Sarajevo is amazing.

1 June 2000

I never imagined that this 10 month, 25+ country odysy would have a constant soundtrack of bad american pop music -- but it certainly has been non stop.

I know it is just a bad american pop song, but i had never heard it before -- and tonight i was sitting in a bustling Sarajevo bistro and heard the courus:

Everybody's happy now,
the bad thing's gone away.
Everybody's happy now
the good thing's here to stay.
It brought tears to my eyes.

Bosnia and Hercogovina is an amazing place and this city is ... well we keep over using the word amazing. Lots of scars, but lots of good, and a beautiful place... must have been (ahem) amazing before the war... And of course it is SHOCKING... but rest assured, the only people carrying guns here (not the cops, not the Bosnian army, not the EU troops, not the UN, not any of the other troops or NGOs we see every where) is the Americans.

i wrote this in sarajevo, the first week of june...

I didnít sleep much the night before we took the bus to sarajevo. I donít know what exactly I was so stressed about, but I was. I was concerned about the border crossing. we had heard stories about tourists being harrassed at the border. Once I did wake in the morning I was clearheaded about the whole thing and felt fine. The crossing turned out to be less eventful than I could have imagined. I didnít even see a bosnian border guard. We didnít even get stamps in our passports! It was quite disappointing in that respect. I am happy that we werenít harrassed or anything though.

The bus went through Mostar. It was one of the hotspots during the war here. It shows. I think it would be a very interesting place to see, but I am glad we came straight to sarajevo.

Sarajevo is an amazing place. I know, that is an understatement... but we keep overusing that word. Everything is stunning... from the very location and the people.

The city is in a GORGOUS valley, looks quite a bit like Switzerland, red roof houses climbing the hills, bigger mountains in the distance.

And the people are... Slavic Muslims. That alone is very interesting and a big jarring to my white bread American propaganda history background. It is truely facinating. The mosques are gorgous, and there is somethign really cool about all these narrow towers sticking up around the city.

Of course there is constant evidence of the war... You cannot go 5 minutes without seeing an office, car or uniform for any of dozens of aid organizations, governments, armys or oranizations.

Every organization or military vehicle or person has a small national flag on their shoulder. None carry guns, not even the local police or army. Only the Americans, and they carry giant ones.

There are also numerous signs infront of construction projects indicating which country is helping the rebuilding.

And there are still many buildings which were bombed out or otherwise shelled. The giant holes in highrise buildings is a bit shocking -- more shocking is all the machine gun bullet chips on most of the buildings. Worst of all is the sidewalk. Every block or so there is a splash in the concrete (you see giant splashes on the sides of buildings too). THis is where a grenade or explosive shell went off. It is very jarring... it looks so much like water.

Several of these splashes on the pavement have been filled in. With red concrete. People died there. Imagine the impact... Most people here seem to ignore them, but i cannot.

But many of the buildings have been repaired, and some completely rebuilt (usually the big Ameircan and German corporations... the big yellow Holiday in dominates the skyline!) Often a building with wash on the line and dozens of sattilite dishes will have half of the builiding blown out still.

Most services are slowly starting back up, of course the trams (first in the Austrian Empire!) busses and roads are all fine. Water and power is dependable. National train service is slowly starting but international does not exist yet.

The people are wonderful. They are very vibrant and active... it is hard to imagine what they went through, what they did and...... In the last year of the war there was a draft of ALL men 16 to 60. So looking around at all these stylish, active, celphone talking, Italian looking men running around... the mind fills in gaps better left alone.

Getting in the country was shockingly easy and the even the US embassy, which was actually USEFUL here, said we had nothing to worry about. But people at home are still frightened. We had been looking forward to Croatia for a long time, and the people we told that we might go there reacted with fear. We did not even mention our plans to visit Bosnia. They still see the images from 4 years ago. Some people substitute Kosovo for Bosnia, not realizing that it is a different place, a different time. So i am not sending this while i write from an Internet club in central Sarajevo... i will hold on to it and write once i am in Budapest or Poland... so no one will worry.

More will follow!

We knew there was nothing to worry about, but we were concerened about stories about border guards. We were so nervous we didn't sleep much the night before, even though we knew it was not a problem.

We had to pass in to Bosnia, out of it and into it again and the first time we went in there was no passport control at all. In fact the bus stopped for a pee break and we walked around in Bosnia and didn't even know we were not in Croatia! The second border crossing was more like a border, but we did not even get a stamp!

It will take many pages, and i PROMISE to finish writing what i started when we were there, to describe Sarajevo. It is very intense, mostly because of what was inside of me, but also the landscape.

Sarajevo is a GORGOUS city, undoubtedly one of hte most beautiful in Europe before the war. The Switzerland like location, combined with the many mosques poking up above the houses and the comvfy old Turkish quarter are quite lovely. The huge skyscrapers with giant cannon shell holes in them, burned out floors and bullet holes EVERYWHERE, EVERY building are nothing short of shocking. The sidewalk is covered with what looks like water splashes, you cannot walk half a block without seeing a couple. These are where grenades exploded -- the ones that killed people are filled with RED concrete. THAT makes a statement!

It is a thriving city, but there are UN-SFOR troops on almost every cornor, and SFOR, UN, diplomatic, NGO, EU, OSCE cars and uniforms everywhere. Every building or bus has somewhere on it the logo of the country and or organization that donated it.

The people extremely happy, upbeat, intense and VERY VERY fast paced! Can you blame them.

I know it is just a dumb american pop song, you have all probably heard it too, but I had the most amazing experince. I was in a shiny new bistro on the street called SNIPERS ALLEY. My delicious plate of Gnocci was almost finished and while Cheryln was away in the bathroom i was taking in the bustle of the place, the eager waiters, the trendy kids, the profesoral types, the crowds on the street. A song came on (if i someone had told me that this epic journey through 25 countries would have an omnipresent sound track of bad american pop music, i would have lauged. But it has.) I had never heard it before. The courus said: EVERYBODY'S HAPPY NOW, THE BAD THING'S GONE AWAY. EVERYBODY'S HAPPY NOW, THE GOOD THING'S HERE TO STAY.

When Cheryln returned she asked why i was crying.

The city and country are rebuiling themeselves, with lots of help. The people occationally express a little restrained frustration with the Serbs for the four year siege. But they often express extrem anger at the international community for allowing it to last 4 long years! We visited the tunnel which was the lifeline for that time -- we had to walk through the countryside, through an area that the front lines crossed (don't worry, there are no mines here, the UN has chosen it as it's main base!). A frinedly local guided us to the museam in someones home. HE, like everyone complained about the lack of jobs.

That was the overwelming experince -- a lack of jobs. Another powerful experince i had, probably the most intensly BOSNIAN experince was on the bus from Sarajevo to Zagreb. The sunday afternoon bus was filled with two americans and a dozen men 25 to 55. They were all leaving the country, and their familys, to go to work for the week in Zagreb. There are NO jobs in Republic Serbska, where this bus was travelling. In Baja Luka, one of the hardest hit areas, there was a mother holding a small boy, perhaps 2 or 3 years old. He was kicking and screaming and crying... he was demanding that his father should stay and not go away for 5 long days. The father, was waving from the bus, trying to keep his composure. Again, Cheryln and i lost ours.

We went to Sarajevo, tentivily for one day, stayed happily for three days and wished we had another week! But time was ticking.

© Copyright Mark Canizaro 2000



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