Story and Photos by Cynthia Lee
Elvis lives in a village located in what's known as the Bihac pocket in northwest Bosnia. There has been a tremendous amount of fighting in the area, much of it near the town of Bihac. It was in Bihac that Pakistani U.N. soldiers were held hostage by the Bosnian Serbs. It is also where "the war within the war" took place two years ago when Fikret Abdic, a wealthy Muslim businessman and the biggest employer of the town, saw an opportunity to carve out his own piece of Bosnia and decided to join forces with the Bosnian Serbs to fight against his own government.
In a war of ethnic cleansing that horrified the outside world, the spectacle of Bosnian Muslims fighting side by side with the war's principal ethnic cleansers only served to destabilize the Sarajevo government and add credence to the hollow argument that all sides were equally guilty. Because of his greed and his grab for power, the damage that Abdic did to the sovereignty of Bosnia is incalculable.
In the midst of all this adult folly stand the children, innocent bystanders and the war's frequent victims of indiscriminate landmines and other anti-personnel weapons. Elvis Muhic is one of thousands of kids who have suffered.
Elvis lives in Skokovi, a tiny village about an hour north of Bihac. Like so much of Bosnia, the terrain is rugged and beautiful. Farms and cornfields are everywhere, but during the height of the war, the silence of the lush countryside was constantly interrupted by the explosions of mortar shells and cluster bombs in the otherwise serene farming community.
On April 25, 1995, Elvis was playing with four other boys in a field near his house. The frontline was just a few miles from his village, but on a beautiful Spring afternoon, Elvis and his friends only wanted to play. His parents agreed, the war was quiet for the moment.
As the boys ran along the hillside above Elvis' house, they darted into a woods where stray cows sometimes roamed until their owners claimed them. Elvis remembers today how sweet the air smelled and how happy he was to be outdoors with friends and his older brother, Edis. The brothers were just a year apart and very close.
One of the boys spotted what looked like a very small rocket laying on the ground. Unaware of the danger, he picked it up and showed it to Elvis and Edis. They knew it was some type of weapon, but had no idea that it could hurt them. The boys figured it was broken and made a very cool toy.
The next day, Elvis, Edis and the other boys met again in the same woods and began to play with their rocket again. A friend had taken it home for the night. Toys were in short supply with supply lines down. One of the boys tossed the weapon to Elvis, as if it were a Frisbee. It fell on the ground between Elvis and his brother. Elvis walked over to pick it up. And then it exploded.
The boys didn't know it, but they had been playing with a rifle grenade, an anti-personnel weapon that is fired from a rifle. Elvis remembers feeling a terrible pain in his left leg. He wanted to cry out, but couldn't get the sound to come out. He saw his brother Edis lying next to him, covered in blood. There was so much blood, Elvis couldn't even see his brother's face. Then, Elvis lost consciousness. All of the boys were badly injured by shrapnel from the grenade. Elvis nearly lost his leg. His brother died a few hours later.
I first met Elvis last December in the children's wing of the Bihac hospital. By that time, he'd already been in the hospital for eight months and was about to be sent home, his leg still in a cast. In January, I went to his village to meet his family.
His father, Ismet, is a carpenter who has worked for a furniture factory in Slovenia for 36 years. He was separated from his family during the war and was trapped in Slovenia when his two sons found the grenade. In his wallet, Ismet carries a photograph of his dead son. When he showed me a picture of Edis, he broke down and cried.
Elvis' mother, Zuhra, works at home raising eight other children. This is close-knit family with strong ties to the land and a tremendous wish for peace. They didn't ask for the war and clearly didn't want any part of it. They objected to their oldest son, 18-year-old Mohammed, joining the Bosnian army. They lead a simple life with no telephone and no electricity.
Elvis' parents, like parents everywhere, want what's best for their children, but they can't give Elvis what he needs most: adequate medical care. His doctor says Elvis needs microsurgery that is not available in Bosnia. Then, he'll need orthopedic care and physical therapy. His leg is ulcerated and there could be severe nerve or bone damage. Elvis' mother can only dream for her son to be flown out to a hospital in Western Europe, or America, where he can receive the treatment he needs.
Zuhra has already lost one son and prays every night that Elvis will be able to one day walk and run again.
As for Elvis, he wants to play soccer. But right now, he's bed-ridden and carried from the bedroom to the bathroom and living room. He rarely goes outside because it makes him sad. His brother's grave and the field were he was killed are only steps from his front door. The memory of that day haunts him in nightmares. "I can't play with the other kids, anyway," Elvis says, "not with my leg like this."
For Elvis to resume his life, he needs sophisticated orthopedic micro-surgery. He needs a hospital and surgeon willing to help. With the right medical care, he can fully recover from his leg wound. Without it, he could lose his leg to the constant infections that prey on the wound. He needs a doctor, medical facility, air transportation and someone to organize the mission to save his leg.
Berserkistan has offered to help, but cannot handle small donations. If, however, you or someone you know wants to make a difference, Email Berserkistan.
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How the World Reached Out to Save Elvis by Cynthia Lee
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Pacific Interactive Media Corp.
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Berserkistan is the world news service of