“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” -Salvador Dali
7 weeks ago, to the day, I arrived in the unknown and unfamiliar city of Sarajevo. I was nervous. I was scared. I did not know what to expect. I arrived and it was raining, as it is today. I was tired. I had just been in Italy for 3 days, by myself, knowing no other soul in Rome. It was my first time traveling abroad internationally. I arrived and when I saw Arista and Annalisa waiting for me I wanted to cry. I was so happy to see them; people that I actually knew and that spoke English! They helped me with my things and helped me to get settled into the hostel.
The next day, more group members arrived. Seeing familiar faces in a not-so-familiar place was extremely comforting. I am telling this little back story because my second day in Sarajevo is when I took these pictures, and with these pictures, I feel, came ideas, notions, feelings, about Sarajevo, and the time I would be spending here.
I remember first being amazed, in awe, of the beauty of this country. The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was beating down on my skin. It felt nice. It felt welcoming. I was immediately enthralled by the culture here, especially in Baščaršija. I loved all of the little shops, the winding cobble-stone road, and the hidden side streets throughout this old part of the city. I, for whatever reason, felt very welcomed when walking through here. It was like I was in a good dream. I could live here forever.
I now no longer look at this city and am pleased by its aesthetics. Yes, there still are very beautiful parts of this city, but I am not so naïve to this beauty anymore. Originally stunned by the indescribable beauty of the mountains that surround the city, I now see these mountains as snipers’ nests. These beautiful mountains where the perching spots for soldiers who took countless lives throughout the city. These mountains were the reasons why civilians had to put up sheets throughout the alley ways of the city. These mountains and their beauty were used against the people of this city.
Cafés bring life to this city, no matter the time of day. I cannot tell you how many times we have sat at cafes and had glasses of wine and ate dinner, and people watched. I loved that when I first got here. But with time in the city, I realized that during the almost 4-year siege of this city that life was non-existent. There were no leisurely strolls down the streets or by the river, because at certain points that river was the front lines during the war. There was no sitting outside at night and having a glass of wine. The Sarajevo roses throughout the streets, that I once thought were beautiful took on a whole new meaning. They were reminders of the lives that were taken. I knew this. But it did not register until living in this city.
All of this that I had grown to adore about the city, everything from the scenery to the type of living, was non-existent during these 4 years. This city was a war zone. This city, and all of its beauty was stripped, and robbed of this. At times I now had this fear of the city. At times I now felt a great amount of sorrow when thinking about this city. How could a place so beautiful become one of the worst places in the world? How did these people live here during the entirety of this war?
I still don’t know how to properly handle this dichotomy of feelings. This place has become one of my favorite cities I have ever been in, but I now have a small glimpse into the life of the people that lived here during the war. People who I consider friends grew up here during the war. This was, and still is their home.
7 weeks later, I still feel like I am living in that dream-like state that I arrived in. Sometimes it feels like a whole different, parallel life, one that I am happy is not my life. Other times this city has taken my heart and my soul, and I have fallen in love with in completely. The culture, the passage of time, the people, the food. I smile thinking about all of it. The 7 weeks I have spent in Bosnia have been some of the hardest days of my entire life. Do I wish I had not come? Absolutely not.