Since childhood I’ve lived on three different continents and an island in the South Sea. I’ve traversed 18 countries across North and South America, Europe, Asia and The Oceania. Never before though, have I met a place quite like Bosnia, Miya Yamanouchi starts her conversation with Sarajevo Times.
What First Brought Me to Bosnia
Once upon a time, back in August of 2018, my Bosnian boyfriend and I were at a cafe in our home city of Sydney discussing countries to visit in the near future, when I felt a sudden curiosity to Google pictures of Bosnia to see what it looked like.
Having fled the country with his family when the war broke out at just 11 years old and vowing never to return, my boyfriend had rarely spoken about Bosnia, nor had he ever shown me pictures of his homeland.
When Google images produced results of the Old Bridge in Mostar in wintertime, I pressed the phone against my heart and turned to him with a shocked expression.
“You didn’t tell me Bosnia looked like a magical kingdom!” I exclaimed with wide eyes and a brewing determination to see these scenes of Bosnia for myself in real-life.
My boyfriend shrugged disinterestedly. “I’m never going back to that place,” he declared with a stern resoluteness.
It didn’t matter, though. I knew I’d convince him to take me eventually, and that I’d get to see that magical kingdom with my very own eyes sometime soon.
Sure enough, eight months later in April 2019, we landed in Sarajevo for a two week trip of a lifetime around the beautiful heart-shaped land.
My Impressions of Bosnia
Bosnia is an artwork that lives and breathes. Its majestic land looks like pages from a storybook brought magically to life.
The Neretva River glows a glistening green hue as though a million shimmering emeralds were poured into its waters, and the timeworn cobblestone streets and alleyways whisper secrets of a thousand years before.
Picturesque mountains frame the landscape adding depth to the visual artistry of the country, a place where an abundance of mosques aggrandize its unique charm and character, and buildings injured by bullet holes stand in proud defiance of battles endured just a quarter of a century ago.
Villages surrounded by mysterious lush green forest backdrops are perfect replicas of settings from fairytales, with chimney smoke billowing from quaint little houses, jam-selling ladies in maramas and shepherds herding sheep.
And while I’ve driven across most of the country, nowhere compares to Sarajevo’s beauty and Mostar’s mystique, two cities whose landscape and architecture echoes the stories of yesteryear, and instantly transports you to a chapter back in time.
My Perception of Bosnian People
Encountering Bosnian people for the first time in April last year, their warmth, helpfulness, and openness was notable immediately. I was astounded at how friendly, talkative and loving everyone was, how people acknowledged and greeted each other as they passed by, and how strangers had time for one another in the city streets.
When asking for directions, people would go out of their way to assist us, even sometimes walking with us to show us exactly where we were needed to go.
In addition to Bosnian people being witty, animated, curious and involved, with a calming carefree nature, their resilience as a people is an inspiration. Irrespective of past or present adversities, Bosnians soldier on with courage, dignity and determination.
I love that traditional gender roles appear to be preserved here too, with men embracing their masculinity and prioritizing taking care of their wives and children, and women feeling comfortable in their femininity and welcoming being helped and looked after by men.
I also enjoy seeing how children are given independence at a very young age here, by being allowed to walk the streets on their own, instilling them with a sense of confidence and responsibility early on. So too, do I love seeing stray dogs with personal autonomy travelling in pairs and packs across the city, freed from leashes and human ownership.
Preconceived Ideas of Bosnia
I knew nothing of Bosnia before I visited, I just knew I needed to go there. And although I myself held no prejudices towards the country or its people, others around me in Australia certainly did.
When I first announced to people at my workplace I was going to Bosnia, many of them gasped.
“Is it safe?” my manager had asked me repeatedly with trepidation.
“Come back in one piece,” a co-worked had expressed.
“Bosnia?!” another colleague had exclaimed with his face screwed up. “What’s in Bosnia?”
My parents, who had followed the war closely on their TVs each night during the nineties, also communicated concern for my safety in BiH.
Even upon returning from the trip in April, when I excitedly told a colleague how wonderfully happy-go-lucky Bosnian people were, I received a startling response.
“If they’re so easy going, then why did they have such a brutal war there?” she had asked in a jarring tone.
What I Love About Sarajevo
Sarajevo has a soul and a history that you can feel deeply wherever you go. The streets of Old Town whisk you into a place from days gone by, and the lowrise architecture invites you to stay connected with the mountains and the sky as you traipse through the vibrant ancient lanes. It’s a place so enchanting, that once you’ve spent any time here, it is as though you’re cursed to never enjoy another city or nation as fully again.
The Sarajevo lifestyle is the best in the world to me. You drink coffee, you enjoy your loved ones, you see beautiful natural scenery from wherever you look, and most of all you have time for what really matters—living your life.
Everything is a ten to fifteen minute walk or a five minute drive away, and the capital is the perfect blend of East meets West, past meets present. The new elements of the city are contained within their own suburbs, and modernity and materialism are restricted within shopping complexes that don’t tarnish the Old World feel of the rest of the town.
I love how quiet, slow and tranquil the city is, how everything you need is merely a short stroll away, and I love that stray cats enjoy being picked up and cuddled, and lonely dogs welcome friendship and care.
My boyfriend and I fell in love with Bosnia on our two week trip in April last year, and while we were heartbroken leaving, we made a pact with each other that we’d be back within six months to live, and felt solace in the knowledge that we would be returning, and this time for good.
And in October last year, true to our word, we relocated our whole lives from Sydney to Sarajevo, where we wish to live happily ever after.
Interview by Zejna Yesilyurt, written by Miya Yamanouchi