Did you ever think about how different your day to day life would be after a shit-hits-the-fan (SHTF) event? The little things we take for granted now, like making a meal, staying warm, or having water to drink and bathe-in would suddenly become a whole lot more complicated.

Who better to tell us what that is like than Selco? For those who don’t know, Selco spent a year in a city in Bosnia that was blockaded during the Bosnian War. During that year, he and the other residents lived without our normal amenities like heat, running water, electricity, and supplies that could be purchased at the stores.

With war likely between the US and North Korea, vast areas of the United States could be hit with missiles or even nukes.  Suddenly, your world is torn apart.  This is what it's like . . . .from someone who lived through it.

The Bosnian War was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Following a number of violent incidents in early 1992, the war is commonly viewed as having started on 6 April 1992. The war ended on 14 December 1995.

The main belligerents were the forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and those of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat entities within Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia, which were led and supplied by Serbia and Croatia, respectively.

The war was part of the breakup of Yugoslavia. 

I asked Selco some questions about daily life after the SHTF. I think you’ll agree that his answers are eye-opening.

(Note: Selco’s interviews are lightly edited for clarity, but I want to use his own words. The authenticity of his stories remains intact. For those of you who don’t know of Selco, please note that English is his 4th language. Whiny grammar Nazi comments will be deleted. Comments complaining about my use of the word “Nazi” will be posted, however, so we can publicly mock them, and then the commenter will be banned forever for being a whiner.)

What time did you usually get up? What woke you?

A few weeks after the collapse came, all aspects of our normal life changed based on the new reality around us.

One aspect was “sleep cycle“- the time when we sleep and when we were awake and active.

One of the most basic rules that jumped in was that most of the activities got done during the night.

Some reasons for that were obvious, like danger from snipers. But also the other reason (maybe even more important) was that over time it becomes very important to hide your activities connected to gathering resources.

To explain it more, when you have a lot of people in a small area (city) and you have less resources that are needed for that number of people, the fact that you HAVE something (food, water medicines…) needs to be hidden from people who do not have that.

The system (law, police, etc.) was out, and it was important not to give reasons for people to attack you because you have something interesting.

So, anything connected with gathering resources (wood, food, trade…) was finished mostly during the night.

Of course, violence mostly happened during the night too (violence that included “close fighting.“)

Activities in your home and yard were possible to be done in the daytime. For example, we would spend the day fixing our water gutter that goes from the roof so it can go in a big barrel, but if we needed to climb on the roof and fix holes with tarps or to “funnel“ it to the gutter, that needed to be done in the night time.

There was no “usual“ time to get up, at least not in hardest period. Even if we did not have anything particular to do we would be alert during the night time, simply because night time was full of different activities in the city, and you needed to be ready.

In our case (because we had more than 10 people most of the time in the house) we could do a schedule that meant not all of us needed to be alert all the night.

During 24 hour periods of time, someone was always sleeping, others were doing some job, but as a general rule nights were much more active then days.

Messing up with normal sleep cycle was a problem alone, and it contributed to the stress, feeling tired and stressed because you did not have enough sleep or enough quality sleep was a normal thing.

Sometimes close detonation of shells would wake me up, sometimes my relatives woke me up because it was my guard shift, sometimes we would all be awake the whole night because of close shootings, and possible danger.

Sometimes I would wake up by myself because that day I did not have any particular duty to do, so I would stay home, checking things in the house, maybe trying to fix some things.

What did you eat for breakfast, if you had breakfast?

Traditionally here (in Balkan region) we ate a lot of bread, and we eat it with almost all food.

It is actually strange not to have bread on the table, no matter what kind of food you eat, or what time of day it is (breakfast, dinner…)

It is a Slavic tradition from ancient times to greet dear guests with bread and salt (and right after that comes alcohol).

I am trying to portray the importance of bread here, and then when the collapse came, suddenly it became scarce (just like everything else).

I believe it was the biggest problem when it came to meals, the lack of bread, simply because we used to eat it a lot.

It was kinda a psychological problem for us too, not to have enough bread.

That was first biggest change.

Note: do not underestimate the power that food has not only in calorie terms but also in psychological terms. Having and eating food that you love makes things much easier. Store food in your prepper storage that you LIKE to eat.

Second thing was that the usual “schedule“ of meals was lost.

It was very rare when we could all sit together to have dinner or breakfast, simply because someone was sleeping or someone else was busy with something.

For breakfast, we ate whatever was there in the moment. If the day was good and we managed to find something like an MRE or canned meat it was good breakfast.

On bad days we usually ate “pancakes“. “Pancakes“ were locally picked greens, mixed with water and very small amounts of flour (just to keep greens connected). It looked awful and tasted awful too.

The greens that people picked from nearest hills were supposed to be edible, based on rumors, or older people who had some knowledge about edible plants.

