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Sarajevo: through the eyes of a 7-year old boy

This summer, our family spent – not unsurprisingly – our holidays in Bosnia and Croatia, starting in Sarajevo. While the youngest one and I were enjoying the CTEWC-conference, my husband was showing the other two kids (a 7 year old boy and 5 year old girl) around in the city. During breaks and stolen moments, I got glimpses of what this city did to them. Especially for Wannes it was an impressive experience – leaving indeed an imprint.

Being a typical boy (without any encouragement, rather discouragement – but we’ll not discuss the gender issue here), he is into guns, army, battle… Untypical for him though, because being a fighter is not really his character. Anyhow, being confronted with a place where ‘only’ (his words) 25 years ago a war was going on, did not leave him undisturbed. Just wandering around and noticing the many holes of the gun shots in the walls, the red marked stains on the streets throughout the city, seeing the war graveyard while being on the cable car, the bombed houses with reconstruction still unfinished, coincidentally going through a book imaging the war with photographs also of children lying dead on the streets, but also special visits to the Sniper Alley and the Tunnel of Hope/Life, made his mind go into ‘overdrive’.

“Why was there a war, in the first place?” “Which countries fought each other?” And after explaining it was one country with different groups and nationalities: “why did they suddenly not get along anymore?”.

“How many people got killed?” “Why so many children and women as well? They did not fight and were not to blame, were they?”

“How come not all could escape through this Tunnel of life?”

We were contemplating visiting Srebrenica, but noticing what Sarajevo did to them already, we decided not to. Maybe they are still a bit too young to be confronted with such atrocities; they still have time enough and will find out soon enough how cruel the world and its inhabitants can be… But even during the rest of our stay, the war was a theme coming up spontaneously quite often.

Luckily, however, Sarajevo also showed him another side.  As impressive was the fact that people from all around the world met to dialogue and reflect to let this not happen again. He was amazed and amused to found out during a coffee break that people from all of the countries who just had participated at the World Cup where now here as their name tags showed: even from Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Japan! – this raised his admiration for our work a little bit, because “building houses and working as a farmer is working, but just talking and reflecting is not real work, right?”. He wondered how a South African man ended up in Australia, but could still speak Dutch with him. He was surprised that some Indian and Americans knew his name. And the city itself was so kind to show him how Muslims, Jews and Christians all have their places of worship almost next to each other, how the call for prayer from the minarets reverberate while we are brushing our teeth, how Jewish men wear kipa and peies, Muslim women wear niqab, even burka and that this – especially the latter –   is not threatening, against the opinion often raised in his home country. (Which is not to simplify the tensions still existing under the surface, but at least, this is also part of Sarajevo today.)

Being a part of the CTEWC-network is always something to be grateful for. This time, I’m particularly grateful because I’m quite sure we would not that easily decide to visit Sarajevo and Bosnia as family if it were not to combine it in this way. Now I realise that would have been a mistake. Sarajevo has a lot to offer, as a place that triggers questions, reflection and dialogue – even at a very young age.

As for Wannes, the confrontation was not really a trauma and did not keep him from choosing a Spiderman-gun in a Bosnian store. On our way back, however, he had to get it out of his hand luggage and throw it away. “No problem,” he said, “I still have my cars.”