Impressions from Bosnia

On a walking tour of Sarajevo, our guide tells us that he was 7 years old when the war started. Little clarification is needed—in Bosnia, as is probably the case anywhere that has borne witness to genocide in living memory, "the war" can only refer to the most recent one.

Relics from the Bosnian War litter the city still—most buildings we pass bear the scars of shrapnel and bullets. Others are more deliberate. The Sarajevo roses, concrete fissures that have been filled with red resin, mark the sites of mortar explosions. Standing atop one in a covered market, I imagine it to be the same shade of red as the blood that soaked the ground on the day that 67 people were killed, on this very spot, by one blast.

Bosnia's recovery from the war has been agonizingly slow. Nearly a quarter of a century after the war's end, there are shiny new malls and luxury hotels, but estimates of youth unemployment still range anywhere from 45 to 65 percent, depending on who you ask. The Dayton Agreement may have bought peace, but it satisfied no one—least of all the Bosnians, who were left with a divided federation and a government in perpetual gridlock.

Neno, our guide, recommends a book for me to read: Zlata's Diary, a young Sarajevan's record of life in wartime. I ask if he identified with her account. He shrugs, laughs a little uncomfortably. "I think all of us who lived through the war could write a book about it."

Most don't, though—Merima, who also grew up in wartime, tells me that the war is a topic to be avoided amongst friends. Later, as we contemplate the tiny footprints scattered around the memorial to the 1,300 Sarajevan children who were killed during the war, she observes a moment or two of silence. "I think we have a duty to remember, though."

On the marble blocks engraved with the names of the dead, I find a handful sharing my year of birth. None lived to see their fourth year. I'm told that on July 22, 1993, 3,777 shells were fired on Sarajevo. An ocean away, I was a month and five days from my first birthday, wrapped safely in a blanket of security that life's lottery had won me.

In the Baščaršija, my sister stops to admire a pretty bronze object engraved with twining flowers. It strikes me only some time later that it was not bronze, but brass—a shell casing, presumably scavenged. We all practice remembering in our own ways, I suppose.