Knee deep in landmines and snow

Beginning the war tour with my flat-sister

Sarajevo, Bosnia Hercegovina is a very important place to visit. Aside from being able to point it out on a map, it’s important to see what the hell happened here. You can piece together tragic pieces of news reporting but I think you have to be here to realize how deliberately it was attacked. Imagine that tomorrow Ontario took all the Canada’s military forces and attacked British Columbia. They would spend four years trying to take our land, forcing to live in our basements because they would kill anyone who wasn’t from Ontario. Bosnia was in disbelief when Serbia attacked them. They were both from Yugoslavia, a nation whose slogan was “Brotherhood and unity.” Sarajevo was surrounded by military for four years and I couldn’t find a spot in the city where there wasn’t a bullet hole. I stayed in the family home of a war veteran who ran a guesthouse. It was wintery as hell and I was their only guest. I was fortunate enough to be able to go on their war tour in the mountains, knee deep in snow. Everyone I met in Bosnia proudly boasts that Canada is their neighbor country because we hosted the Olympics after them in 1988. The grass seemed a little greener on our side of the fence as we drove towards the front line of their 1991 war. The snowy trees and mountains looked undoubtedly like Canada. The difference is that no one has utilized our high ground to surround our cities with snipers while decorating our forests with landmines. The dark shadows of the Sarajevo forests are less likely to be explored than cave systems hundreds of kilometers below the earth. My host optimistically noted that their forests are not polluted with trash. Our war veteran designed tour navigated through Serbian bunkers, the front line, battle sites with personal stories and on a path through a live mine field. The Olympic buildings and bobsled track were bullet-ridden markers of our tour through a war zone. The abandoned wintery mountain could have been Whistler, and I did feel like a neighbor. Arijan inquired about camping in Canada and as I boasted how wonderful it is, he reminded me how unrealistic camping in Sarajevo’s forests is. After everything that has happened they can’t even enjoy the nature that drew the world to their city for the 1984 Olympics. On another tour I visited the Tunnel of Life. Surrounded by the military of their former “brothers”, Sarajevo didn’t have any supplies so they built a tunnel under the neutral ground of the United Nations.  They didn’t use the tunnel to flee because Sarajevo surely would have been captured – 90% of the residents stayed. The war museum offered a unique perspective with photography and video coverage of scenes that are usually left to our imagination. On a lighter note, I am riding a bus to Dubrovnik. Somehow I mistook the Sarajevo post-office as the bus depot as I waited for it to open so I could purchase my ticket 15 minutes before the bus departed. I didn’t have time to mail the Christmas cards I have been carrying around for 2 weeks but I did manage to scramble onto the bus next door. Our bus stopped on for a break and on the side of the highway an elderly lady told me what sounded like her life story in 3 different languages. She gave me a sandwich and hoped that lung cancer won’t kill us all. She smoked 4 cigarettes as she told me about what must have been her great-grandchildren, judging by the wrinkles in her skin.

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