Another favorite at that time was “tea“. It was a big pot that stood on the stove, with water and local herbs inside, we called that tea or soup.

It was something like substituted for one of the traditionally favorite meals in this region – soup. Just like bread, here it is a tradition to have hot soup with your meal.

Just like with sleep cycles, times of meals were messed up. Also, the food that we ate for particular meals was messed up. We ate when we had the chance, and we ate what was available in the moment. For example, in normal times for breakfast here, we ate sandwiches or eggs. It was something to dream about during the collapse.

And yes, sometimes I simply did not have breakfast or dinner, or anything for a whole day or night.

Note: very soon people (when they had all ingredients) started to make bread in small pots right on the stove, it required not too much fuel and time, it was easy to make it (with flipping bread in the pot).

Did you have a job aside from survival? Did people go to work each day like they do now? 

No, in my case no jobs because in that hardest period system was out completely.  There was nothing like regular jobs in places that you worked prior to the collapse.

You could find a use for your skills if you had any, for example being nurse meant I had some knowledge and skills, and it was pretty valuable actually because I could trade it for food or other usable items.

When the system is out, any knowledge in some particular field is important. For example being able to recognize a broken rib or infection, and being able to help with whatever is available in that moment meant a real value that you could sell.

An important thing to mention is that in some other cities in the region where war was at the same time, some kind of system and government was still there. In those regions, the government imposed something like”obligatory working“.

It worked in a way that, for example, if you were an electrician in a city company, the government could give you an order to work for free for some other company, military unit, or whatever.

In reality, it meant that some armed group or fraction could simply mobilize you and take you from your home.

My biggest skill in that time was my medical knowledge. Even when the whole system was out, even when there was no medication, there was use for my knowledge.

Did children still have school during this time?

No, there were no schools in that hardest period in my place. The system was out completely.

There were some attempts from family members to try to keep up some level of homeschooling, but pretty soon it was clear that we all had much bigger and more serious problems than homeschooling.

Kids simply lost that period when it came to school.

How much of your day was filled with chores like acquiring food, water, and firewood? Can you tell us about that?

A lot.

People do not understand how much hard work is needed to get done things like water, food, heat, security because the system is here for us to take care of those things, so we do not have to.

We were ordinary city folks who did not have a lot of knowledge about stuff like how to go find a tree, take it down, chop it into small pieces, and bring it home somehow. Or how to collect water from rain, or bring enough water from the river when that is impossible.

So we learned that, but it took us time to learn. We were not preppers in any meaning of that word.

If you wanted to go to a hill close to your home and take down a tree for firewood it was all night job for a few people.

The first problem was that we did it in pitch darkness. After that, the next problem was to either to carry it in bigger pieces (and be slow and vulnerable) or to chop it down into small pieces (and spend more time in that place, which also was not desirable), or to leave someone to guard it while others took down pieces, or to go all together and risk that someone else took the rest before we get back.

As a carrying system, people often used homemade carts, very rudimentary setups made from an old baby cart or a wooden box with wheels from a baby cart, or similar. Or we simply would carry it on our back in bigger pieces and chop it later in our yard where it was much safer to be.

It was a heavy job.

Finding firewood was a constant job, so often while we were doing other jobs, we would collect it on our way, things like wooden windows and door frames from destroyed buildings.

Yes, there were days when we were good, we would have enough water, food, and wood. We were good.

But usually, we were always missing something.

When the system is out, way too much time is needed to take care of everyday needs.

If we had enough food, we did not have enough rain for water so we took trips to the river. If we had enough water then someone had a serious case of diarrhea and we were worried about that.

Not to downplay the physical threat, but preppers today usually focus only on the physical threat, on fighting, weapons, and similar, while there is much more to everyday survival. 

One good example of the effort needed to get something done is trade.

In order to do trade, first you would look for information about someone who had some goods, then you’d check and recheck that information, then you’d take into consideration the risk of going there, then you’d make a plan how many of us were going and what we are carrying there, and then you’d go and do that trade.

It was a complicated and dangerous process.

Where did you use the bathroom?

Close to our house, between a destroyed apartment building (we used that building sometimes as a guarding outpost or up-front layer of defensive ring of our house) and our house was something like a small park.

It was boxed (hidden) from 4 sides and pretty safe to use as a toilet by simply digging a hole in the ground.

After few months we built something like primitive latrine there. It worked for us during that time.

Toilet paper after some time become unknown, so we used what was available, clean rags and water and similar.

What did you do for personal hygiene?

If you look at it from today’s perspective, we did not do too much.

Personal hygiene was a matter of taking quick sponge baths when we had time and means for that and rare real bucket showers. But those were really rare.

When it came to our home, we did try to keep it as clean as possible. For example, we used one room for sick folks, we did try to clean ourselves in the yard and to take dirty clothes there.

Soap was possible to get in that time through trade, and in some periods things like alcohol pads were traded, but again the biggest problem was not having enough water for all our needs.

