We were truly strangers before we met. I didn’t know much about your reputation beyond what happened here one day in 1914. I had no expectations of you, and sometimes that’s the best way to start.
From the moment I arrived, you stole my heart.
I won’t say it wasn’t a rocky beginning–one of your taxi drivers overcharged me by more than 3x the going rate. Yet something in the air told me to shake it off. I told myself that he didn’t do it to be sleazy, but rather that he needed the money more than I did. Who knows if that’s the truth, but that’s what I’m choosing to believe. Sarajevo, I know you’d be proud of me.
The good news is that after that, our time together was totally smooth sailing. I strolled through your bustling old town, where neon signs advertising ćevapi and burek light the alleyways and locals eat side-by-side with tourists. I drank your cool, clean water from the mosque’s fountain. I fell in love with your unique playlist of muezzins calling Muslims to prayer and the clink clink clink of the endangered art of coppersmithing. I spent hours just wandering, out of the old town and into the hills, always finding some new quirk of yours to make me smile.
Sarajevo, you’re beautifully resilient. You’ve been through a lot–a tragic war and radical ethnic cleansing that not only killed your people but also your naturally ingrained hospitality–but your spirit of compassion isn’t broken. Your people go home every day, walking on grenade-scarred sidewalks to apartment buildings with bullet holes in the sides, but they choose to forgive. They don’t forget, but they forgive. That’s more than I can say for myself, although you’ve inspired me to be better.
You surprised me. You delighted me. You changed me in a profound way, in a way I expect from people but not cities. It’s hard to put my finger on how I’m different, exactly, but my heart feels bigger and my priorities feel more mindful. For that, and for everything, all I can say is thank you.
Eventually I had to leave you, Sarajevo, but with a sad heart and the promise to return. When I fulfilled that promise, I made it again when I departed for a second time. Now, I’m counting down the days until we can meet for a third time–and hopefully many more after that.
All my love,
Love open letters? See my odes to Kraków, Paris, and Budapest.
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