Published: June 8th 2011April 6th 2010
Zoe Can't Drive
The bastard is late. I’m sitting in the garage of this crazy university – or at least what was supposed to be the garage before they ran out of money and had to turn it into an office – waiting for the Turkish Prime Minister to arrive.
The PM is coming to Sarajevo for the grand opening of this University my friend Zoe works at, and because he is late, they have barricaded the door to prevent anyone from leaving before he arrives (to further inflate his ego). Let me tell you exactly how I came to be held hostage at an international institution, waiting for this foreign chief executive …
A worthy introduction to Sarajevo
There is a marvelous stretch of modern, wide, actual freeway for about 20 kilometers, leading South to Sarajevo. Perplexingly, it ends about five kilometers before entering the city, guaranteeing
a tremendous rush hour logjam. I used my top-notch motorcycle skills to dodge 80% of this traffic, and probably saved a good 30 minutes.
The littlest window washer
Entering the city, the scars of poverty are obvious early on.
A starving young boy, only about one meter in height, desperately solicited
window-washing work from an enormous red commercial truck that was stalled in the hot afternoon rush-hour traffic. It would have been impossible for the child to have even reached the cabin door window, still he followed alongside and made his pitch. To wash the window, the bearded driver would have had to pick the boy up and set him on the hood of his vehicle. I would have killed for a picture of this sad, yet encouraging display.
I followed signs to the center of the city and found the sports arena. I found someone to help me call my new host, Teno, and soon he arrived to lead me to his home.
My first host in Sarajevo, is a noise musician of about 50, and has the manner of an Italian hustler as he continuously shuffles from foot to foot and gestures compulsively with his hands with everything he says. He is a kindhearted man who creates screeching industrial music, and has an elaborate face that tells novels about his life.
He met my Croatian friend Dunja as a street musician in Prague. Together they raised enough money to hit the pub and have a drink.
Sarajevo at night
A mosque by moonlight.
He introduced me to his wife, who is about 20 years younger, and mostly sat giggling like Nox Herrington at everything I said. He told me that they were of the Bosniac ethnic group, which is dominant in this part of the country. “We’re proud Muslims,” he said, and together we toasted the local Sarajevo beer in his fantastic ceramic mugs.
After spending much of the next morning on the internet, I finally escaped into the city after an odd breakfast of hot dogs, bread and cranberry tea.
I bought a ticket on the tram, and exited about 10 stops later, entering the central portion of the city.
I walked toward the center, passing minaret after minaret with vague directions to head toward the catholic cathedral. As I went along I saw a stand selling the most delicious-looking bananas I had ever seen. They looked to be at their prime ripeness and almost a neon yellow in color. I did a double-take and looped back to the stand. I turned so quickly that I completely knocked over a sack full of carrots and they spilled out at my feet. Now I felt obligated to
buy the bunch of bananas, even though I knew I couldn’t eat that many. I took them anyway, and started snacking right away. Then I saw poor beggar women on the street and began offering my excess bananas to all the starving ladies along my path. I became the most popular man on the street, handing out delicious and nutritious snacks to the malnourished of the city, and soon a crowd of them followed me as I went along my way.
Don’t get many tourists in these parts…
I asked a policeman how to find the catholic cathedral, where the tourist office was located. He said he couldn’t understand any English and didn’t know how to answer me. I made the catholic sign of the cross, and he smiled and sent me off in the right direction.
At the tourist office, they hardly had a clue. They gave me two maps of the city, neither of which had many streets located on it. They were like childish caricatures, leaving out any of the hairy details and sticking with the major arteries. This made it difficult to locate the actual addresses I was aiming for: two record labels, a brewery
and a jazz club, of course. As it turned out, the jazz club and one record label had gone out of business. The other record label had moved out of town. The brewery was fantastic. Possibly the most well-built construction in the city, at Sarajevsko the servers wore butler clothes.
Random moments in a sad city
I stood on the bridge where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914 to trigger The Great War, and had my picture taken.
Later I came home and made plans to meet up with my Serbian and Norwegian friends later that evening.
We met outside the old town hall building, and I took a picture of the plaque on the wall memorializing the national library for having been burned by “Serbian Criminals” in 1992. It actually said the plaque should be considered a “warning” and all should “beware.”
Beware? Why, because the next Serbian you see is going to freak out and burn down your library?
