Mother’s Day- Invisibility & Transparency
The girl child was barely five days old when I first saw her on the mountainside facing the town of Novi Travnik, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Her mother, a young eighteen-year-old, proudly held her first child in her arms as we walked by the hidden town dump. The young mother declared in a proud voice that carried across the road and stopped us in our tracks that her sister-in-law, a mature twenty-two-year old, was her midwife. Poverty-ridden Romany, also called Romano or Gypsies, are shunned by the Bosnians. They make camp next to their dilapidated van just outside Novi Travnik, where everyone throws away their refuse. The mountainside is breathtakingly beautiful, covered with thick cords of birch tree stands and fir trees, but the copses cannot disguise the garbage. The view from the mountain’s slope during our hike was a suffused palette of vibrant greens and blue like oil paints depicting a lush valley dotted with red-tiled roofs and white-plastered houses. Smoke was bubbling from the distant chimneys in what looked like low, transparent cloud banks.
I turned around from the spectacular view to see an old rubber tire containing a crackling fire cooking dinner. As I looked about, I saw rags full of whatever edible waste could be scavenged from the Novi Travnik dump. The evening meal consisted of handpicked leftovers from the garbage and smelled surprisingly good. The eldest matriarch offered me a plate with such a heartfelt invitation that could hardly justify refusing on the grounds that my stomach might heave later. In the end, though, I simply could not ingest the plate of scavenged food, but I did metabolize the duality of the scene playing out before me. The polar opposites of the landscape and the dump, along with the parallel images of Romano people and Bosnians, glared at me as I took in the situation. Beauty was transposed with ugliness, neighbors with enemies, poverty with deprivation so abject that it survived on the refuse of the poor. Frothy and full, the sylvan mountainside created a dichotomy with the garbage dump, assaulting the senses and raising questions. Two things became apparent to me as I took in the Romany camp. First, a hot, fragrant, delicious meal had been selected from the garbage and cooked in an old rubber tire by a woman who, like any other woman, wanted only to feed and nurture her family. Second, an exquisite, doll-like female infant was born in the back seat of the rusted-out shell of an old car on the mountainside where refuse is pitched. The insight torched my heart and my gullet like the caustic battery acid dripping in the nearby car carcasses.