This is the second installment in a six-part series following JohnnyJet.com writer Cynthia Cunniff through her experience of touring Bosnia-Herzegovina & Croatia with Insight Vacations. Head back to the series home page for the full experience or jump straight to part 1, part 3, part 4, part 5, or part 6.
I’ve traveled with Insight Vacations before, and have always come home with wonderful memories and experiences I’d never imagined were out there to be had. But having dinner with a local family in Sarajevo has topped the list of my best moments in travel.
Our Insight group was broken down into smaller groups of four or five people, each of which was assigned to a family living in an old communist-era apartment building. My group was handed over to Jasmina Pašić, who was just a few months old when the war broke out. Her English was flawless and with her we found the language is a requirement in all the schools. She introduced us to her mother Senada, her father Senad, and her two young sons.
The apartment was small by western standards, but it was obvious that this family loved their home and took care to make it welcoming and cheerful. Senada had been cooking for us all day (some dishes had probably taken longer than that) and as she lovingly served us each individually, her daughter translated the explanation of what each food was, its preparation and the influence from which it originated.
What we had before us was a feast with flavors reminiscent of those in Slavic countries as well as in Greece, Turkey and Central Europe. As the awkwardness of being in a stranger’s home wore off, we relaxed and began a flowing conversation about daily life and the effects of the Bosnian War. This family had been in Sarajevo during its siege and Senad had made several trips through the Tunnel of Hope. They shared their strong feelings of blame for the war, but I felt no malice or anger from their words. What I did sense was an incredible strength and an appreciation for the peace they now have in their city. Things are far from perfect in Sarajevo (it’s run by three different leaderships at once), but as the many mortar- and bullet-pocked buildings will show as testament, things could be far worse.
The Lemes family (Jasmina’s) is like any family, anywhere. Senad flitted out here and there to check on his grandsons watching a Disney movie in the living room, and he would come back with various items to share with us: a handsome picture of himself in his soldier’s uniform, coffee he’d been gifted from a couple who visited from Wyoming, and, of course, embarrassing photos of his children and wife. Normal loving dad stuff. I couldn’t help but notice a vast collection of snowglobes that lined the dining room and the living room—homespun and proud.
After we hugged the Lemes goodbye, we were rejoined by the other Insight travelers whose experiences were all different but that led to the same conclusion: The people of this city have endured a travesty that left a stain not quite yet faded, but their determination to now have a normal, happy life is the driving factor in how they navigate through their days. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to get to a personal level with the city of Sarajevo. The city has been destroyed three times over the course of history and it has embedded a resilience in its people, who have each time shown the strength to move on and rebuild, as there is little time for mourning. Experiences such as this are the reason I travel and I firmly believe if everyone had the opportunity to get to see the world through the eyes of those who have endured tragedy and survived, we would all be better for it.