First impression? I am back in a beautiful, hospitable, controversial and magical European city and thank god for that. After a few days being here however I say this with a bit of hesitation in fear of offending anybody. Before I dive into why I feel that way however, you should all know about Vladimir…
Vladimir is a café/restaurant owner just down the street from our hostel. Andy and I made friends with him starting day one as we wondered around and randomly chose a place to eat at. Now we return almost every day. Vladimir was 15 when the war began and, as he puts it, started to open his restaurant after “he became normal again”. He built his homey café from scratch, welding the tables, chairs, the bar and everything in between himself. He occasionally brings in roses from his garden and to prepare your meal will walk over to the market next door and purchase the ingredients on the spot. He offers to buy us newspapers to read, if we would like a cigarette, if I would like to try this and that tea and offers Andy an extra cappuccino free of charge. No one would ever think that at any point he had not been “normal” in his life due to his charm and extreme kindness. He welcomes us, asks daily if we are “satisfied with Sarajevo”, and we are pleased to call him our new Bosnian friend.
Then there are others that I have met along the way that are not as welcoming and question why we are here. They find it an “insult” that one of the first things we did was visit the Tunnel of Life. As said, “the first thing we see here is war” which to some is an offense because they had actually lived through the war and do not understand why we would want to see that. We are told that there are so many other sites to get a first impression of such as the mosques, the theater and other landmarks that do not represent war. We were asked how much knowledge we have of the history here, if we even understand why we are. This reaction is of course a little more hostile than the reaction that Vladimir gives us as American visitors. However, this all makes me think. It makes me want to meet more locals in order to learn from them and to observe how they have decided to live their lives after the war. Some have opened café’s, some as my internship leaders have started organizations to help sustain and rebuild the community.
Keeping all of this in mind however I now feel as if I need to filter what I say to certain people. Am I allowed to be grateful to return to Europe and come visit Sarajevo? Or should I not because the effects of the war are still very present here and some locals are offended. I know I am and can, and I realize this will be a great learning experience. Hopefully those who question us wrongly can teach us so we can learn from them. Initially though, this is a beautiful city, in and out, and I can’t wait to explore all that it has to offer, good and bad.