Sladoled, hvala and dobro…these were my first few words in Bosanske! I should survive considering they mean ice-cream, thank you and good. They should change the name of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ‘Sladoledland’ – there’s ice-cream after every 20 steps here…which is fantastic! I was able to go with another one of AP’s peace fellows, Antigona, to Sarajevo last weekend. There were enough signs of the war and of much construction to make up for the lost infrastructure. I have never seen so many buildings riddled with bullets – yet, people continue their usual business in those very buildings. Some tried to cover up the holes making the buildings look like they were going through puberty. In Tuzla on the other hand, much of the building collapses are because salt has been extracted from the ground and has left spaces in the ground which tend to weaken the foundations of buildings.
It’s interesting how societies try to overcome their past – “that’s life” as Beba, the Bosfam founder says often. Here, people are jolly, hospitable, giving and always make time for coffee (“kafa”) breaks. Apparently, you learn to move on and because you’ve seen so much during the war, it becomes normal…even the remnants of buildings and the reminders of lost relatives. In my time of being in Bosnia, I have met people who ran after being buried under bricks when a missile was shot at a building they were hiding behind, and others whose children survived solely because they were shot and thought to be dead. More than 10 years after the war, many more still don’t know where their family members are. Some, possibly considered fortunate, have received closure by being able to give their loved ones a respectable burial in the many graveyards that pepper the landscape here.
For 1,400 days, bullets pierced walls and lives as Serbian forces surrounded Sarajevo and took aim. Being in Sarajevo and being able to understand the geography made the vulnerability of the city much easier to understand. The forces left with the blood of more than 11,000 people on their hands. The UN kept watching and is now despised by many for not providing any sort of protection. The airport was under UN control and this area was the only path to free Bosnian territory. VIPs were given importance and allowed to use this path, but for the thousands of people living in Sarajevo, there was no such luck. Because there was no other way that ammunition, food or the wounded could be transported, a tunnel (pronounced toon-el in Bosnian), 800 meters long, was created under the Sarajevo runway to connect the city to free Bosnian territory. It began from the garage of a house which still stands. Today, they allow tourists to walk through a small section of the tunnel, starting from a different building, which I’m certain is an entirely different experience than what thousands of people went through 15 years ago. As one of the guides told us, the tunnel took 2 years to dig. It was started at the same time on both sides of the airport and they met in the middle. Apparently, 400,000 people went through it at some point of the 3.5 years. Some said that the Serbs knew about this but did not do anything to stop the people passing, but I personally find this difficult to believe.
I am already into my second week here…and time is flying. The stories I hear of the war are so intriguing and the similarities between Bosnian, Indian and African cultures are fascinating. Not only do elders force you to eat more and more as soon as a morsel of food is taken away from your plate, but families ensure that their hosts eat first and then they help themselves, and all three societies (at least once) insist that they pay the bill if you eat out. These similarities, so far all to do with food and hospitality, seemed more evident since we were discussing these mannerisms with a German lady who currently lives in France…where things are fairly different.
Much more to come…hope you keep reading and enjoying the pictures…
Posted By Shweta Dewan
Posted Jun 15th, 2008