I am back in Denmark. The sun is shining. Spring has arrived. And I am ready to write.
As our plane descended into Bosnia on a Sunday afternoon, the first thing I noticed from a birdseye view was seas of graves. Large plots of land, stretching the length of football fields, dotted by fresh white marble headstones. I was seated next to my professor on the flight and I turned to him in shock and said are those what I think they are? He nodded.
We landed in the tiny airport, grabbed our bags and headed out to the parking lot. We were swarmed by men offering us the cheapest rides into town and the like, but eventually we found our guide and our bus, both of whom looked like they were from the 80s. We were going on “The Tour of Misfortune.” It was a three hour bus tour and we got off at four different locations for more in-depth explanations.
Our guide was an energetic guy in his mid twenties, who came from a mixed ethnic marriage. He was comfortable talking about his own experiences and that of his family, living under the siege of Sarajevo in the 90s.
The town of Sarajevo was sieged by Serbian forces in 1992 and lasted until 1995, when the war ended. It is the longest siege in modern warfare. During this time the civilians living in the city were annexed from the free Bosnian territory. The Serbian forces gave the UN control of the airport and airspace, but under the condition that they would not give the citizens of sarajevo access to the Bosnian free territory.
The first stop was the Tunnel of Hope, which was dug by citizens of Sarajevo to reach the free territory and the Bosnian army. The tunnel was 0.2 miles long and about four feet high. It was completely dug by hand and then reinforced with steel piping. after its construction it was used to funnel supplies, weapons, and refugees between the occupied territory, unbeknownst to the UN or the Serbian forces.
While walking around the museum for the Tunnel of Hope, I saw my first Sarajevo Rose. As I mentioned in a earlier post, they are scars in the cement where land mines exploded or there was shelling. They are painted red, if someone was killed.
We continued on our tour through the winding hills of sarajevo and I started to visualize the war. All of the buildings are still marked with bullet holes or lying in decay. The city itself is in a valley, surrounded by forested mountains. I have always loved living surrounded by nature, but in this case living in a valley was deadly, it gave the serbian forces the perfect tactical advantage to overthrow the city.
That afternoon we visited the Olympic Soccer fields where people were held before being killed. Then we drove up to snipers alley which was one of the main outpost during the shelling of the city.
I was feeling overwhelmed from out flight and the immediate onslalught of information. A lot of what our tour guide said washed over me as an introduction to the city. Two things however stood out. He was talking about his childhood in during the war. He told us how his education was stopped, playing stopped, food was scarce, and all they could do was wait. Then he said something, in a light hearted manner, that hung in my head. “Finding a piece of chocolate, during the war,” he said “was the closest you could come to god.”
I don’t think we have a word for this experience in english, when a little moment puts a situation in perspective. Its like an epiphany, but smaller and more subtle. But in that moment I really started to consider the reality of having your formative years occur during war, and conversely the immense privilege I experienced growing up.
The second thing, was that the most noticeable feature of Sarajevo were the graveyards. Each ethnic group has a different style of grave and it is quite easy to tell which came from the war and which were natural. Mostly the graves are from the war. They have consumed local parks and plots of land, and it seemed the presence of the dead dominate the city.