So we’ve been given a list of topics to write about at some point over the term for the blogs and one of the suggested topics was to write on “one difference” we have observed or encountered so far. As with any international experience there are multitude of differences, ranging from subtle to striking that one could pinpoint to write on, for example the lack of standardized reproductive care for women in Bosnia or the specific oddities and challenges one might encounter while attempting to buy produce at a large chain grocery store, or perhaps the appropriate attire for a touristic visit to a catholic church (seriously, once again, sorry everyone). Instead of perhaps making an intellectual contribution to society by discussing an important hard hitting social and political issue, or benefiting future travelers by musing about certain essential social graces I may lack, instead I choose to address an issue that has been ubiquitous since my arrival in Sarajevo, the pigeons.
Jesus.H.Christ. There are so many of them.
This may seem inane and inconsequential but I cannot help but notice that at all times, we are surrounded by these funny grey birds. They are everywhere, at first was bemused “ha ha so many pigeons” and then it just became befuddling the number of these birds that can be shoved into this small city. And the epicenter of the columbidae (the clade that pigeons and doves belong to) population is the Sebilj, the Ottoman style fountain in Baščaršija. This square is so inundated with these avian that it is frequently referred to as “the pigeon square” There is even a man that appears to make his living by selling pigeons snacks to tourists to feed to this bountiful bevy of birds. And tourists seem to be happy to support his business, buying seeds and happily posing for photos whilst covered in pigeons eagerly trying to get at the snacks.
But even outside of Baščaršija, the pigeons are everywhere, hoping around in packs at the tram station, flying low at dangerous speeds over outdoor cafes, perching themselves on things you want to use, interrupting the walking paths of tourists, etc etc. Many consider the birds a menace to society and “flying rats” that carry diseases and eat trash. However the pigeons may have not always had the reputation of diseases riddle trash mongers with wings. During the various wars Bosnia endured during the 20th century, carrier pigeons were a vital life for communications when other channels were cut off, and during the almost 4 year long siege of Sarajevo between 1992-1996, hungry city dwellers turned to trapping pigeons and other fauna to feed themselves.
So the lesson here is that while today in Sarajevo, as in every other metropolitan area in the world, a pigeon is just a pigeon. But these humble fowls have a unique and important history in the city of Sarajevo.
Authors Note: It’s been a slow week at the internship and we will be engaging is some more heavy activities in the upcoming weeks regarding the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide and other activities regarding the Bosnian War, so I thought I would keep it light for this week.
Additional Authors Note: We are on a current quest to locate and document proof of hedgehogs here in Bosnia, we’ve been told they exist here and there are old Yugoslav coins with hedgehogs on them, but we want to prove they are here. Of you have any tips, cue us in.