Thursday, Sept. 19, 1996
There are lots of press conferences here these days, most of them held to announce the results of the elections. Journalists leap to their laptops and draw their conclusions, but by the time they’ve decided what the latest trend means, there’s an update requiring new stories and new conclusions. I’m editing the International Crisis Group’s final report, which means that for now, I’m concentrating more on the process of the elections than on the results. I’ve decided to wait for the final figures, so am quite uninformed these days; I would rather avoid the press conferences than reveal how out of the loop I am. In any case, I’m very busy doing corrections and checking sources.
Since I’ve begun spending late nights in the office working on the reports, I’ve become more gregarious. Last night, when the water came on, Aida showed up too. She’s the lady who fills our plastic bottles with water and cleans the office (we are not pigs, but we have a lot of visitors, and some of the journalists enter in boots muddy from their trips to the field).
I had a great time with Aida once, when the head of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Mort Abramowitz, visited Sarajevo. It was in the evening. Samantha and I were in the office waiting for Mort to arrive and, at the same time, trying to avoid meeting some journalists who were also planning to show up. We told Aida to pretend that we were not in if the reporters showed up, but to let Mort in. What happened was that Mort met the journalists outside and invited them in, and our plot fell through–but the common plotting brought us closer to Aida.
Last night I chatted with her, and the whole night afterward felt quite sad. I told her that I had found a flat and that we’ll be paying 1100 Deutsche marks. Aida said dreamily that she wished that she had a roof and could rent out part of her flat. Then she explained that half of her roof was gone. Aida lives in the same building that ICG occupies; it was extremely vulnerable because it faces the river bank–the facade was frequently targeted by Serbian mortars. (She lives on the top floor; our office is on the ground floor, in the former headquarters of the Partizan soccer club, and I admit, to my shame, that I never gave a thought to the roof of our building.) She doesn’t have a single pane of glass in her windows, just the plastic provided by the United Nations, and does not know how to get the humanitarian-aid program to help her remedy the situation. Paying for glass is out of the question.
We started talking salaries, and that was when it became really painful to listen to her. For the almost four years of war, Aida, an economist who specializes in marketing, earned 3 to 5 DM a month (yes! a month!) in the state publishing company Svjetlost. After the war, she got a raise to 80 DM a month (the Oslobodjenje newspaper costs half a DM, a liter of milk 1.5 DM, a coffee 2 DM–Sarajevo is not that cheap a place). When we put an announcement on the door saying that we were looking for someone to clean the place, Aida, whose husband, an architect, makes 180 DM a month, jumped at the chance. She comes in three evenings a week when the water comes on, and gets 200 DM to complement her salary. Recently Aida changed jobs, and now she gets 250 DM–instead of 80 DM–at her new place, a news-wire agency. She has two sons, aged 17 and 20, and says that it costs a lot to send the younger one to university: Registration is 30 DM, student IDs are 20 DM (including photos), and a medical checkup is 30 DM. But still, she repeated, she was very lucky, because everyone in her family survived. I’ve decided to get the glass panes for her windows. I think I know whom to appeal to.