today was the reason i am here.
we drove ten minutes into the city this morning on our bus, and when we left the gates of the base, passengers was loaded into the cd player and skipped straight to miss sarajevo. those soft strings coupled with bono's voice and the view of the rows and rows of multi-storied apartment buildings still riddled with gunshot holes and bomb blasts. we stared up at what i can only compare to the seven towers (in dublin)... mutiplied a dozen times. the buildings had the same look: run-down, old, discoloured from weather, laundry hanging out to dry. but the difference was the chunks of concrete missing. the difference was not lack of money or drug addiction, it was something incomprehensible, something pure evil. the effect of hatred in its truest and purest form.
we passed straight through snipers' alley, high buildings lining the road where the men would hide to pick off any living being who had dared to leave shelter. some are painted now, some are rebuilt, and some, such as the parliament building, are left seemingly as reminders of the fires that once poured out of the windows and of the hundreds of people who jumped from them for the possibility of a less painful death.
kosevo stadium is where we first found ourselves emerging from the bus, squinting as the sun and snow collided, trying to take in the sight of such a monumental place. we parked in front of a hospital that had taken more hits than i care to remember. the stadium where the '84 olympics were held, in a once so glorious and beautiful, free city now sits below "mine mountain", a mountain still home to over a million un-exploded mines. and below that mountain, miles and miles and miles of cemetary. the gravestones stretch from the road to the stadium to miles back and beyond it on both sides. the main view from the hill overlooking was of the landscape dotted with millions of markers in rememberance of only some of those killed in such senseless violence. i looked down on the bleachers and i thought of sam boyd stadium in vegas, how ridiculous the giant lemon and yellow popmart arch looked against the dead brown of the desert, and realised the contrast was nothing compared to what was before me. one of the men with us mentioned the 'benefit concert' U2 put on there, how amazing it would have been to witness, and as i pointed out that it wasn't actually a benefit, i thought about how brave and strong of a culture they are here to want the fuckin' lemon and ticket prices for a bit of "normalcy."
we continued on towards downtown, where we parked the bus and walked down a main road to the marketplace. we walked along the river with buildings, shops, homes to our right, and beyond the water to our left, more houses and the mountains rising up underneath them. we passed a gorgeous bridge designed and built by the same people that made the effiel tower, as well as quite a few historical landmarks. there was another bridge they've dubbed the 'romeo and juliet bridge' after some friends/lovers, a serbian and a croatian, who met there one day only to be shot and killed. their bodies were left for days, and it was UN people who finally cleared them off. we also stood at the corner where WWI actually began, where the heir to the austro-hungarian throne was left for dead.
one of the first things we saw as we walked down the road was a giant, elegantly decorated building which we found out was the library. it once contained every bit of bosnian history, thousands of books and records... but they were all burned. the building, though destroyed internally and visibly left scarred from smoke, was somehow still intact. there is a glass skylight dome on the roof (most likely repaired, as they are working on restoring it) that catches the sunlight and i can only imagine the beauty from inside.
we walked through the main shopping area, looking in the empty windows of the tiny closed stores, and hearing the heckling and bargaining from the ones that were open. the people seem desperate to make a sale, desperate for money. i'm not sure if that is just business or because they are truly needy. eric (an escort) told us the men send their women out to beg even though they have money, and that they starve their kids to make them cry for the purpose of gaining pity. the moaning and begging is heartbreaking.
we stepped into an outdoor area surrounding a mosque; we saw the womens' area to one side, the mens' to another, the little gazebo-type building. most interesting were the colourful rugs lining the top of the steps into the mosque, the wall to which they prayed on their knees, and the wooden shelves for their shoes. we also heard the call for prayer sounding throughout the marketplace, sung by a man.
we came to a catholic church, which was designed traditionally and seemed out of place to me. as in a few other places around town, in front of the church on the ground there was what they call a "sarajevo rose". blood marble in the cement marked as blood stains, commemorating a dozen or so people killed by a mortar blast. i have stood before where people have been killed, it is never possible for it to sink in. it is impossible to grasp. close your eyes, see what came before, it seems to inevitably turn black and white, unreal.
a few yards from the church was a pepsi refrigerator, not filled with pepsi, but filled with books. the holocaust, one read. another, mein kampf.
i stopped at one small booth set up, seeing postcards that caught my eye. upon closer inspection, i grabbed at one and gasped, my heart suddenly racing. there is a picture of bono on my wall that has been there since '98 that out of habit i rarely see anymore. the night before i left however, i stopped and stared at it for a full minute or so. it is him in sarajevo in january of '96, sitting on a pile of rubble in a broken building. the photo inspired a drawing that i did for a friend, it has always stirred me. i picked up a postcard and it was the inside of that building. what's more, it read underneath it, "library."
a warm wind has come in, and all day huge boulders of snow have been dropping from rooftops, water pouring down. the snow has melted off the lighted christmas tree in the middle of the base and we are discovering the ground here is rocky beneath the snow. i believe it is going to snow again though, and i hope it does.
tomorrow we will take a walk to see the tunnel that was built as an escape route from the city underneath the airport, and then we are back to sarajevo international to see if we are actually leaving. there have been no flights out for two days, so we shall see. if so, we will be spending a night in vienna and then on to kosovo. if not, we will be here or back at the last base we played at for new years eve and new years day. we have met some great people here, and i certainly wouldn't mind hanging around.