I mean, who knew that walking around a cemetery at night in Sarajevo would lead to a vicious dog attack? In 24 hours I went from walking the streets of Istanbul to sitting in a hospital in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Jolan, Carlyn, and I touched down in snowy Sarajevo at 10:40AM and was picked up by our hostel owner, Tarik. I had been emailing him for a few months asking various questions, but had no idea what he looked like. I was totally caught off guard when a good-looking man in his mid-30s approached me and asked if my name was Jennifer. Good thing I looked my absolute best. My perpetually awkward and forward self asked him a few questions here and there on our way to our hostel. Upon arrival, he said to let him know if we needed anything. Tarik had no idea what he set himself up for.
My friends and I jetted off to a restaurant to eat some traditional Bosnian food. I generally eat the cheapest things found at grocery stores when I travel, but I went with complete foodies on bigger budgets than mine. We stuffed ourselves with dishes like ćevapčići, which is grilled minced meat fingers served with chopped onions and pita. The weather was quite poor, so we perused the close-by shops full of marvelous copper goods while the rain steadily poured. If I ever settle down in life, I have to go back to buy the ceramics found there. I got a bracelet with “Sarajevo 2015” engraved in it, whereas Jolan got one with “alpha” (it will make sense later). Afterward we trekked to the sight of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination then continued on despite the rain. Sarajevo was completely different from Istanbul – it is much smaller and slower-paced. Thank goodness. However, like Istanbul, stray dogs and cats roamed the streets. After going back to the hostel to relax a little, Jolan and I headed back out to get some night shots of the cemetery located a minute’s walk away. In hindsight it was not the best decision we have ever made. I am, in general, one of the most cautious people I know. I have been to a cemetery at night before, but that was during “my college days.”
Backstory: Jolan, Carlyn, and I have joked for months about what we would do in certain situations. Although the younger me was more hands-on and rough (I might or might not have beat up my Filipino dance partner in sixth grade to protect my friend, Benji, from his tyranny), the older, wiser, and lazier me has become a runner/avoider of conflict. Carlyn and I were always in the same boat – we said that we would bail. Jolan, on the other hand, said that she would stand her ground. I have mentioned in an earlier post that Jolan has a black belt, and I even jokingly told Tarik that when he expressed concern about our travel endeavors. The irony that comes into play later is almost too much to handle.
The Siege of Sarajevo, which lasted from April 1992 – December 1995, was the longest one in modern times. The cemetery close to our hostel was the Martyrs’ Memorial Cemetery Kovači – most, if not all, of those buried were killed during the Bosnian War. As Jolan and I were walking up a relatively well-lit path, I heard what I perceived to be someone running our way. Although I was in the lead, I instinctually backed away from the path in the direction of the hostel and extended the rod to my closed umbrella. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by a pack of seven to ten aggressive, barking, feral dogs. Jolan and I had different tactics to the situation – my first thought was to get away from their territory/jaws of doom, whereas Jolan figured they would chase us if we tried to flee the scene. Only one or two dogs took interest in me as I was backing away, waving my umbrella like a sword from a Final Fantasy game. Before I knew it, I heard Jolan grunt. I turned around and, in Matrix-style slow motion, saw her get taken down by the pack. I have never felt more helpless. She miraculously managed to stand back up and scare the pack away by yelling and clapping. In the end, Jolan got bit three times, but only two pierced through skin (silver lining?).
We ran back to the hostel (which was, again, only a minute away) to get Jolan cleaned up and look for Tarik. Carlyn read rabies facts as Jolan washed her wounds with soap and water and then burned them with my bottle of hand sanitizer. My job was to find my main man. I ran to his room, knocking ferociously, but to no avail. I then rushed upstairs to see if anyone knew where he was, but discovered that I had just missed him by a minute. When he came back he kindly asked if we needed anything. Sometimes I do not know how to process things, so I tend to smile at inappropriate times. I said very coyly, “Yeah, Jolan just got bit by dogs.” Within fifteen minutes we were in an urgent care center.
Let me just say now that Jolan is the coolest cucumber I have ever encountered in my life. I handle bad situations well, but she is on a plane all of her own. She went into a room with Tarik and some doctors, leaving me alone in the first room. Before I knew it, an unresponsive, barely breathing man and his weeping wife were two feet in front of me. I was against the wall trying to be as invisible as possible and it worked – people completely disregarded my wide, panic-stricken eyes. After Jolan got cleaned up, we went to another hospital for rabies shots. Tarik had to run back to the hostel to help some people, but luckily this hospital had wifi so I could Google Translate some things for the woman asking me questions. Rabies shots acquired, we moved on next to the pharmacy for some medication. Carlyn, Jolan, and I had planned on going to Mostar (a city I have wanted to go to for four years now) in the morning, but Tarik told us that we had to go to yet another doctor at 8AM. Per usual I was left in the waiting room alone (if you are wondering where Carlyn was – we locked her in our hostel room for the whole ordeal). Finally we were finished!
