High in the Visočica mountains of Herzegovina, the flocks of sheep have been settled in their stables, to escape the harsh winter temperatures and ample snowfall these mountain villages in Bjelimici experience well into March and April. Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and occasionally hired shepherds, have shared the daily task of grazing these same flocks on the high grassy plateaus and mountain slopes over the past summer months and unusually long 2019 autumn.
Elsewhere throughout Bosnia newly arrived visitors have flocked to Sarajevo, Bihac and Cazin. They have come from a far suffering a perilous journey, seeking a better life free from the dangers of war, the oppression of persecution, and for others the despair of poverty. They never intended to stay here, but Bosnia has become a holding pen while Western Europe hesitates even flounders for a resolution, happy in the meantime to leave the problem waiting on their doorstep, a damned yard.
These are the migrants, desperate to cross the border into the EU, herded into camps, smaller holding pens hastily prepared, mostly under-prepared, but then no-one had foreseen the scale of this escalating dilemma.
Back in the small Bjelimići villages, women are knitting, socks. There is a well-established consensus amongst these mountains that nothing keeps your feet as safe and as warm as these, hand-knitted from hand- spun wool.
The villages have retained the hospitality Bosnians are famous for, but in these mountain homes no visitor may cross the threshold without his feet being well cared for; rather than the slippers quickly thrown before you in the city, these hosts insist you quickly pull on the provided woolen socks when you have been so foolish as to arrive without any.
Dzema, Fahira, Fika and Meliha are among others who have been spinning and knitting their whole lives, but this year they have new feet to keep warm, and may these precious feet bone-tired from their arduous wanderings be kept warm for the length of their stay here among us.
These women are being paid 10 BAM per pair. People from New Zealand and the UK have contributed the money for the socks via Phoenix-Aid (UK) and Gateways Christian Fellowship (Palmerston North ).
Earlier this month, the International Organization for Migrations received over 100 pairs of Bjelimici socks to give out in the Blazuj camp.
And now this Christmas week 100 more pairs are being knitted to give again in the new year. Blessed are the women of Bjelimici, for they have blessed many weary feet and hopefully made those unwelcomed feel a little more welcome.