Landing in Sarajevo

Well, we arrived in Sarajevo on Wednesday, and it has been a surreal experience. The history of this city is written all over its buildings, all over the people’s faces. Twenty years removed from war, but the effects are heavily evident.

The setting of the city matches the emotional weight of the past. Every day begins in fog, eclipsing and erasing the tips of the mountains encircling the city. The details of housing stacked along the slopes are hazy, resulting in a dreamy, grey-grim mood. As I walk through the streets, I think about how powerless one must have felt during the siege. The geographical layout is literally stacked against anyone walking in this city center, this valley. For every step I take, I can look up at the mountains and see a million vantage points from which a mortar could launch.

Some buildings have been completed refaced, shiny and forgetful of the war. Others have been patched together, the mismatching tones of concrete communicating the amount of damage inflicted. Still others stand exactly as they did twenty years ago, surfaces pebbled from artillery shelling.

Every building, every cafe, is full of smoke. One can’t really blame them. It is rather telling of how the war traumatized the country’s collective psyche – lung cancer is low on the list of worries. In Croatia, the divide between smoking and non-smoking was about 50-50. Here, stepping into a shopping mall or cafe is like stepping into a lit cigarette. I walked into a market yesterday and one butcher was smoking right beside his assorment of meat. I suppose no one here minds this added flavor.

This city is its own thing entirely…dissimilar to every place I’ve been so far.