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A lot of people wonder what an ‘ordinary day’ was like during the SHTF. I was thinking on this and remembered this day. I think it is a good illustration and answers this question… It’s odd to say but we were often glad of ‘ordinary days’ when not to bad things happened…
Rain was falling down for days, and we all felt wet and soaked with it.
Moisture was in our pores, our clothes, and kinda in our heads too.
It was kind of weather that pushes down and back the smoke from your stove, back to your room instead of through the chimney.
Holes in our roof were plugged, more or less, in the way that we managed to “channel” leaks into numerous pots and canisters, in order to keep ourselves dry and also to collect water.
Being dirty is bad, but being dirty and smelly during several days of rainy weather is simply awful.
We dried our clothes above the stove, evaporation of dirty clothes together with smell of dirty bodies, bad “tobacco” (we “discover” some new tree leaves which we used as a substitute for tobacco), handmade oil lamps and tea boiling on stove (we called it sometimes ‘soup’, other times ‘tea’) made a mixture of smells which simply added to the depression of the whole situation.
In days like that alcohol intake would go up high.
When weather was fine I liked to go on second floor, remove tarp and plywood “setup” from roof hole that was made with mortar shell few months before, sit under it, watch the blue sky and drink.
Other folks would say “he is up there again waiting for mortar shell to land on his head” but it was nice and peaceful to do it, and sometimes I just did not care.
Even that weird relaxation was out of the option because of the endless rain.
In days like that we were closest to animals as we could be.
We ate potatoes for days, we managed to get it through one UN convoy that somehow entered city month ago, and it was mess to get those bags of potatoes because while UN forces tried to organized some kind of delivery system- like small bag of potatoes to each family that show up-folks simply overrun them and started to fight each other over it.
Several people get killed then, but we managed to bring home quite a stash of it.
We were happy because of the potatoes, but few days later rumors exploded that potatoes that we get were poisoned, actually it was not for human use, it was meant for seed only, or something like that and apparently they were treated with very hard chemicals.
We continued to eat it, only difference was that we were not so happy anymore about it…
And then a trade chance came to us.
It was my turn to go to visit the guy who “had some stuff for sell-trade” or at least it was information that we get it.
Good thing about this guy was the fact that I knew him little bit prior SHTF, when SHTF he had strong connections and simply had interesting stuff from time to time. He was something like “trustful” trader, he kept his stuff in his house and did trades there, which usually meant either he is stupid or very protected, and he was not stupid.
“Gogo” was his nickname, and we felt good because we are going to trade with him, because his reputation was pretty big and he (we thought) could not afford too many bad stories about trading with him.
It was as safe a trade as it could be in those days.
My relative show me our possession for trade while we were preparing for trip-it was 10 packs of Kent cigarettes, and when I saw that, it was like I saw UFO landing in backyard, with aliens bringing to us food, water, candies, and safety, and flying me then to a rock concert.
In that period cigarettes were rare, sometimes impossible to find and we were even lucky to have tobacco-which was not actually tobacco but grinded “tree” of tobacco plant, or simply all kind of tree leafs that we experimented with.
White filters Kent cigarettes in that moment were something like wet dream of every smoker.
It was pleasure to even see them, to smoke them meant pure happiness.
On my question where he get it? He answered “from some mercenaries”, and I did not want to ask more, I did not care.
We started our way to Gogo’s house around midnight, because plan was to be at the most dangerous place around 0100hrs.
On our way back we would choose a different way.
That dangerous place was big opening between houses, some 100-150 meters of space where we are completely open to the near hill where Anti Aircraft gun and few m84 machine guns were located.
Those machine gun was nicknamed “sijac smrti” which translates from my language to English as a “death seeder” or “death bringer” or similar, and when I first time heard that nickname my thoughts were:”oh c’mon-somebody is watching too many movies, it is bombastic nickname for ordinary weapon”
Later when I was targeted first time from that weapon, when they shoot at me, I correct myself and I thought something like” death seeder? It is more, much more, it is Satan, it is hell, it is pure horror…”
And much later I also realized it is more or less common nickname for some other similar weapons.
So I built pretty fast my respect for “sijac smrti”, that shit was way too fast and deadly. It sounded like whole bunch of small deaths flying directly to you while they screaming.
(years later, after my SHTF ended and all things go back to some kind of let s say normal, I was watching member of Serbian elite parachute unit, while he was trying to explain his battle experience to another guy.
He and his small unit were holding position in dense woods on some hill during NATO bombing of Serbia, it was on Kosovo, and they were attacked by Albanians, Albanians were much stronger by numbers, but poorly trained, as he said, and he and his comrades did pretty well, morale was high, they were tough guys.
