:24 AM on March 3, 2011 [8 favorites]

You can also view the objects in the virtual museum. At least one of the links in the object list goes to the wrong place ("improvised martial stove" links to the watering can, when it should link here.)
posted by zamboni at 9:52 AM on March 3, 2011

Great post.
posted by brundlefly at 10:29 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

And there were geeks...
posted by Devonian at 3:32 PM on March 3, 2011

There's an element of humor in some of those links, in that a lot of these objects are pretty impractical even in circumstances of war, and a lot of them were simply the results of lots of free time screwing around for lack of anything better to do. Wartime is often really boring time.

Anyway, I doubt a lot of the humor here would be apparent to those who didn't experience war. The watering can, for instance. You've got little but time, so the efficiency 'earned' by making a watering can is a detriment in the sense that it just means you end up with a lot more time in which there is nothing to do. I watered my little garden about a teacup at a time. It took forever, but it ate away a lot of the dreary day. The water cart was interesting - my parents were killed (and I was put in a long coma) by a shell that hit where we were collecting water. To get water, we had to build a water cart, find as many things as we could to hold water, hold it back when we walked down the very steep hill from our house, dash across the river with it, and then pull it up the hill on the other side. The situation was much worse on the way back, because there was so much water added to the weight. The cart they show would have been pretty useless. I remember ours being as big as a Volkswagen, although that memory is probably a little exaggerated. The point was to big as gigantic cart as one could, to carry as much water as one could, because the trip to get water was very dangerous, and the more you could carry meant the fewer number of times you had to make the trip - limited only by the fact that it had to be small enough still to move it. That's why my parents died and I was injured at the same time - we needed everyone to move the cart, it couldn't be done alone.

There's another joke there, in that it's built from an old case of Cockta, which was the Communist Yugoslav attempt to create a local version of Coca-Cola, which failed miserably, in terms of flavor. But Yugoslavs drank Cockta like water, and the idea that there would be whole Cockta cases "hanging around" people's houses is poking a little fun at this, I think - a pointed physical remnant of our earlier, illustrious prosperity. (Cockta disappeared during the war, of course, but around the time I went back to Sarajevo many years later, it had reappeared as a sort of nostalgic item - more expensive and worse than Coca-Cola, but recalling better, pre-war times.)

A lot of the objects are surprising even to me; I didn't see much of the more technical stuff. Everyone had their own tricks and inventions. I used to crawl up on roofs even in storms to splice into the electric cable which carried power from a series of generators somewhere to police station a few blocks from my house. I know almost nothing about electricity (still) and can't remember where I would have been told how to do this. I did it on a dare, and at that point I was so fatalistic about things, that risk seemed irrelevant - you could be killed sitting in your front room as easily as anything. I don't think about it much, but despite having mentioned being shelled and being hit by snipers' bullets, the thing that calls up the most "retrospective" fear is that of being electrocuted, which is embarrassing, as that risk was taken by choice solely so my friends and I could dance to the radio!

I spent a lot of time with my cousins working out ways to create make-up from all sorts of objects - grease, bricks, charcoal, "juice" from weeds, gelatin from relief packages. I still remember a lot of these "recipes" and they will be a part of the book I am finally writing.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:35 PM on March 3, 2011 [25 favorites]

Dee? May I subscribe to your book?
posted by SPrintF at 5:14 PM on March 3, 2011

Dee, please let us know about this book!
posted by msali at 9:34 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dee? May I subscribe to your book?

Maybe, but I don't really know what that means!

Dee, please let us know about this book!

I will when it's ready, but that may be a little while.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:02 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I visited that museum and found it fascinating. I have been dirt poor for a lot of my adult life, so making do is nothing new. I was impressed and moved.
The ingenuity of the people who made these things impressed me.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:03 AM on March 4, 2011

The ingenuity of the people who made these things impressed me.

The sad thing is, that the minute the war was over and basic utilities and goods returned with some certainty, I bet a lot of the looniest and most ingenious stuff got thrown out. The war wasn't even twenty years ago, but even to me, many of those things already look like relics from WWII. Ingenuity comes easily when you and everyone around you have endless amounts of free time. Sometimes, I'd ask someone presumed to be knowledgeable about how to do some thing or another and you could almost never get them to stop talking about it, coming over to help you with the project you were working on, spending weeks scrounging up materials for you for this or that. We all did it, there was little else to do. When someone found a clever way to heat water or "fill in" a window which had been shattered, it seemed like the whole mahala would gather around for its debut. I'm probably making this sound more fun than it actually was.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:38 AM on March 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I know damn well it was NOT fun! I am proud of some of the stuff I kludged along the way, but I have to say that it would have been nice to be able to get things new when I wanted or needed them.
I made it a point of honor that whatever I kludged had to also be
beautiful. Now things are not quite so difficult in my life. I don't need to do so much of that. But by God I know how! :)
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:01 PM on March 4, 2011

I saw this exhibit in September 2010.

There was a display of the 'uniforms' Sarajevans had cobbled together. They looked sort of okay until I looked down and saw tattered running shoes — not even boots! It made my heart sink.
posted by heatherann at 11:25 AM on March 6, 2011

« Older Lack a soul? There's still a team for you!   |   Things were wonderful once Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments