Bosnia: Culture Crossroads

This is a second post of discussing the two most prominent cultural themes of Bosnia. In the first part, the civil war and its constant presence within daily life was highlighted. In this part, I explore Bosnia as a cultural crossroads.


“Sedin, where are you? We are late for iftar!” I urged Sedin over the phone. We had made plans to bring some somun and other food to the Tabija where a cannon is fired, signaling the time for iftar. Along the way, I invited Adnan, Sufjan, and hafiz Mustafa.

“Ammar!” I heard Sedin shouting from a distance, “I am so sorry. I was on the tree. I will be there soon,” he explained his delay.
“He was on the tree,” I told the group with me as if that actually made sense to me. But, it was ok, because when in Bosnia, “Relax. Be happy. Drink coffee.” That’s the culture, I was told.
Shop keeper in Sarajevo wearing the tarboush while crafting a turkish style pan

Shop keeper in Sarajevo wearing the tarboush, a Turkish hat, while crafting a Turkish style pan

East of this line is Turkish architecture. West of this line is Austro-Hungarian style!

East of this line is Turkish architecture. West of this line is Austro-Hungarian style architecture


Turkish and Austrian-Hungarian
 Sarajevo is a place at a cultural crossroads. It was an Ottoman city for approximately 400 years until 1878 when it was then ruled by Austria-Hungary until 1918. Although a relatively short time period, the Austro-Hungarian rule left its mark. You start walking down a street of Old Sarajevo that feels like Little Istanbul. Then, you cross a line – literally a line on the street – and you find yourself in what looks like a Central European city.
The Austro-Hungarian rule of Sarajevo brought it to modern world. Sarajevo was used to test trams, for example.

The Austro-Hungarian rule of Sarajevo brought it to modern world. Sarajevo was used to test trams, for example.

A picture of the Austro-Hungarian side of the Old Town in Sarajevo.

A picture of the Austro-Hungarian side of the Old Town in Sarajevo

The marketplace massacre of 1994 was arguably the trigger for the UN to intervene and stop the siege on Sarajevo.

The marketplace massacre of 1994 was arguably the trigger for the UN to intervene and stop the siege on Sarajevo

The latin bridge. Near this bridge, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which ultimately started WWI.

The latin bridge. On this bridge, Archiduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which ultimately started WWI.

So, I kept asking people. Aside from the architecture, what does that mean to the people. How is that affecting their daily life?
Sedin's favorite mosque is the Bascarsilja mosque.

Sedin’s favorite mosque is the Bascarsilja mosque

Sedin’s idea of what it means to be at a cultural crossroads is for there to be a societal balance between Eastern and Western expressions. Sedin is a journalist. He works at a radio station with a focus on Islamic themes. On the weekends, he’s a mountain guide. His favorite coffee-shop is right next to his favorite mosque. That way he can interrupt his coffee sessions for prayers before quickly getting back to coffee.
Yasmin. He was nice enough to talk to me though I reminded him that my sister is named Yasmin. That Yasmin is a girls name in Arabic. He knew.

Yasmin. He was nice enough to talk to me even though I mentioned to him that my sister is named Yasmin. It is a girl’s name in Arabic – something he already knew.

Yasmin, a friend of Sedin, told me that having both Eastern and Western aspects in the culture is a good deal. He feels at home anywhere in Europe, but he also feels at home in Turkey and Muslim majority places.
Second course of iftar meal at Farooq's place.

Second course of iftar meal at Farooq’s place.

There is also a side of great hospitality to Bosnians. Farooq, a sales professional at a tech company, invited me over for iftar one day. The food was heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine (or at least similar).

I met Amar at 10pm in Mostar. Within 30 minutes he invited me to eat suhoor at 4am with his family that morning. Amar's mother was super kind and made solid bureks.

I met Amar at 10pm in Mostar. Within 30 minutes he invited me to eat suhoor at 4am with his family that morning. Amar’s mother was super kind and made solid bureks.

I asked if polygamy is prevalent in Bosnia. The answer was generally “no”. But Farooq’s wife jokingly added, “No, no. You guys can do it if you want to!” She says this knowing that to tell a traditional Bosnian man that they are unable to do something only instills in them a desire to prove that they can.
We prayed together, and we played guitar together.
Amela. Farooq's 2nd daughter. He was proud that she plays the guitar and that she won an Islamic knowledge competition at school region level

Amela. Farooq’s 2nd daughter. He was proud that she plays the guitar and that she won an Islamic knowledge competition at school region level.

Farooq playing the guitar next to his wife.

Farooq playing the guitar next to his wife

Sufjan, our hero from the previous post, tried to summarize the culture to me by saying, “Bosnians are relaxed. Like. You know? Relax. Be happy. Drink coffee.” This became the motto of my time there very quickly.
 

Bosnian coffee pot and cups

Bosnian coffee pot and cups

I admit that my experience in Sarajevo was in a community that is far more religious than average in Bosnia, and consequently leaned far more towards the Turkish side of the culture. But it remains a clear and inseparable fact that Sarajevo is a European city, with a significant Austrian-Hungarian influence. That influence, as I was told repeatedly, may be mostly evident in the Bosnian kryptonite … beer.
Sedin cooking his signature touba.

Sedin cooking his signature touba

Sedin showed up 5 minutes after the time for iftar carrying delicious food and what appeared to be at least 15 lbs of cherries. We soon learned that he loves climbing trees and during cherry season, friends and family call on him to pick cherries for them, which he happily obliges. So, he was up on a cherry tree and lost track of time.

Ammar is on a journey to explore Islam in different countries around the world. He wants to show that Islam is a faith not exclusive to a single ethnicity. He hopes that these stories become part of the conversation about tolerance and acceptance in America.

For more information, visit our page about this journey.