Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Paranoid Signs

So I was very sweetly sent the book “NOT MY TIME TO DIE”, about Savo Heleta and his life during the Bosnian war.

The clever guy, or his American mate, knew it would hit just the right spot with me. I think I am 3 chapters in, and I am fascinated. It actually is the only decent way for me to retain history… by reading a good book about a situation.

I have read textbook after textbook about Somalia or Sierra Leone or Indian Colonialism during a three year degree. But one month with a true tale set within that context, and finally… I get it.

And this Bosnian war & Balkan insanity has never ever glimmered an ounce of clarity for me till now. Muslims, Croats, Serbs, Bosnians…no wait… were the Croats here… Yugoslavia… but then religion… where was the nationality…hey???

The first part of this book already has me back to pondering a typical question… About when does one know it is time to leave. Your home. Your country. The situation. When is it paranoia & when is it a first sign of the severe trouble to come?

I remember when I was somewhere around 10 or 13, around “transition time” of South Africa, other kids would tell me about the horror possibilities….All the black people are going to kill us once they take over…. They’re going to come take your parents’ home and cars and you are going to have to go and live in the townships… We all have to leave South Africa otherwise we’re gonna die or be beaten up…etc etc….

And so I would ask my folks, when are we leaving South Africa?? Surely they can’t make us stick around to die. My folks loved me and I knew they would do almost anything to prevent even a scraped knee.

My folks told me that we weren’t. They waved off these prophecies as rubbish and nothing like that was going to happen. Just chill. And so we didn’t leave. And not much in our daily lives has changed to make us suffer.

It was paranoia then. But then you look at other stories…

As the Bosnian war got going, Savo tells how his parents held onto the belief that rationality would eventually kick in to the country. The politicians would resolve the crisis. That Bosnia’s citizens very soon would remember that for decades they had not hated their neighbour’s differences, especially not to an extent to bomb and sniper out the ex-neighbour, and they would stop killing & fighting. This would be as bad as it gets and eventually the violent tide would draw back and normal life would find its way back in.

I am only at the start of the book, but knowing from history and news stories, they got it wrong this time.

I have watched Zim for 8 years now. When it was bad in 2000 as war veterans took over the white farms. Then there were forced removals of shanty towns near Harare. Then MDC leaders were beaten. Election after election was held, and we weren’t really surprised Mugabe did not just hand over power a few months back.

Why did white farmers not leave at the first signs? Why did whites not leave at the first signs? Why did MDC supporters not leave at the first signs? Life there has already looked pretty insufferable for a few years now, and yet, the family of friends and colleagues continue to plod through their daily lives. “You still have family there? Really? But it’s not like your family doesn’t have the resources to get themselves out?” Some Zimbos are border-hoping. Some are “waiting it out”.

But what are they waiting for? Rationality to finally kick in? Global politics to give enough of a fuck to save their individual lives and homes? Have they lost hope and survival? Are they just fkcing stubborn?

I watch as people in SA have found their breaking points & emigrate the hellouttahere…. From Apartheid times, to that transition period where some whiteys freaked their kids out with tales of what was to come under black, to crime levels rising, and Eskom failing us.

When is it paranoia and when is it a first sign?


Anonymous said...

I bought my husband "World at War" and he is busy reading about when did people know it was time to leave Germany, how many left, how many stayed and why did they stay.

It is quite facinating and a pertinent question. How do you know it is time?

Anonymous said...

That, my dear friend, is a bloody good question.

Champagne Heathen said...

Ordinary Life... that sounds brilliant! And we keep trying to figure out the science and/or psychology behind it. But there is no science or psychology that will be able to signal to us in future events. Which is the most hopeless realisation of it all!

Dolce - you must read this book! It gets more and more hectic!

Savo Heleta said...


I’m really glad you like my book so far!

You are raising a very important question – “When does one know it is time to leave. Your home. Your country. The situation. When is it paranoia & when is it a first sign of the severe trouble to come?”

This is a hard one. We are talking here about leaving all you have, your home, often family, friends, all you know. There is always that hope that the bad things will not struck you. Thinking that we are better that that, that we won’t destroy everything just because the politicians want us to do so.

My parents thought the people in Bosnia would never go so far to start brutally killing and terrorizing each other. That’s why they decided to stay in our city and our home with my sister and me. It turned out to be a bad choice, but ultimately not as bad as some people had it. At least we all survived.

I live in South Africa now and talk to many people who are considering leaving the country. Not sure what to tell them.

Thanks a lot for kind words about my book. Looking forward to reading more on your blog after you finish reading the book.

Author of "Not My Turn to Die:
Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia"