I was visiting the modern art gallery in Sarajevo with a very quiet Australian girl I had shared a table with at lunch. We were the only women in this quaint Bosnian bistro in the old city. Accidentally discovering this traditional restaurant the night before,I had dreamed about my Begova soup all morning and was impatient to get another bowl.There were no tourists and no women in this non English,only Bosnian speaking establishment. The waiter was extremely nervous and frustrated with me but the word for soup is very international..soep,sopa,suppe and on and on.so he brought me the famous Begova Corba,the Bey’s soup(the pasha’s soup).More than a chicken soup,its made with chicken,okra as well as many typical soup type vegetables,simmering for hours in an earthenware pot. I still have not discovered the secret of what makes this soup so delicious. After we had both eaten and agreed how delicious it was,I suggested we look for the art musuem. The door to the museum was so small and in need of a paint job that we almost gave up our search. The paintings were hung haphazardly on the walls,some of the galleries upstairs were unlit and the entire experience was disappointing..Stopping a young woman on the stairs,I asked in Ã‰nglish if she knew why the musuem was in such disarray. But this is a small town. The important cultural and financial centers in Yugoslavia were Zagreb and Belgrade and they still have the best museums there today. Sarajevo is a small city that has become famous because of the war. How many of us ever heard of other small cities like Fallujah,Haditha and Kunduz before they became involved in war?
I became interested in finding out more about the conflict in Bosnia in the early nineties. I searched for as many books,films and articles on the subject I could find. One of the first accounts of the war I read was written by an American journalist,Peter Maass. Love Thy Neighbor,a story of war,described his experiences in Bosnia between 1992-1994. My favorite book was the nonfiction,My war gone by, I miss it so by Anthony Lloyd;a English photographer,heroin user turned journalist,who was searching for himself on the battlefields of Bosnia and Chechnyna. As with Cuba and Albania,since my interest in Bosnia,I was finally going to actualize what I had read about. My first stop in Bosnia was Mostar,composed of a Croat and Muslim population.This city was undersiege twice in a decade;first by the Serbs and Montenegrins in 1992 and then in 1993 by the Croats,who had fought against the Serbian army the year before.Expecting an exceptional interesting town,I found the famous Stari Most,or old bridge that had been destroyed during the war. Rebuilt finally by 2004,it has become the focus of all the tourism which comes to Mostar. Cobblestone streets on both sides of the bridge are lined with shops filled with tourist paraphanailia,restaurants and cafes. The destruction of the bridge represented the division of the town between the Muslims and the Croats. As told to me by a young girl I had stopped in the street for information,the city is split by Bulevar Branitelja; the Muslims living in the old city and the Croats in the new area. I was advised not to go out if there was a soccer match as both sides have killed people walking on the wrong side of the street. Entering Mostar there is still a long street,known as the Bulevar,lined with war-damaged buildings,either waiting to be rebuilt with EU money or left as a reminder of the wasteful war. Realizing there was nothing keeping me in Mostar after visiting the old town,I took the bus to Sarajevo.
Arriving late in the afternoon,I decided to find a room in the Bascarsija neighbor,again the old town. On a dead end street I found the Hotel Safir,the interior design reminiscent of an Ikea showroom and an Italian cafe.The staff was in their twenties and very friendly, which gave me an opportunity to have many conversations about life and politics in Bosnia. I heard everything from corruption in the universities,getting good grades were based on who you knew,to the mess created by the Dayton Peace Accord whch ended the war in 1995. Bosnia was divided into twenty counties,individually run. Sarajevo was run by three presidents,a Serb,a Croat and a Bosnian. Bosnia Hercegovina had been broken into too many pieces,allowing for rampant corruption with no central government. There were few jobs for young people and if they found a job,it was poorly paid. The average monthly salary was 500 marks or 250 euros a month($320). Discovering there was a Jewish synogogue in Sarajevo,I crossed one of the bridges to the poorer part of town. Sitting and talking with two middle-aged women,I found out there had been 14,000 Jews in Sarajevo before WWll, eighty percent had killed by the Nazis and the Croats. There were now in Bosnia about 1300 Jews, about 800 living in Sarajevo.They also told me that most of the young Jewish adults leave Bosnia because they see no future,as did their own children.
After two days of pounding pavements in the city,stumbling upon five hundred year old mosques,churches,cafe bars full of unemployed beautiful young Bosnians,numerous banks with ATM machines,Benetton,Sisley and numerous other clothing,shoe and jewelry stores,I decided to take a tour to see how the war had been fought.Abhorring even the word tour,I decided this was an extreme situation. I could not get to any of these places on my own. Luck on my side,there was only a pleasant Australian couple that had signed up. Our guide was an eccentric 34 year old Bosnian Muslim who had served in the army,defending the city of Sarajevo at the age of seventeen. His English was understandable,especially with my assistance. We climbed through the famous tunnel the Bosnians had built near the airport to carry supplies from the mountains back into the city. We gazed down from the mountains surrounding Sarajevo,realizing how easy it had been for the Serbian army to shoot people like sitting ducks from thieir bunkers above the city. Tarik,our guide,took us to the landmined areas,some of which had been cleared,the remaining mines with red poles,stuck in the ground. We actually drove by a convey of UN trucks that were disfusing the mines. This was not a typical city tour and was worth the twenty five marks I paid. The rest of the day,Tarik,dragged me all over the city,constantly meeting people on the street he knew and introducing me as his American friend. Our last stop was a vegetarian Asian influenced cafe,run by a Croatian,that had grown up in Germany and spent several years in asrams in India.
Promising to take me to a club at 11 pm after his night job,searching at the trains and buses for tourists looking for lodging,he never showed up so I never got to see if there was a wild nightlife in Sarajevo.