Friday, April 17, 2009

Lack of food

After water, the second hardest aspect of living in the war was the lack of food.

Since there were no grocery stores, and people didn't work to earn any money, the few farmers markets that existed operated mostly on a trading system. The value of local currency deteriorated very quickly, so some companies paid some sort of a social aid (there were no real salaries) to their employees in cigarettes, which were very valuable in trading since we have had a large population of smokers. People were trading cigarettes and bags of flour for meat, vegetables, eggs, or cooking oil. People were also trading their clothing, books, or jewelry on the markets for food.

The monetary unit was Deutsche Mark (DM), a money used in Germany before the euro, because it was a stable currency. The prices for items on the markets were in DM, but since very few people actually had this money, the trading was done with other merchandise based on their estimated value in DM. For example, 1 pack of cigarettes or 1 kilo (2 pounds) of flour had a value of 1 DM for trading purposes. So, to purchase a can of pate, which was 25 DM, one would need to bring 25 packs of cigarettes or 25 kilos of flour to the market. During the worst times 2 eggs were 30 DM, 3 onions were 50 DM, and 1 liter of cooking oil was 70 DM. As the war progressed, and there was less food and resources available, the prices started to rise. The flour prices went down because people accumulated it through humanitarian aid. During the first two years of war, people lived mostly on bread. For comparisons, average European annually consumes 55 kilos of bread; people in Sarajevo were eating 180 kilos of bread a year.

Some prices I pulled out from other sources:
January 1993: meat 1 kilo - 50 DM, government monthly salary - 20 DM, 1 monthly pension - 2 eggs
July 1993: Oil 1 liter - 30 DM, flour 1 kilo - 10 DM or two packs of cigarettes
March 7th 1994: coffee 1 kilo - 120 DM
March 21st 1994 ("blue roads" opened): coffee 1 kilo - 40 DM
May 1994: 1 encyclopedia is worth 5 eggs (used to be 1 egg)
September 1994 ("blue roads" closed): all prices went up 100%, bananas 1 kilo - 6 DM
November 1994: average salary - 2 DM, cost of living 350 DM.

While I was in Belgrade, I had been sending the packages to my family that had both items to keep and to trade, such as canned goods or 'delicatessen" items, or flour for trading. But, by the time I returned, flour was no longer trading, and there were no more packages coming in to exchange them for nutritious food.

The worst, however, (which I avoided), was the first year of war, until the first humanitarian aid convoys made it into the city. It was particularly hard on my family because they were refugees in a different part of town than where we lived before and were no longer in our home where my mom has somewhat gathered non perishable groceries that could have lasted them through. Also, the apartments they were assigned to stay in after the exile was already emptied of all and any food, so they didn't even have a grain of salt to start with. Plus, it was a new neighbourhood, where they didn't know anyone, and unfamiliar people in bad situation themselves were reluctant to offer any help.

By the time they arrived there, all the green areas between the buildings had already been claimed by residents as their mini vegetable garden areas. All the trees in the parks have been cut down for fuel, and all the lawns converted in 10x10 gardens. Our family didn't have one, so we lived off of measly humanitarian aid or we had to find other ways of obtaining food. The humanitarian aid was neither regular, sufficient, nor nutritious enough to survive solely on it.

Two and a half years into the war, the aid was arriving into the city by NATO planes, but the air traffic had to be halted whenever there was an elevated level of danger, which in the war happens often. During the times where the aid was considered "regular", each household would have received it every 10 days or so. Since it was too dangerous for people to leave their homes, the aid was distributed at the entrances of every building.

The town's main bakery, which used to supply almost 100% of all the grocery stores with bread before, never stopped operating throughout the war. However, since it was located on the opposite side of town, it was too dangerous for regular bread delivery into our subdivision until the second part of the war. Once we started receiving bread as part of the distributed aid, it happened once a week and each person would get about half a loaf, per week.
December 1994: 1 kilo of rice, 200 grams of beans, 0.15 liters of oil, 1 can of spam 340 grams, 2 kilos of flour.
July 9th 1995 (last round of humanitarian aid): 400 grams of beans, 300 grams of peas, 300 grams of rice, 0.2 liters of oil, 1 kilo of flour.

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