The very word Sarajevo evoked sadness, to me, before I went there. It called back memories of seeing war, death and destruction on the TV in the mid-1990s. My recollections of the news from back then seemed to be mostly of bleak snowy scenes. To arrive on a blazing hot July day was to instantly dispel the preconceptions.
We stayed at Haris Youth Hostel. There were many reasons that I liked Sarajevo a lot, and this hostel was one of them. Haris himself was a young eccentric. At the age of 15, when talking to his neighbour about what careers he might follow, the neighbour had suggested working in the tourist industry. Haris thought this was a good idea, and without telling his parents, he found hostelword.com, and listed the family home as Sarajevo’s first hostel. You’d have thought it would have been unbearably awkward when the first travellers turned up. Haris had a lot of explaining to do, but in fact his parents took it in their stride and joined in the fun. When we arrived, his mother ushered us in, brought us a cup of strong Turkish coffee, and we knew that we were welcome in this city.
We set out to have a look around. Haris’s house was on a steep hill overlooking the historic city centre. On the way, we passed a cemetery, its white headstones visible from a long way away and the year on almost every one of them was 1995. In the evening, I sat on Haris’s balcony looking over the city as the call to prayer sounded over the city and the heat of the day gradually dissipated.