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Bosnian Refugee Women Weave, Grieve Together

December 7, 1995

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Every day Sefika Latic sits before a simple wooden loom, weaving a bright red, blue, green and yellow Bosnian rug. Against the bright colors, her face is gray with grief over her slain brother and her husband’s loss of a leg.

Day after day she cries and repeats her mournful tale to Nevza Hodzic, another refugee from eastern Bosnia who lost her only son last July when Serb fighters overran their town, Srebrenica, 42 miles east of Tuzla.

``Talking about this, we make each other cry. Then we are quiet. We just continue weaving for hours,″ Latic said as the two sat side by side at the Bosnian family cooperative, Bosfam.

Some 60 women gather daily in the glass-faced former furniture store to weave rugs in traditional geometric patterns. They also make sweaters, socks, hats, quilts and other handicrafts that are sold mostly to foreigners. Oxfam, a British charity, donates the wool.

Working together, Latic and Hodzic need 20 nine-hour days to finish one small rug, each earning about $43, to supplement the 18 pounds of flour they receive each month in humanitarian aid. It’s the only income their families receive.

Within 12 miles of this industrial city, there are there are eight such centers, occupying 4,000 widows and refugees from Serb-occupied Bosnia.

The workshops are less important for their economic impact than for the emotional outlet they provide, said Maria Nowak, a World Bank analyst helping plan a $4 billion-$5 billion aid program for Bosnia.

``It’s a way for the women to support each other, and to work with other people,″ said Nowak.

The Bosnian refugees ``can’t yet think what they will do later,″ said Nowak. ``They first have to cope with the tragedy.″

Amira Arapcic, a former Tuzla teacher who helps at the center, makes sure that ``one of the coordinators is always present in the room to talk to them when they feel the need.″

The weaving enables Hodzic to keep herself and her daughter clothed and fed and Latic to support her three young daughters and her husband, who lost his left leg defending Srebrenica.

The family of five now lives in one room in a Tuzla suburb.

Every day, Latic rises before dawn to do housework and cook for the day, then goes to Bosfam to weave and grieve with the other women.

``Using my first salary, I bought firewood just as winter was approaching. It saved the whole family from the coldness,″ Latic said.

Latic’s brother perished in Srebrenica. But the vision she cannot banish is that of Serbs wielding knives before her eyes to butcher a 9-year-old girl who had sought shelter in the U.N. base in Potocari, near Srebrenica.

Every day, she recounts the scene to Hodzic. Every day she weeps.

Their weaving may help them grieve, and support their families for the time being, but it likely will never buy Hodzic and Latic even small luxuries.

``By the time I make money enough to provide a decent home for my family, I will be old and my lipstick time will be over,″ Latic said.

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