With my short story ‘Majka and Sina’ being published earlier this week, I’m reminded of this story’s long journey. In 1993 I found myself living in Washington DC, working as a freelance writer and using my flexible hours to volunteer for good causes. One of those causes was an organisation called Women for Women in Bosnia, which I helped to co-found. We raised money for Bosnian women, many of whom had been raped and made refugees by the Balkans War.
For this I went on a fact-finding mission to Zagreb, Croatia to visit a refugee camp, a hospital and a few of the NGOs based there. The refugee camp was on the outskirts of Zagreb, a row of metal-roofed barracks, originally intended for railway and construction workers. As the war was still going on, young and middle-aged men were fighting and the refugees were overwhelmingly women and children. The living conditions were very basic, with six toilets and wash areas being shared by some 120 people. Like Emina in the story, these women did their best to keep everything clean. It was almost an obsession – as was the need to keep busy by making things out of unused and broken items – my favourite of those were crochet needles made from the spokes of a broken umbrella. One woman that I interviewed was crocheting with one of these needles while I talked with her – she just couldn’t stop. A psychologist working for an NGO there explained to me that obsessive behaviours were common with people who had been traumatised by wars.
When I returned to the US, I wrote about the refugee camp for World Magazine. Some ten years later, I was still haunted by those images and from them created the characters Emina and Gojko for my stage play Peter’s Asylum (shortlisted for the Brighton Play Readers Society Award). The play was later rewritten as Majka and Sina, taking on board refugees living in Britain (this had a rehearsed reading at the John Clare Theatre, Peterborough). Stage plays, unless they’re on Broadway or London’s West End, rarely get published. So, a decade later, wars are still creating refugees – I felt the story still needed to be told and retold. I rewrote the first scene of the play as a short story, now available to read at Creative Process.