august in sarajevo

hiroshima on 6th and nagasaki on 9th, the a-bombing remembrance days are approaching. i surely will pray for peace from home. it’s a huge disappointment that many conflicts, between different ethnic groups in particular, never seem to cease on earth. in the meantime, i don’t really think most people were familiar with the name, radovan karadzic, until recently. he was the bosnian serb wartime leader who’d been on the run for 12 years. he was eventually arrested on a blgrade bus late july and now is detained at the international war criminal tribunal in the hague. when the news broke i recalled seeing his posters on a rusty tank in the early august of 1997. i flew to sarajevo from london to get together with my then lover, mr diplomat, who was working for the ohr, an international peace implementation agency, to help bosnia and herzegovina to reconstruct the country.
i visited sarajevo only two years later the civil war ended. in fact, mr diplomat worked hard on the peace projects from 8 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. or even much later time he’d often come home. he was renting a modern and spacious furnished flat where his landlord and his whole family lived downstairs. the flat was well equipped including satellite tv, but city-dwellers had to go on living with limited running water and electricity that were supplied only in the early morning hours and the evening. i found myself at a loose end at first. i’d be doing nothing but waiting for the lightning and the thunder-shower to pass. before long i got used to being all on my own in his flat. when electricity came back, i’d watch the video of il postino i brought him, repeating my favourite line of pablo neruda’s poem: ‘love is so short, forgetting is so long’ to get myself in the mood for self-pity... or i’d cook dinner, hearing a mad woman who lived across the street yelling loud every evening. obviously, she still was haunted by the ghosts of the war.
august in sarajevo, which demanded enough stamina to survive sticky days and muggy nights, was not so great. but i grow to like it there partly because the climate and the hazy blue silhouette of mountains from his balcony reminded me of my home country, japan. as always, i went out for a stroll day after day. sarajevo had almost everything among bullet-riddled buildings: a local farmer’s market; super markets; a make-shift tourist information centre and even an interesting contemporary art exhibition. although people relied on the international aid, they looked keen on fashion brands like nike and levi’s. i found a flagship store of benetton in downtown. benetton was politically provocative at the time. you might remember the photo of a blood-stained t-shirt and camouflage combat pants of a soldier killed in the bosnian war. that was, as part of the brand’s shock-tactics, a controversial advertising campaign directed by oliviero toscani. how ironic!
on a sultry afternoon, i happened to realise people passing stared at me. i wondered why. was that because i was probably the only oriental woman in town? later, i learned one thing: i as the only woman going abut in a black straw hat, for sun-protection, of course. i had no idea why sarajevan women were not accustomed to putting on a hat. mr diplomat told me the majority of sarajevo, which was once hailed as the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city, became now muslim; tensions between the main three ethnic groups of bosniak, serbs and croats were excessively high. from their appearances that many of them were blue-eyed and blonde, it was hard for me to imagine they were muslim, just out of my prejudice, though. unlike in other islamic countries, those women wore no head scarves, either.
my first weekend in sarajevo passed as mr diplomat drove aimlessly his red vw covered in dust to show me (as a matter of fact, he just wanted to see himself) the war-torn country. he and i then encountered the posters somewhere between pale and the eastern border where radovan karadzic was rumoured to be hiding. the country’s once boasted ski resort had turned into a dangerous landmine field. we witnessed the aftermath of explosion in a bucolic remote area. during my stay, late princess diana was also in sarajevo for an anti-landmine campaign. yes, that was her last peace mission before her last holiday with the egyptian billionaire lover, dodi, being chased by frenzy paparazzi to end up in the tragedy.
we drove down to croatia’s adriatic coast to spend my second weekend on korčula, a fairytale-like tiny croatian island where marco polo was born. all the same, as an exodus to the coast reached the peak due to the high season, there was a desperately long queue of automobiles before the main bridge, which was under construction. mr diplomat was not a man who could sit and keep still behind the queue, he left the main road, trying to find an alternative route from mostar. to my dismay, he, in his private life, appeared not to be patient for anything (which made him look somewhat comical...). he was much worse than i initially knew. he even switched off his car radio when i enjoyed listening to stevie wonder, saying ‘he’s way too nice, huh?’ and, he was a man who could not help but overtake any vehicle in front of him. no matter how fast he struggled to move, it took him 10 hours to drive each way. no wonder our weekend escape drained him completely.
notwithstanding my bumpy ride with mr diplomat, i did enjoy my stay in sarajevo. the thing is, i’d been hopelessly ignorant in politics until i visited there. sarajevo sort of opened my eyes to see the world not trough rose-tinted glasses. our rendezvous didn’t go romantic like i expected to, however. mr diplomat, at least, did all he could do for me. i appreciated his efforts. on my last day in bosnia and herzegovina, he managed to sneak out his office and drove me to the airport. was there supposed to be a little drama, then? --we parted shedding no tears, after all. that’s life, isn’t it? he rushed back to the office. a few seconds later he dumped me at the airport, i realised mr diplomat waving to me from his car window. so, until his red vw disappeared out of view, i kept waving back to him and goodbye to my own private sarajevo.

1 comment:

NeedfulFriends&Koboldkinder said...


what a really well done report about your sarajevo ... it sometimes gave me a smile when I realized that your mr.diplomat was very similar to my husband from whom I live apart now as well...men seem to be mostly busy with themselves ;)

your report is fantastic...my husband has been in sarajevo in 1995 as part of the english rapid reaction corps as german soldier...

I have a wonderful book of sarajevo before the war started with so lovely fotos of buildings, houses and nature around.

the fotos you posted really touched my heart because they are the fact without smoothing...

I remember the advertise of benetton with the soldier...it was provocating but in a way a very sensitive demonstration against the situation...

I enjoyed your report very much...thank you....as well for sharing mr.diplomat...I think we have much incommon ;)

hugs anja