My hostel in Sarajevo was right in the middle of everything. Centrally located in between the main cathedral and old town, I was a five minutes walk from pretty much everything.
Sarajevo was one of those places that is fascinating for its difference. I dread the day when globalization creates a world in which almost every place looks the same. It is a wonder to go to places that are not my own. To see strange cities out of dreams and realize that I do not have to dream to see beauty anymore. I want the next generations to experience this complete lack of security. The controlled kind of situation for growth, where you can be challenged and grow with virtually no pain. The country did not even have to be beautiful for it to be profound (though it was, I must say very beautiful).
Sarajevo is located in a valley with high peaks surrounding its sides. Houses scatter higher and higher up the mountains all surrounding the main city center. Each building is a unique color, some of the houses are still half demolished from war. The remains of both Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule clash throughout the city. Each theme coexisting in a space where cultures become intertwined.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is in general a fascinating place. It is the only country I have ever been which announces Muslim prayers multiple times a day. At first I had no idea what was going on, then I got used to it. Mosques line every street. And perhaps the thing that is the hardest to wrap my head around is the fact that this country is the only one in the world that has three presidents (Bosniak, Croat, Serb).
When I was talking to a French grad student whose dissertation on Serbian nationalism during the 90s brought her to the region, she told me that the reason the government is not functioning properly is because of this three member presidency. When I was in Sarajevo, the people there apparently held one of their first cross-nationality protests against the government since the civil war in the 90s. According to my new friends’ work, the reason this three ruler system is in place has to do with the way the war ended and actually US involvement. The Dayton (named after Dayton, Ohio where negotiations took place) agreement was a success in that it ended the war in between the Serbs and Bosniaks, however, years later it has also creative massive problems within the country.
If you’re interested here is more information: file:///home/chronos/u-97eb209bea82313849c80b84ed1dc1927ef547c8/Downloads/doc_128_259_en.pdf
All of the Bosnian folks who i talked to expressed discontent with their government (which I might add I do not think I have met anyone from any country who is happy with their government). They described the system as extremely corrupt. One new friend from Sarajevo told me that he wanted to become a physical therapist, but in order to get a job with a hospital he had to pay someone (lost in translation) close to 20,000 euros. He was worried because even then, his position might not be secured. The current rate of unemployment, which is around 43% is extremely high and many citizens are lacking jobs.
When I went to the smuggling tunnel on the edge of the cities borders, I met a man who helped build the structure during the war. His job was to get food across the Serbian forces which surrounded all of Sarajevo. The tunnel went under the main lines into a neighboring area where supplies and people were then transported. Every day, Abid would risk his life transporting goods and people across the city lines. His home was completely demolished during the war, and his baby daughter was murdered by Serbian forces. Now, after the war, the government gave him nothing. He runs a small tourist shop in the front of his home, but other than that he has no income.
It is interesting the happiness that I’ve seen here. These people have experienced such tragedy, and yet every time I ask them how they do it, most of them say they are just a happy people. Almost happier than a lot of the folks back home it even seems. Perhaps it takes a near death experience to really understand the value of life. Perhaps, there are many folks here, like the protesters I mentioned before, who are angry and who seek change. Either way, I am inspired by the bravery of the average people I have met here who all seem to have chosen happiness as opposed to despair. I do not mean to sound like the idiot who assumes the people whose lives my country helped to dismantle are in fact happy souls so that I can go on living guilt free. I merely mean to comment on the incredible strength it must take to maintain such levels of joy after tragedy.
It is true, I have no idea what it is like to be from a country that has experienced this type of war and genocide. I do not think I will ever be able to understand, and yet I still have this intense desire to comprehend things which I do not think I will ever be able to grasp. I feel like it is my duty almost, as a person of privilege to try to understand but I really have no concept. I guess the only thing I can do is just offer my support, my acknowledgement and my money.
Hopefully one day I will get to visit this interesting place again, I certainly think I could learn a bit more from here. The food was unlike anything I had ever had. I was able to try a mince meat sandwich with delicious bread. All the pastries I had were delicious, and I tried some amazing sups. The old town is absolutely gorgeous and transports all visitors to a different time. All of the markets in this area sell unique items which you cannot get anywhere else in the world. The yellow fort at the top of one of the mountains offers a view of the entire city below it. And the people from Sarajevo have been incredibly welcoming and kind.
I think this trip has taught me that I need to start exploring the places where people might not visit all that often. After all, if everyone has the same travel experience that is a bit boring. I would rather read the things others are not reading, see the places others are not seeing, and experience things which I have no concept of.
Haruki Murakami wrote that “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” Perhaps it is the same with places. I think we are merely combinations of everything we have ever known. Combinations of the people we have met, the experiences we have had, and the places we have been. If you only travel to the places everyone else has already seen, maybe you can boost your chances of being a bit more insightful, a bit more unique, and maybe you will think in a little bit of a different way.
I still stand by what I said before, I do not like quotes which chastise those who have not traveled, insulting them by saying they cannot contribute the same things to the world if they cannot afford to see all of it. I think there are other ways to learn, and I think I have met some serious idiots who are experienced travelers. The point is though, that traveling is in fact a great way to learn, but there are also many other ways to gain these same types of knowledge. Don’t think for one minute that a traveler is wiser than someone who has never left their hometown, remember books offer more insight than untrained eyes could ever decipher.
That was an interesting rant to end this piece, I think from now on though in my privileged learning adventure I want to try to stick to the places that will make me learn a bit more than just seeing a famous site ever could. Off to Serbia.