Why Bosnia? When I first chose this program, it was originally because it was such a different choice than the one I had first considered. Originally, I had thought about doing the DU program in Geneva and trying to find an internship at the UN but not only did the cost dissuade me, but it seemed like such a stereotypical place to go for those that want to go into that field. Bosnia, however, offered a proximity to armed conflict that seemed to provide the most potential to see the full dynamics of the remnants of war. I think coming here was definitely the right choice.
Originally, when I arrived, I expected bombed out buildings, landmine warnings and otherwise, but everything seemed to be quite well developed and very cosmopolitan. Instead of unexploded ordinance, I found luxury shops and large commercial centers and even McDonalds. I had much lower expectations of the recovery and I was pleasantly proved wrong. That isn’t to say that everything looks clean and pristine. Many buildings still bear the scars of the war. There are bullet holes on my buildings, cemeteries are all over the city, snipers’ nests dot the outskirts and places where shells and grenades fell are denoted by the Sarajevo Rose painted on the street.
If anything, I think that this city and the people within it are an example of the resiliency of humanity. During the Bosnian War, the city was placed under siege for almost four years, the longest in history. During the siege, the Serbian army would shell the city and snipers would shoot at civilians trying to move about. In one particularly horrifying event, 68 people were killed in an attack on a marketplace in the center of the city.
Yesterday morning, I went to that market and bought a number of groceries from smiling vendors with large assortments of offerings. To me, these people refused to make that memory the focal point of their being. They returned even after the carnage and kept surviving.
I suppose, my first impressions of the city are of the character of the people here. They are some of the nicest I have ever met – especially our hosts at the hostel – and they are very generous and willing to help. Yesterday I was trying to find a shop and the address we had been given was incorrect. Understandably, we began to think that we were not going to make it in time before it closed, and as we were about to leave a woman and her daughter came out of what was actually the apartment building we were standing in front of. We asked her if a certain person lived in the building or if the business was located there and she did not speak English. However, instead of just walking off, she used her little English to make sure we didn’t leave and had her daughter try to find someone who spoke English. She then was able to find someone on the intercom and through them we were able to get some leads on where the business was. To me, it was a testament to the generosity people could show one another. I don’t know if she was going to run an errand or just going for a walk, but she was willing to take part of her time to help a stranger, and a foreigner. It was a good impression.
Over the course of the next several weeks, I’m sure I will have many more such interactions with the people of this city and around the country. I look forward to getting to know them better and understanding how they cope, or perhaps don’t, with memories of the war. Until next time!