Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Travels to Sarejevo

Spent the past week in Sarejevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The people here like stay out late and people watch on the streets as people walk by the cafes and bars. They also have outdoor areas where people were watching sports on huge TVs and projectors in the middle of the street, kind of communal television. Unlike the TVs in most bars in the US that serve as background, it seems these folks actually come to these outdoor areas to watch TV with friends and sip a coke, coffee or beer. Computers do not seem to be a major part of anybody’s life. I think in the whole city I’ve seen 3 internet cafes, one wireless connection at the sister hotel to the one I’m in (no room at the wireless equipped hotel), and one store with a wi-fi connection sign (which for the life of me could not relocate the next day in the winding streets of the section of town built in the byzantine era!). Lots of small cars in the streets, HUGE and steep hills to walk up around the edges of town. Its warm here, in the middle of the day the sun beats down like any meditteranean city, but the humidity did not seem bad this time of year.

One thing you can feel here is the heterogeneity. Mashup of all different religious temples dot the hillsides, Muslim temples and catholic chuches, all of them hundreds of years old. Probably something most people in eastern Europe are used to but for those from the US this strikes me. Music is an interesting mashup that actually was quite appealing: rock beats and Islamic chants, also some Bosnian loves songs play in some places. Kids drive by and have rap and red hot chile peppers blaring on the stereo to give the occasional reminder of English words.

The city is in a valley surrounded by mountains with a stream running through the middle and the best tasting water I’ve had EVER, including any bottled water, I can’t believe how soft it is. I walked most of the main parts of town with little shops and places you can get Bosnian coffee, which is a served in a little pot with a handle, some sugar, a tiny cup, and a Turkish delight. Its very good, nice to have something a little different in the coffee department. The people here have been super super friendly as well, and I’ve been surprised how many speak very good English.

This is the place World War I started, and I got to stand in the very spot that the Archbishop was assassinated, setting off the conflict (him, not me of course). Also was the city that was under a 3+ year siege when the Bosnian Serbs sat in the hills, shot mortars and sniped down into the city, cut off all water and fuel supplies, killed over 10,000 people. Since that happened a little more than 10 years ago, the topic is still fresh in the people’s minds. For three years they wonder why Europe did not come to help them (some theories: many in the city were muslim? no critical resources? Didn’t know there was a problem? Couldn’t afford it? Policy of non-intervention?). Finally, Bill Clinton saved them. It was not the US, for 3 years the US ignored them as well. Somebody moved Bill Clinton to address the issue, that’s what I remember, and that’s how it should be remembered. I remember no rallies for the people in the region. I remember watching CNN, I remember apathetic voices on the television, if you don’t remember listen to how we talk about the people of Darfur today, like what happens to them isn’t connected, like these are not our problems. On the other hand, we complain about money going to fight somebody else’s wars. It’s complicated, more some other time.

After the Bosnian Serbs killed 8000 people in 3 days in other areas of the territory, the UN negotiated control of the airport to bring in food and medical supplies, 3 flights a day, hardly enough for a city of this size. I saw a secret tunnel that was dug under the airport that led to routes not controlled by the Bosnian Serbs. Gaining the airport opened a channel to supplies: the people dug a tunnel from the city, under the landing strip, and into the hills that they controlled. Before the tunnel, If they tried to cross over the strip at night the UN would shine lights on the people trying to cross. When the lights shined on them, they made easy targets for the Bosnian Serbs in the hills. If somehow you made it to the airport, the UN would round you up and return you to the city under siege. This was part of the agreement with the Bosnian Serbs.

I didn't know.