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Cobblestones of Bosnia's Blood-Stained Earth
I stood in front of a mirror, patiently combing my tangled hair. I sat down on the bed, squeezed into the small room equipped with a book-shelf, previously used for old toys and Jack-in-the-boxes. There was a moment of silence, but then the sounds of people shuffling their feet and moving in and out of the clackety door downstairs was heard. My brother entered in, now 9 as I was twelve. He wore a black suit, tie, and white “cosla”, the shirt under the jacket. He sat down next to me, and remarked,” We’ll be leaving soon. What’s going to happen? Do you know?” I shook my head, as I myself was pondering the same questions. The previous day our mother had quietly told us that we would be visiting our ancestor’s graves to give a prayer to them. Even so, my brother and I were unsure of how exactly everything would go, and how we were to conduct ourselves.
Promptly, a shout of “Hajmo, deco!” was heard, meaning “Let’s go, kids!”. My brother, father, mother, and I sat in the new red car that my father had received for being a veteran of Bosnia, and waited for my mother to turn on the car. Our grandmother, aunt, and uncle had decided not to join us, but I believe this was more for a “family” time between us four. I leaned my head against the window, and watched the kids playing football on the cobblestoned street. The house which we were at was in the rural countryside of Bosnia, surrounded by lush green mountains and a dark misty fog. As the car began to groan slowly, pulling its tired wheels over the holes and ditches in the road, I watched the passing people cut their grass with scythes, or leading their cows to pastures. Sometimes, a sheep would cross the road, and we would laugh, pointing at the puzzled sheep in the middle of the road.
Large haystacks seemed to be everywhere, I thought, as the farmers had begun to prepare for the winter season. Winter in Bosnia was always beautiful, where the gentle snow fell for hours, covering four feet of the ground. The smell of clean hay filled the air, and I opened my window to get a better look. Old women walked together in groups, often carrying food, as they did not drive. Men worked in the fields, plowing and helping build new homes. We passed by my Dijinca’s ( my grandmother’s brother’s wife) home, and eagerly looked past her home to see her picking raspberries. Many of my days of summer were spent at my Dijinca’s home, where we ate the raspberries and played in her garden. Two little kittens hid in her barn, and my brother and I often tried to catch them with ingenious tactics of putting cheese under crates.
As we finally began to pass out of the countryside, I began to spot the bullet-covered buildings, signaling we had entered the city. I pressed my face to the window, sadly watching the half-destroyed towers and littered floors. It seemed that one could not escape from graffitited walls, either.
Our first destination was to go to the Bas Casija, a beautiful old part of Sarajevo, the center of Bosnia. Bas Casija was a sort of gathering place for people, where cafes, shops, and market-vendors surrounded the large mosques residing. To get to the Bas Casija was a long way from where our home was, and so most folks visited the Piazza instead. Every Sunday, my friends and I would walk to the Tramvite station (fifteen minutes of walk), and then ride to the Piazza, where we would take our Folklore Dancing lessons. Afterwards, our group of giggling girls would enter a café, where we ordered “Rolat” cakes, pastries made of coconut rolled into chocolate.
Out of all the places in Bosnia, I believe that the Bas Casija looks the most untouched from the war, although the main library had been burned down in 1993. As we were nearing the Bas Casija, our father asked us to look to the left to the mountains, Turgovica, surrounding. I looked interestedly, as the tall mountains seemed tall and illustrious.
“Do you see those mountains?” my father asked quietly.
“Yes, Baba,” I replied instantly.
“Those were the mountains that the Serbs shot from. See the top of the mountain, Merima?”
“That is the place I lost my eyes.”
I stopped tapping the glass, and looked at my brother. It seemed as if my breath had been stuck within me, as I looked at the tall mountains that loomed above our car. This was the place I had heard of all my life. As a child, I had always watched videos, clips, and listened to the stories of the Bosnians that came to our home, spending hours and hours telling their life story, how they had arrived to America. However, it had always seemed so distant, almost unreal. And now, I realized how wrong I was, how completely ignorant I had been of my own home country that had been destroyed and ravaged, my own life completely altered. I absently picked up a piece of intertwined paper, and twisted it nervously as we began to approach the Bas Casija.
We approached the old cobblestoned streets leading to the ancient city of Bosnia, where we parked our car behind an old painter’s shop. Slowly, my brother and I exited the car, nervous but wide-eyed at the sights of old men tinkering at their anvils, young children running after the galube, or pigeons, and women walking in large groups with plates of hot pite. I held my mother’s hand as we walked across the cobblestones, and watched at the mosque ahead of us. Shops passed by us, full of silver and gold wares sparkling to my young eyes. By now, the sky had begun to darken, and people hurried by us to return to their homes before the day had passed. The cities’ sights were uneven, and went up or down as hills. Our family approached the last hill, and when we finally reached the top, the sight below caused me to stop in awe.
I tightened my grip on my mother’s hand as we slowly walked down, my eyes steadfast on the sea of graves swarming around us. A large white gate presumed the bottom, which my mother’s hand shakily pushed open to reveal thousands of miles of white markers, laying only for fifteen years. In the center of the graveyard was a great dome, and under it, a silver, yet plain, coffin rested. I tugged at my mother’s hand questioningly, but she swiftly began walking up the hill. Our first stop was at the very top of the hill, where a white marker stood with the sign of the soldier imprinted upon it. My father gently brought my brother and I closer, and kneeled at the foot of the mound.
“Do you see this grave? Merima, please read the name.”
I trembled, and read the name quickly to my saddened father.
“That mountain I showed you before, remember what I told you?
“Yeah, that you lost your eyes there.”
“Well, when I had fallen down, my good friends, behind me, ran and dragged me down the mountain. They saved my life. This man lying here was one of them.”
I looked at my pale brother’s face and then back at my fathers.
“But, Baba, sta je bilo? What had happened?”
A sudden stillness followed, and he replied quietly
“As they carried me down, some of them were shot by Serbs.”
My mother standing next to us uttered a quiet and small prayer, her face glistening with trembling tears. She put her hands up in prayer, and I too followed, praying for the poor man’s soul.
We made the same trip down the mountain slowly, to three or four more men.
“Baba, had any of them survived?” I asked on our way down.
“Ajo Memo did. You know him, right?” he replied quickly.
It all made sense now, as Ajo Memo and Baba had always been close and visited each other often. Ajo Memo was well over forty, and still worked at the military. Once, he had taken our family to the base and showed us around, where he and my father had trained together.
We finally reached the center of the graveyard, where the dome sparkled, surrounded by the sound of quiet waterfalls. My mother looked down, and we slowly approached.
“Who is this, Mama?”
She walked towards the coffin, and once again her face flowed with tears. My father beckoned to us, and my brother and I shuffled next to him.
“This is the grave of President Alija Izetbegovic, the one who led the Bosnians after three years of war. Three years of being isolated in this country, with Serbs shooting at all the sides.”
I touched the cool marble, reading the inscription of “Alija Izetbegovic” pressed into the coffin.
We stood there, praying, until my mother finally wiped her face, and reached for my father’s hand, saying,” It is time.” My brother and I loomed behind them, wondering what was next to come.