Pressed between several sweaty bodies, I watch the view blur past as the tram creaks its way through the city of Sarajevo. The temperature outside is freezing, in contrast to what it is in this tram stuffed amongst people consisting of more differences than similarities: men clad in suits, women wearing burkas, children in school uniforms and homeless people shifting about, begging for the least of values. Of course, the differences extended these boundaries. Nonetheless, they were all too visible and pondering on it too much, was all too painful. The snow crunched under my feet as I walked towards the school, or another temporary educational establishment for the next month and a half. Pulling the flaps of my jacket closer, I glanced at the grocery store to my left, and a smile spread across my face, as I remembered my addiction to the Bosnian chocolate cookies that I buy at this store.
It’s interesting I thought. How Bosnia and Sarajevo remind me of things that I would not have even considered if I had never been in the country, the media being my only source of external insight. I raise my eyes to look at the bridge I am walking on. Below, a river flows, the calm gushing sound grounding me. The clouds hanging overhead and the leaves gently rustling in the breeze. Street art brings the city to life; the burning bright red and yellows contrasting with the dull, and dreary gray walls; pink and blue hues bringing the dark, cloudy sky to life, making it seem like as if it was springtime. The cars rush past, the birds are flying overhead, and there is a sense of tranquility in the crisp, cold air around me.
Sarajevo is tranquility and groundedness for me.
But the bullet holes.
And the memorials.
The burnt factories.
The roofless houses.
The graveyards that disappear into the horizon.
The smear of burnt-black where streets meet.
The eerie silence of barren lands
The political tension.
The quivering gazes shared between people of the three different ethnic groups.
The refugees seeking solace.
The dried tear tracks on the scarred faces of the victims.
The mournful memories.
The reminiscent past.
The remorseful mistakes.
The lives this all cost.
My feet come to a halt as I wait at crossroads, next to a group of schoolkids, too cheerful for this early in the morning. My train of thoughts doesn’t, however, come to a halt, in contrast to my feet.
Bosnia and Herzegovina. This country always meant this to people. This. The war. This is where it began, and this is where it ends. Bosnia as a country, Sarajevo as a capital and Bosnians as citizens solely mean one thing to the outside world: war-torn. And although it hurts me to witness it firsthand and see the remnants of war both in human and inhumane forms, I would still say Bosnia is not war.
Sure, there are bullet holes in the wall. Yet the murals on the walls seem like tulips have been planted in these holes. It’s like an ointment on wounds people thought could never heal.
But everything heals, and it takes time, and we need to give it just that.
The burnt factories, the roofless houses, the memorials are reminders of the catastrophe that occurred 25 years ago. These memorials exist to serve as elegies for the ones and things that were lost during the war. Nonetheless, it does not and should not completely define what Bosnia is as a country. And if it does, then ask yourselves this question- what is my country was nothing but equivalent to war in history?
The graveyards, the held breaths, and silences, the memories, the past slowly swallowing people in making them think, just think how they can turn this all over, make it never happen and they live with this burden, the grief for the rest of their lives. But life like a river keeps flowing and new generations try to thrive in a country which the outside world defines as “war-torn.” They do not deserve to grow up under these accusations. I look at the school kids next to me. Their eyes shining with curiosity and eagerness to learn. These kids need our help so that they can attain knowledge and understanding and make this world a more peaceful place to live. They do not need our denunciations claiming this country cannot progress because it’s nothing more than “war.” We as the world are almost forcing these newer generations to never be able to grow, to make themselves something, that is not the past.
I start crossing the road, and I can see the school building ahead of me as thoughts race through my mind. There indeed is political unease in the country, with three presidents, and social unrest among citizens of the different ethnicities in the country. Refugees are begging for a mere piece of bread, and the country is lacking basic amenities yet, the country is trying to develop. And we should give it a chance to. It took us almost 100 years in the western world, to industrialize and develop, and Bosnia is still recovering and growing, and it has merely been 25 years since the war. Instead of blaming and not allowing the people in Bosnia to advance despite the ethnic tensions in the country, is just making the situation worse. We, as developed nations I reckon, should help Bosnia by providing them resources that they need. By spreading the word for education and peace and understanding instead of isolating ourselves from the country. By avoiding regarding Bosnia as a “war-torn” nation and giving the people in Bosnia hope that things will change. By standing with them, for them.
Political unrest does not mean civil unrest. Politicians make a living out of tampering with issues that are better left alone, and the people shouldn’t be affected by that. They should be given a chance to develop and gain mutual respect for each other. They shouldn’t be held back by limitations set by problematic politicians and least of us with mindsets as wide as a test tube. They need supportive, encouraging and helpful individuals who don’t force their pasts on them but rather help them learn from it and advance towards a better and brighter future.
A wave of heat hits me as I enter the building. The dim lights settle a warm feeling across my chest as I get on the escalators and tell myself with a new hope that suddenly overwhelms me,
The fate of the world lies in our hands. Comprehensiveness, open-mindedness, and advancement are ours to bring forwards. And we shall strive to be the ambassadors that will ultimately change the world for the better.