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Cracking Bosnia's Shell

Postcard from Sarajevo

By Katherine M. Dimengo

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina—Earlier this summer I remember sitting on the number four metro in Paris; I am nearly finished reading page 87 of Dubravka Ugresic’s The Museum of Unconditional Surrender. A single word strikes my fancy: “Kinder-Eggs.” I read on and finally realize that the author is not going to explain what a kinder-egg is. I smile in my secret delight. But the secret that I share with Ugresic does not last long.

Unless you have spent much time exploring grocery stores in Europe (or by chance know an irreverent importer of childish chocolates in America), there is a good chance you have never come across a kinder-egg or know why they are so neat. Some 150 pages later Ugresic finally describes the candy: “chocolate eggs with a smaller, plastic egg inside, and in it the tiny parts of little plastic models which have to be put together.” Like this egg with a hidden treasure, the little toy of knowledge I had was precious, and something I could choose to let other people see or not.

Of course, it is not very nice to want to keep interesting, helpful things to oneself, even though there is something inherently delightful in taunting I-know-something-you-don’t-know—the best restaurant in town, a cool dive bar, an obscure, postmodern Croatian novel. As with any secret, though, there is immense desire to spill it, hence the high price of a secret. Once, if, you decide to share, you want to be claimed as the true bearer of the earth-shattering insight. And nothing is worse than sharing a secret that everyone already knows.

Such is the secret of Bosnia. I am growing extremely fond of my home for a month, Sarajevo. There are millions of interesting, positive things to say about it. But do I really want hoards of tourists—for pleasure or on do-good missions—arriving? While in general I heartily support international travel and certainly greater tourism in Bosnia would be helpful to the economy, I cannot help but want to protect this place from the brash self-centered voyeurism that tourists of all nationalities tend to carry.

Eight years after its disastrous conflict, Bosnia, of course, has problems—especially with the drying up of European and American support as other regions have become more attractive aid recipients. But it is the growing normalcy that is most striking here. After a few weeks here, I was already convinced that all the shocked “why would you want to go there” people had to be shortsighted, and wrong. As Bosnians have argued to me, the everyday rhythms of life overshadow the problems of the past. It is these cultural gems that I am hesitant to share with spoiled American worryworts who only travel with guarantees of hot expatriates or controversial thesis research. I am not sure if they have earned this hidden spot yet.

But I am sure the secret will soon come out. Prague, Slovenia, Krakow, Dubrovnik have all been unearthed first by the wild, devil-may-care adventurers. They are now the playgrounds of Europeans on August siestas and college kids looking for cheaper culture than the West sells. I have great trust in Bosnia that soon it will get itself on this list. The difficulty and expense of getting into the country seems to be the biggest, practically only, barrier to foreigners.

But you didn’t hear it from me, yet. This is just a taste of what is in store. Just give me a little more time with this treasure before you sneak a visit.

Katherine M. Dimengo ’04, a Crimson editor, is an English and American Literature and Language concentrator in Winthrop House. After attempting to learn French—which she spitefully declined to do while living in a French-speaking nation—she is traveling in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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