I have been asked many times why I like the Balkans, why I keep coming back, why I am fascinated with this region – a region that is far from perfect. The answer might be that despite the fact that it is far from perfect and at times everything seems wrong, it is a magical and pure place with cheerful and funny people that were given some hard time but still managed to come out laughing.
Walking down the hill from Vratnik to Baščaršija in the centre of Sarajevo in the morning is nearly a spiritual experience. The smell – mixture of coffee, fresh bread and mountain air – the view – rooftops of centuries-old houses surrounded by peaks of mountains – and the feeling of freedom combined, make you think that this is it: this is where you want to spend the rest of your life.
And you get the same feeling sitting on Kalemegdan in Belgrade, looking at the confluence of Sava and Danube and Zemun on the other side. The wind is strong but warm in the summer and you feel like you could spend hours there and never move. There are simply so many magical and beautiful places here.
But that is not all…
There are the people. Their hospitability is indescribable. They offer you everything they have (most likely their sons including), or even what they don’t have. If you are a friend of a relative, then you are nearly part of the family.
Their cheerfulness is endless. Sometimes it is hard to get a bit of seriousness out of them. “Life is serious enough”, someone told me, “so I need to make it a bit funnier for us, correct?”
Their life stories are fascinating. Whatever they went through, they are willing to tell you everything – and sincerely. And they talk and talk and talk: about their life, about everything that comes to their mind. A lot of cigarettes and coffees are consumed before you get tired. Or you never will and you decide to stay and listen to some more.
But that is not all…
I love the Balkans not only for its beauty and its people. I love it because I don’t understand it. And I don’t think I ever will. I have spent many hours sitting in history, politics, culture and language classes where the teacher tried to teach me about the region. It was all hopeless. I know facts, many facts but the questions that has been coming up all the time is: WHY? Why has it all happened here? I started to understand certain aspects after I have moved here but still, some things are simply beyond belief or understanding. I don’t think I will ever understand that a neighbour would kill a neighbour, or rape his wife only because one was a Serb and the other a Bosniak. And there is more – but that cannot be explained. That must be seen, lived through, felt…
And that makes the Balkans the love of my life – I love it for its mysteries, for its “forbidden fruit” nature, for all the stories that have been kept untold, for all the unexpected that awaits here.