The Sharpened Quill

Caitlin Kelly

Caitlin Kelly
Location
Tarrytown, NY, USA
Birthday
December 31
Title
non-fiction author/speaker/consultant
Bio
caitlinkelly.com malledthebook.com Author "Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail" (Portfolio, April 2011), deemed "an excellent memoir" by Entertainment Weekly. Out in paperback July 31, 2012. I also edit other writers' work -- everything from thrillers to business books. Email me for hourly rates; references available.

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DECEMBER 19, 2010 9:17AM

Christmas In A War Zone: Cold, Hungry, Frightened

Rate: 9 Flag

As we unpacked our Christmas tree ornaments this week, my sweetie, a former photographer for The New York Times, (now an editor there), pulled out a Ziploc bag and handed me a small reddish brown booklet, the length of my middle finger, crumpled and water-stained.

He found it in a ski chalet in the mountains of Bosnia, in December 1995, that had been turned into a war hospital.

Its black and white photo shows a clean-shaven man wearing a dress shirt, woolen vest and dress jacket. His name, it seems, is Sokolac Mehmedovic, born May 9, 1950. My sweetie found his identity papers, for this is what they were, lying on the floor.

Was the man dead? Fled? In that bleak, freezing, terrifying place and time, one could only guess.

He also brought home a beige piece of paper from IFOR, the UN peacekeeping force of 60,000 sent to Bosnia after the Dayton Accords, negotiated by the late Richard Holbrooke.

The paper, a list of Serbo-Croatian words and phrases, contains normal things like Hello (Zdravo), and Please (Molim).

And:

Cease fire (Prekid Vatre)

Don't shoot (Ne Pucajte)

Mine  (Mine)

Sniper (Snaiper)

Drop Your Weapon (Spustite orujze)

He arrived in Bosnia on December 6, according to one of his battered press passes, the one issued by the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Zagreb. He came with 20 power bars, long underwear and a carabiner, a metal clip typically used by mountain climbers.

It ended up saving his life.

His vehicle, containing a reporter and interpreter, got stuck in deep snow at dusk and two German UNHCR peacekeepers towed them out -- attaching their truck to the car with a cable they looped through the carabiner that my sweetie picked up, as an afterthought, at the checkout counter at Eastern Mountain Sports on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

A little voice had told him: "You're going to need this."

For a month, he was cold, wet, tired, scared. On Christmas Day, he was alone in a hotel in Tuzla.

His New York Times colleagues had packed a pile of trinkets for him, knowing how hard that being far from home in so frightening a place would be. One enclosed two packs of Marlboros with women's stockings and card that explained: "This worked for my father in WWII. Maybe this will work for you."

By 4pm, he hadn't eaten all day. No one else was staying at the hotel and he found the restaurant closed. Begging the manager, he was given a piece of bread and a bowl of hot chicken soup -- broth only.

That was his Christmas meal.

This week - warm, dry, employed, safe from guns and knives and rage and freezing cold -- we celebrate our Christmas.

Grateful.

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Comments

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Thanks for this glimpse into your sweetie's life... and that of war-torn Bosnia.
What a perspective here. There are so many places in the world this Christmas where it's not full of peace, love and "christmas cheer". Lest we should forget. So glad that you two are warm, dry and grateful. Happy Holidays to you both.
Glad you posted this as a reminder to all that we do not have "peace on earth". Let us imagine for the future. Let there be peace on earth. RRRRR
Thanks! When he pulled out the stranger's ID papers we both burst into tears. It is an eerie honor to add them to our tree. We would like to find out if he is still alive.

The first time I took Jose home to meet my family, and urged him to talk about that Xmas, I realized he could not. It was too traumatic. I am amazed he survived it and know it has deepened his compassion and wisdom, whose benefits I reap today.
Your mention of Richard Holbrooke reminds me that we've lost a very unique and skilled diplomat. I had the pleasure of meeting him during the Democratic convention. How many of our public servants give up the Christmases you describe. Merry Christmas to you both
rated
I think this story speaks volumes about the world we live in.