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A Sarajevo From Another Time

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SARAJEVO, I loved your city. I loved your river Miljacka with its graceful stone bridges, your medieval market square Bascarsija with its noisy bezistans, squawking chickens, and turbaned craftsmen. I loved your huge domed mosques with their slender minarets soaring heavenward, your narrow cobblestone streets, steep hills, and dark alleys crowded with mysterious smells, farm animals, and double-doored, hole-in-the-wall shops. I loved your noisy smoke-filled kafanas redolent with thick black coffee and charcoal-grilled lamb and your ancient cemeteries.

But most of all, Sarajevo, I loved your people. We called you ``Yugos.'' You called me ``dobra Leenda.''

Dobro/dobra means good, and it was one of the few Serbo-Croatian words I learned. It was the answer to everything in Sarajevo in the winter of 1984.

How do you like our city? Dobro. How do you like our food? Dobro. How do you like our weather? Dobro. How do you like our people? Dobro.

Of all the words in the Serbo-Croatian language, why did I have to learn the word dobro? What is the word for civil war?

Recently I watched Dan Rather report the news from Sarajevo. He was standing in front of a drab-looking apartment building in Dobrinja, a suburb just outside the city.

I have a picture of myself standing in front of that same building. In my picture, I'm wearing a bright orange down parka and a ski hat. Dan had on an olive-green military flak jacket and a combat helmet.

His face was grim, and he flinched as mortar shells exploded behind him. I flinched, too, as I thought of the place I had called home for three weeks in February of 1984.

Dobrinja was the press village for the Winter Olympics that year. It was brand new, just finished, and the 5,000-member international press corps were the first inhabitants. After the Olympics, we were told the dark, cramped, cinder-block apartments would become upscale housing for Sarajevo's young urban professionals. I guess that has happened.


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