The nine-hour bus ride through the Balkan Mountains from Zagreb to Sarajevo was entirely epic. Upon missing my connecting train in Zagreb (I suspect that the German information dude that instructed me that 25 minutes between trains was entirely sufficient was not just having a laugh at a naive American, but actually could not fully conceive of the Eastern European style of timeliness and order and their utter lack of anal-ness in enforcing it) I briefly explored the downtown of Croatia’s capital and figured out how to take the tram to the bus station where I boarded what proved to be my first real Bosnian experience. Exhausted (I took an overnight train from Munich and spent most of that time chatting with two jovial Canadians shared my sleeping car until somewhere in Slovenia), I attempted sleep in the bumpy auto which had slowed down considerably because of the profuse rain.
Having failed to reach Haji earlier that day I was worried that he must be worrying about me and needed to try calling him again. I noticed the woman next to me had been texting on a cell phone and though she seemed exceptionally quiet, reclusive almost, I desperately needed to call my professor. So. I took out some Croatian currency (my wallet stuffed with at least 4 different kinds of money and me not fully understanding any of them) and asked her in English while I signaled with my hands that I wanted to call the number on the little sheet of paper that I held in the other. She looked at me oddly, then signaled back that she was deaf. I made up some of my own sign language and she dialed the number. No answer. But the beginning of a beautiful conversation was well under way.
Amila and I “talked” for the next six hours, scribbling sentences and questions in English on random receipts, envelopes, and finally across the pages of a notebook that we ended up passing back and forth throughout the journey. The bus wound through dark mountains and along sharp precipices; in and out of small towns that had witnessed huge tragedies; past ancient castles, remnants of Bosnia’s vast history. Amila told me about her husband, job, and how much her baby loved music. She pointed out the hospital in which she was born in a small that we passed through, and in the next small town, pointed out her parents house and the small shop where she had purchased her “delicious” wedding dress. I’m sure she looked stunning.
When we finally arrived in Sarajevo she pointed out several notable buildings in the city including the Oslobodenje, the newspaper whose archives I will later scour for a research project. She helped me hail a taxi to the address that Haji had given me (I finally reached him on her cell). I thought of how funny it must be for the taxi driver, me speaking only English while she relied solely on mouthing words and writing directions. We made it up the hill on the southern side of the city where I would be spending the month where we met Haji, I thanked her for lending me her socks (she insisted that my sandaled feet would need them) and told her that I would text message her, and the taxi swept her away into the city below.
I settled my bags and smoked hookah on our rooftop balcony with the gang, marveling over the gorgeous view of the nighttime city that I had read so much about, contemplating my trip, the beauty of human camaraderie, and the way the sweet-scented shisha soothed my tired body as my thoughts drifted out across the street-lamps, tiled rooftops, churches, mosques and parks, the former frontline, shelled buildings, surrounding mountains, and up into the clouds.