I found it fitting, upon first entering Bosnia, that our first class meeting had been to see the movie “Sarajevo Roses — A Cinematic Essay,” as I couldn’t help seeing the city of Sarajevo through this metaphor. The beauty of Sarajevo was evident from the plane window as we descended into the airport. The hills surrounding the city seemed to cradle it, exuding a sense of calm emboldened by the clouds hiding the most distant peaks. Upon entering the city itself, the diversity was evidenced by the many mosques, churches, cathedrals, and even a synagogue. The people, too, exemplified the beauty, the petals, of the city—despite the language barrier, I felt welcomed into Bosnia.
Every rose has thorns, the counterpart to the petals. I first noticed some of the thorns of Sarajevo when looking at buildings demonstrating the history of the war—the bullet and mortar holes. They were seen on some buildings in stark contrast to neighboring buildings that were updated and repaired.
My first day in Bosnia was capped by hearing the call to prayer from the mosque beside my hotel. The voice carried out into the city and, together the bells I heard from one of the cathedrals on my second day, reminded me of the petals of the rose that is Sarajevo. It also reminded me of the movie Scream for Me Sarajevo and how music can transcend other aspects of reality and bring or return awareness to the good and beauty in life.
I found this awareness extended to other aspects of what I’ve seen so far in Sarajevo, especially seeing and learning about the Tunnel of Life. The tunnel, used in part to transport resources into Sarajevo, did provide a life-line for those trapped in the siege. This seems to me to be a literal beacon of hope, much like the blooming of a rose.
Conversely, experiencing the sniper nests on the side of the hill and in the Jewish cemetery reminded me of the history of this beautiful city. The same hills that had initially seemed soft like petals when I first arrived in Sarajevo suddenly became thorns in the history of the city. The very landmarks that had caught my eye when landing in Sarajevo I now viewed through a different lens. Our tour guide, Yadranka, mentioned the saying “seen from Jewish,” meaning that a location could be viewed and targeted by snipers in the Jewish cemetery. Hearing her describe how homes were included in being “seen from Jewish” allowed me to view the hills in a more sinister light.
The Olympic buildings and event areas also seemed much like a rose to me, with some of the areas seeming withered and others thriving. Looking out over the Olympic arena, an area that will be filled with many excited people for a concert coming up, reminded me of a rose that is thriving, albeit in a different manner than it was initially intended. The arena itself serves as a reminder of the 1984 olympics and the joys that went along with that—especially since it is still being used. On the other hand, while walking down the abandoned bobsled tracks was surreal. This rose was wilted and abandoned—and also became consistent with my thorny metaphor in that something that had brought such excitement during the olympics now lay abandoned and seemingly forgotten.
Riding down the hill in the cable car back toward Sarajevo, I was struck, again, by the beauty of the city and the buildings and the river that runs through it. It seemed fitting to think of the Sarajevo as a rose—a beautiful, diverse rose with thorns that can’t be ignored and shouldn’t be forgotten. It seems poignant, then, that it was a rose that was used to paint over the scars left by mortars.