The Observer (unpublished) 04-06-1993
It was thought that this little tale might disappoint and deter the many people in Britain who were offering aid and contributions to victims of the Balkan wars!
A British expatriate from Dubrovnik returned to London with a grimly ironic little tale of Balkan realism.
On a previous visit to Britain Michael Van Bloemen was approached by a stalwart lady, Maggie Freeman, from Brighton who had succeeded in raising £1,000 from neighbours and friends to send to war victims in Bosnia or Croatia.
Mr Van Bloemen returned to his retirement home in Dubrovnik a fine harbourside house which has miraculously survived everything the Serbs have thrown at it and duly took the hard-earned sum to the small, devastated village of Cepikuca about an hour's drive to the north.
The village elders said they would put the money to use in a way that would benefit the whole community.
Then Mrs Freeman asked Mr Van Boelen to deliver a second sum of £500 donated by the burghers of Brighton. Again he took the money to Cepikuca where he met the war-weary elders for a coffee.
"Incidentally, what did they do with the first £1,000?" Mr Van Bloemen asked his translator, imagining the whole community benefiting from a newly equipped school or medical centre.
The translator clearly didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.
"The whole village spent a lot of time wondering how to spend the money for everyone's benefit," he explained carefully, "and they decided to buy a very beautiful hand-cart. You know, a thing on wheels for carrying the coffins to the grave-yard."
Michael & Sheila Van Bloeman, founders of the incomparable 'Troubadour Café' in Kensington, London, are old friends who had retired to Dubrovnik and then decided to sit tight throughout the bombardment of the besieged city during 1991-92.
I will never forget their welcome, good humour and generosity to me during those grim, dark days and their ever-positive attitude during violent attacks on the city.
© (1993) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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