About the time I got locked in a toilet at a truck stop in Bosnia
Sarajevo is one of the few places in the world where I have ever felt really afraid. And that includes walking down Las Ramblas in the middle of the night and sleeping at train stations. Something about being dropped at a bus stop at midnight, potentially being abducted by cabbies and having to fork out eighty euros for the closest hotel will do that to you. I have since endeavoured to arrive in foreign cities during daylight, or at least organised accommodation in advance.
As a city slowly recovering from the fierce Serbian siege of the nineties after the disbandment of the Yugoslav Republic, Sarajevo appears on Google Maps as a single road. This however, was only a real problem in the menacing dark of night. Once well (and safely) rested and reinstalled in a six-euro-a-night rat trap, I was able to better enjoy the culturally diverse and seemingly paradoxical city.
As a central point between Turkish and Moorish influence from the south-east and that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the west, Sarajevo hosts both Orthodox Churches and Mosques, Flea Markets and Department Stores, grandiose, regal architecture and bullet-ravaged socialist blocks.
As in the rest of the former Yugoslav Republic (where, after years of socialism the leading supermarket chain is now known asKonzum, an obvious appropriation of the tem ‘consumerism’), Sarajevo is home to a Zara, a H&M, and an Apple store . But you don’t have to wander far to find yourself in cobbled alleys full of Turkish cafes, metal smiths and second hand stores selling what was quite possibly the contents of the proprietor’s attic. I manage to live on börek and Turkish delight for the duration of my stay, as the kitchenware at Hostel Ljubicica is rusted at best, and the water undrinkable.
In an attempt to free ourselves from the extended lecturing and attempted conversion of a religious, pro-arm American who thought it would be a good idea to go hiking in the hills that surround Sarajevo, (read: active mine fields) the occupants of out hostel dorm embarked on a mission to find live music. Unfortunately the best you get in Sarajevo is covers of nineties pop songs so we consoled ourselves with Rakija and cheap cigarettes, because apparently smoking is not a health risk in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Not only is smoking legal and expected in bars and restaurants, they’re even yet to adorn the packaging with gruesome pictures and warnings.
Spurred by the desire to see the Tunnel of Hope, the remnants of the tunnel used during the Siege of Sarajevo to supply food and ammunition to the resistance movement, I took a tram out to the suburbs. However, the Sarajevo-is-not-on-google-maps issue arises again, and I end up in the midst of dilapidated, bullet-riddled, functionalist apartment blocks. After the mix of Austro-Hungarian/ Turkish splendour of the city centre, this contrast was a somewhat disturbing reminder of the country’s more recent history.
I remember learning a lot about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the commencement of World War One in 1914, but my knowledge of Slobodan Miloševic’s attempted genocide of the Bosniaks in the nineties was close to non-existent. I feel like a bit of an ignorant tourist, but the structures look amazing and there’s plenty of decent graffiti to admire.
Unfortunately, no matter how much of an ignorant tourist I felt, the ticket controllers on the tram back into town were not willing to let me off without a fine, despite the fact that we couldn’t actually communicate and I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea how to buy a ticket if I’d tried.
KM26 (€13) later, I was cold and wet and feeling a bit sorry for myself, so spending the last of my marks on some choice souvenirs, (a bullet shell pen and a cheesy ash tray) I headed down to the bus stop, ready to move on. I found it only marginally less seedy than on arrival; Gypsy children begging and pickpocketing, scums who would drag your bag off if you looked the other way, and last ditch cash grabs on luggage fees for the bus trip.
It must also be admitted, that I managed to lock myself in a toilet cubicle at a truck stop at on the nine hour trip from Belgrade. For a good ten minutes I was convinced that my luggage would make it to the capital and I would not. The English speaking Serbs who helped me in the end simply held out their hands and said “It’s the Balkans, expect anything…”
*All photographs were taken with a Minolta XG-1 and developed at the Hybrid Media Camp in Novi Sad, Serbia with the help of Andrea Palasti.