My name now is Samantha Smith; could you think of a less inspired name to give someone living in the suburbs? I mean seriously, what were they thinking? It was not the name I was born with, but it was the name I was given when I came to this country in 1996. Prior to that I was Biserka Kasun. Now, I am Sam. I don’t like to remember my life prior to living here, it makes me sad; and I remember bad things. I choose not to remember as often as I can, but sometimes the memories are like water in a cup, they runneth over and I can’t help but remember, and that makes me sad.
My Mum is very good at helping me with my memories, we have all sorts of techniques to drive them and the ghosts they summon away. We use a method called memory substitution, which means that when I begin to remember the bad times, I actively steer my brain into remembering something else. My doctor says that it is like driving a car; and swerving to avoid a hazard in the road. It works okay, but sometimes I can’t, and I remember. Maybe someday, I will be able to remember with out being sad, but now it is easier to avoid it. What I am about to write today is as much for me as it is for you, I am going to tell you about myself as much as I feel comfortable doing. Hopefully it will tell you about what I am able to do, and what I am able to overcome.
I came to this country in 1996, I was a broken creature, I didn’t speak English, and I was scared. I was adopted by my Mum, Doreen Smith. She moved Heaven and earth to bring me here, and although I was not grateful then, I am more than grateful now. I was adopted out of a Red Cross orphanage when I was 14 years old. It was 1996 and the war had just ended. It was awful, my world as I had known it was shattered.
I woke up in hospital, I didn’t know what happened to my family, I didn’t know where my village was, I didn’t know where I was. All I did know is that I was lost, and I was alone.
I awoke to babble, complete and total nonsensical babble, later I was to learn this babble, but for now it was babble. There were people walking around, people shouting, people crying, it looked like utter chaos. After what seemed like an eternity, a woman walked up to my bed and spoke to me in a language I understood.
“Како се осећаш?" How are you feeling?
In fairness I hadn’t been giving that any attention, now that I thought about it, I hurt. It was an everything all-over hurt. The kind you get when you combine years of living rough, not enough food, and an explosion. There was kindness in her eyes, but I had seen kind eyes turn to razors before, I did not trust her.
“Добро...” Okay… (For ease of writing I am now going to switch over entirely to English)
She appeared surprised by my calm answer, she pressed on.
“Do you hurt anywhere? You very hurt when you were brought in to us, we had to fight to keep you alive.”
“There was an explosion, you were caught in the blast and you must’ve hit your head, you have been in and out of consciousness for a week, we had to do emergency surgery when you were brought in, you had severe internal injuries, and have several broken bones.”
I remember the explosion, or rather I remember the moment of the explosion, we were celebrating a victory.
“Where am I?” She was speaking, but not like a native, like someone who learned how to speak, as an adult, her phrasing was clumsy, although her words were correct, they were wrong at the same time.
“You are at the Red Cross hospital in Sarajevo”
Sarajevo!? This was the land of the enemy, of the hated Bosnian. I guess I was starting to look agitated, because the woman was telling me to calm down. I decided to obey, I needed to plan my escape back, to continue the fight. I needed to heal, and make good my escape, playing a docile patient seemed like a good way.
“Okay” I said as meek as you please, “I’ll calm down”.
“Good, now I have some questions for you, if you feel up to it.”
I didn’t, but playing along would help me build trust.
She started out simple, name (I lied), place of birth (I lied) age…
“I am 13”
“They are all gone”
“Yes” I turned on the waterworks a bit here to sink the point home.
She stopped her questioning at my tears, and looked at me. I looked back, she was looking at me like she knew something, something about me. We held this standoff until she finally broke the stillness.
“We are well aware of who you are Biserka, we know where you came from, and we know what you have done.”
It was at this point I realised that I must have hit my head harder than I thought, because we were not speaking Serbian my native tounge, we were speaking Bosnian.
I must have had a stunned look on my bruised face, I mean I followed the steps I was trained to follow, I told them the lies I recited, I followed my training exactly! It was not enough. I moved my right arm, and noticed that I was attached to the bed, I was in handcuffs, the game was over.
My name is Biserka Kasun, I am 13 years old and I am a war criminal.
Prior to this, I was a successful soldier, my doe eyes, small figure, and skills with language made me a skilled infiltrator. I spoke Bosnian, I spoke Croation, and of course I spoke Serbian. I would walk around, and look at stuff. Sometime I would leave them a grenade. It depended on the day. That was when I was a child. Now that I am older, I am given more responsibility. I was given training on how to shoot, and shoot I did. But not the UN men at first, first it was just the dirty Bosnians. They were not people, they were less. I had been taught this, and I was a very good student. So, I shoot. Men mostly, sometimes women, sometimes children. It doesn’t matter, what does matter is that I am doing a good job, and that my Papa is proud of me. Then it all changed.
