Lost my heart

This is Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. I’ve spent a lot of time in Croatia, but this week was my first visit to Bosnia (unless you count 10 minutes along the Dalmatian coastline). Bosnia has stolen my heart and broken it.
It’s a beautiful place. You can tell that from the photo above. And it’s exotic too. For many centuries, it’s been a place where many cultures came together. Although the locals were mostly Slavs, many converted to Islam after the Ottoman Empire conquered the land. Today, slightly less than half of Bosnians are Muslim, and there is definitely an Eastern flavor to the place. Here’s a shot of the old town, which dates to the 16th century or so.
There are also large numbers of Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, and Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews have been living there for centuries too. You can hear muezzins and church bells, can peer out a synagogue’s windows to see minarets and cathedrals. And you can also see plenty of buildings left over from the Austro-Hungarian and communist Yugoslavia years. It’s fascinating.

The people I met in Bosnia were lovely and wonderfully quirky. In the photo above, two teams of men are playing giant chess. My guide said sometimes people bet on the matches. In Sarajevo, you can drink coffee at Club Bill Gates:

Or eat at Kenttucky (sic) Fried Chicken.
The countryside is beautiful too–steep mountains with limestone cliffs, winding rivers, villages with tall haystacks and roadside stands selling honey, cabbages, and oranges. And two hours from Sarajevo is Mostar.

 Stunningly beautiful, isn’t it?

Food in Bosnia is cheap. I had espresso and a slice of delicious cake for a little over $2. I had a huge plate of burek and a can of Coke for about $3.

People speak a lot of English, and are patient with my pidgin Croatian (which becomes pidgin Bosnian there, because the two languages are almost identical). The locals have a wonderfully dark sense of humor. They smoke too much and drive like they’re insane. They drink Bosnian coffee with Turkish delight or baklava. They seemed delighted to show off their country to me.

But then there’s the heartbreak part. See that beautiful, famous bridge in Mostar? It was destroyed during the war and had to be rebuilt. Damaged and destroyed buildings are still everywhere in Bosnia. In Sarajevo and Mostar you can’t go outside without seeing signs of the war on buildings and sidewalks.

That’s an apartment building. You can see where a shell hit it and where the shrapnel sprayed. The only buildings without signs of damage are those built after the war or repaired. Everything else is marked. Sidewalks still have holes. The ones painted red are called Sarajevo Roses–they designate places where people died.

And the people are marked too, although they aren’t the least bit bleak. You can see some of what I mean in the top photo I posted, where rows of gravestones in the foreground all date from 1992-1995. That cemetery was once a park. But Sarajevans couldn’t leave the besieged city to bury their dead, so they buried them wherever they could.

One of my guides lost his father, stepbrother, grandmother, and all his possessions during the war. The other spent a long time trapped–with 60,000 other people–between two different enemy armies, unable to get food or medical care, watching her hometown being destroyed.

Bosnians like to quote Churchill, who said the Balkans generates more history than it can consume. That breaks my heart. That Bosnians can survive all this with courage, good humor, and graciousness is why my heart’s stolen as well.

17 thoughts on “Lost my heart”

  1. Thanks for visiting my country you should go and visit other places in Bosnia and Herzegovina …Trebinje Bihac Banja Luka …

  2. dear author’m glad that you were in Sarajevo, I want to repeat your arrival and to be your host and even better to get to know my city Greetings from Sarajevo

  3. {rtf1ansiansicpg1252
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    outl0strokewidth0 strokec2 Thank you for this wonderful review of my home country and my fathers home city! Even to us expats thrown about the world post war the love and the heart break for our country are all too real. The best we can all do is not to forget

  4. I am from Bosnia currently live in the US Florida Tampa bay area. I was recently in Bosnia and loved it very much, besides the smoking part. I am not a smoker and that was a little weird to me that people smoke so much there. Country is very beautiful and it is not that expensive, well taking in consideration that we are coming from US and are on our vacation.

    1. The smoking is hard to get used to. Especially coming from California, where sometimes smoking’s banned even outdoors. But everyplace has its downsides, and BiH is very beautiful.

  5. There are several amazing small places around the country that are definitely worth visiting, such as Blagaj, Pocitelj, Trebinje, Stolac, Kravice (which you could all visit in one day), as well as Visegrad, Konjic, Travnik and Jajce 🙂
    I definitely recommend checking them out

  6. Thank you very much for sharing this. I enjoyed seeing it. Both of my grandfathers were Croatian (though I’m not entirely sure from where and as we dig we’re learning Dad’s side might actually not be Croatian like we were told but actually Hungarian) so it’s nice to see some of the country they’re from (at least in theory). Part of my pen name was my Croatian Great Grandmother’s name.

    Jana Denardo

  7. I enjoyed your comments. I’m an American that has lived here for 14 years. I originally came to do humanitarian work. My wife is here and our children have grown up here. My heart is also broken for Sarajevo and Bosnia and Hercegovina. I will always carry her and her people in my heart.

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