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SARAJEVO MEMOIRS

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By David Jones

Last year David Jones, a keen amateur middle-distance

runner, enjoyed running around inner city Sydney and

Melbourne. Now living in Sarajevo, he enjoys delights of a

different kind- and a world away from the cosy surroundings

of the Harbour Bridge and Albert Park Lake.

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Now that the airport is open, and the skies are clear of

trails left by NATO jets, and there are no more gut-

wrenching sonic booms, there are no excuses - come and

tramp the surrounding hills of the city often called

'Planet Sarajevo'. The town lies some two thousand feet up,

cramped between the mountains. Bitumen roads wind their

way up either side of town and eventually turn to gravel or

goat tracks, and small communities appear- ideologically

removed from the metropolis below. Three or four times a

week I run through these hilly back streets. My usual

circuit keeps my hamstrings taut and is great hill-

training, and the incredibly diverse scenery never ceases

to provide a stimulating and astounding experience as well.

If you want some running with a difference, then this is

it.

I set off from my apartment block. About half a kilometre

up the road is Kosevo hospital. In silhouette against the

sky stands a giant construction crane which, as far as I

can tell, hasn’t been in operation for some years. Lying

abandoned beneath is a half-completed wing of the hospital-

evidence perhaps of the reduction in the population (many

fled during and after the war-referred to here as the

Diaspora). Right opposite, a new service station is

nearing completion. Like most constructions of this type,

it’s held together with bright stainless steel, glass, and

fresh concrete- and with its cheery blue and purple colour

scheme, is totally incongruous with the dull concrete shell

across the road. A little further on I scoot past

apartment blocks all dressed gaily with the day’s laundry

(one evening here I came across a wrecked car on the road.

With mangled fenders, crushed roof, and no wheels, it

looked like it had been dropped from a helicopter. More

unusual, it was gone the next morning).

Another kilometre on I pass by The Harp, a local drinking

haunt. This is the Irish bar here and is patronised mostly

by the international community. There are some 5000

internationals here working for one mission or another-

like the U.N, O.S.C.E, O.H.R, U.N.H.C.R, E.C, E.U, or the

oddly non-acronymic, Red Cross (I suspect many of The Harp

regulars have their own personal missions too —supporting

the A.G.F, the Arthur Guinness Foundation). Soon I pass

the row of kiosks that offers Bosnian snacks like cevapi

and burek. Delicious odours fill the air which often

distracts me from my rhythm.

I’m warmed up now, and as I cross the river I notice the

imposition of the Italian S-For barracks on the left that

occupies what was once part of the front line. Barbed wire

and sandbags still surround the area, and cheerless guards

consider my flight as my vista changes dramatically. One

hundred metres on the right a row of shelled out, bullet-

ridden buildings, now only vaguely resemble people’s homes.

Here, alone with the devastation, I often feel a little

uncomfortable and a chill ripples up my sweating back,

which is at odds with the heat of my step. On the left

side of the road grassy fields meander downhill until they

meet the road that goes west to Tuzla. A large cemetery

bears witness on the opposite hill.

A sharp right-hander and I’m at the foot of a winding 2-

kilometre hill. Halfway up, the scent of apple blossoms

fills the air and the freshness urges me to pick up my

pace, but the steep climb has me going no faster than a

quick walk. My calves are burning. Occasionally a herd of

bemused looking goats wanders across my path. More apple

blossoms. I am bewildered by the construction of a tiny

hut that stands isolated and totally inconsistent with its

surroundings (I am told later this is the beginnings of a

golf driving range. The nearest course is two countries

away, in Slovenia!).

I continue up and am now running along a winding lane with

lush, verdant countryside. Heady scented pine groves and

birds-a-chirping complete the picture. Apart from the

occasional burnt-out car (more often than not a tiny

Zastava-the Balkan Fiat 500), I could be in any country

lane in Europe. At the top of the hill I fleet-foot right,

and begin my return home. A quaint provincial village is

crested at the apex of my run. As I startle chickens,

scare cats, and rouse dogs, small children stand cheek-

soiled and agog at my passing. Their mothers pay little

interest as they hang washing or busy themselves in small

vegetable patches. Old men wearing berets sharpen tools in

their sheds or saw wood on the roadside. Anyone who

catches my eye I acknowledge with a wheezy Dobar Dan . The

children smile and shout ‘ciao’ and the animals go about

their business. The odd basketball ring does little to

contemporise this setting and a spectacular view of the

Sarajevo valley and the mountains beyond greets me as I

descend back down.

Soon I pass again the shelled and bullet-shattered remains

of the houses that once served as cover for front-line

Serbs in the years of the siege. At times I see a lone

worker carrying timber or mixing concrete; a tiresome and

unenviable undertaking to restore his former life.

Scattered, and almost covered over by the narrow thicket on

the left side of the road, stand old and oblique headstones

that bear reverential, but indecipherable epigraphs. The

high side of a park slopes away on the other side. As I

pass again the S-For barracks, I dart left through the park

gates. It’s serpentine path leading to a forlorn zoo. Its

unlucky inhabitants consist of a few rabbits, an odd

assortment of wild and domestic fowl, and a large, sad

looking bird that resembles a vulture. A pond in the centre

of the park is home to a medley of ducks.

The park also serves as a children’s playground, boasting a

small-scale train that runs on what looks like a giant

slot-car track- the whole thing about fifty metres in

length. Situated between an uninspiring mini-golf circuit

(soon to be renovated) and the pond, and looking like an

ominous sandbagged cubby house, lies a bomb shelter. Its

somber and muted colourings are in conflict with the

cartoon themes that surround it. As I exit the park I

scoot past a row of tulips almost too vivid so as to appear

artificial. I spy a lone sentry in his Perspex and barbed

wire attic in the barracks over the road. Large yellow

signs warn ‘no photographs’.

Back past the Harp and a few people are starting their

liver assaults in the beer garden. Joyful school children

giggle at my bare legs, which are an obvious sign of my

foreignness. Past them, a hundred metres away in the

valley, lies Zetra, the newly resurrected copper-roofed

sports stadium. During the 1984 Winter Olympics this

stadium enthralled Sarajevans and skating judges alike with

the perfect symmetry of Torvil and Dean.

Towards home I sweat my way past the rising minaret of one

of the many mosques being built with funds from a

benevolent, and different Islamic world. And I pass the

church of a different persuasion-the nearly completed House

of Oil (signs on street-lamps around town normally

heralding new exhibitions or up-coming music festivals

advertise the new peacock-coloured edifice as if it’s

another cultural event). Several of Sarajevo’s 1367 taxis

(90% of them are Golfs) are parked at the rank across the

road- their owners stand around in fervent conversations.

In my final uphill kilometre I pass by Breka - a huge

arrangement of apartment blocks that looks like a sort of

cream-coloured Battlestar Galactica. Finally, breathless

but revitalized, I stretch and warm-down outside my

apartment block while amused children look on. And once

again I contemplate the incongruity and harmony that so

much enlivens ‘Planet Sarajevo’.

Next time you’re in the tranquil Balkans and you want some

serious hill training, or you just need a little change

from your humdrum running routine, then pack your running

shoes and come on up.

P.S.

The first golf balls were hit at the driving range last

weekend. Bring your plus-fours as well.