Copyright © 2011 Marianne Stephens

Marianne Stephens
EXCERPT:  Guilty Survivor - Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall

My second trip to Kiseljak was more difficult and done with me masquerading as a soldier. I’d called Commander Ivicarajic of the Croatian army to ask for help in crossing the border in November of 1992. I made a deal to transport some food supplies for him. I would be allowed to cross over into Croatia this way.

I then spoke to United Nations’ officer, Vladimir Sidorenko, (from the Ukraine) and asked him for help in getting across the border lines. He came to Restaurant Meli often and was known to help the people in Sarajevo.

He told me to go to the UN barrack area at night, sleep there, get up at 4:00am and dress like a UN soldier in a Ukrainian, UNPROFOR uniform (United Nations Protection Forces) he provided. Part of the deal was that I’d bring supplies back with me for his troops. Desperate to visit my family and encouraged by his plan, I agreed.

I arrived at the UN barrack late that night. A blue and green military uniform and boots were provided for me and I slept in a military bed but was given a room and bathroom just for me. Other soldiers knew I was a woman but keep my secret.
The uniform was big, as were the boots. I used cloth and tightly circled it around my chest to hide my breasts. I stuffed paper into the boots so my feet wouldn’t slide out. I put on the uniform and looked at myself in a mirror. Even without makeup, I was afraid I’d be noticed and discovered to be a woman.

I pushed and pinned up my hair high on my head and pulled the cap down low enough to hide my hair and almost cover my eyes. The less seen of me the better. Even without using perfume, soap, or deodorant, I still thought I smelled like a woman. I practiced lowering my voice when I spoke, although the plan was for me not to speak at all. Would I pass as a man? Sound like one? Go unnoticed among other soldiers?

For one crazy instance, I imagined myself as preparing to go on a secret mission. I thought about spy movies I’d seen or books I’d read where people had to wear disguises. Not only had I found many avenues of keeping my restaurant operating, thanks to the war, but now I found a new talent. I would have my first performance as an actress.

I did not have to walk from checkpoint to checkpoint with other soldiers, but got to ride in a tank. I remained silent, even in the tank, and the other soldiers inside with me ignored my presence. Maybe it was their way of following orders to treat me as another soldier, and keep from staring. If they didn’t look at me, I really wasn’t there.


"This book was just an incredible read. You never know what life is going to hand to you in some cases and the memoirs of Tamerla speak volumes as to what can happen when you are in the middle of a war."

"Stephens really gets her story down to the point where you feel you are there with her and lets us readers understand what she went through, not herself, but her family. Tamerla was a courageous woman whom I applaud with all my heart."

"What she sacrificed and what she did in the name of family has no words, but only the ones of love. It’s a piece of non-fiction that everyone should read. We always see the television and the wars it talks about, how families are affected, but when you read about it, you get down to the human level of it."

"Tamerla is a great example of what courageous women like her during times where they feel helpless and they have to survive." -- Reviewed by Denise, The Pen and Muse

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"I loved the voice of Tamerla Kendall and think it is only through her we are able to understand the true pain of war. I recommend "Guilty Survivor - Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall" but fair warning, you will cry and see the ravages of war through the eyes of a survivor." -- 4 CUPS, Reviewed by Delane, Coffee Time Romance and More.

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