The UN men were advancing, the Bosians were advancing, we Serbs, we proud Serbs were retreating. We made them pay for the ground with blood. They payed us back, with mortars. Sometime during our long retreat I became famous, my name was known and spoken of with equal parts fear and disgust. I was able to stay, stay behind and hold ground to cover the retreat of my Papa and his men. I fired upon the column of UN men. Their blue hats sure are easy to spot. Some of them fall by my hand. Then warmth a warmth blossomed in front of me and blackness surrounds. I awoke to babble.
After a positive identity had been made of me, things started to move rather quickly. I was going to be in recovery for some time. The extent of my internal damage was not yet totally known. They knew that they had stopped the haemorrhaging, but they were unsure of any long-term prognosis. What was known for certain, is that I was going to remain in custody. I was wanted by the Hague, and they are not an organization that hold or releases people on a whim. It takes some serious doing to get any traction with them.
So, that is that. I am in custody, and I am still recovering. The Red Cross doctors and nurses, will have my undying gratitude. Yes, I was a war criminal, but to their credit, I was like any of the scores of wounded people around me. Just a person needing care.
I am not going to bore you with the details of my care under the Red Cross. Suffice to say, that they took care of me and helped me heal. What I will talk about is what happened after I was discharged from hospital and taken for questioning. Once again the U.N. forces are to be commended on my treatment, I was not abused, even though as a de-facto terrorist, I had no legitimate legal standing under the Geneva convention. I was well treated, my ongoing medical needs were met promptly, I had access to facilities to bathe, I had (for the first time in many, many years) a bed. It was like Heaven. I am not trying to make it sound like it was all sunshine and rainbows, I was still a detainee after all. I was handcuffed for transports, I was supervised at all times, but it was a very comfy detainment.
During this time, I was healing, I was being (as I would later learn) deprogrammed from the doctrine of hate. Hate that had been drilled into me by my Father and all his cronies. I learned that I was the monster, I was the subhuman, not because of my race or my religion, but because of my actions. It was a terrifying conclusion to reach about myself. It was the true beginning of my mental healing.
Several months after being wounded, I am left with several grim reminders of the war and the explosion that ended my war. I have some scarring on my ribs from shrapnel, a milky weal of a burn on my upper arm, some lash marks between my shoulder blades (my Father gave me those), and a bullet scar under my right collar bone (I don’t know where that came from, but it is there). Not to mention the scars from the surgeries -which are extensive- but not as fun to talk about. The only lingering side-effects from being blown up are all minor, all save one. I have post concussion disorder, means I get wicked bad headaches from time to time. They can be triggered by bright lights, or sustained high Hz noises. I have some minor nerve damage which causes me to have a pronounced limp. The big one, the one that is not at all a gentle minor reminder of my dance with an exothermic reaction is that I am incontinent.
For those of you who are not aware of that incontinence is let me explain. Incontinence is the inability of one to control the flow of urine or faeces. Put in the crudest terms I can think of: I piss and shit myself on the regular. It sucks. I mean, I am not missing a limb (which is more debilitating in my mind), but needing to wear diapers again carries with it a stigma, a shame. I am unable to feel myself urinating, it just happens. The only hint I get that I have peed is I feel the blossoming of warmth in my diaper. Messing is a bit different, I can’t control it, but I at least know that it is coming. It is unpleasant, but it is a reality that I have learned to cope with.
But back to the story: I was a detainee, it sucked learning about my conditions, and the limitations that they imposed on me, but I was alive. I was questioned, frequently, over and over, again and again. One day the interviewer said something that will forever stick in my mind.
“What are you doing still playing defence for your Father, if he truly cared about you and your well-being, he would never had subjected you to such rigorous indoctrination. Your Father is a monster, he took his daughter, and created a weapon in her place.”
Maybe I was worn down after all the interviews, maybe I was being manipulated yet again, what ever it was his statement struck a chord in me. He was right, after all of the deprogramming, I had to come to grips with the fact that I was alone, and I was a prisoner. He had left me there, left me there to hold the line so he could make good his escape. It was at that moment I decided to tell all. No more stonewalling, no more deflecting, no more bullshit. I told.
