A Sarajevo From Another Time
SARAJEVO, I loved your city. I loved your river Miljacka with its graceful stone bridges, your medieval market square Bascarsija with its noisy bezistans, squawking chickens, and turbaned craftsmen. I loved your huge domed mosques with their slender minarets soaring heavenward, your narrow cobblestone streets, steep hills, and dark alleys crowded with mysterious smells, farm animals, and double-doored, hole-in-the-wall shops. I loved your noisy smoke-filled kafanas redolent with thick black coffee and charcoal-grilled lamb and your ancient cemeteries.Skip to next paragraph
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But most of all, Sarajevo, I loved your people. We called you ``Yugos.'' You called me ``dobra Leenda.''
Dobro/dobra means good, and it was one of the few Serbo-Croatian words I learned. It was the answer to everything in Sarajevo in the winter of 1984.
How do you like our city? Dobro. How do you like our food? Dobro. How do you like our weather? Dobro. How do you like our people? Dobro.
Of all the words in the Serbo-Croatian language, why did I have to learn the word dobro? What is the word for civil war?
Recently I watched Dan Rather report the news from Sarajevo. He was standing in front of a drab-looking apartment building in Dobrinja, a suburb just outside the city.
I have a picture of myself standing in front of that same building. In my picture, I'm wearing a bright orange down parka and a ski hat. Dan had on an olive-green military flak jacket and a combat helmet.
His face was grim, and he flinched as mortar shells exploded behind him. I flinched, too, as I thought of the place I had called home for three weeks in February of 1984.
Dobrinja was the press village for the Winter Olympics that year. It was brand new, just finished, and the 5,000-member international press corps were the first inhabitants. After the Olympics, we were told the dark, cramped, cinder-block apartments would become upscale housing for Sarajevo's young urban professionals. I guess that has happened.
Dan called Dobrinja a yuppie suburb. He said its residents had been without water and electricity for months because of the shelling from the nearby hills. The nearby hills are called Mt. Ingman and Mt. Bjelasnica. Each morning I used to board a shuttle bus in Dobrinja bound for one of those two hills: Ingman for the Olympic cross-country skiing events, Bjelasnica for the alpine events. The athletes called the hills difficult, challenging, a good test. Dan called them strategic.
EVERY day in the newspaper and every night on the television, my memories and my photo album come face to face with the horrors of war and genocide.
Was Marja, a friend I met in Sarajevo, a Serb, a Croat, or a Muslim? I wonder as I gaze at a picture of the two of us standing in front of the Olympic flame. I just remember how pretty she was, her high tinkling laugh, and the way she used to say ``What?'' when I talked too fast. I spoke Dobro-Croatian and she spoke idiomatic English (``What a hunk.'' ``No prob.'' ``See ya later.'')
Marja loved everything American. To the Yugos, America was Coca-Cola and New York City.
``What do you do in America?'' she asked me.
``I work for a newspaper.''
``Ahh, the New York Times,'' she nodded in understanding, even though I worked for a paper in Vermont.
One day her voice came through on the other end of the telephone.
``Dobra Leenda?'' To make even a local phone call in Sarajevo, you had to go through the operator, although what Marja was doing on the switchboard I have no idea. She had told me she was a nurse. ``Yes?'' I answered.
``New York calling.''
New York? Who was calling me in Sarajevo from New York? ``Hello?'' I said uncertainly.
``Hi, Linda. It's Paul.'' Paul Robbins, who was covering the games for the wire services, was a friend from the press village.