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Sarajevo - part 1

by - July 27 2010

Sarajevo is a fascinating city. In some ways it seems like any other European city, but then you notice the bullet holes, or the UN peacekeepers, or the minarets.

Being in Sarajevo had made the idea of war feel far more real to me than it has ever felt before. We all logically know that war exists, but most of us don't feel its presence. War is something that we see on television or read about in newspapers, not something that is part of our real life. Sarajevo feels like the kind of place where I can imagine myself living. It feels "normal". And yet everywhere I go, I find reminders that this place was recently at war - bullet holes in buildings, memorials, men missing their legs.

Sarajevo also makes islam feel very different. Sarajevo feels "normal" but it is also primarily muslim. Minarets dot the skyline, intermingling with traditional European architecture. The call to prayer goes out five times a day, setting a rhythm to the day. At prayer time, a collection of European-looking people who could pass as English or German kneel down on their prayer matts. In the US and UK we are used to having Islam portrayed as a scary "other", but in Sarajevo is just seems mundane. I walked into a madrassa and found it filled with cheery looking white people selling educational childrens books. It felt much more like a western Christian Sunday school than the sinister training grounds for terrorism that western media teaches us to associate with Muslim religious schools. Sarajevo is a fascinating city.