And then he said airplanes came. He said planes were firing from cannons destroying the hundreds years old trees like simple matches and obliterating his unit.
But he said that was not scariest thing-pure horror was sounds of that planes and cannons while they firing down on them, while he was trying to explain that he opened his eyes wide and said” it was sound like there are 10 big cows is in the air flying to you and they are screaming because they are being slaughtered”
Other guy was watching him probably not understanding what is so scary about that sound to terrified big strong elite dude.
And I said to myself “Oh man, I know that horror”)
Anyway we came to that open space without too much problems.
Nobody know what kind of view they had there on the hill, but during the night they fired often, without real cause, on that opening, so it was matter of luck sometimes are you going to be shot.
And somehow it was a myth that it is safest to cross it around 0100hrs.
In that time it was many openings like that in the city with different weapon and different tactics for crossing it and different myths about it how to cross it safely.
Lot of folks find God and faith on openings like that while they run or crawl over it.
Of course lot of folks end up dead there too.
I have seen guys being shot dead there while they run as fast as they could, I saw some crazy dudes walking slowly there and nothing happened, some guys were wounded and screamed there for hours with their guts hanging out until they died…
We sat down behind the wall next to the opening and I told my relative “ok give me the cigarettes”
He said “it is not smart, it is for trade”
I did not care, so he gave me one pack, I opened it and smoked a cigarette.
It was cool to smoke it, white paper cigarette with white filter, after long time of smoking trash tobacco in any kind of paper that we could get.
It smelled like perfume to me in that moment.
I finished it and told to him “ok I can die now if I need”
He answered to me “fuck you man”
We run across that space while rain was pouring down, nothing happens, not a single shot on us.
Gogo’s house was close by after that, and nothing dangerous happened until we came to his home.
After some guy show up to us at the yard, we were allowed to enter the house with weapon, which was good feeling but not necessary good sign, but when we saw Gogo he recognizes us, and after some casual conversation which includes people that we together know we started to feel better.
We entered small room, two of us and two of them, sat down and had a drink.
Rakija (A strong, locally brewed spirit) was available then, so it was not a surprise when he gave us two glasses with that drink.
Numerous different kinds of that drink were circulating around, most often it was pure poison, simple not finished product from destroyed distillery diluted with water, but his was soft and nice.
Room where we sat was something like weird version of display room for customers, so we could see all kind of different stuff around in bags or open cabinets.
I saw pack of beer, even couple bottles of coke, and room strangely smelled of coffee which was high luxury in that time, everything there was set up for turning your senses “to want stuff”.
Bags full of something were lying everywhere and steel cabinet from army barracks was locked in one corner.
After some chatting he put down his hand under the table and put “Zolja” (“wasp”) single use RPG on table and said to us “this is good stuff for you folks, and it is cheap”.
I take it and said to him” it is empty man, fired, useless”
He open his mouth laugh with joy and said” ok man ok, you know that and I know that, but how many idiots outside know that? You could paint water pipe in green and state it is RPG and 90 percent of folks would trust you in dark, this looks real man. Just fill it with something, point that thing on someone and ask right question”
“Yea, and then I can be killed from the guy who know that weapon is fired long time ago, he could choke me slowly with his bare hands, no thanks”
He said “ok ok, I agree, but here is right one” and then he pull out brand new one, same type, not used.
We said no man, we do not need weapons right now.
He said “ok ok, I have this too, I sell a lot of these and everyone is satisfied man”
Than his buddy opened wood cabinet behind his head and gave him wooden box, size of shoes box, bit smaller.
I look at my relative and look back at me with short surprised expressions.
It was wooden engraved box, pretty common in households in this region prior the war, something that you would put as a display in your living room, and when you opened it there was small wooden bird with mechanism inside, mechanism was activated by opening box, and melody would start, like birds singing…
Is he trying to sell us wooden singing bird in middle of the civil war?
Then he opened the box and push it to me.
Wooden bird was not inside, box was full-maybe some 25 bottles-vials of Penicillin. It was pretty expensive stuff.
I took one bottle and check it, expiration dates were good, Serbian manufacturer, labels looked originally “glued” on bottles.
But on the top of the bottles some of those were missing small thin metal “cap” that is covering rubber sealed “plug”(trough that rubber Penicillin powder is being diluted and aspirated into syringe)
First thought was that some those of the bottles could be used and then filled with flour.
He noticed what I am checking and said “ yeah, some of the caps are missing man, it is being transported through some rough situations before they came to me, but they are good”
I said” cool stuff man, but we do not need it” It was bit suspicious stuff and way to expensive for us at that moment.