Soon my friends Hakon and Nenad introduced me to their Couchsurfing friends, two charming young college students, and we went off to get acquainted at a local bar. After the girls left, and the three of
The Latin Bridge in Sarajevo
This was the spot where Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated, sparking World War I.
us found a local place serving Cecinici, a classic Bosnian open pocket sandwich filled with ground beef and onions.
The next day I found a couchsurfing host to transfer over to, a woman who advertised herself as a true Aspy (Asperger’s case). From her description, I decided I was likely an Aspy too: inable to make small talk, with a preference for long-winded pontifications about the randomest things, which we remember in detail.
This new host, Zoe, got back to me right away, and we made plans to meet in a few hours.
Soon we were chatting about all matters of nonsense and languages, and she led me on a hike to the vista above the city. Zoe is a first-generation Ossetian refugee Turk, who has lived about four years total in Sarajevo. She has an excited tone about her, and once you get her rolling, she could explain the entire universe to you.
From the view above the city, you can see over the valley wall, which makes an effective natural barrier. Where there are about 400,000 homes in the main valley, there are about 50 on the other; it makes quite a stark contrast.
luxurious bathroom in the Balkans
Turkish Prime Minister
The PM arrives at the University's opening.
Zoe showed me her favorite bar in town, with the walls decorated end to end with old Yugoslavian memorabilia. There, I was invited to experience the “most luxurious bathroom in the Balkans.” When you open the unassuming wooden door, something triggers the mini television perched above toilet, and may enjoy quality programming like “Gilligan’s Island” while you make your natural deposit. The expansive sink is laid out like an altar, with two-dozen varieties of creams and substances with which to spoil yourself (as long as you don’t mind using other people’s creams). The simple problem with this single-stall bathroom is that its location, in a bar/café, invites very long bottlenecks: everyone wanting to use it, and only room for one or two persons at most.
Take a hike
The tremendous waterfall at Skakavac stands at the end of an 11km hike over marvelous countryside on a dirt trail. It pours its charge over the rocky cliffs, falling perhaps 1,000 feet to the valley below. About two kilometers before the falls, we passed a restaurant shack with the finest view of Sarajevo in the distance, nestled along an open mountain field and below a
scattering of rocky peaks.
But my time in Sarajevo was not complete until I met the Prime Minister of Turkey at the grand opening of Zoe’s new University Campus. Perhaps the word campus implies too much. It was more accurately the grand opening of the “building.” That is, the one building they have been able to fund since they began this project in 2001 at the International University of Sarajevo. Because of the difficulty in finding development funds, in Bosnia, during a global recession, Zoe says they have turned to the lizards and snakes and political favortists of the world to move it forward. With little thought to devising a curriculum that will actually focus on learning and retention, the teachers in the English department are tasked with devising systems that will help the student pass regardless of skills. Half the students are Turkish. Half the students are there because they couldn’t get into a public school. Most of the female students attend because the school allows them to wear their head scarves, which they aren’t allowed to wear in secular Turkish schools.
The Turkish Prime Minister was the guest of honor at the opening of this
new building, which was founded in large part by Bosnians who had become successful after moving to Turkey. The event was supposed to take place at 6pm, and attendance was compulsory for nearly everyone who had ever stepped foot on campus. However, as the clock rolled past 7pm, there was mutiny in the air and some people who had little patience for political opportunism began to move toward the exit. As Zoe and I tried to duck out, we were stopped by the guards: no one leaves until the prime minister arrives.
It was through this pattern of events that we ended up in a small room with the minster, as he paraded by with all of his slime and barnacles. He paused outside in the drizzling rain (with his official umbrella man), and watched the Bosnian dancers greet him in the torrid rain, dancing to a folk song.
As soon as the beast passed us, we took off to walk through the rain, catching a tram home to make some pasta.
Brad & Angelina in town
Zoe’s friend Nerkez came over as well, and he explained without enthusiasm that Brad and Angelina had been in Sarajevo on Sunday
night, on their way to Montenegro. It was sensational of course, among the 25 or so residents of Sarajevo who actually care about Hollywood celebrities.
It’s hard to care about celebrities when you’re depending on your 9-year-old son’s window-washing income…
After five days in Sarajevo, I navigated my way through the dysfunctional highways of the Republic and crossed the sparsely-populated mountain roads leading into Montenegro.
There are more photos below