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Travel Lessons from Sarajevo

Sarajevo ’84 Olympic Stadium as it appears today
MSGT Michael J. Haggerty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Sarajevo ’84 Olympic Stadium as it appears today

My name is Anne Holt. I’ve lived in Minnesota for 22 years, but my education is a product of Kansas. I attended Kindergarten through 9th grade in Larned, finished high school in Winfield, and hold degrees from Southwestern College and the University of Kansas.

During my last two years of high school, in our first class after lunch break, all televisions in the school were tuned to Channel One, a daily broadcast whose target audience was the under 18 crowd. I remember very little about those broadcasts, but I do recall thorough coverage of the conflict happening in Yugoslavia at the time. Yugoslavia was something of a known entity for me, but only because I had memories of watching the ‘84 Olympics. Fighting amongst ethnic groups involving a lot of people I’d never heard of: Bosnians, Serbs, Croatians, however, was extremely hard for me to wrap my teenage mind around. Truth be told, my classmates and I were not always 100% engaged with these Channel One broadcasts, but I remember everyone in my chemistry class watching in stunned silence as they showed bombed out remains of some of those Olympic venues we’d seen in 1984.

In 2015 my family traveled to Croatia for a wedding and had the opportunity to cross the Croatian/Bosnian border and spend a couple days in Sarajevo. We spent a day touring city sights with a local guide. Among other sites, we experienced the inside of the tunnel mentioned in the book, a bombed out hotel, the Olympic podium, and the bobsled track from the ‘84 Olympics. It was now graffiti covered and, on the day we were there, being used for practice by the Turkish national luge team. Our guide had lived in the city through the siege, and while her demeanor was largely one of simply stating the facts, there were moments when her eyes and thoughts seemed to go distant as she shared her memories of that time.

I have had the opportunity to do a fair amount of traveling, but anyone who asks will get no hesitation when asking me for the favorite place I have visited. Sarajevo. So, when The Cellist of Sarajevo came up on a suggested reading list a few years ago, I read it immediately. I recently re-read the book, and am grateful to have had the chance to read it with a post-pandemic lens.

Like many, I spent a lot of time during the pandemic bemoaning the things we were missing: Gatherings with family and friends, milestones for my son who was a high school senior, college visits and other planned trips, and in-person worship to name a few. There was a fair amount of worry as well. How was all this distance learning going to affect my kids? What was life going to be like when this ended? Would this ever end?

Recently revisiting this book provided a vivid reminder of the things I did not have to worry about during the pandemic: having to leave my house and fear for my life to get water, access to groceries, being able to feed my pets, reliable electricity, and wondering whether I would still have a job when all was said and done.

I still mourn some of the things I missed during the pandemic, but reading this book provided a powerful shift in perspective. Books are pretty amazing that way.

This is Anne Holt of Minneapolis, Minnesota for High Plains Public Radio.

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