He asked finally what we want.
And I said” Meat man!”
He leave the room and get back with one can, and I know he finally meant business because he brought only one can, without showing how much he actually has of it.
He put it on table and said” I have it, it is “Konj“(horse).
In that time different kind of canned food was circulating around, lot of expired stuff, broken, spoiled…
But popular was “horse”.
Horse had good and bad sides, but more good then bad sides.
It was canned meat, stamped label on tin was saying only something like “help from EU” or “help from UNHCR” I do not remember exactly.
Funny thing was that under the marking “type of meat” was written “meat”. Just that: “meat”.
It was kind of partially cooked meat with huge amount of grease inside that looked like snow.
If we ate grease alone it induced bad cases of diarrhea, but you could use it for cooking, melt it and use like oil for lamp, or simply folks stated that it is good to put it in places where you have pain, like an ointment (“bad knees pain – horse grease, rifle butt to the head-horse grease… )
Meat alone did not had any particular taste, it was unrecognizable, and people simply after some time said it is horse meat because nobody had clue what exactly it is.
So that can was nicknamed “horse”.
There were attempts to call it “kangaroo” but “horse” just stuck to it.
Simply it was usable.
He asked what we have, and I take out one pack of “Kent” he said “nice” without too much enthusiasm but his buddy stand up and said “where you get these man? Cool”
And that moment I knew we gonna get good deal because they are interested, they just kinda “blinked”.
He said to his buddy ”sit down man and shut up, you smoked too much pot” (Use of cannabis was rampant during the war)
And he asked how much of these we have, I answered it depends how much horse he have and bargain started.
At the end, we agree that we gonna gave him 9 packs for 15 cans.
It was great deal for us, and probably cool deal for him, because he knew folks who will appreciate those cigarettes a lot I guess.
After setting up a deal, and after we exchanged stuff we chatted for a bit and he offered me a hand made cigarette.
He gave me a small tin box with hand rolled cigarettes.
And I looked into the box, it used to be small box for cigarillos I think and I looked at the box, I liked it very much.
We carried our tobacco in all kinds of different bags, boxes, foils or whatever, but that tin box simply was “laying” down in my hand so cool. It was foreign stuff clearly.
It somehow “clicked” and perfectly lay down in my hand when I took it.
I gave it back to him asked where he got that, and he clearly saw that I “blinked” this time.
He said ”offer something, it is nice box man”
I only had that one more pack of Kent, with missing cigarette inside (which I wanted originally to keep for myself)
I pull it out from my pocket, gave it to him, he said” ok, I’ll give the cigarette box for this pack”
It was outrageous price, and I could almost feel my relative sending thoughts to me like “you fucking idiot, pack of cigarettes for tin box? We could get more meat for that…”
But I liked the box.
Then Gogo said” wait the second, cigarettes are missing from the pack, it is opened”
I said” yes, but still man, only one is missing and this is Kent real cigarettes”
Then he open drawer from the desk and pull hammer from it, we almost jumped ready for fight, but he took hammer and hit the tin box.
Then he said “ ok, one cigarette is missing in your pack, box is little bit damaged on one end now, but still working, now it is fair deal, we need to keep our business in some rules, it is reputation man!”
I was looking at him, realizing that he kinda lost it, just like most of us did in that time.
But we make the deal done, and all went good.
We get home in one piece, we ate those cans mixed with herbs and potatoes. Older member of family was happy with grease on his knees for some time…
I had a lot of bitching because of that tin box trade, but I survived.
War ended and years go by, I lost tin cigarette box, Gogo moved to Canada, and I heard he is doing apartment decorating business, and sometimes play guitar in some clubs, and have drugs issues…
Then one year, me and my wife were doing big renovation in my old house, and in some box with all kind of mess she pull out that tin box and said to me” oh it is some box for cigarettes, we gonna throw it away or you need it?”
Then she opened it, and inside she read small words that I wrote long time ago “GOGO” and date of trade.
She asked me “what is it, who is Gogo? Is it man or woman”?
From all of the explanation that I could gave her somehow words that came from my mouth were “ Yep, I could have got maybe two horses instead of that box during the war if I were smart”
“you had horses during the war? You rode it? I thought this was city siege! Where in the world you got horses?” she said looking suspiciously at me. (she spent war years in Germany without too much clue how was it here in reality)
I said smartly” no no,I didn’t ride horses, we ate it, it was good stuff”
Then she look at me with horror stating “you killed and ate horses, how could you, they are beautiful animals”
And then finally I said” you know what, forget it, it is long story, just throw away that box, it is useless”
Still, for a week or so she had suspicious looks at me from time to time.