Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Boy Braves Serb Shelling to Cut Wood for Besieged Sarajevans

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Boy Braves Serb Shelling to Cut Wood for Besieged Sarajevans

Article excerpt

AFTER seven months of venturing across front lines to gather his treasure, Fahro looks like a boy - but sits, talks, and rationalizes like a middle-aged man.

Dressed in a Levi denim jacket too wide for his narrow shoulders, the teenager explains with blank brown eyes what he does for a living.

"I go to the no man's land across the front line and collect wood," he says quietly. "The {Serbs} are on the cliffs, and we are below."

Fahro is one of a handful of Sarajevans who risk their lives daily to collect the precious commodity this newspaper is made of - wood.

After three long years of a Serb siege of this Bosnian capital, most trees have been cut down and burned as cooking or heating fuel.

In a place where a wage of $30 a month is extraordinary, a supply of wood that will last most families for three weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter costs $10.

After a brief stint of selling cigarettes on the street, Fahro switched to collecting wood last December as a more viable way to support himself and his grandmother.

"I buy flour and cooking oil with the money and give it to her," he says. "She has no pension."

He talks about his work nonchalantly, but sits stiffly with one hand on the table and one hand on his leg.

His parents are divorced. He's lost contact with them, and his older brother is in the Bosnian Army. "We have to do something," he says. "There's no other way to survive."

The Serbs have taunted Fahro, who asked that his last name not be used, but have never shot at him while working. Both an elderly man and middle-aged man Fahro occasionally works with have been shot at.

"The Serbs shoot at us when they can see us," Fahro explains as he eagerly sips a Coke. "But we go around 4 p.m., and it's a good time because they are digesting their lunch."

Most Sarajevans are experts by now on which kinds of clothes and household items burn well. Rubber shoes burn for a long time, but smell horrible. Whole wardrobes and book collections have been sacrificed in the name of briefly heating a room or cooking dinner. …

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