The results from my tell-all were revolutionary to the interviewer. I told them everything, from tactics (which they knew anyway), to weapons caches, to what I new of future plans. Suffice to say it was earth shattering for the intelligence people to have such knowledge come from a broken damaged little girl.
When the time for my tribunal was upon me, I was nervous. Here I am, a 13 year-old girl in diapers, on trial for war crimes. My defence counsel was on my side the whole way, I cooperated with authorities, and the information I had given up led to seizures, arrests and a reduction in harm to all concerned parties. A deal was struck, and I was released. Now released is a bit of a misnomer in this case, I was still a minor, what to do with me? There was talk of repatriation, but that was swiftly shut down. I had informed. If my Father or any of his ilk were to gain knowledge of my whereabouts, I was dead. It was decided that I would be adopted out to a Western family. That was a hard sell, I am damaged goods, plus I wanted to stay. My opinion was to let me go and be done with me, but as a minor my words on my future were given very little weight.
Then my rescuer appeared, she was a Red Cross nurse who had worked in the refugee camps. She spoke my language, and she spoke English. A story was concocted that I was an orphan from said camps, and the she took pity on me and decided to take me home with her. Blah blah, emotional tripe. Summed up, she adopted me and brought me with her back to Canada. A country I had no heard of before, to a town I had not heard of, speaking a language I did not know. At the time I hated her, I wanted to go home. Many years later, I now feel gratitude and appreciation for what she did.
I arrived in what was to be my new country feeling a feeling that I had long thought lost to me; fear. I was not alone, my new mother Doreen was with me. In the orphanage, I had turned 14. Although I was now a teenager good and proper, I felt like a scared little girl. The flight was my first experience on a plane, my first airport, my first time going anywhere outside of my country (at least while conscious).
I had been practicing my English, and although I was not fluent, I was able to make my needs known. Thankfully Doreen spoke Serbian, and we mainly conversed in my mother tongue. Deplaning, we made our way out into the concourse, while walking Doreen asked me in English.
“How are you doing?”
I, misunderstanding her question answered in a flurry of Serbian.
“How should I be doing?? I have been taken from my home into a country that is not my own, with a person who is no kin to me, authored by an organization that I do not trust? Really you dare ask me that!?”
Her eyes got sad, and she answered in English.
“That is not what I was talking about.” Switching to Serbian “I was trying to be discreet, but how is your diaper? Do you need to change?”
I am sure I blushed a million shades of red at that point. Truth be known, I was not sure how my diaper was, being unaware of when I go does not make me a good arbiter of the state of my diapers. I gave my crotch a cup, in a very unladylike fashion I must say.
“I am pretty wet, I think. I should change.” The method I used to check my diaper was not at all subtle and had people been looking at me I am sure would have caused a scene. But Doreen to her credit did not chide me for my obvious diaper check, she just nodded and led me by the hand to the lady’s washroom.
“Do you need a hand, or do you think you can manage it on your own?” The words slipped from her mouth, and I am very glad that they were not said in English, all the same I am sure I blushed beetroot.
“I can manage it, I think.”
I walked into the open stall and closed the door behind me. Lowering my pants, I assessed the extent of the damage. My diaper was swollen, and after unsnapping the onesie I wore, it sagged pretty much down to my knees. I looked at my diaper, and I was saddened that this had become my life. But, this was no time to reflect on my situation, I got down to the business of changing.
There are certain noises that wearing and changing a diaper makes, rustling, etc. The worst sound, the sound that announces to the entire world what I am doing is the sound of tapes being removed, and replaced. Any women who has changed a diaper can recognize that sound from a mile off.
I removed my sodden diaper, grateful that it was only wet. That will change soon enough I guess, but as it is a public change, I am just glad that I didn’t stink. Having done that I wiped myself down, and got my new underwear ready to go. A few well-placed Serbian curses later, I was changed, and feeling dry. I balled up the old diaper, and replaced my pants. Exiting the stall, I saw a woman about the same age as Doreen give me a funny look. I just looked back at her, hard. It is none of her business what I was doing, and she should not concern herself with it. It is an attitude I cultivated in the orphanage, and it is the attitude I practice to this day. Yes, I was changing my diaper, and no I am not ashamed by that. It keeps me as positive as I can be about the whole situation.
Leaving the bathroom, I spot Doreen and I rejoin her, we make our way out of the terminal, and get into a taxi. Soon we are on our way to Doreen’s (and now my) house. Arriving at a rural road crossing we get out of the cab at Doreen’s suggestion to walk the rest of the way. I acquiesce, after all this sitting it will be nice to stretch my legs.