Memorial for Children Killed during Siege | Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Around 10,000 civilians, of whom 1,500 were children, were killed in Sarajevo during the 44-month-long siege, mostly by snipers and mortars fired from the mountains surrounding the city.

This is a part of the memorial to those children – unveiled in 2009, whose centerpiece consists of two large glass abstract sculptures meant to symbolize a nameless mother trying to protect her nameless child. I am standing on the circular bronze platform surrounding the sculptures, made from melted bombshell cases and other weapons that were collected after the war. The imprinted footsteps belong to the surviving siblings and friends of the killed children.

Another monument was unveiled directly next to this one earlier this year. It is made up of seven circular columns with the names of 521 children who were killed during the siege engraved around them. More are to be installed, with around 800 more names engraved, once that information is gathered and their cases are verified. As I turned the columns with my hand, and read the children’s names – Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox, and years of their births and deaths, the columns made a light, tinkling sound. They reminded me of the prayer wheels I had seen in Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan, engraved with mantras in Sanskrit and auspicious symbols, whose spinning is said to have the same effect as reciting prayers.

Broken Flowers: Sarajevo Rose | Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo was, in a way, perfect for my obsession – pursued in this blog, of trying to find bigger stories in the ground’s surfaces. In many of the town’s different quarters, the pavement corresponds so well to their architecture that I almost didn’t need to look up in order to get their general style and feel.

For example, in the Old Town, just like the Baščaršija’s small, Ottoman-style shops suddenly got replaced by the grander and more majestic Austro-Hungarian houses dating to the beginning of the 20th century, so did the pavement – a sharp line divided the market area’s large uneven stones, shined slippery from the billions of feet that walked upon them since the 16th century, and the orderly, uniform and rougher tiles – neatly aligned at 90-degree angles, that lined the streets of the Old Town’s literally and figuratively western part.

Another, though not intentional, marking of the pavements told the story of a more recent chapter of Sarajevo’s history – the siege on the city that lasted between April 5, 1992 and February 29, 1996. That is 44 months, or 1,335 days.

In that time, an average of around 329 mortar shell impacts hit Sarajevo every day, though their numbers could – and did, reach into the thousands, with the most shells (3,777) fired on the city on July 22, 1993.

The spot in the ground where the mortar shell hit bears a scar with an almost floral pattern. It could easily be mistaken for an irregularity in the pavement, but once I knew to look out for them, these scars – now bitterly known as Sarajevo Roses, were all over the city, serving as a constant reminder of what was happening there less than 15 years ago.

Although it is of course impossible to imagine in any meaningful way the daily horror of living under siege for nearly four years, the locations of many of the Sarajevo Roses are enough to suggest the extent to which regular people’s existence was disrupted and their lives threatened on a daily and hourly basis – there are mortar shell marks on the city’s main pedestrian street, on the little square in front of a church, by an open-air market and a children’s playground near a park.

This was no abstract war fought by soldiers somewhere far away in the hills.

Since the end of the siege, I was told, some of the Sarajevo Roses have been filled in and erased as part of the post-war renovations of the city. Many people, however, are fighting to preserve them as a memory of what happened and a memorial to those who died. Some have been left as they were originally, with splattered marks indented in the pavement, while others have been filled in with a red resin. I heard that this was done to mark a place where people lost their lives. I’m not sure if that was always the case, but I caught myself breathing a sign of relief every time a saw a mark with no resin in it. It was also somehow comforting to see the red of the resin has started to fade with time.

Crossing into my 30’s | Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

In the Old Town of Sarajevo, on Sarači Street, a very distinct line divides the Baščaršija – the Ottoman quarter, from the part built in the Austro-Hungarian style.

Today, I am crossing the border between my 20’s and my 30’s. That line is a little more blurry.

Lost in Translation | Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Pozorište: ‘theater’ in Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian and ‘massive disgrace’ in Bulgarian; God – ‘year’ in Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian and ‘the Almighty’ in English.

Speaking of heavenly things, a no less confusing, but much more appropriate word is the one for tomato, which in Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian is known as paradajz (pronounced like ‘paradise’). I always knew my favorite vegetable (fruit?) was divine.

Is there a time for keeping your head down | Niš, Serbia and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nišava River in Niš, Serbia

Miljacka River in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Not entirely by accident, I just listened to U2’s “Miss Sarajevo.” In it, Pavarotti sings a part in Italian, which translates like this:

You say that the river
finds the way to the sea
and like the river
you will come to me
beyond the borders
and the dry lands
You say that like a river
like a river…
the love will come
the love…
And I don’t know how to pray anymore
and in love I don’t know how to hope anymore
and for that love I don’t know how to wait anymore

On a different note, it seems that, while not all rivers flow through great cities, all great cities have rivers flowing through them.

Next time I’m in Berlin, London, Paris and/or New York, I have to remember to take pictures of die Spree, the Thames, la Seine*, the East River and the Hudson.

Sofia, on the other hand, has the tiny Perlovska River passing through it. Flowing seems too powerful of a verb to use in reference to its meager stream, which is easily negligible and really only seems to be an excuse for a river. Popularly known among its residents as The Channel, its name has been appropriated by one of the city’s main road arteries, the Evlogi Georgiev Boulevard, which runs along its two sides.

*Update: A mere year and a half later, I’m happy to report that taking a photo of the Seine has been accomplished! See here. In the meantime, I also managed to hover on bridges over several other rivers, including the Ljubljanica River in Ljubljana, the Nervión River in Bilbao and the Tarn River in Albi.