Sarajevo / Los Angeles

I’m back home in Los Angeles, with Sarajevo on my mind.

The images:

  • an unspeakable number of hungry, abandoned dogs roaming the street
  • heaps of uncollected trash in front of the once elegant, now disheveled Austro-Hungarian buildings
  • closed museums and galleries that nobody wants or needs to finance
  • crowded graveyards where you see the same date of death again and again: 1994 and 1995, just as you do at the Jewish museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina where the year of death is always 1942 or 1943

A dog haunts me through this town. She is terrifyingly thin, with sunken and unbearably sad eyes. Her heavy tits hang so low they touch the dirty ground. Where are her puppies? I follow her one day but get no answer. Maybe they’re dead. It’s very cold, below freezing. Did she hide them somewhere? Is someone feeding them? Can they possibly be alive?

I carry dog food in my purse. I feed the dogs whenever I can. But people are divided here. (Aren’t they always? And everywhere?) Some feel for the dogs, some hate them, with reason. The dogs are hungry and they often attack people, especially children. The European Union has forbidden the ancient way of solving the problem of abandoned animals by catching them and killing them. I hear stories that the money that Europe had given the Bosnian authorities to build shelters had been squandered and misused, stolen by the officials and never accounted for. People here are in a state of apathy. Fighting for animal rights seems ridiculous and decadent when people themselves are struggling to survive on meager salaries and miniscule pensions that fail to arrive for months.

I am so troubled by the sight of the dogs that I often change my itinerary through the city, just to avoid the places where the dogs gather most. I use the old tactic of dealing with insolvable problems: I refuse to see them. If I don’t see them, the problems don’t exist. I don’t want to look into “my” dog’s eyes. I cannot bear her sadness. I cannot bear the feeling of my own guilt. So I avoid her. I’m a passer through. What can I possibly do? What should I do?

The papers here are full of sensational news of politicians stealing incredible amounts of money: millions of Euros getting lost, hidden, misused for personal profit. The country is divided into ethnically defined “entities”, every one of them hostile to the other ones, in varying degrees. Children in towns like Mostar go to separate schools, depending on their nationality and religion. As everywhere else in the region, the worst ones have won. The nationalists and war profiteers are the true winners of this war.

But, nothing can destroy the spirit of Sarajevo. I saw one of the most beautiful theatrical events of my life: a 30-minute performance piece by a young theater director Selma Spahic. Combining real life stories of non-actors and professional actors, the performance achieves true catharsis in just 30 minutes. It’s a celebration of ordinary life, filled with love and respect for humanity. I have rarely watched a clearer, purer work of art.
Then there is the jazz saxophonist Damir who emigrated to San Francisco during the war and learned how to make exquisite sushi there. He opened a fabulous sushi bar in Sarajevo, where you listen to newest lounge music and enjoy tuna sashimi.

Sarajevo is my town. As is Zagreb where I was born. As is Belgrade where I spent the most beautiful years of my life. I lived and worked in those towns. Yes, they are now in separate countries. So what? My homeland has emerged from the ruins in the form of a few scattered friends that live in those towns. And elsewhere: in Split, on the island of Vis, in Ljubljana… I don’t care about politics as long as I have friends, where ever they may be… even here, in Los Angeles, where I recently had this conversation:

XY: How are you?

Me: Ok, I guess. Dealing with this city, this horrible feeling of disconnectedness, of not belonging, of not being a part of anything, of not having any kind of community around me….

XY: Ha! Everything you tell me could be said by 90% of the citizens of Los Angeles. So don’t worry.

And I don’t. Not anymore. I’m too old for worrying.

Only sometimes when I close my eyes I suddenly see the saddest eyes I’ve ever looked into – the eyes of that dog in Sarajevo. And I worry. Yes, I do.