Tarik, the most helpful and mysterious man I have ever met in my life, then offered to drive us to Mostar. Two Croatian girls, Tea and Daniella, crammed in the backseat with Jolan and Carlyn, but I got the place of honor in the front seat because I “ask many questions.” By this point I could write a short paragraph about his life, but I was looking at penning a novel. Speaking of novels, prior to traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina I fully recommend reading The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. Tarik stopped at three locations on the way to Mostar: Konjic, Jablanica, and Blagaj. I desperately tried to absorb all of the fascinating yet devastating information he shared with us. I have become increasingly jaded by cities during my travels, but the magnificence of nature still evokes complete and utter joy from my rather cynical self. The drive from Sarajevo to Mostar was breathtaking.
The Blagaj Tekke (dervish house) was built in the 15th century by dervishes with the following message: “Love Creatures for the Sake of the Creator.” This tekke was built next to by the source of the Buna River, the Vrelo Bune. “We made every living thing from water” was inscribed into the wall next to where we saw a group of men reach down and drink from the beautiful, clear water. Carlyn and I took off our shoes, put on head scarfs, and went upstairs to look at the rooms for prayers.
Mostar, the final destination for our day trip, was named after the Old Bridge, Stari Most. The bridge that can be found here today is not the original – the original was destroyed during the war. UNESCO writes that: “The reconstructed Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar is a symbol of reconciliation, international co-operation and of the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities.” Tarik explained that the conflict is far from over – the country is still wildly divided. Jolan, Carlyn, and I ended up running into Rosti, Sam, and Katelyn, our friends and fellow CETP teachers. After taking several failed modeling shots by the bridge, buying some souvenirs, and using an unhygienic bathroom, we met back up with Tarik, Tea, and Daniella to drive back to Sarajevo. That night Carlyn, Jolan, Sam, Rosti, Katelyn, and I all had dinner together and exchanged travel/war stories. They raved about Kotor, Montenegro – one of the many places that we had initially planned on seeing. One day, Kotor. One day.
The next morning Jolan, Carlyn, and I hailed a taxi to take us to the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum. Here you can walk part of the tunnel and gain more knowledge about the siege through the use of videos, displays, and information boards. The city was completely closed off in May 1992 and the aggressors used non-selective shelling. The aim was to “destroy the town, kill its people, and ‘make them lose their minds’ as well as to trigger fear, defeat and loss of morale.” In the end, roughly 18,000 people were thought to have died, but only 11,541 people have been identified – 1,600 of which were children. Though the message of the museum was strong, the museum itself was pretty small. We read everything, watched the movie, saw pictures of Orlando Bloom and Morgan Freeman in the museum, etc. and it took forty minutes tops. Although we had a taxi drive us to the museum, we had to take public back. The three of us walked for what felt like forever in the snow to reach Tram 3. Upon arriving back to the city center, we hit up the stores again to use the rest of our money. Pro tip: Use all of your Convertible Marks! Chances of you finding an exchange place that will accept them are slim to none.
Prior to leaving for our trip, we had everything figured out with the exception of how to get back to Budapest from Sarajevo (a minor detail, really). We could take buses and trains, but after our trip to Romania, Carlyn and I were done with sketchy overnight trains. So how did we get back you might ask? Tarik drove us. Yes, you read that right. He drove us from Sarajevo to Budapest (we paid him of course). I once again sat shotgun and we conversed for the whole nine-hour-drive back. I found lists of questions to ask on long car rides, but found I could not vocalize most. Questions like “Who would you bring back from the dead?” and “What is the worst thing to happen to you?” took on different meanings with someone who had lived through a war. His answers to simple questions like “What country would you move to if you had the chance?” broke my heart: “Switzerland – everything is fixed there.” Upon arriving to Budapest, I could not look away from him (woe is me): “Your buildings are whole.” Small comments like this ended up completely affecting me once I got home. I am not ashamed to say that I cried. I cannot even imagine what all he went through. To have lived through something so wretched, yet still maintain a kind, gentle, and understanding spirit is beyond me.
Even though my trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina involved a rabid dog attack, it was one of the best I have ever been on. Like Bobby and all those at Ranch Amadeus in Slovakia, my friends and I were completely taken in and taken care of by Tarik. The beautiful connections I have made with people will stay with me forever.
PS. Carlyn, I beat you (yet again).
A Lesson From Miss Jennifer: As obvious as this lesson is, avoid cemeteries at night.