Four Hours and 15 Minutes in Sarajevo
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Corey – a red-haired Alaskan with extensive hitchhiking knowledge and a hatred for spending money.
Holly – a liberal Mormon from Vegas who sings like an angel, but doesn’t speak much.
Me – another Alaskan, with two completely different thumbs, a desire to shave my head and the leader of the pack.
To explore Sarajevo in the allotted time.
Following a traumatic bus ride which included being harassed by pre-teen Italians all night long, the strange and disconcerting case of the disappearing passports and passport officers, Speedy Gonzalez, our stunt bus driver who shaved a considerable amount of time off the trip and our final arrival in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night – we have arrived in Sarajevo.
We are now sitting alone on the pavement, having realized that the pre-teens and the rest of the bus company are nowhere in sight.
“Why are we here?” Corey wants to know. “Why did I spend money on this bus ticket?” He glares at me through bleary eyes.
“Experience, Corey, experience!” I thump him on the head with my knuckles.
But he’s right. What are we going to do in Bosnia at this time of the night? I consult the guidebook and decide we need to get a head start sightseeing. We’ll follow Sniper’s Alley into the main part of town. Like a typical boy, the mention of guns cheers him up.
We wander down Sniper’s Alley, completely alone in the middle of the night with our brightly colored backpacks. Corey pretends he’s a sniper and Holly takes pictures with her digital camera. We are the epitome of shameful tourists.
We emerge on the main street of the main part of town. We encounter the famous eternal flame. We are taking photos of it when an excitable young Bosnian accosts us, and shrieks in perfect English.
“What are you doing here?”
Glancing around to see if we’re in trouble, I mutter something lame about the eternal flame. At this point he is practically writhing with excitement, gesturing towards our backpacks with his eyeballs bulging out of his face. I’m about to ask Corey and Holly if he’s suffering a seizure when he asks.
“But you are tourist?” He seems amazed by this fact.
“No, we’re just holding these backpacks for fun.” My sarcasm is lost on him.
“I cannot believe this, where are you from?”
“America.” I reply, as Corey simultaneously responds, “Canada.” I roll my eyes at Corey, but our young friend doesn’t notice.
“There are tourists here, in Bosnia! This is amazing! What are you doing here at four in the morning?”
Before we have a chance to answer, he is yelling into the bar. It must have been something along the lines of, “Everyone, come and see this, there are people from America here in the middle of the night! With backpacks!”
The next thing we know, we are surrounded by Bosnians, anxious to shake our hands and treat us to a round of drinks. They tell us stories about their lives – how the eternal flame is not as eternal as it sounds. Sometimes it gets turned off because the government can’t afford to keep it running. At first this fact amused me, but in retrospect, it’s sad. I am becoming aware of racial tensions that still exist between the Bosnians and the Serbs due to the amount of cruel jokes circling the flame. We have to move on, though, there is still much to see.
With our spirits lifted, feeling like celebrities, we take in more sights, primarily churches and newly-resurrected graveyards. Sarajevo is famous for having many different types of religious communities living in close proximity to each other. There are Christians, Jews and Muslims, as well as other races combined in one city.
Sarajevo is also known for re-building itself fast and well after the tragic fighting that occurred a mere ten years ago. We are awe-struck as we view bombed-out buildings. We realize how fresh this disastrous event is. The city center has been amazingly and lovingly re-built and the tragedy masked.
I read from the guidebook how important it is to remain on the sidewalks because the suburbs are supposed to be one of the most heavily mined areas in the world.
Immediately after I read this, Corey is gazing into the hills, muttering, “Too bad, look at those, I’d love to go hiking there. They can’t really be full of mines, can they?”
This requires another slap to the head, and I have to pointedly remind Corey that we wouldn’t want to go hiking in the dark anyway.
“Why not? We’re going sightseeing in the dark.”
He’s made a good point. We move on.
We have found the river and the Turkish district of Sarajevo. We haven’t seen another soul since the large gathering outside the flame. We are now feeling acutely alone and a bit perturbed by the stillness. We hear a strange wailing sound emitting from the trees.
“Look,” Holly breathes, pointing to a lone man, praying in the tower of the mosque.
I feel goose flesh crawl up my neck. We continue on in silence, as if we too, are in meditation with this lone voice of Bosnia.
First rays of sunlight begin to peek over the horizon.
We decide to head back now that we’ve seen all the highlighted items in my guidebook. We hear a shout. A group of three Bosnian teenagers come running. They want to stay and chat. They break bread with us (or rather, large, buttery, salty pretzels obtained from one of their homes) and become our self-appointed tour guides, showing us to the ATM and back to the bus station.
Our mood is somber. As light spreads across the sky, we see the pavement of Sniper’s Alley clearly for the first time. It is riddled with craters from the many shells that rained down upon the same lovely, friendly, citizens of Sarajevo we were just laughing with. Upon closer inspection, we realize that the craters painted red are called “roses”, and symbolize the exact spot where a passing civilian was struck dead.
As the bus pulls out of the station and Sarajevo disappears into a thick haze, our last memory is of a lone column of war-torn wreckage, spiralling into the heavens haphazardly, as if to silently show us the horrors conceived by man. We too, are silent, as the bus struggles away from the wreckage, and becomes but a speck of dirt on the horizon. I know without looking at the others that this is a private memory, forever altering the landscape of our experience abroad.