Sarajevo: October 23, 2008
A vivid orange slice of Sarajevo rooftops flashes into view, below us in the valley. Then it’s gone. After six hours on the bus, encircled by the misty blues and greens of the gentle Bosnian countryside, Sarajevo is bright and arresting, a shot to the arm.
The lethargy of bus travel suddenly shed, I crane to see it again. A few seconds later, the rooftops are back, multitudinous, and Sarajevo stays in sight as the bus continues to wind down the mountain pass. It came from nowhere and now it is everywhere – rooftops gathered in the valley and crawling up the mountain sides towards the bus: houses everywhere.
It is like the others, a simple house clad with utilitarian, light grey cement and a terracotta tiled roof. One of the first houses on the hill as we wind down. The side that faces the road, the entire square of it, is riddled with tiny, ragged holes. It flashes into sight just briefly and, like the first glimpse of Sarajevo, imparts its image deeply before it’s gone.
The bus continues down the steep road into the city. My heart thumps. I go to say something to someone else on the bus, but before I can wrap words around what I saw, we’re winding down through hundreds of houses just like it.
I feel shock, disbelief and panic. This is the first ex-war zone I’ve visited. The mountain pass flattens and we start gliding by the outskirts of Sarajevo proper: tall, silent, bleak apartment buildings also peppered with bullet holes. My emotions cycle swiftly through an exhausting waltz of foreboding, dread and – strangely – shame.
I recognise this sensation, though I’ve not been here before. I realise I am steeling myself for Sarajevo the city in the same dark way you steel yourself for an encounter with someone who’s just lost someone they desperately love.