Monday, May 27, 2019
Muhammed was at our pension at 8:30 am with the bus. All of us were ready to start the tour – in the rain! Muhammed told us about the siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army from July 1992 – 1995. The people in the city were cut off from water, oil, gas, electricity and other daily needs. There was constant shelling and snipers shooting people on the main street from a hill. The people called it: “Sniper Alley”. There was one place in the city where people could go to get two litres of water per day for all their needs – that was the brewery which was supplied by an underground spring.
During the siege Muhammed lived with his parents and grandmother in the basement. The children (he was 10 at the beginning of the siege) went to school in someone else’s basement – the teacher came to the students. It was too dangerous for the children to go out in the street. Homework was almost impossible to do as it was dark in the basement and they only had one “candle” for lighting in the space. The “candle was made from fat and oil and the wick was an old shoelace. Muhammed told us a personal story from that time. Of course he was not allowed to play outside because of the shelling and his grandmother, who took care of him, made sure that he didn’t. One day he gave his grandmother 2 sleeping pills which his mother had brought home from the hospital – she was an emergency room nurse. When his grandmother fell asleep, he went outside to kick his ball around. At that moment the shelling started and he got hit by shrapnel in his legs. A neighbour took him to the hospital (grandmother was still asleep!). His mom was on duty and when she saw him bleeding, she fainted. After she recovered, she demanded to know why he was outside. His grandmother blamed herself . Muhammed told us that after his legs healed, he got a good spanking from his mother – her anger came out when the danger and angst was gone.
By the time he told us all of this, we had reached our destination. We were visiting the museum remembering the fact that the Bosnian people built a tunnel during the siege. We were exactly at the house where the tunnel entrance had been and still is. The tunnel was 800 metres long and went from the village behind Serbian lines into the city underneath the airport and came out in a garage at the other end. NATO had negotiated with the Serbian army to make the airport neutral ground under NATO control so humanitarian aid could come into the city. The Serbs agreed under condition that they would get part of the humanitarian aid. Of course NATO knew about the tunnel being built, they allowed it to be built underneath a runway as long as no weapons were brought into the city.
The tunnel was narrow and a man could not stand upright. The construction was done by two crews – one from one end and the other from the other end. The groundwater was coming into then tunnel regularly and a pump was used to get the water out. The pump was powered by a modified small car engine – the most efficient way!
We watched a video about the siege and Muhammed explained the positions of the Serbs surrounding the city.
After the video we went to the entrance of the tunnel and walked through the tunnel for about 25 metres and exited into the back yard. We had to bend over so as not to hit our heads. Imagine walking like that with big bags and crates of supplies on your back for 800 metres! Many of the men who carried the loads ended up with trouble with their backs. People went in and out of the city also. And of course the Bosnian army did bring weapons into the city!
Muhammed told us that the Serbs knew about the tunnel, but couldn’t find the entrance. Both of the entrances were in the neutral zone where NATO had control. We saw photos of the men who helped build the tunnel. There was a small room which showed the basement room similar to the basement room in which Muhammed lived. There was also an exhibition of photos of the city during the siege, newspaper articles written after the war and tools used for making the tunnel. The house still had bullet holes in the walls. The whole “Memorial” was very impressive in its simplicity and authenticity.
From there we drove back to the city, stopping at a gas station for a “pee” break. Our next stop was the fortress built on a hill at the edge of the city. The view of the city was beautiful. It had stopped raining! From there we could see at least four huge cemeteries with lots of white markers. These are the older cemeteries that had to be expanded during the war. After we finished our "photo op" the bus took us down to the city again where we said goodbye to our driver.
Muhammed brought us to the oldest street of the city, where we stopped at a shop selling all the things needed to make Bosnian coffee. We got a tutorial about the making and drinking of coffee. First the beans are ground by hand, next the coffee is made in a small coffee pot and thirdly poured into the small coffee cups. Drinking Bosnian coffee is a ritual of getting three cups: first one for a welcome, second one for the good company and third one to tell you in subtle way that it is time to leave!
Then it was time to say goodbye to Muhammed. He was a terrific guide with a thorough knowledge of his city and he was also very entertaining.
From then on we had a free afternoon. We went out on our own – had some lunch in the old part of the city and watched a large flock of pigeons being fed in the square. We walked around and explored the hookah bars (the Turkish water-pipe smoking) and other interesting spots such as the courtyard at the entrance of a mosque. We met a local Muslim woman who started a speaking with us. It developed into a nice conversation – she told us some about her life and said that life is very good for her now.
After a few hours we made our way back to our pension where we rested for a while and did some updating of this journal. We headed out again for some dinner. We found a small outdoor café in the old part again. The food we had was simple – no pork or alcohol in that area of the city. We picked up some dessert but because it is Ramadan and sundown was twenty minutes away, we could not eat it there. We had to do take-out. It rained off and on as we walked back to our room to pack for tomorrow.
Ready to move again!