Happy Birthday to me! More Stories from Sarajevo

Paying the bill at Kibe Restaurant

Paying the bill at Kibe Restaurant

An example of the terrain

An example of the terrain

Today is my birthday.  Our hotel room has a full length mirror.  That’s unfortunate.  I step out of the shower naked and examine myself front and back.  My body is like an ancient ruin.  It was once a temple, but now bits are falling down at every opportunity.  But!  I do have my health, and I am fit enough to do a trip like this.  So I must count my blessings.

There is the latent worry that I am losing it a little – my navigation skills are not quite as sharp as they used to be.  Both Bill and I have noticed it.  Time was, I was an extraordinary navigator, so maybe now I have just dropped back to normal.  That’s a comforting thought.  I am no longer middle-aged, not unless I am planning on living to 116years old – so I should cut myself some slack.

When I was a child in Australia, I used to complain to my mother that my birthday was on the shortest day of the year.  I felt I was dudded.
“Don’t worry,” she would say. “When you grow up, it will be the longest night.”

I’m still waiting to find out what the heck she was talking about.

Now I am in the northern hemisphere, and my birthday is on the longest day.  Which is just as well, when you are married to a guy who can go to sleep as soon as the sun sets.
Entree sampling plate - various types of goulash and ravioli in sauces of sour cream and yoghurt

Entree sampling plate – various types of goulash and ravioli in sauces of sour cream and yoghurt

We have booked for a slap up dinner at a restaurant called Kibe, located on a hill looking down into Sarajevo.  In the evening, we experience exceptional service, a very nice red from nearby Medjugorje, from a grape variety called Blatina, and are able to sample four entrees, and several desserts, with lamb off the spit in between.  The view from our table at the window looks down on to Sarajevo, illuminated by both a full moon and lights from the minarets.  It is then we realise just how many mosques are in town.  Many are small and modest.  Muslims should pray five times a day, so whenever a cluster of dwellings or workplaces arose, a mosque would be built in the vicinity for the convenience of the users.

First though, we have steeled ourselves and signed up for the Times of Misfortune tour.  I feel to overlook what the residents of Sarajevo suffered would be a slap in the face to their trauma.  People need to be able to tell their story, although it seems that every few years there are new stories, and still all around the world atrocities are taking place.
Sarajevo is surrounded by hills and lies at the bottom of a long narrow valley that follows the line of the Miljaca River.  We see the city clearly from the white fortress, built centuries ago, when it was the main entrance to Sarajevo in Ottoman times.  One can see the approach road for miles back, and then again the road from the fort into the city.  It is just as well this position was held by Bosnian forces all through the siege, which lasted from early April 1992 until early February 1996 .
We can see Mount Igman in the distance, one of the Olympic sites. The city tapers to a narrow passage just before hand, and at this point the airport is located.  It was under UN control, to stop the city being completely cut off.  The UN would not allow anyone access, not even the residents, even though humanitarian aid was insufficient to sustain life.  So the Sarajevans built a tunnel under the runway, called the Tunnel of Life.  We see it later on the tour, and manage to walk through the twenty-five metres that have not collapsed.  The original tunnel was eight hundred metres long and prone to flooding.
imageOur guide Dino has many facts and information for us, and he does his best to be even handed, stressing that the nationalist fervour of a few zealots was at the root of the troubles.  Sarajevans are doing their best to learn to live together peaceably again, not wanting to point the finger at any individual ethnic group.
This is not a political blog, so I will not detail everything Dino had to say.  What I will say is that we observed a rebuilt maternity hospital (another deliberate target of the early days), the market place which was the subject of two massacres, sniper alley – where the residents were instructed to ‘run or rip’ (rest in peace), and the Olympic stadium that was targeted to destroy signs of achievement.  We passed a imagenursing home that has not been rebuilt. The city is dotted with cemeteries, some of them war graves, but most of them civilian.  Parks and soccer fields were given over to create cemeteries. They say that 11,541 civilians died, 1601 of them children under fourteen.
Dino told us that on the recent 20th anniversary, the main boulevard was lined with a red chair for every person who was killed.  When he talked about the child sized chairs being decorated with teddies and other childhood items, it was all he could do to keep his composure.
The bottom line is that Sarajevo was reduced from being a modern cosmopolitan city that hosted an Olympic Games in 1984, to a place that resembled the time of the caveman.  No water, no electricity, no gas, no heating, even during one of their coldest winters on record, when snow lay a metre deep on the ground.  People resorted to living in shelters as it was simply too dangerous to stay in their homes.
If you would like to understand in more depth, there are several books by journalists who stayed in the city.  I believe these include writings by Roy Gatman, Susan Sontag, and Peter Maass.
We have been introduced to a new concept – Yugonostalgia.  People are harking back to the time of Tito, and his socialist version of communism.  A time of low unemployment, investment in factories, free social services, open borders, and a leader who straddled a delicate neutral line between the USSR and US.
Events of Saturday 22nd June, 2013.  Garrulous Gwendoline, Sarajevo

8 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to me! More Stories from Sarajevo

  1. Sorry Maria, I missed your birthday, but better late than never my very best wishes.
    I am back at the hospital in Uppsala, after my tumor was operatet in Stockholm last week. I am ok but will have to exercise to make my leg work ok. Hopefully I do not need to cancle my meeting with you.

    Thanks for all your reports!


  2. Happy Birthday Gwen sorry about the “longest night”, however the image of you in front of the mirror with bits falling off is a bit debilitating when we are planning a nice lunch. I am going to have to time my reading of your emails so as to avoid all eating times. Sounds like you are having a great time and it will be great to share your “cool” writing with us in the magazine that is going to go ahead with the 10 interested residents that have offered to help to get it going. We are not rushing the first edition to press until we have resolved a number of issues. Have fun while we are sitting watching a very waterlogged golf course. Gary


    • Hahaha Gary. Hope I don’t give you too many uncomfortable moments. I did say I would try to make you feel as if you were on the trip with us :-). Sorry about the golf wash out. At least Bill can comfort himself that he is not missing out. GG


  3. Happy birthday sweetness. I love your writing style – it really makes me smile. Thanks for letting me live your life vicariously as a European Wanderer.


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