(This was written on 17 July, 2014 as I was leaving)
As the plane rises above Sarajevo, I think about all I have seen in this most fascinating of cities. From the mix of building styles and materials, to the mix of buildings old and new, to the mix of women in hijab and dresses to those barely covered, churches, mosques and even two synagogues – Sarajevo seems like a place where differences don’t matter. It looks like a place where East and West have met and agreed to get along. When one looks closer and sees the bullet holes and bomb scars on walls, the decaying facades of formerly grand buildings, and the many residents similarly faded and scarred, the truth becomes clearer. While harmony may be the first impression, and is the goal of all who I met here, it has not been the reality.
I have to admit I am a bit in love with Sarajevo. This faded beauty of a city located in the valley of the Miljacka River has won my heart. The people are funny and welcoming, the food delicious and, for an American, quite cheap. Gelato is .70 a scoop! It may not be Scotch flavored from Aldo’s, but it is good and cheap. Jacob Finci, a prominent member of the Jewish community is, despite all he has experienced, witty and full of positive energy. Eliezer Papo, our scholar in residence, was hysterical and full of sexual inuendos. His knowledge of the Jews of Sarajevo, and Sepharad in general, was so helpful. Eliezer and I discovered a common love of Russian literature and similar standards for judging all writing against Dostoevsky. All of the teachers I met from the former Yugoslavia, whether Serb, Croat or Bosniak, were comitted to a future where their students will build a better future for their countries and for the whole area of the Western Balkans.
Yesterday I walked the length of Logavina Street, an ordinary road made famous in a book of the same name. I felt like I had walked it before and that I knew the people there. Seeing familiar names on the plaques, commemorating those who died during the seige, outside the school near the top made me recall the stories of their lives and deaths. The cemetery with so many graves with the same year of death – 1993 being most common, was overwhelmingly sad. The mixture of new homes with old and war scarred buildings forced me to think about what the ordinary residents of this street endured for three years. So many reminders, and not in some country overseas that I might never visit, but on their homes, at the top of their street, around each corner. This makes the work of teaching young people to love, not hate, so much harder. Or does it make it easier? Are the lessons more easily remembered when the evidence of the high cost of ignoring them is right there, every day? Only time will tell. I hope to be able to come back and see for myself. I wish only peace for this lovely city that has stolen a little piece of my heart.