After Aldin’s departure day by day I feel more and more bursts of nostalgia. So just the other day, I start rummaging through old things to see if I can think of anything else that used to matter to me, and time has suppressed it. It is not an exaggerated undertaking, precisely thanks to my restraint and selectivity towards the world.
Everything I have from my memories fits in a small metal box, covered with stickers, which I received five years ago from Mervana for my birthday. Contents of the box, as the box itself, not overly special: movie tickets, festival passes, tickets from all forms of transport throughout Europe, postcards, photos. Little things that would be worth nothing to others, and yet to me they mark past times and evoke memories.
There were several letters in the pile of paper. Verses never sent to a girl whose name I don’t even remember. The situation may be actually the other way around, that is, that these are verses that I received from someone. I don’t know why I still keep it. Then there are a few intimate confessions on paper, to people that were dear to me ones, as well as farewell words from the Yanxi … I keep them because they have great potential to be turned into prose, but I haven’t found the time for that yet. At the end of the pile, there is also a farewell letter to friends, which I never sent…
I believe that it is never pleasant to return to what is written, especially when the writen experiences the fate of being rejected by the person who wrote it. To make matters even more difficult, in this case, I have changed, so much, since I wrote those words that I was convinced that what was contained in the letter was not something I believed in today.
Yet I had to read it because it arose after that one beautiful summer in which I became close again with my friends and spent more time than ever before with them. It was a summer of a hundred and one nights of chilling, swaying, parties and who knows what that we swore to each other to keep silent about, up to the grave. As I was writing my goodbye letter, I was aware that all that happened is past and that it was best for my ass to look better tomorrow, somewhere else … So I gave it the extremely pompous title to my writing: “Letter from 2020”.
If I were somewhere surrounded by people who speak Slovenian, German, English or some fourth language, in which I can communicate (in a very questionable way), but still not know it well enough to be able to think in it, I believe that this writing would be much easier for me. The reason is very simple. A wave of inspiration / unblocking of the mind occurs in me when I feel the engine of the Centrotrans bus shaking under my feet as it leaves the main station in Sarajevo. For me, this is already a routine, something that happens on an established schedule. It is exactly eight o’clock in the morning, I am sitting on the right side of the bus, the third row from the end, by the window, and in front of me is at least fourteen hours of rolling on the asphalt. For me, it is the only true manifestation of freedom, it is literally, consciously and conscientiously leaving everything behind.
Unfortunately for me, I am writing this here, in Sarajevo, in the early morning, there is no water in the apartment again, so I cannot clean myself and pray. The city authorities have been repeating for the last five years that these are the last reductions and that the completion of the works on the water supply network is approaching. I’m used to this, we’re all used to this, so some other thoughts are running through my head. For the last three months, I have had the opportunity to approach you again, to spend time with you again.
My thoughts were occupied precisely by the fact that you all opened up to me and spoke honestly about your problems. I want to lie to myself that it is a natural process of years of acquaintance and socializing… A voice in the depths of my head tells me something different. You did it with the knowledge that I don’t plan to stay here long. To tell me, who am passing by, or to whisper in the hollow of the trunk of a hundred-year-old tree, may come to you as the same at the end of the day. I am aware that I did not necessarily always show emotions in front of you, have a valid reaction, or offer mild physical comfort, although I was there, absorbing and passively living your lives.
Each of your stories left a mark on me, extracting from me an enormous amount of what I thought was an endless sacrifice for myself, at all costs. I am now aware that this was narcissism, which I picked up somewhere along the way on my travels. It has become my dominant trait and I am no longer ashamed of it. On the other hand, I admit that you reminded me what it is like to have „a soul“, and how caring for others and sharing everything honestly, no matter how little it may be, is much more valuable than success at all costs.
You see, that is what makes our people specific. The fact that we are uncompromisingly open, that we sincerely call things as they are and that we rejoice reluctantly to people from all over the world, ready to give for them as much as for our own. This is what makes our soul unique. Probably we can all agree that we are proud of it and that it is what binds us to all this here, that soul, that “thin breath” for an honest and joyful life. We all make a big mistake here. It is this mentality that has brought our society to where it is.
We are ready, to be honest, to talk about our harsh reality, and yet we are not ready to change it. We feel successful by highlighting our shortcomings and the shortcomings of our environment, we feel that we have done something positive, that we have done our human, also the civic duty, because we have highlighted a problem that everyone sees. If we all point out what’s wrong, and none of us is willing to stand up and do something about it, how do we intend to progress? Why do we have and choose to be led by people who are incapable of it? Simply because they (just like us) are successful in highlighting shortcomings, primarily of their opponents, and then if necessary – they look back on their shortcomings and promise us that things will change. Interestingly, they don’t say anymore that they will change things, they say that things have to change for the better or that things will change for the better, by the way omitting themselves from that obligation.
