I have always thought that if you are really listening to yourself you can tell almost immediately whether or not you like something. A person. A place. An atmosphere. There is something that just clicks within you when you come upon something that is about to be amazing, even if you aren’t yet exactly sure how; you just know that it will be. A gut feeling, intuition, whatever you may call it, this is the feeling I got the moment that the plane flew over Sarajevo and the beautifully green hills surrounding the city. This place is beautiful. This place is breathtaking. This place is going to be amazing. I am going to love this country. Before even setting one foot into Bosnia, its beauty inspires you and makes you want to learn, see and feel as much as you possibly can about the place; about all of its beauty and all of the tragedies that lie in plain sight among those green hills. To say the least, my first impression of Sarajevo and of Bosnia & Herzegovina was one of excitement and awe. I had no idea what this place had in store for me, and am willing to bet that I still don’t, but my intuition told me right away that it was going to be amazing time and the beauty of the place doesn’t need me to speak for it.
This initial impression has only grown stronger since actually being in the country. The people in this country are so incredibly warm and friendly. They want to know you. They are genuinely interested when they ask you a question. They have an honesty and kindness about them that is incredibly refreshing. Ahmad and I were lucky enough to have Karim meet us at the airport and drive us to the hostel. Immediately upon meeting two complete strangers Karim was joking with us, asking us questions and sharing his thoughts and views on everything from the new shopping center that recently opened in Sarajevo to what he feels are some of the problems with foreign investment in the country. He talked with an openness and ease that is often hard to find. Later that same day, these same qualities of openness and curiosity were shown to me again when Jillian, Ahmad and I were having tea near at one of Sarajevo’s best tea houses. Two teenaged boys, Elmin and Hamza, who were hanging out in front of the tea house started asking us questions about where we were from and who we were. They asked questions and seemed genuinely eager to learn as much as they could about the three of us and where we came from. Their English was better than most American teenagers and their humor and wit was amazing. They were just as happy to answer our questions and even showed us some of the favorite places to go around the city. Before meeting them, I would have been hard pressed to say that I would ever enjoy spending an evening with two teenaged boys, anywhere in the world. But, in Sarajevo, I did just that and feel so lucky that I had the chance.
The kindness and openness of Karim, Elmin and Hamza was shown to me again this morning when I went to have coffee and people watch and the three elderly men sitting at the table next to me smoking invited me to join them. They didn’t just invite me. They insisted that I join them; even after discovering that all I could contribute to the conversation was blank stares, slowly pronounced words (which I am almost certain were never said correctly) and hand gestures when nothing else worked. The Bosnian culture is so warm and inviting that even when these men knew that I spoke no Bosnian they still wanted to ask questions. They still wanted to find a way to relate and have a conversation. They didn’t want me sitting alone. There is a sense of community here that is tangible. Despite the hardships and the tragedies, of which there are many, they are still invested in each other and invested in this beautiful country. While I have only been here a very short time, this sense of openness, warmth and community has already made an impression upon me.