This past weekend was what I consider to be my last in Sarajevo, at least for this year…and assuming all goes according to plan when I get to the airport on Saturday. Its been great and I have had a blast this summer, but now it is time to go home. I anticipated my last week in Bosnia to be uneventful, seeing as my internships have wound down quite quickly and I have visited just about every place in the tour book. I had been down every ally in Bascarsija, tried every flavor of Burek, and tripped on every pothole from Stari Grad to Ilidza.
But until Wednesday, I hadn’t tried the flavored Rakija, and that’s when things got interesting.
To summarize what started at Barhana on Wednesday night and ended (lets hope) a lot of random pictures on Facebook today: Rakija makes you friendly enough to meet and chat up local guys who then give you all day tours of Vrelo Bosne, drag you 10 kilometers down the side of a highway just to show you a bridge, volunteer you to be in pictures with every passer-by simply because you are American, drive you up to condemned ruins where the cool kids make out so that you can see what prison was like in the 16th century, and then insist on driving you back down to your hostel through every one way street on the way which takes the car 45 minutes but could have taken you 10 minutes on foot all the while listening to Gansta’s Paradise and Ms. Jackson. And as a memento, they tag you in advertisements of Rakija on Facebook because thats where this whole misadventure started.
And here’s what I have learned from this very eventful final weekend: Its really hard for an American to try to get to know a Bosnian when we are programmed to ask things like where they went to school and what they do for a living, because they maybe didn’t go to university at all, and there’s a strong chance that they don’t work because the youth unemployment rate is more than half. And what you really want to know is whether they lived here during the war, but asking that amounts to the same thing as asking how many friends and relatives they lost, how many dead people they saw and how screwed up are they now. So you have two options, ask nothing and hope that they are talkative, or in my case ask stupidly obvious things like ”So you’re practicing Ramadan… that means you’re Muslim right?” How do you learn who a person is without defining them by what they do?
I don’t have a good answer to that, because the book that I had to read for Foreign Policy entitled ”Identity and Difference” didn’t say squat about real people.