Our infinitely great and glorious hospitality is still a bigger problem than our sincerity. How many more peoples lovingly learn the history of their former occupiers, and consider it their own. How many peoples call the former occupiers their brothers? On the other hand, those guests who once let us down have become our eternal enemies. How much more blood and bones do we plan to shed on the conflicts that are a variation of those of centuries ago? Doesn’t it mean anything to us that we have the same language, gastronomy, and partly culture with these peoples? Okay, let’s ignore that, but how do we stay blind to the fact that the same evil fate didn’t unite us. Just as I can’t get clean now, so someone else is unable to clean themselves after going to the toilet or take a shower before going to work. Unfortunately, water is the smallest problem in the whole story…
That hospitality destroys us in another way. Too often we want things from the others, the guest, without even looking at what we have. We are not perfect, far from it, but we try to turn our sincerity into modesty in front of the guests, and in the end, we distort reality and start belittling ourselves and our own. I will not be a vain patriot and say that our nature is more beautiful than someone else’s, but it is inevitable that we possess enormous potentials that remain untapped because we have convinced ourselves that they are not valuable or that our man is not able to use what we have, at least not for positive purposes. That’s why I don’t plan to live here anymore.
The only thing that will make me come back is the endless paperwork, the fucking bureaucracy that politicians have successfully built in an attempt to hinder any attempt at free and active action by citizens. I don’t want to live here, and stopping me or someone else, by any overwhelming paperwork, is no longer possible. At the core of our Bosnian soul, in that “calm breath” and joy of living, is the seed of self-destruction. A hundred years ago, Andrić spoke in his letter about the same destructiveness, and since then until today, except for rulers, I do not know that much has changed.
What I know and can understand and describe is this gloomy feeling of whirling and slaughtering in my stomach, burning and frying in my chest, breathing that is difficult, reduced to a minimum of physical capacity and pulsating pressure in my head that takes away my power to think right, to create or to love. I know that you, dear friends, feel the same way. Some of you kill this condition by swallowing handfuls of medically approved narcotics, others try to wash away the feeling with enormous amounts of alcohol and less conventional methods…
How did we all become addicted to our misfortune? Why are we trying to deepen it ourselves? It is this addiction to unhappiness that shapes us into a nation that does not learn or does not want to learn from its environment, past, or its destiny. It just turns us on at some point or doesn’t turn us in life and that’s it. I’m not sure when it turned me on, but I remember exactly the moment when I became aware that I was turned away from everything here.
On the anniversary of the Sarajevo assassination, I freshly returned to the city after a nine-month absence, bringing my friend Yanxi with me. As the two of us lived in the same apartment for a long period of my stay in Slovenia, at some point we talked about our homelands. The conversation with her never turned to war, intertwined deep in the history and consciousness of our people, until we stopped in the Miljacka valley. Suddenly, in me, the sworn pacifists, the threads of the homeland’s past, which I kept silent, began to unravel. I set out to tell her about the destruction of my hometown was exuding. In the 48 hours of her stay in Sarajevo, our conversations about life, travel and art were replaced by a bunch of discussions about fallen empires, their destruction and the self-destruction of society…
It is only here in the valley where almost everyone believes in one God in four different ways, under the pressure of constant talk about death and the evil people do, that she, a born and sworn atheist, wondered if something existed outside our mortal bodies. While experiencing churches and synagogues throughout Europe as centres of culture and some distant history unknown to her, here in Sarajevo, after stepping into a mosque for the first time in her life, she saw how something as abstract, uncertain and unknown as religion, can form collective identities.
You see, dear friends, in just two days, she set out here to recognize and distinguish people, to recognize conflicts and to judge who thinks well and who thinks badly. Imagine what would have happened to her if she had somehow picked up a part of our Bosnian soul, or worse, had she realized our self-destruction. What about us who have spent seven thousand days of our lives here… Or those who live twenty thousand days in Bosnia.
I do not want to accept to be a self-destructive victim of the Bosnian spirit. I don’t want to live in hatred or be surrounded by constant hatred. I no longer want to feel the pain caused by mental constipation rather than some physical illness.
In a country like Bosnia a hundred years ago, or like Bosnia today, I will always feel like a foreigner. My Self is much more complex than the set of frameworks that people fall into here. My religious, national, sexual, or any identity, might nominally coincide with the identity of the majority living here, but my actions under the names of these identification units have long since moved away from the actions of the majority. I am not so naive as to look in the world for a place where life is ideal…
I am just looking for a place where I can live without fear that someone will judge me for my accent, background or any decision that built me into what I am. I’m looking for a place where no one is going to force me to choose something I don’t want, be it something essentially good or bad for me. I think that in my lifetime, I will not see that here in Bosnia. Just like a hundred years ago ” No nest salus nisi in fuga ” (Only escape is salvation). To you who remain, as well as to my homeland, I wish only happiness in life!
It’s been a few days since I read my lost manuscript. I still believe in the words I printed on paper at the time, even though I am still here in Sarajevo. I’m here even though Re, Aldin, Mervana, Vanja, Emina and many others have left. The last one to leave is Ena in a few days …
With the exception that my friends have gathered strength, to overcome their demons, and finally outgrew the local mentality and opportunities, only one thing has changed. There is still water in the city now during the summer. Enough for a man to be dignified, not enough to wash away all injustice, pain and memories.
And why am I still here, where time passes slowly, and where it all comes down to departures and returns, both personal and foreign? Why am I becoming more and more a self-destructive victim of the Bosnian spirit and growing together and enjoying my pain? When I initially read the letter I had no answer. And then my phone rang and everything cleared up.
On the other side came the voice of my darling that dispelled all doubts. I, Orhan, two years ago, did not perceive that in the soul of Bosnia, in addition to great hatred, self-destruction and superficial „calm breath“, there is something else. Love, which makes a man ready to say to himself “As long as I’m in you my dear, I don’t care where I am.”