Vildana, our Teacher's Representative, for CEI 2021, shares her cultural memories and heritage. Sharing culture, even the sad parts of our history and culture, allows us to reflect on different cultures and the world around us.
Author: Vildana Basic
It was one of those warm summer days in July, when you sometimes begin to think about autumn and cooler days and start counting the days, looking forward to the change. I walked through the old part of the city, past many beautiful buildings, remnants from different eras that tell the story of the past, of Sarajevo. Sarajevo, the city also known as “Jerusalem of Europe” with its amazing and, at times terrible, past. Sarajevo, the city where you can find a mosque next to a church and a synagogue just down the road. Sarajevo, the city that during the Bosnian war and the breakup of Yugoslavia suffered the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. The signs of war are still very much a part of the architecture, the holes from blasts and gunshots still visible throughout the city.
I continued walking down the street until I found an available cab to take me to my destination. During the 10 minute drive through the city the cab driver and I talked about the weather, traffic and other topics about the city in general. We went past malls, shops, parks, cemeteries and deserted arenas. After a while, we stopped outside two flower shops. I paid the driver and entered one, looking at the different arrangements I choose a pot with yellow flowers that made me think of smiling, cheerful suns. They reminded me of happy memories full of laughter, hugs and warmth. They made me think of her, the person I always make a point of visiting every time I visit Sarajevo. After exiting the flower shop, I turned towards the black gates guarding the entrance to Bare. Bare is one of the biggest cemeteries in Europe stretching over the foot of the mountain Hum. And as always, I was amazed by the sheer size of the place and the number of graves in black and white marble, some very old with unreadable letters and number on them, others new and well-tended. Many of them were covered with flowers from the flower shops at the entrance. I started walking up the long path to a higher part of the mountain and felt the peace that always settled on me when I visited. I read the names on the graves; I read the years and started, like always, thinking about the people who rest there now. Who were they? What did they do in life? What did they like? Did they have families?
As always, I stopped opposite the chapel on grounds and turned: looking out over the area, I remembered my mum’s words “raise your hands and say a prayer for them all, for their peace and for forgiveness. Think of them as the people they were: all loved by someone and all of them now gone.” Why those words? Well, Bare is special in many ways because here you will find the graves of atheists, Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews and many others all resting next to each other, side by side in what my mum calls “the only justice in the world”. Because no matter who you are, what you believe or what you do or not do, you will, like every other living being, have to face mortality.
I remembered walking here for the first time, visiting her for the first time. Walking with heavy steps and a heavy heart not really ready for that final confirmation. She was gone, and I remember being so angry at her for leaving, at god for taking her and at the world for not just allowing her to go but so much more. You see, I was only four years old when the war started in Bosnia & Herzegovina, only four when we had to hide form bombings, only four when we had to escape the bombs and leave my dad behind, only four when I didn’t know who was dead and who was alive. For one year, we stayed in Croatia, in a country with a slightly different culture and language, until the war reached out with dirty and slimy fingers and forced us to run again. Where to go? Anywhere! As long as it was away from Bosnia was the message we received from relatives stuck there. At the last minute, she found my mum. How? I do not know, but her message was clear; “I am in Sweden, sicker than ever before, please join me”. So we did, we went to a county where everything was different, the climate, the language and culture in a part of the world that is close to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in many ways very far away. For two years, she struggled against the most vicious of diseases until she had to let go.
Walking to my aunt’s grave, I remembered asking my mum “Why? Why did it all happen? Why do people hate each other?” I was angry and I was sad. Her answer? “Because they choose to ignore the similarities and focus on the differences. Because they choose to live in the past instead of looking to the future and because they choose to not ask and learn but to stay ignorant and afraid of the unknown”. I arrived at my aunts’ grave, laid the flowers there, said a prayer for her and told her all the news I thought she would have liked to hear. After a while, it was time to leave, with a promise to be back.
I walked back down the same path and I thought about life, how beautiful and full of promise it is, and I thought about the choices that we all have to make every day. Should we look to the future and the promises it holds or to the past and the sorrows and grief that exist in every nation’s history? Should we follow our nation’s goals for us or should we stay ignorant and dwell on the “they did this, they did that”?
I think that we have a responsibility to our dear ones, who had to leave us, no matter if they wanted to or not, because of war, age or sickness. That day, like every other time I visited, I made another promise: to do better, learn more, work hard, cooperate with others, accept differences and celebrate diversity. And through my work inspire others. Because one day each one of us have a choice to make: what kind of life we want to live and what legacy we want to leave before we face “the only justice in the world”.