When you live for a prolonged period of time in those circumstances you kinda get used to the lack of hygiene. You do not like it but you live with it, and even make fun out of it. Psychologically people tend to get used to the lack of hygiene, especially when everybody around you is in the same state like you.

It was again a matter of having bigger problems on our mind.

For the minor problems, there were things like fungus infections, very common simply because in some periods we did not have enough time to keep ourselves dry and clean. Small cuts were usually solved with alcohol (alcohol for drinking was more or less available).

Real problems were connected with bad food and water treatment.

There were days during the summer when it was almost unbearable because of the stench that was in the city. A lot of bodies were not buried.

How many family members lived in one home?

It depends, but the tendency was that when the collapse came, relatives got together in the better house (between two families of relatives). So, for example, your uncle and aunt would come and live with you if their house was destroyed, or if your home was safer and better, or if you simply agreed that it was better to have more manpower together.

In my case, through that period, not less than 10 people were in our one house.

Usually, prior to the SHTF, living conditions and the number of occupants per house or apartment were the same as in any other European country.

One difference was that traditionally (prior the war) we did bring to our home parents when they got old, or too old to live by themselves.

For example, if you were living with your wife and two kids, and your parents are 85 years old, and one of them dies it was common to bring other parent to live with your family, to arrange room for him and to take care for him untill his death, if you had a house big enough for that.

It was not the rule, but it was common as a part of the tradition. Yes, we did had homes and pension centers for old folks where the state takes care of them, but it was kinda shameful to leave your elders there.

I am pointing out this as an explanation why when the collapse happened, people from the same family tended to quickly go together and form group. Suddenly you were in the same house with your grand uncle.

It was like that because strong blood tradition was present. It is not like that anymore. That tradition has faded away.

As a general thought, at first look more people meant more mouths to feed. But more people also meant more firepower, more working power, more support… It is about the skills, will, and mindset of those people.

How were responsibilities divided up?

Through the socialistic-communist society doctrine (in society before the war)  it was strongly pushed that females and males were equal in any field of life, and people had that kind of mentality built.

But when the SHTF,  pretty soon a traditional way of life jumped in. Women were staying home, taking care of kids and food, and men were going out more actively.

It was not rule, but it was usual.

Usually, women were the ones who knew how to make food from something that did not look like real food or to make it edible, or to comfort sick or frightened kid.

Women were the pillar of everything.

I would say that we simply did things that each one of us was best in. It was not democraty. The person (not necessary the oldest) who had most organizational skills was in charge, simply because it make sense like that. Duties were divided between other members based on skills, strength, and sense of fairness.

But things had to be done if you wanted to be part of everything.

As I said, we were family, so we were closely connected from before, so we did not have any big surprises. We were not preppers but we had that bond from before.

People of younger age would do the guard job, but a man of 85 years would not do that because we would do it much better then him. He would stay home that day and maybe take care of fixing the tarp that needed to be used for roof hole.

Note: There is a reason why I always advocate building your group way before SHTF, because in that way you get to know folks that your life my depend when SHTF. 

What were some tasks that you had to do on a regular basis that we may not have considered?

You could call it scavenging.

When SHTF in a serious way, you were simply always missing something. Of course, you also missed important things, like food, water etc.

But you also missed (especially if you are not prepper) a whole bunch of small things that could make your life easier.

Some of those seem ridiculous. Like shoelaces, not only for shoes but also for oil lamps. But then you need shoelaces of a specific kind because the “bad kind“ kinda melted and turned off the lamp.

You were looking for a simple crowbar because it is a great tool for taking down wooden door frames or similar. You needed small pot with lid on it because you want to take fuel from an abandoned car by making hole in the tank.

You were looking for spare batteries in abandoned houses, candles, wires, ropes, soaps… anything that would make your life easier.

And it is a process because you need to be sure… Is that house empty? Is it safe so it will not collapse on you (roof looked partialy collapsed maybe)? Are you suspicious about booby traps because you do not know?

Simple things like a multitool (Gerber or Leatherman style) would make life so much easier in those days.

Any other stories you’d like to share?

In that time, for a light people usually used homemade lamps. A simple glass with small amount of cooking oil, shoelace, and a tin bottle cap and you have lamp.

It burned with a “dirty“ flame, with a lot of thick black smoke, but the real problem was that it smelled bad. But at the same time, it smelled like doughnuts.

At least it smelled like that to us in that time. We had a lot of hard times sitting in the room, discussing something in very bad light, hungry,v but feeling like doughnuts are almost ready for eating.

Then I was imagining doughnuts because of that smell. Now, whenever I eat doughnuts I always remember those survival lamps.

More from Selco 

More information about Selco

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution.

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations like Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. 

 

 

The Pantry Primer

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Daisy Luther is the author of The Pantry Primer: A Prepper’s Guide To Whole Food on a Half Price Budget.  Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.